Sunday, June 27, 2010

Household Zeitgeist

Madison does a good job expressing ours, on the blackboard that lives right off the kitchen.

Happy summer, everyone.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Still Life, Afternoon Hydrangea

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New Life

This has undoubtedly been the season for new life in the grass and greenery around our house. Over the last several weeks we've noticed two active birds' nests, an army of chipmunks and a couple of adult rabbits scampering about.

But the visitor really captivating our attention is the baby bunny, pictured above, who Gwen and the girls first saw munching on the lawn near the row of Hosta plants that line our backyard sometime last month, maybe four or five inches from nose to tail when spotted.

From what we can tell, this little guy (or girl) has spent its entire young life in our corner of the world, enjoying the bounty of Insta-Lawn as a primary food source. It's been nice having him/her around, an outdoor pet who shows up unannounced at regular intervals - mainly in the morning or around dusk, to feast - and without any litter boxes to clean.

We find ourselves looking for him/her when too much time passes between sightings, and are always happy to spot the small brown figure again, moving slowly and deliberately from one blade to the next, a reassuring part of the scenery and welcome ambassador of our favorite time of year.

[Full disclosure: there are at least two members of our family who do not share these feelings of welcoming benevolence, and have been spending an inordinate amount of time staring out the windows as the mercury rises and little darting movements on the other side of the glass abound.]

Friday, June 04, 2010


As I've noted on here before, the profession that keeps our family in San Marzano tomatoes and Apple products is media relations, and as a longtime student and practitioner of this work, I'm always fascinated by public events on the big stage. How they develop, what the players do and say and how their actions and words are perceived by the public.

So this week I've been intrigued - like many others - by this Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga blown call/perfect game that wasn't situation and, particularly, how well and admirably Joyce (the umpire) handled himself in the aftermath of an event that had the potential to turn him into an enduring national demon, fair or not. I'm not getting into whether his wrong call should have been reversed, the record corrected and the achievement formally awarded, that's a debate for another blog.

Here is a link for anyone who doesn't know what I'm writing about.

No, what struck me on Wednesday night was Joyce's stark and perfect reaction to a moment that was rewound and replayed, over and over again, his error more glaring with each passing frame, infuriating millions.

"It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the *#+&$ out of it," Joyce said, after basically fighting his way off the field at the end of the game and immediately asking the clubhouse attendant to show him a video replay. "I just cost that kid a perfect game ... I thought he beat the throw, I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

In the world of after-the-fact public messaging, you can't do much better than that - full acknowledgment and ownership of not only the mistake, but also the impact it had on the other guy, stated clearly and with obvious emotion and empathy. Now, to be fair, this was a relatively simple and straightforward situation - one official, one play, an event without complex or developing machinations, impacts or other directly-involved participants.

But there are still about a thousand other ways it could have gone. "I don't watch replays ... I don't comment on my calls ... I saw what I saw and I've been doing this for 25 years, so back off!" He left the stadium immediately following the game, after refusing to speak with the media. Can't you imagine the lingering impact of this one moment if Joyce handled it differently? You wake up, go to work and before the day is done become a national pariah, as a result of throwing your arms open, yelling "SAFE," being wrong and getting truculent about it.

And the pitcher, Galarraga, who achieved perfection on the field and then took it to another level in his own gracious and accepting response to such a clear injustice. Denied the ultimate mark of personal performance for his position, a rarefied spot in the record books - wrongly and unfairly, for everyone to see - he chalked it up and moved on. If a player ever had cause for a wild-eyed Robbie Alomar-style freakout it was Galarraga, but he didn't go there. "He probably felt more bad than me," the pitcher said after the game, when the shock had passed and his sense of bitterness could have been assumed to have been cresting. "Nobody's perfect."

Everyone did and said the right things in the aftermath of the call. Throw in the events that followed - Joyce rejecting an offer from MLB to sit out the last game of the series and instead taking his spot yesterday behind home plate in a hostile ballpark, Galarraga bringing him the line-up card at the start of the game and formalizing his forgiveness with a friendly tap, which was returned to produce an organic and emotional moment - and you have all the icing on the cake needed for co-produced ESPN/Lifetime Original Movie.

"The Pitcher, The Ump, And The Imperfect Game"

Check your local listings.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Going Negative

We had a family wedding in Maine last weekend, with some time to shop, eat and explore in places like Freeport, Boothbay Harbor and Augusta. We hit the L.L. Bean Flagship Store, had a lobster roll at the Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Co., and at one point stopped off for lunch at a place on the water that had gone up against Bobby Flay in one of our favorite Food Network shows, Throwdown.

We found plenty of online and on-premise promotion of that notable event, and near the end of our very satisfying lunch the owner (who we recognized from the framed photos and press clippings hanging on the wall) came over and asked how we were. Great, we responded, and then got to talking about his experience with Flay and generally having dropped out of the corporate world with his wife a decade ago to begin a very different life owning and running a restaurant.

Turns out he lost the battle with Bobby, which anyone who watches the show could tell you puts him in pretty rare company, and as a result seemed to be carrying around some baggage associated with the judging process. Fair enough, but as we continued to talk about our trip and the places we'd eaten, he had something negative to say about every one. When we mentioned that the lobster bisque at Harraseeket was extraordinary, he brought out a little taster cup of his to prove to us that it was better - it wasn't - and proceeded to trash the place, and others where we'd encountered long lines and good food.

We left the restaurant with a bit of a bad taste in our mouths created entirely by this guy's negative attitude and need to know better, be superior, in his own mind and rhetoric if nowhere else. We had a perfectly fine meal, we'd found our way to his beautiful spot, after all, there was really no reason to try to sell us on how great his stuff was, we were eating it. And, still, for some reason the decision to go negative, to try to solidify or elevate his standing in our eyes (or his own) by knocking down his relatively far-flung, and maybe more celebrated, counterparts.

At 7 and 9, we're starting to bump up against this dynamic with the girls, in the form of people around them - even close friends - at times seeking to build themselves up by diminishing the landscape, and those who are part of it. Cross words, hurt feelings, yesterday's "best friend" who for some reason today decides to snub them on the bus. Our messaging in these situations invariably revolves around focusing on yourself, on everything you are and all the great qualities you bring to the table instead of what someone else decides to call it, or how they happen to feel about it, on any given day. Hard conversations, with pain and the potential for at least passing damage meted out for no reason at all other than, maybe, to seek to elevate by putting someone else down.

It's easy to do. There's a reason political candidates attack and demonize their opponents, because it works - at least in the short term. But it's ultimately unsustainable, and it's a heck of a way to try to live for all but the most insecure and vicious walking among us. I think about this little restaurateur we met the other day. All he had to do was thank us for picking his place and enjoying the food, maybe something on the pride he takes in his ingredients and staff, the care he takes to make customers have the kind of enjoyable experience that brings them back. Instead he went on his edgy little "here's why the other guys stink" riff that turned us off and, more than likely, cost him our business if we ever return to the area.

But he did succeed in providing a valuable and instructive lesson that can be applied in a thousand different ways. He may have felt better about himself in the moment, but he lost in the end.