World explorer

Phoebe is 13 ½ months old now. Friends tell us this is when the fun really begins. As if we weren’t having enough fun already.

She’s walking now. And she looooooooves it.

These days, our mornings and nights usually consist of her entertaining us with non-stop laps from the living room to the kitchen and back. Kates and I can prepare a whole meal, eat it and clean up the kitchen -- and she‘ll still be going strong. She’s a ball of energy.

Added to the never-ending entertainment, a couple weeks ago we bought the Leap Frog Fridge Farm magnet set for her … We caught her one night playing with the magnets on the side of our refrigerator, and our day sitter has another Leap Frog set that she plays with incessantly. So we got a set for her to play with at home. Now she carries the little animal magnets with her everywhere. Sometimes she carries a cow in one hand, the actual barn in another hand, and a pig in her mouth -- while doing her laps.

She also looooooooves to talk, and never ceases to get Kates and I giggling with her funny sounds and -- non-stop -- gibberish. Sometimes it sound like she’s speaking an alien language; sometimes it sounds like she’s speaking Chinese -- seriously, Chinese. Sometimes it sounds like she’s speaking Ewok (just watch the Ewok scenes in “Return of the Jedi” and you’ll hear what I mean. Seriously). And sometimes we think she’s trying to sing “Dueling Banjos” -- denga deng deng deng deng deng deng deng

Kates has diligently been teaching her signs, too. Admittedly, I thought it was a crazy idea at first …But the first few times I saw Phoebe communicating at meal times with hand gestures to say “more,” “please,” and “all done” was all I needed to be convinced.

She also lets out a jubilant “Daddy!” that melts my heart every time she sees me.

She loves taking the dish towels and waving them around or pulling them over her head … She has a blanket in her crib now that she cuddles with to fall asleep … She’s also old enough to have toys in her crib, so instead of waking up and crying, Kates and I know she’s awake when we hear her Fischer-Price phone ringing or the sound of one of her barnyard books … She has a couple stuffed animals she’s started to develop a kinship with …

She also has discovered how to throw things. Food. Cups. Her magnetic animals. It drives us crazy sometimes ... But along with that comes learning how to play catch. A couple weeks ago we tossed a squishy ball back and forth for several minutes. Great fun!

She’s reached full explorer mode now, and she isn’t timid about walking down our hallway or climbing up stairs … She also thinks it’s really cool to close doors. So it’s not unusual for her to waddle down our hallway when we’re not paying attention; We’ll hear a pitter patter of her feet on the floor, then the door slams in her room and the houses falls silent … She’s not even a teenager yet and she's already getting good at it.

Most of the time, though, we just close the doors to all of the rooms along our hallway. And the baby-gate blocks our stairway.

With Phoebe, it seems, there’s always some place to go and always something that needs to be done. Sound familiar?

Game 2: As bad as it gets?

People say baseball is a humbling game …

We proved it today.

After an easy and gratifying first win in our opener two weeks ago, we returned to the field this morning and got slapped around. The final: 12-2.

We were up against the perennial powerhouse of the league this morning, but going in -- given the way our team is built and how well we played two weeks ago -- I figured it’d be a competitive game. Instead, we didn’t hit, and they did. They also capitalized on our errors.

I got the start at third base to cover for a couple guys who couldn’t play this week. Second base and shortstop in our first game, and third base today -- just call me Aaron Miles, or Craig Counsell … I didn’t get a whole lot of action, however, other than a pop fly foul ball that I caught to end an inning.

At the plate, I came into today’s game as confident as ever after my 3-for-3 in the first game … But we also faced some hard-throwers today. In my first at-bat, I was thrown out on a slow bouncer to the shortstop -- but at least I could be happy I put the ball in play.

In my second and final at-bat of the day, I strode to the plate with two outs after the batter ahead of me drew a walk to load the bases. Nice. Here’s my chance to drive in some runs for us, I thought …

I swung and missed a letters-high fastball for strike one, then fouled off a breaking ball for strike two. Then, I fouled off a knuckleball to stay alive, and laid off a curve that dropped outside the plate for ball one. Finally, the pitcher threw another fastball; I started my swing too late and missed it. Strike three. … I could be happy I battled, but I badly wanted a sweeter outcome.

So went the game. It seemed as though the other side was piling on more runs with each passing inning ... During the final innings we were watching the clock and counting the minutes to lunch time. I was starving.

Oh yeah, and the umpires went to the wrong field and never showed for our game. Each team’s catcher had to call balls and strikes, which could not have been easy.


Bee proud

Congratulations, Olathe, Kansas. You're the home of the National Spelling Bee champion, Miss Kavya Shivashankar.

For years, Kates and I have watched and rooted for the young Kavya on the Spelling Bee stage. Each year she got smarter, studied harder, advanced farther. And this year all of it paid off.

When Kavya finally pulled it off, Kates and I shouted out a unison Yes! and clapped. Then, I got a little teary-eyed too (which should be no surprise to you considering I get teary-eyed at a sliver of emotion). I shouted "Olathe, Kansas, represent!" (I still can't believe I didn't wake Phoebe with my hoopla). And then I went on to Facebook and exchanged celebratory wall posts and likes and pokes with my Kansas friends ... Good times.

Seriously, though. How sweet was it last night when the moderator gave the final word -- laodicean -- and that little smile leaked out of Kavya's mouth, as if to say I know it! ... A few deep breaths and some writing on her palm later, calm and collected, she put the championship in the bag and the coveted trophy was handed to her.

All the while, it was just as amusing to watch Kavya's father sitting with the family in the background. The commentators talked multiple times about how much the father-daughter studied, and with almost every word you could tell by his body language how well Kavya knew the spelling. Sometimes he'd just sit back and stop paying attention, as if to say Too Easy. Next word, please. Kavya and I have been studying this word for like six years ...

We also got a good kick out of the funnied-up sentences this year to help the spellers understand a word's context.

On another note ... Since when did the Spelling Bee feature Super Bowl-caliber commercials!? There were some pretty comical and dazzling breaks, including -- albeit a network promotion -- the one featuring the characters of ABC's most prominent primetime shows at a house gathering right off Wisteria Lane.

The Trib has an excellent photo gallery featuring the faces of the Bee.


How About a Hug?

Fascinating story in The New York Times today about hugging ...

I love hugs. Seriously, there's few things better than a good hug. And when the hugger gives a hug that's as good as the one coming from the huggee, it's bliss.

Reminds me of my all-time favorite Family Circus cartoon ... I saw it and clipped it out of the newspaper about 11 or 12 years ago ...


Wins and losses

So I got to my first Brewers game of the year last night.

The Brewers were no fun to watch, though. Last week, they were one of the hottest teams in baseball; this week, they’re coming off a sweep by the Twins and then got shelled last night by the Cardinals, 8-1.

Jeff Suppan was on the mound for the Brewers … For the record, I’ve never been a big fan of his. He’s never going to have a year again like the couple good ones he had with St. Louis. Beyond that, he’s never been more than an average pitcher, and I’ve watched him cost more than his share of games for the Brewers.

He gave up a home run to Nick Stavinoha in the second, another run in the third, and then solo home runs to Colby Rasmus and pitcher Adam Wainwright -- plus a double to Joe Thurston, who also scored -- before being pulled in the fourth.

The Brewers batters didn’t do their part, either. They had the bases loaded in the second, only to watch Suppan fly out to end the inning. Then in the third, Craig Counsell singled and scored, and the Crew put two more on with no outs but failed to score any more runs.

* * *

The game was peanuts compared to the good time my friend Nathan and I had at the game, however …

The last time I’d seen Nathan was at my wedding nearly six years ago. That was the first time I’d seen him in about eight years …

Nathan and I met on the first day of fourth grade and became instant best friends. In the school yard, we played soccer and football together. We played on the same little league team, and we played a gazillion pickup basketball games in my driveway. We traded Micro Machines and baseball cards. Rode bikes across town. And became part of each other’s families.

Then I moved to Kansas City. A couple years later, he moved to Las Vegas. He visited me in Kansas City for a week in high school, but we had established separate lives by then and the bond we once shared seemed like it’d never be the same.

Still, every time we lost our connection, we’ve found a way to pick it up years later. After college, both of us moved back to the region where it all started. He managed to find me again via-email, and I invited him to the wedding. After a couple more years, he moved to another town, changed e-mail addresses and we lost touch again.

Then, a little more than a year ago, he found me again -- on Facebook. Talk about a tool that’s made staying in touch with old friends commonplace. It turned out, he’d gotten married since we last talked. … We’d been talking for at least two seasons of meeting up for a ball game. Then Phoebe came along, and he became a father a few months later. Kids, and jobs, and life kept getting in the way.

Until a couple weeks ago, he inherited a couple tickets to the game, and asked -- via Facebook -- if I wanted to go with him. Thankful he’d thought of me, I said I’d go and we met up in downtown Milwaukee …

The wonders of Facebook ignited our conversation for the night as we reeled off all the other childhood friends with whom we’ve recently re-connected. We bantered throughout the night about favorite childhood memories, who’s married who since we grew up, and we talked about our adult lives as though we’ve never ceased being a part of each other’s lives.

As Nathan took me back to my car and dropped me off, we made a pact to make sure we'd get together again soon -- but we both know that’s easier said than done.

I take a lot of pride in my ability to have stayed in touch with several of my closest friends from high school, college and my career over the years -- our digital age makes that a heck of a lot easier than it was 20 years ago -- but I’ve also come to the hard realization that getting together for a ball game or a weekend road trip is never as easy as you want it to be.

* * *

I drove out of Milwaukee and traveled through a hard rain that -- combined with three or four semi trucks that refused to let up -- made it a tough road home … I slipped into bed a little after midnight, but then got little sleep as the storm settled directly over our house. I felt exhausted, but it took me what seemed like hours to fall asleep.

At about 1:30 in the morning, my eyes were shot open by what surely was the brightest, loudest, closest flash of lightening and thunder I’ve ever experienced. It had to have touched down in our back yard. Then, a few minutes later there was another one that had me praying to God out loud.

All the while, Phoebe didn’t make a peep. At one point, I got up to check on her just to make sure she was still breathing.

Then I was up at 4:15 this morning and cursing my new hours ... I was off to work at 5. I figure I got three hours of sleep last night.


About last night ...

Some good reading from last night's Idol finale ...

... Allen throws a wrench into expected `Idol' outcome

Conversely, Lambert's commanding vocal range and stage presence _ and the judges' lavish adoration _ at times turned "Idol" into "The Adam Lambert Show," with the other contestants mere guests. But it turned out that "Idol" viewers could embrace a gifted performer like Lambert, one who sported black nail polish and bold self-assurance, only to a point.

... ‘Idol’ Machine Cranks Out a New Star

“American Idol” matters not just as a pop culture phenomenon, but as an institution that works — with scary efficiency — at a time when so many other American enterprises seem flawed or imperiled. It stands out this season in particular: “American Idol” is a money-making machine in the middle of a worldwide recession, an old-fashioned must-see television hit at a time when the Internet and cable have eaten away at the networks’ hegemony.
... Sealed With a Kris

Today, there'll be more talk about this being the latest red state/blue state battle -- such as Republican strategist Todd Harris did on CBS's "The Early Show" yesterday morning, as in: "You've got these more liberal elites who live on each coast, represented by Adam, and then Kris represents what those on the coast refer to as the flyover states."

... And for good measure here's EW's Michael Slezak's live blog of the finale and his final show wrap.


Idol finale time!

It’s “American Idol” Finale Night people!

The anticipation has been building all day. Let’s do this folks!

Forgive us, though, we’re starting about a half hour late tonight. But that’s the way we roll these days …

Quick dinner. Clean up the kitchen and wash the dishes while Phoebe plays. Get her ready for bed. Go outside to water the plants. Clean up Phoebe’s toys …

And here we are. Man, DVR is great.

7:32 … Ryan just opened the show with his classic THIS is American Idol! … Man, as much as we love to hate this show. That line and this night still gives me chills.

7:35 … From me to you, I’m loving the judges montage. Randy’s was the best

7:40 … We interrupt this program to rescue Phoebe. Apparently she hears us having fun with out her and she wants to watch American Idol too. … And now she’s playing with her music table. We’ll see how long she lasts …

7:42 … The top 13 are singing the big Pink song. I like it! … It’s always fun to see the old gang together again and looking good in the cool white outfits … Ah, thinking what could have been for Alexis Grace. And Megan Corkrey. ... And there’s Jorge, who’s probably thinking (with his giddy accent) ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m up here again with all these people!’ ... Nice solo Jasmine Murray!

7:46 … David Cook is on the stage now. Soooo last year. ….Phoebe’s pressing the buttons on the DVR and threatening to pull the plug on our Idol-dom. Maybe she’s on to something …

7:50 … The awards portion! Yes! We missed this last year! … (Hey remember my personal fave -- guy with the really low voice -- Let my PEO-ple go!) … Geez, I barely remember any of these people. Still so funny, though! … Except for Nick Mitchell! Still bitter they even gave him a chance to perform beyond Hollywood week. … And of course he wins the award. This was probably so planned. … Oh, yep. It was planned. … Phoebe’s doing laps in front of us and waving pieces of paper. That’s more entertaining than Nick … Ah! But Ryan with Nick’s glasses and headband -- that’s good!

7:56 … Lil Rounds with Queen Latifah. Eh. … I enjoy Queen Latifah, but she makes Lil look like a 12-year-old. Kates just said: She could pretty ch eat her for dinner. …Whoah, Kates!

8:00 … Alexis Grace and Anoop on Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours!” Nice!! … Oh! And there’s Jason himself!! (I saw him!!) Awesome!! … Great stuff! We’re only a half hour in, but that may be my performance of the night.

8:05 … Kris Allen is up with Keith Urban now. Cool, I’m liking this …Nice guitar solo Mr. Urban … Phoebe just laid flat on the floor. I think that mean’s time for bed … Commercial break!

8:13 … The girls are singing Fergie now … They look better than they’re singing. Doesn’t look like they got very much time to rehearse their dance moves either. Yikes! … Oh, Fergie dear, I liked you better with lighter hair … Hey, and it’s the rest of the Black Eyed Peas! Nice! … Did they just bleep Fergie with the blue American Idol screen!?

8:17 … Ah, the awards for the girls. Can you say Tatiana!? … Oh, and Bikini Girl! Another one that never should have gotten as far as she did … Alexis Cohen, ah yes … Tiffany Shed, yep. And her mom ‘feeling it’ Oh, I forgot how good that was! …. No Tatiana!?! … And the winner is: Bikini Girl. Oh, lord. You think she had some work done? … Ryan says: “I was going to ask you what’s new, but I think I know.” HA-larious!!

8:22 … Taking a Phoebe break again. Maybe she wasn’t ready for bed after all. … Reviewing earlier A.I. posts while I wait for Kates to get Phoebe settled down. Here’s my opener for the season -- when I actually thought Kara was enhancing the show.

8:37 ... Phoebe's still wailing. This isn't like her. Something's not right tonight.

8:43 ... Ok, we're back. ... Back to Bikini Girl. And they're letting her sing -- it's stil awful ... Just when I was going to wonder out loud why they weren't showing Kara, and out she comes ... Nice, Kara. Nice.

8:47 ... Allison with Cyndi Lauper! Love it!! ... Reminsicent of Brooke White with Graham Nash at last year's finale. What a moment for Allison. ... Mmm, awesome.

8:52 ... Here's Danny singing Lionel Richie's "Hello" -- which will forever remind me of David Cook's stellar Season 7 version ... Now Lionel's joining Danny ... ALL NIGHT LONG!! I'm getting up to dance in the middle of our living room, or maybe I'll dance to the kitchen for a drink of water. It's hot here tonight ...

8:56 ... We've hit the 1:15 minute mark now in the show -- on our DVR. Meanwhile, in real time the Idol could be announced at any moment ... Then again, it'll probably be another 20 minutes since Ryan warned us last night that the show was going to go over-time. I just set our DVR to record an hour extra to be sure ...

8:59 ... Adam's singing. What's more, what is he wearing?

9:00 ... One word: Kiss.

9:05 ... Not really a fan of Carlos Santana .... Until he pulls out "Smooth," of course! Aw yeah!! ... Hey, it's all the idols again. Cool.

9:09 ... I knew Kris and Adam were getting cars. ... Megan, Michael Sarver -- and Steve Martin?! Nice! ... They sound good. ... I just noticed that they put Megan on a stool -- so she couldn't do her crazy little dance.

9:12 ...The guys doing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." Eesh ... This is like something you'd see at my alma mater's Homecoming Variety Show. .... And here comes Rod. Gotta love the mandolin opening for "Maggie."

9:16 ... It's dragging Rod. Now I'm really getting that glass of water ... And a bowl of ice cream.

9:18 ... Oh good, more awards! ... I don't remember any of these girls, either ... Ah, there's Tatiana! ... TATIANA gets the award!! ... The 'Saving All My Love For You' bit -- nice!

9:25 ... Kris and Adam together on "We Are the Chamions." Really? ... Aw c'mon Queen is there!?! Ok, this is pretty sweet.

9:29 ... Ok, here we go. Ryan says this is it. But how much do you wanna bet, it's another 20 minutes before he actually announces the results.

9:30 ... Wow. My heart's racing ...

YES!!!! ... I knew it!!!!

9:33 ... Whoah, man. ... Now we're being subjected to Kara's "No Boundaries" hurricane song again -- but at least it's Kris's version!

Ah, bliss. ... I think Kates and I seriously lifted our roof with our unison YES! and high fives when the winner was announced.

I tell ya what, you Americans. You know how to get it right. Last year David Cook over David Archuleta. And this year Kris Allen over Adam Lambert.

Idol finale: Night one

I'm counting down the hours now ...

Tonight we'll finally have a new "American Idol." We can finally put this whole mad world of a Season 8 behind us and get on with our summers ...

In that vein, let's cut to the chase. Last night's show ...

I was thrilled Adam picked “Mad World” as his favorite performance of the season; it was mine too. And it was as pure and terrific last night as the first time he performed it … I did agree with Simon on the whole “Phantom” comment, though. The long coat and smoke were too much.

For his second performance, “A Change is Going to Come” … More of Adam screaming and being theatrical. Seen it, getting sick of it.

On the other hand when Kris picked “Ain’t No Sunshine” as his season favorite, I couldn’t say I remembered his original performance, which couldn’t have been a good sign. For that matter, I was racking my brain to come up with any performance of Kris’s that I really liked, and I couldn’t do it. I mean, overall, I've liked his stuff -- but each week it seemed as though there was always someone better than him.

And I loved Kris’s second performance of “What’s Going On” … Which made me 0-for-2 in agreement with Simon for the night. Where I liked Adam in Round One, Simon liked Kris; and it was the opposite for Round Two.

I thought Adam’s third performance was atrocious. It was pitchy, whiny and, once again, too theatrical.

Don’t get me started on how cheesy the song was. I burst out laughing when Simon rolled his eyes and mountains and whatever other naturalistic smack Kara & Co threw in there … But if we've learned anything in watching Idol over the last few years it's that the "winning" songs are always loaded with happy-shiny-you-can-survive-the-pain-and-go-for-it! schmaltz.

Then Kris, I thought, stepped out and did a wonderful performance of the song -- schamltz aside, of course. Kris sang it like a pop song that I’d expect to hear on a top 40 radio station …

Leave it up to the judges to write him off and basically say, Hey, you did a great job, kid. Congratulations on what you did this season, but we want Adam to win tomorrow night.

I’m rooting for Kris.

Good reads ...
a ‘Idol’ Final Raises Extra Question
a Kara DioGuardi warms to the hot seat
a And the winner on 'American Idol' is sure to be...
a Who'll Win 'Idol' Title? Adam Lambert, Kris Allen Present Study In Contrasts
a Kris Allen & Adam Lambert: Ricky Nelson meets Elvis


The piano's declining status

The LA Times has an excellent story about the piano's declining status in U.S. living rooms ...

I've said often, quitting my piano lessons as a child is one of the biggest regrets of my life.

I blame part of my decision on my mother's obsession with having a clean house. There were days I was told I couldn't practice because the piano room was freshly vacuumed and I couldn't mess it up. As terrible and sad as that sounds, that's the way it was.

As I think about it more, though, that's a poor excuse. I suppose the blame falls on me just the same for not pushing myself harder, for not showing more interest, not wanting to practice more often during the three years I took lessons.

Back then,I was a kid who was far more interested in playing video games and trading baseball cards. Eventually, our family moved and the piano came with us. But I never resumed taking lessons and my interest in playing wasn't rekindled until it was much too late.

Watching our piano being carried out of our house on its way to a new owner, even then, I had a feeling I would miss it some day.


Game 1: Good as it gets

… The adrenaline rush has run out. The exhaustion and soreness from my weekend of fun is kicking in.

On Friday afternoon I got to interview Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton. And I spent a part of my Saturday donning full firefighting gear and participating in some training exercises. It’s days like those that make the 5 a.m. days, the never-ending criticism and the high drama all worth it.

But I’m obligated to save those stories for another day.

Yesterday, I played baseball.

(Insert the angel chorus here.)

If you’ve read or listened to any of my commentaries from my last few summers of amateur ball, you know I’ve played on some teams that would’ve made the Bad News Bears look like the ’27 Yankees.

This year, all that changes.

After last season ended, a few other guys and I declared ourselves free agents and broke off from the team we’d played with for the last two years. We formed the foundation of a new team -- called the Pirates -- and started recruiting with the mission of forming a new team of guys who would be committed to our team but hadn’t lost sight of the fact that this is a game and a league meant for adult men who just want to play baseball and have fun doing it. Secondary to that, we wanted a team of guys who could play well together and stay competitive.

Both were qualities our former team sorely lacked.

As we gathered for our first practices in February, the puzzle pieces had started coming together. The team gelled instantly.

Yesterday, it came time to prove ourselves on the field. And everything clicked.

We won our season opener 14-4 … Even sweeter, we did it against our former team.

Our pitcher went seven strong innings, striking out 10. Offensively, we got on the board in the bottom of the first inning when our cleanup-hitting catcher -- who we might as well call “Pudge” -- caked the first pitch he saw for a two-run home run over the fence in left center. We never lost our lead for the remainder of the game.

As for me, I turned in a 3-for-3 day, although that was due in part to the other team … During my first at-bat, I skied a ball that probably should have been caught, but the shortstop let it drop in shallow left center field. I eventually moved to third and scored.

During my second at bat, I took a slider for a strike and missed a nasty curve before slapping the 0-2 pitch back up the middle and beating out the throw at first. … Then, since I was on with a runner on third, two outs and we already had a comfortable lead, I figured it would be a good time to try stealing a base -- so I went on the second pitch. About three quarters of the way there, I took a glance at the shortstop standing a few feet off the bag and guessed by his reaction that there wasn’t to be a throw. But just as I pulled up to the bag, the throw was bouncing into him and I couldn’t stop my momentum. I overran the bag, stumbled and the shortstop put the tag on me as I laid flat on my stomach behind the bag.

My best at-bat of the day came in my final trip to the plate. I slapped the first pitch I saw down the right field line for an easy single. And then successfully stole second and later scored.

I had a slightly tougher time in the field, which could be blamed on first-game jitters, I suppose. After years of playing left field, I was designated as our starting second baseman this season, which is where I’ve wanted to be all along. So I guess you could say the pressure was on to perform well …

During my first chance in the second inning, I booted a ground ball but picked it up in time -- only to make a bad throw that got past the first baseman and allowed the batter to reach second on my throwing error. I came back later in the inning by fielding a ground ball cleanly and making a good throw to get the third out … A couple innings later, an opposing batter hit a fly ball just over my head and into shallow right field. I had a beat on it and could have made the catch, but gave the angle away to the right fielder. The problem was neither of us called for the ball and it dropped between us. … I also allowed a couple more throws from the catcher get by me than I would have liked on base stealing attempts …

In the bottom of the fifth, I got moved to shortstop to fill in for our starter who was battling a sore quadriceps. Unfortunately, I botched the only opportunity I had there by letting a line drive sail just past me on my right side.

So there’s some things to work on yet. Big deal. …

More importantly we got a very gratifying win -- and we had a whole lotta fun doing it.


Good-bye Gokey

We've just watched Danny Gokey sing his stirring version of “You Are So Beautiful” …

And now the local Fox station is live from a house where Danny’s family and friends were gathered to watch the show …

How … Ha … Wha … What just happened?

After last night, I thought for sure that Danny was a shoo-in for the finale … Then once, Ryan announced Kris for the finale, my heart was really pumping. My mind was getting giddy at the possibility of watching the judges -- mainly Kara -- writhing in horror when Ryan announced it would be Danny in the final, and not their boy Adam

Instead, Kates and I just sat in stunned silence when Adam got the nod.

We had gotten caught up in the hometown hubbub over Danny and in recent days it seemed only right to be rooting for him … After all, we totally welled up when they played the montage of Danny’s day in Milwaukee.

Ah, well. Danny’s career is just beginning, I’m sure.

A couple other notes from tonight’s show …

Jordin Sparks’ performance rocked. No doubt we’ll be hearing “Battlefield” all over the radio within a couple weeks.

And Katy Perry. Always entertaining and colorful. And right up Adam Lambert’s glam alley.

Idol Chatter

Just watched last night’s “American Idol”

Oh joy. Is this season-long spectacle of the over-the-top judges finished yet?

What? Three more episodes?

Ugh. I can hardly wait for the finale.

On with the show …

I know I've been going sour on Danny-boy the last couple weeks, and last week I thought he was done. But ...

Danny Gokey couldn’t have pulled off a better performance to open the show with Terrence Trent D’Arby’s “Dance Little Sister.” Like 99 percent of the people watching the show, I hadn’t heard of the song either. But I caught myself bobbing my head and tapping my feet within a few moments of the song. I loved it … And Kara and Simon are talking about his dancing!? Please.

The same goes for Danny’s take on “You Are So Beautiful.” It gave me chills and had me thinking mesmerizing. THAT is how to reinterpret a song.

* * *

Before I move on, a few notes about last Friday's Danny Gokey Day in Milwaukee ...

In a nutshell? It was pretty dang cool.

From the moment the sun appeared, it seemed, the region was buzzing. The Fox affiliate was all over it, of course and had him on their morning show. And the Milwaukee pop radio stations were gushing about all things Gokey ... I also had to chuckle when the station played three consecutive songs from "American Idol" contestants -- Daughtry, Jordin Sparks, David Cook.

As one radio DJ put it, the city was engulfed in Danny Gokey Day. A woman called the radio station to say a friend of hers cancelled his marriage proposal because of it. Babys were bound to be born and named Danny because of the day.

By 5, our house was tuned into the Fox station, which was broadcasting all the festivities live from the Summerfest grounds (ah, Summerfest ... Just over a month to go) ... For a stint on Friday morning, I thought about going for the spectacle. But I was too worried I'd waste the time driving up there, get stuck in traffic and end up being dissappointed. ... Turned out, the cushy front row seat on my couch at home worked just fine.

Once Danny finally got singing -- after seemingly every elected official but the governor handed him a proclamation -- it became no secret that he has the skills to get a crowd going. ... He knocked out a handful of his best songs from the show, including "P.Y.T" -- which thanks to Danny, I've had drifting in and out of my head for days -- some Stevie Wonder and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

So good that if I was a pre-teen girl, I might have cried.

By 7, he was singing a stirring rendition of the national anthem at the Brewers-Cubs game ... By the way, how awesome of a series was that!?

I digress ...

* * *

I thought Kris’s performance of “Apologize” was too safe. Then again, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more he could have done with it. Randy and Kara are at fault for such a poor choice -- and way to go Simon for calling them out on their critique. …

Kris totally surprised me when he said he was pulling out Kanye’s “Heartless” … And I loved that he incorporated the guitar …

But -- I’m going all Randy here -- dudes, I really like Kris. But, yo dawgs, I just wasn’t feeling it.

I think he’s in danger tonight.

* * *

Adam Lambert’s “One”? Didn’t like it at all. I thought he ruined it … Where Kris might have been better off tinkering with “Apologize” a little more, Adam went way too far with his judges selection.

And was it our TV or are the Fox producers at it again with the subliminal messages and product placement? The lights reflecting off Adam Lambert’s ears during his performance of “One” totally made him look like Spock, a seductive ploy to make us see the new “Star Trek” movie.

His performance of “Cryin’ ” wasn’t half as bad … Except for the chorus that Adam pretty much gave away to a “fearsome howler monkey.”

I’m half hoping Adam gets voted off this week just to see Kara’s face when the results are revealed.


SNL: 'Bringing sexy back'

Pretty good "Saturday Night Live" this weekend ...

My favorite skit -- easily -- was the "Immigrant Tale" with Cornelius Timberlake.

And here's a good interview with Andy Samberg on how the 'D--- in a Box' sequel video went down ... I didn't think that much of it seeing it the first time live on Saturday night. But playing it back on the DVR last night -- yep, it was pretty hilarious.


Manny being Manny?

Say it ain't so.

Another one bites the dust ...

When I heard the news this afternoon I was stunned ... But then again sort of not.

One of the best sound bites I heard was something like We knew Manny was silly. But we didn't think he was stupid.

Here's 10 thoughts on the suspension from USA Today ...

Here's the LA Times' take ...

Updated 05.08.2009 ...
Some good reads from Sports Illustrated ...
a Verducci: Ramirez's Legacy Is Tainted
a Heyman: Manny being Manny
a Posnanski: Never saw it coming

And from Bob Ryan: Being Manny, he may not have known

Idol chatter

Truth be told, after Tuesday's night show I thought Danny Gokey would be getting the boot this week.

Alas, it was sweet, talented Allison Iraheta who got knocked out. Dang.

Go crazy, Milwaukee. You're getting your Danny Gokey Day ... The local Fox station was on it and pouring out all the details the minute last night's elimination show ended.

For the record ...

Danny's performance of Aerosmith's "Dream On" was easily the worst performance of the night. Brutal, actually. (For the rest of my life that song will have me recalling Train's awesome cover of it ...)

Allison's version of "Cry Baby" and Kris's performance of "Come Together" were my favorites ... even though the judges thought they were, as Simon might say, indulgent rubbish. Long before Allison snapped at the judges for suggesting she sing Janice's "Piece of my Heart," I was yelling at the judges myself.

Allison's elimination performance last night, by the way, was melt-your-heart awesome. Afterward, Kates and I marveled in unison: That girl's career is just beginning.

Both of the duets -- Kris and Danny on ''Renegade," and Allison and Adam on ''Slow Ride -- were lame. Sure, Adam and Allison did the superior performance of the two, but it was little more then them repeatedly screaming "Slow Ride! Take it easy!"

Speaking of lame perfomances, Paula Abdul was so lip-synching.

It was pretty sweet to see No Doubt back together again.

Kara's judging may be the single reason I avoid watching "American Idol" next season -- that is, if she does return. Her orgasm over Adam's performance and her music knowledege (To Danny: "I see you more early Aerosmith — 'Cryin',' 'Crazy' ") were ... I have no words to describe her antics.

Some other good 'Idol' reads ...
a On the scene for Top 4 performance night...and chaos
a Rock Night leaves me blind with rage!
a On the scene for the Top 4 results night TRAVESTY



So Brett Favre's at it again ...

Not surprised ... LeRoy Butler told me this was going to happen.

I say let him come back and sign with the Vikings. I don't think he's got anything left and the Packers will come out ahead either way.


The world spins madly on

I had a day off from work on Monday. So I dropped off Phoebe at the daycare and did a few errands before heading home …

It’s worth noting I hate going to Wal-mart. Everything about it annoys me. The impatient and ornery crowds. The long lines. The incompetent clerks. The corporate reputation and labor practices. Pretty much the whole atmosphere.

So I try to avoid the store at all costs.

But I needed a couple household items. I was in the area. And it was early enough in the day that I thought I’d brave it …

I walked through the doors at almost exactly 8 a.m. The store was nearly empty of customers; a group of employees were having some sort of morning pep rally in the jewelry section. This is interesting, I thought, I may have finally found a decent time that I can sort of stand coming to this place.

Think again.

When I got ready to check out a large, middle-aged, black woman -- it's just a description, people -- was chewing out an employee and threatening to call the corporate office because there were only two registers open. At one of them, the clerk’s machine wasn’t accepting credit cards; at the other the clerk was too busy talking to pay attention to the customer who was now chewing out the employee …

Finally, the woman went to the register that wasn’t accepting credit cards, ranting and grumbling all the way through the line while I fell in behind her.

I had planned to pay with a credit card. But under the circumstances, I paid cash and got the heck out of there.

* * *

Kates and I have been gradually returning to our celebrated Chinese food nights … The kind we used to have all the time before we had Phoebe, Kates’s blood pressure skyrocketed, we went on a low-sodium diet for a few months and the economy went so sour that we cut back on a lot of unnecessary purchases. Like Chinese food.

When times were good, it seemed sometimes as though we were single-handedly keeping that place down the street in business.

And now we’re back baby!

Kates called in the order, and I headed out to pick it up.

As I paid for our order tonight, the Chinese girl whose always working the counter but whose name I do not know says, “Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

Somewhat surprised that she’d noticed -- but then again, not really -- I answered “Ah, yeah, we’ve been around … We’ve just been cutting back I guess, with the economy and all.”

“Yeah, a lot of people have been doing that,” the girl said.

She swiped my debit card, had me sign the receipt and handed me our paper bag of wonderfully smelling, mouth-watering piles of delicous-ness.

“Well, it was good to see you again.”

“Yeah, you too,” I said before heading out the door.

I thought it was classic. When I told Kates at home, she burst out laughing.

* * *

Highlights from a stack of police reports I read this morning …

Firefighters extinguished a small fire on an elementary school tennis court. Someone had built the fire with oatmeal and cheese.

A bunch of kids jumped another kid in a gas station parking lot and knocked him unconscious. When police asked the ringleader why he did it, the kid said he just didn’t like the other boy and he was having a bad day.

A man heard a car door slam outside his house and looked through the window to see a burglar inside his truck. So the man grabbed his car keys and repeatedly pressed the remote lock button to contain the burglar in the truck until police arrived.

A couple of men were caught lighting fireworks outside an apartment complex at 1:30 in the morning. When police asked them if they knew possessing fireworks was illegal, let alone why they were lighting them at 1:30 a.m., the men were dumbfounded.

And a mother refused to buy her son a dog. So he went ballistic, trashed his sisters’ rooms, flipped mattresses, smashed things on dressers and then ran outside and threatened to shoot up the house.


Hey, Chicago what do you say ...

I’ve just come inside from an afternoon of living one of my favorite past times: doing yard work while listening to the Cubs on WGN …

The Cubs beat the Marlins for their third straight victory. It’s no wonder I haven’t been able to knock “Go Cubs Go” from my brain for the last couple days.

That and we were down at Wrigley for yesterday’s game

My friend Tom couldn’t use his tickets so he handed them off to us. Up until Friday, it was in doubt whether we’d go. But when the weather forecast came out -- sunny and 60s -- our minds were made up.

So Phoebe woke us up at around 7:30 yesterday morning in her very own special little way. We ate breakfast. Packed up and hit the road down to Wrigley ... Given our success with driving to the ballpark last year and lingering doubts of whether Phoebe would be able to contain herself on a train, we decided to drive it again.

We made excellent time on the road and found a place to park about a mile from the stadium on Addison. I immediately turned the radio to WGN and we caught the first inning -- including Ryan Theriot’s home run -- in the car while we ate our packed lunches and fed Phoebe. Then we dropped Phoebe in her stroller and hiked to the stadium.

By the time we got to the entrance the marquee had the score posted with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the top of the third. Another inning went by before we actually got planted in our seats. Kates had to make a pit stop at the restrooms and I caught Ted Lilly’s RBI double on the monitor as I stood in line with Phoebe to get my customary Mountain Dew in a souvenir cup … Phoebe just sat patiently and quietly waving her new Diego plush doll, which was the promotional giveaway to the first 5,000 children. As late as we were getting to the game, I was pleasantly surprised -- and pleased -- when an usher leaned over and gently handed Phoebe one of the dolls.

We found our seats in the upper deck on the first place side, a place we’ve sat quite a few times now. And Phoebe immediately got herself perched on Kates’ legs. She was bouncing and clapping like a veteran Cubs fan.

I couldn’t tell you more than a few details from the game, other than the Cubs offense was hitting and Ted Lilly pitched well. Since we arrived so late, I didn’t bother getting my customary program and scorecard. I barely caught Derrek Lee’s home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. And Pete Cetera -- nice! -- sang the seventh inning stretch.

But none of that mattered to me. I was totally content just being there with Kates and Phoebe, soaking in a day at the friendly confines, enjoying the weather, the atmosphere and the people around us …By the start of the seventh inning, Phoebe’s excitement had died and she was getting tired. She ended up cuddled up on my lap and wrapped in our Cubs blanket; those three innings with her were the highlight of the afternoon for me.

And there was the Cubs victory, of course. When the Cubs got the second out in the top of the ninth, I popped up from my seat with the rest of the crowd and held up Phoebe as we waited and cheered for the final out. Then the Cubs put the game away, and “Go Cubs Go” started up over the stadium speakers ...

We sang, we danced, and the stadium rocked with an excitement that only those who’ve experienced the tradition know. We were practically singing it all the way back to our car.

* * *

Too bad the Bulls couldn’t carry the excitement through the night. The Celtics finally knocked them off, ending what was an NBA playoff series for the ages

I caught most of Game 1, and I caught bits and highlights of the other games … I was becoming a bigger Derrick Rose fan with every game.

But Thursday night’s Game 6 was a monster classic.

Actually, I play basketball with a group of guys on Thursday nights, and I had hoped to at least catch the start of the game before I left for the gym. But it slipped my mind.

Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I turned on the TV, not expecting at all to see the Bulls and Celtics playing in overtime! Again!

I raced to the living room to share the news with Kates and that my bedtime plans had changed: I was staying up to see the end of this game … But it went into a second overtime! And then a third!

Toward the end of the third overtime, and with Ray Allen scoring his 51st point, it started to look and feel as though the Celtics were getting an edge. And I love Kirk Hinrich, but his mistakes were costing the Bulls … Then Joakim Noah came to the rescue. He intercepted the pass from Paul Pierce and pounded it into the hoop while I shot up from the couch -- not at all like I’d been up since 4 in the morning and badly needed to get some sleep for my next early morning.

The Bulls won the game 128-127. On Friday morning it seemed as though everyone was talking about that game. I was glad I stayed up to watch it.


TV bites

Kates and I didn’t get a chance to watch “American Idol” this week. Not even on the DVR … Once I arrived at work yesterday morning, the results were unavoidable. Facebook, Twitter, e-mail alerts -- I saw it like four or five times. And Kates saw it on the morning news show …

Interestingly, I’m not even sorry I missed it. Matt’s ouster was predictable, although it sounds like Adam got quite a scare. … At this point, I’m finding Slezak’s commentaries more entertaining than the actual show. Here’s Tuesday/ here’s Wednesday.

* * *

After all the hype leading up to the 100th episode of “Lost” this week, I thought it was kind of a let down …

Nevertheless, our friends on the island are finding themselves in a doozy of a situation now that the Dharmas appear to be catching onto the infiltration. And Faraday’s been shot!? … Kates totally called it on Whitmore being Faraday’s father.

* * *

This week’s “Office” … Ha-larious.

Loved Kevin spilling the pot of chilli. Kelly’s J-Lo outfit. Meredith pulling out her boob. Creed and Jim playing chess. And Michael fake-firing people.

* * *

At one point last week I told Kates I’d be ok if we dropped “Desperate Housewives,” “Brothers & Sisters” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” … Original cast members are leaving, or more cast members are being piled on (Have I mentioned how creepy awful I think Ryan is for “Brothers & Sisters?”), and the dynamics are changing. The storylines aren’t as good as they once were. And all the high drama is seriously grating on me …

In fact, last week’s “Grey’s” episode and the story of the little girl who was dying of cancer cut strikingly close to home. The little girl eerily resembled what Phoebe might look like in a few years, and Kates, for obvious reasons, was balling …

Then Grey’s pulls out an episode like this week’s that pulls at your heartstrings from another direction. And we’re feeling chummy with our old friends again …
“That, incidentally, is the magic of Grey's Anatomy: We feel like we've been through everything with these people, and we love them like real-life friends even when they annoy us.”

Walkie talkie

Kates said it best at the end of last weekend when she told someone Phoebe’s “giving us a run for our money.”

During a trip last weekend to visit some family, her blabbering stopped only when we put her down to sleep.

Like I’ve said before, she also crawls like a racehorse …

She’s at a stage now where she has to push every button and investigate every object. So it came almost as no surprise when she discovered a golf ball displayed at my parents’ home, promptly pulled it from its shelf and started shaking it ... The next morning, she went straight for the golf ball again and kept the rest of us entertained -- and laughing -- as she proceeded to throw it around the kitchen. Watched it bounce and roll on the ceramic floors. And then fetched the ball like a puppy.

She also has a stuffed blue octopus that lately she takes almost everywhere with her. Which is sort of adorable … The thing about it is it plays music when you squeeze its head. And Phoebe must always have that music playing; no matter what she’s doing, that octopus is playing music in the background. … So I’ve developed a fun (mostly for me) game with her where I press the button that makes the music stop. In an instant Phoebe turns to the octopus, starts the music again and returns to what she was doing. After a few seconds, I stop the music again, and Phoebe turns to the octopus, starts the music another time and returns to what she was doing. After a few more seconds, I stop the music and … you get the idea.

As our weekend road trip came to a close and we headed home, Phoebe was asleep after just a few minutes on the road, and she didn’t wake up until we were just a few miles from our home.

Kates and I were just as exhausted from chasing her all weekend. But that's all part of the fun in this whole parenthood thing.

* * *

On Wednesday night, I was working in our downstairs den with Phoebe playing on the floor beside me. Kates was making dinner upstairs …

It’s not rare for Phoebe to just take off and explore the room. Usually, I let her go, glancing at her every few seconds to make sure she’s staying occupied but not getting into something she shouldn’t be …

Lately, it’s also not rare for her to crawl to the staircase and pull herself up on the bottom rung. Then she either gets bored and crawls back over to me, or starts whining because she wants to go back upstairs by Mommy.

On Wednesday night, she did neither. Out of the blue, she started crawling up the stairs … and got up three or four before I noticed.

While I ran to catch her possible fall, I yelled for Kates, who came to the top of the stairs to catch the sight. Phoebe crawled up a few more before getting a little scared, I suppose. She started fussing and I whisked her back to the safety of our floor.

But within minutes of me walking away again, she proceeded to try her climb once more. Again, I went to spot her …

This time she crawled up the entire staircase -- all 12 steps -- by herself and let out a happy squeal when she spotted Mommy in the kitchen.

I didn’t know whether to be overjoyed or scared out of my mind.

* * *

I tell you these stories as my lead-in to this …

The milestone every parent eagerly waits for and sort of dreads, right?

Phoebe took her first steps last night.

Kates learned from the caretaker yesterday afternoon that Phoebe had taken some steps at the daycare. So Kates was wanting to try walking with Phoebe as soon as she carried her in the door … At that point though, Phoebe’s legs were too wobbly to do any real walking. She was more or less lunging at Kates or I when one of us let go …

But a little while later, as I was standing in a doorway, Phoebe crawled up to me. Pulled herself up on my pant leg. And then took off.

Initially, Kates was so focused on the TV to notice; I blurted her name to get her attention and pointed to Phoebe walking away from me. Both of us stayed in stunned, giddy silence as we watched our little girl take two, three, four steps before plopping down on her bottom and crawling the rest of the way into our living room.

People keep warning us how fast the time goes and how I should soak it up. For the first time since Phoebe was born, I find myself asking Where did the time go?