On Saturday we ventured into midtown for the Atlanta soapbox derby.  We didn't tell the boys where we were going- only that it was to see something they'd never seen before.  They were pretty excited when we told explained that a soapbox derby was like the pinewood derby, except you ride IN the car.

After Eric did some pretty impressive navigating around street closings and other obstacles (an ability that never ceases to amaze me, since I lack it completely), we made it just in time to see the last few cars leave the pits.

No engines were allowed, but other than that, pretty much anything went.  Each team did a little skit to introduce their car, and then they pushed it onto the course, which was lined with hay bales and included several jumps.  Some made it to the finish line and some didn't.  The fastest car we saw was shaped like a giant fish and popped three or four wheelies during its run.

I liked the Goonies car (below), but I don't think that one did too well.

Brigham's favorite was the Monopoly car- since that's been a favorite game of his and Eric's these past few weeks.  We even ran into the missionaries, who were lamenting the fact that they had not thought to enter a "Mormon car".  I'm sure they could have come up with something very creative- though I'm not sure the mission president would have been on board:).

If I'm being totally honest, leaving the house on a hot Saturday with four children was kind of a nightmare.  There were A LOT of people at the race and I constantly worried that we were not going to make it back to the car with all of our kids.  I forgot the sunscreen and we all got a little pink.  I packed tons of food and water, and still there was talk of starvation and severe dehydration.  But I look at these pictures, and think- we had fun together.

And it's got to get easier from here, right?  Please tell me it gets easier from here....


Soul Mother

Some thoughts and sights from graduation weekend... 

Since Eric's advisor was out of the country, he asked one of his favorite people at Duke- philosophy professor Ben Ward to do the official hooding.  We all loved seeing Ben, who graduated with his PhD from Yale at the age of 22, and is an amazing person whom Eric respects both intellectually and personally.

We made sure to hit our favorite Durham restaurants- Cosmic Cantina and Guglehupf, and hung out with as many of our dear Durham friends as we could.

Eric's sister hadn't been back to Durham since she graduated from Duke in 1998.  She made the trip from Virginia with her family so that she could introduce her kids to her alma mater.  And to the good old Museum of Life and Science:).

Commencement itself was wonderful.  The speaker (Fareed Zakaria), talked about the resources available to our generation and the potential we have to use them to change the world.  Eleanor + stadium stairs = heart attack, so I spent most of the ceremony walking her back and forth in the stroller, with Marley trailing behind me in her bare feet.  At one point little Eric came up to find the bathroom and I pointed out the spot on the field where I sat ten years ago with him on my lap.

The Econ department ceremony was in Cameron- a perk of being the most popular undergraduate major at Duke.  Little Eric was pretty excited about that.  As you can see, he had gotten into some poison-something just before our trip and was battling a rapidly swelling face, but he was a great sport!

I have to say that I was just bursting with pride the whole weekend.  I remember when Eric graduated with his masters from UW, seeing all the PhD's with their pillow-hats and heavy robes and looking forward to the day when that would be Eric.  The last year, with its dissertation-finishing and job-hunting, has been hard on our whole family.  Really hard.  But we did it!  It took seven years, but it's finally done! Believe me when I say that pillow-hat was hard-earned:).  (And incidentally- those robes cost enough money to put them on the list of top-ten things I would grab if the house was on fire.)

I wonder how many of these kids will wind up at Duke?

This is our family standing in the spot where Eric proposed to me almost 12 years ago.

On our way back to Atlanta we stopped in High Point to visit with our Poston cousins.  There were cookies, a golf game on TV and promises to keep in touch even with a country between us.

As we pulled back onto 85 we called our old Shady Lane neighbors, Clint and Pam, who were on their way north after visiting family in Georgia.  We pulled over at a gas station and spent a few moments snapping pictures and catching up.  I think that we may actually be able to lure them out to Santa Cruz, as they have other friends there, so we bid them yet another temporary goodbye.

Then we tanked up on gas and ice cream and hit the road for the long drive home.

I was surprised at how sad it was to say goodbye to Duke.  It felt like the ending of an era of our lives.  I suspect the next time we return it will be to drop off one of our kids for the experience of a lifetime- one that we both feel so fortunate to have had.

The job of student commencement speaker was open to all graduates who submitted a speech.  I was surprised to learn that Eric actually took the time to send one in.  And, I know I'm biased, but I thought it was way better than the one they picked:).  So, even though he didn't get to share it with a crowd of thousands, I thought I'd post it here, for our little world of far-flung friends and family to read...

Endowments and True Wealth

My fellow graduates, it is an honor to address you today. As we leave this great university to begin a new phase of life, I would like to talk to you about two ideas that can influence your thinking and help you on your journey. You'll have to indulge me for a few minutes: having spent my years at Duke studying Economics, these concepts are largely born of and framed within my discipline of study. However, these concepts are certainly much larger than any one discipline, and I believe they will prove crucial to us in the early stages of life.

I would like to speak to you today about endowments and wealth. I think most of us in the audience today are familiar with these terms - all of us have been beneficiaries of, perhaps indirectly, the Duke Endowment, and we typically associate wealth with riches. In our common language we also use "wealth" to simply mean an accumulation or an abundance; for example, "A wealth of knowledge". These terms are no different in economics: an endowment is a gift of resources, typically made at the beginning of an individual's life, and wealth is the accumulation of resources. As economic agents, our wealth begins with an initial endowment, and grows as we receive income or make prudent investment and savings decisions.

Now, if you will indulge me once more, I would like to tell you how these terms have taken new meaning for me in the past year. First, it has become painfully apparent to me that our wealth of time is largely out of our control. In fact, our wealth of time can be measured as nothing more than a sequential endowment of 24-hour increments. Interestingly, in this dimension, none of us can become more wealthy than another. As I've spent the last year preparing to finish my dissertation and to participate in the academic job market, I felt the constraint of that time endowment more than I ever had previously. Where I previously felt very comfortable to spend my time among various activities that I enjoy, the fear of not achieving something I had prepared for more than a decade to accomplish made me highly sensitive to the value of only a few precious minutes. Each of us has had this experience at times - wishing that we could purchase more hours in a day to study for an exam, to complete an assignment or to be with a loved one. In the end, we are all perfectly equal in our wealth of time; we are only distinguished by how we use that time. Our decisions and actions today can relieve the constraint of our endowment tomorrow, but they can also make that constraint very binding. I promise that you will be forever grateful as you make decisions now that will relieve that constraint in the future. Such a gift to your future self is really the only sensible thing to do, as that future, wiser self is much better positioned to make decisions about the use of your endowment.

I'd now like to speak more directly about wealth. My time here at Duke began as a freshman in August of 1996, and aside from two leaves of absence, I have been continuously enrolled as a student (both here and at the University of Washington) in the intervening years. In the final years of my doctoral degree, I've had many opportunities to observe former classmates or others of my age who have chosen different paths and been quite successful. I've seen some who completed fewer graduate degrees and have already been professors for several years, others who have gone to Wall Street and been promoted a number of times, while others have started Internet companies and sold them for millions of dollars. In each instance, I've been filled with doubt about my choices: should I have taken a path that led more quickly to financial security and an accumulation of financial wealth?

I've become accustomed to telling people that if you total all of my assets, including my many thousands of dollars of student loans, my wealth is negative and will remain so for many years. However, while making such comments, I've recognized two errors in my thinking. First, in economics, wealth is more than the sum total of everything I have today - wealth is really the discounted sum of all future assets. But since you and I can't perfectly forecast the future, our wealth is a latent, or unknown, quantity. Second, I was thinking in a limited, financial sense, whereas the sum of my assets is poorly measured by and transcends a dollar valuation. To correctly account for my wealth, you would not simply add the values of my physical possessions, debts and financial assets, but you would also need to include a valuation of my intellectual and emotional contributions to my various activities and relationships. Those latter items are very difficult to value in financial terms, and so I would argue that true wealth is ultimately more fundamental than money. Some individuals are better at converting their wealth into dollars - clearly I have been less successful at that endeavor! However, if you think about it more holistically, our wealth is really our capacity to improve the world. It is perhaps best quantified by our capability to find happiness and to help others improve their own conditions and find happiness. As we make decisions today to increase our true wealth, decisions that live outside of the realm of dollars, we will increase our future capacity to contribute in these ways.

Ultimately, we all arrive on this earth with a very unique endowment - a gift of character, personality, intelligence and physicality. Some of us also arrive with a larger endowment of money (through our parents), but I now believe that is secondary and tangential to our accumulation of true wealth. We each possess unique assets and a fundamental capacity to turn those assets into true wealth, by properly marshaling our talents, our time and our energy. Our wealth is most valuable when we find ways to turn it into something of production quality; how much more valuable will be our education if we use it to improve not only ourselves, but those around us? Today we commemorate a period of our lives in which we have prudently invested and substantially increased our true wealth. But what will we do now? Let's leave this stadium and use our new resources to make that wealth grow. Whether you successfully convert that wealth into money or something else, continue to make wise investment decisions with those assets, and use your factors of production to turn them into something that will bless the world. Congratulations on this accomplishment and may you find joy as you build a lifetime of true wealth.



The long awaited summer has begun.  Sometime soon I'll back up and write about all the milestones that have been piling up...birthdays, travels, graduations, concerts, parties, goodbyes.  For tonight though, this is where we are:

Across the street from our house is a science center with a huge telescope.  During dinner tonight we noticed lots of traffic and dispatched a child to investigate.  He came back with news of some kind of planetary event and a pair of solar glasses.

While we stood on the street corner and took turns staring at the black dot of Venus moving across the sun, I thought about our short time left in Atlanta.  Two months.  Time enough to say goodbye to the people and places that have shaped us for the last two years.  To think about the ways we've changed since we arrived in this neighborhood that hot August evening that seems like a lifetime ago.  Back before Marley's hair was long enough to french braid.  Back when the boys outnumbered the girls.  Back when the future was still a murky question mark.

Lots of things have changed since then, and my hope for this summer is that we each have time and space to assimilate those changes and fully inhabit the people we've become, so that we can go forward into our new lives with confidence and strength and optimism.