Random thoughts from people our age

So my friend Ed sent this list of "Random Thoughts From People Our Age" ...

As I read some of these lines out loud to Kates it was amusing to note how many of them we could relate to and we agreed with. Some of them kept us laughing for awhile ...

I have no idea who wrote these, but they're pretty great observations. Here are our favorites ...

    • I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

    • More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me.

    • Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

    • Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

    • That's enough, Nickelback.

    • I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

    • Is it just me, or are 80% of the people in the "people you may know" feature on Facebook people that I do know, but I deliberately choose not to be friends with?

    • Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no Internet or message boards or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.

    • There is a great need for sarcasm font.

    • How the heck are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

    • I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

    • Was learning cursive really necessary?

    • How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

    • I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers!

    • Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using "as in ..." examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes, that's G as in... (10 second lapse) ...um ...Goonies."

    • While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it ... thanks Mario Kart.

    • MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

    • Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

    • Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

    • You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day.

    • Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection.

    • There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

    • I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my 10-page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

    • I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

    • Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what do to with it.

    • I think the freezer deserves a light as well.


Playoffs, round 2: Fun and done

Wednesday night's game sure was thrilling ...

But today, the fat lady started singing for us in the third inning.

We lost our playoff game today, 11-3. And that means our season is over.

You won't hear any complaining from me, though. I love my baseball and it's a fantastic way to get out of the house, get some exercise and hang out with a fun group of guys every Sunday ...

But by mid-August, I'm so ready to have my Sunday afternoons back. To relax, take a nap, putz in the yard, spend time with Kates and Phoebe. As I sit here tonight, I feel like an enormous weight has been taken off my shoulders.

In today's game we were facing a team that ended the regular season with a 4-10 record. But coming in, they'd won three of their last four -- and that included handing the first place team their only loss of the season. ... We won both of our regular season matchups with them, but the games also were close as we struggled to hit their pitching.

Remember, we hadn't been doing a good job of stringing together our hits down the stretch, either.

We got on the board with a run in the first inning, but they came back with three in the bottom of the inning and never looked back. For a time, their pitcher couldn't throw strikes and we capitalized on a string of walks, but a 5-3 score was as close as we came to overcoming the deficit.

Nor was our defense as crisp and tight as Wednesday night. Even our steady shortstop made an error today -- that hasn't happened all season.

Add to all that, the umpires made a few calls that our team didn't agree with. Frustration boiled over. Tempers flared. And, well, as soon as that kind of stuff starts happening, it's tough to come back.

I ended it with an 0-for-2 day at the plate along with two walks. I popped out in the first and eighth innings and walked in the fourth and sixth innings.

In the bottom of the ninth, our final batter fouled out to the first base side. Someone on our bench said it was a fitting end to the day. … We shook hands, and that was it. That was our season.

Looking back on it, I couldn’t be happier with this summer’s campaign. It was undoubtedly the most fun I’ve had playing in this league, and the most talented team I’ve been part of in those four years. Sure there were disagreements along the way, but I always attributed those to our passions for the game and our confidence to win every game … In the end, we won and lost as a team.

I’d like to think playing on a good team helped me play better, too. Statistically, this season arguably was my best …

.368 average, with 14 hits, 10 runs scored, 11 RBIs, 4 stolen bases, 3 walks and 9 strikeouts in 13 games. There also was that double, RBI and run scored that were later struck from the record books in the lightning classic of Aug. 9.

My walks were way down and my strikeouts were up slightly … I’d like to think that’s from a combination of batting leadoff most of the season, getting more plate appearances and being more aggressive with my bat. I went down swinging on eight of those nine strikeouts.

Here’s a complete look back …

Game 1: 3-3, stolen base, 2 runs scored (14-4 win)
Game 2: 0-2 (12-2 win)
Game 3: 1-3, run scored (11-4 loss)
Game 4: 1-4, 2 RBIs, run scored (12-5 win)
Game 5: 1-3, 2 runs scored, RBI, stolen base (11-8 win)
Game 6: 2-3, 2 runs scored, 3 RBIs (15-14 win)
Game 7: Did not play (We won 5-0). I went to the Brewers game instead.
Game 8: 0-3 (22-1 loss)
Game 9: 2-4, two runs scored, stolen base (8-6 loss)
Game 10: Did not play (We won 11-4). I went camping instead.
Game 11: 1-3, 2 RBIs, and some key defensive plays (10-5 win)
Game 12: 1-2, double, RBI, run scored. But all of it was struck from the record books by lightning.
Game 13: 0-1, RBI, walk, sac fly (16-3 loss)
Game 14: 1-4 (6-5 win)
Playoff, game 1: 2-3, RBI, stolen base (1-0 win)
Playoff, game 2: 0-2, 2 walks (11-3 loss)

Look back at seasons of ...


The Summer of Death

Kates and I spent most of last night watching Ted Kennedy coverage ...

Watching news coverage, documentaries and tributes is something we've been doing a whole lot of this summer ...

Ed McMahon. Farah Fawcett. Michael Jackson. Walter Cronkite. Les Paul. Eunice Kennedy Shriver. John Hughes. And now Ted Kennedy.

Here's a good read from the Washington Post: The Summer of Celebrity Death Has Taken Too Many Beloved Figures.

It's also worth checking out Cagle's Cartoon Index ...


Playoffs, round 1: A good night

(insert happy sigh ... )

What. a. game ...

Arguably one of the most thrilling games I've been a part of ...

I'm thinking it wasn't a coincidence I had the Black Eyes Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" looping through my head all day and night ...

Our baseball playoffs are underway this week. It's a one-and-done tournament. All the records from the regular season have been thrown out. Your team loses one game, your season is over ...

We played our first round game tonight against a team that finished the season with a 2-12 record. And yet, that team is one of the most fundamentally-sound in the league. Baseball never fails to mystify.

As we warmed up and took the field, I had a feeling ... that tonight was going to be a good night. There was something in the air; there was a loose, but zoned-in attitude about us as some of us hit fungos and others played catch in the outfield. Especially after Sunday's come-from-behind win, there was a feeling we had hit our stride and we're playing as cohesively as ever now.

I got the start at my usual right field position and was moved down in the batting order from the leadoff spot to the second spot. Our manager retooled the lineup slightly hoping a different combination might help us put together a longer string of hits -- something we haven't been doing well down the stretch.

In the bottom of the first, after our leadoff batter grounded out, I singled with a line drive into center field. But the next batter hit into a double play, ending any threat.

And that's the way it went for the first 6 1/2 innings. Both of our teams traded hits, but neither team could get a run across ... Our opponent put runners on second and third in the fifth inning, but our pitcher fought back and got a strikeout to end that threat.

Our defense was as crisp and flawless as ever. We were digging balls out of the dirt, we were making running catches, we were snagging hot shots, we were turning double plays. It was awesome.

But the other team was playing perfect defense, too.

The game went scoreless into the bottom of the seventh inning ... Our leadoff batter singled, and then it was my turn to bat once more ...

During my second at-bat in the bottom of the fourth, I flied out to the shortstop -- on a pitch I should have smacked for another line drive to center field. I had gone down 0-1 on a strike call that was outside of the plate, a pitch the umpire had been calling on both teams all night. Then the opposing pitcher got me down 0-2 as I swung and missed a nasty, nasty curve ball. I fought back to a 2-2 count before flying out ...

So when I came up again in the seventh inning he pitched me an almost identical sequence of pitches. The outside strike to put me down 0-1, the nasty curve that I swung and missed again, and then a ball up high to make the count 1-2 ...

Before his fourth pitch, I took my time outside the batter's box and took a deep breath ... Concentrate. Watch the ball all the way. Watch it hit the bat ...

Then, there it was -- a fat pitch straight over the plate ...

I swung ... and connected solidly, sending the ball back up into center field. The leadoff batter -- who had stolen second base during my at-bat -- scored and got us on the board. And when the ball came back to the infield, I was standing on first base trying to hide my pride-ridden smile.

Our next batter struck out ... I stole second base during the ensuing at-bat, but the second out was made on a fly ball to left field. The third out was made on a ground ball to the pitcher, and I was left stranded.

In the end, though, we needed nothing more. Our defense remained steady for six more outs, and we won the game, 1-0. We're moving on to round two of the playoffs.

Our pitcher -- our ace -- pitched a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts, while I went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles ... and the game-winning RBI.

Tonight was a good night.


Game 13: All's well that ends well

We finished off our regular season today with a 6-5, come-from-behind win. The win staked us in fourth place for the season, with a record of 8-5 -- by far the best record of any team I've played on in my four seasons with this amateur baseball league.

For awhile today it looked like we were going to lose. The opponent threw their 60-something junk baller at us and we couldn't hit him for a lick. I struck out to lead off the bottom of the first in another one of my "epic" at-bats, which have started to become the norm of my plate appearances during the latter half of the season, Once again, I fouled off a multitude of pitches before swinging and missing a sinking pitch ...

I hit a single in the fourth inning, but nothing came of it. We couldn't string together any offense against their pitcher ...

Finally, with our team down 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the opponent made a pitching change -- for whatever reason -- and suddenly our bats came alive. We put together enough hits to tie the game, and then scored the go-ahead run when one of our runners scored from third base on a passed ball.

I didn't figure into the rally, though ... I popped out to the third baseman in the sixth, and I flied out to the center fielder in the eighth inning.

Playoffs start this week -- and that's good, because we're hitting our groove.


Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat

I've just come back from a return trip to my alma mater, Northwest Missouri State ...

I was invited back by one of my college journalism advisers to lend my experiences to the student newspaper staff for a few days. The same newspaper where I spent four years as a staff member, including two as editor, and blossomed as a journalist.

I took an early, early flight out of a gloomy, rainy Chicago on Thursday morning, and reunited with my adviser, who was there to pick me up in a gloriously sunny Kansas City. As we made the two-hour drive through the countryside to our rural campus, we reminisced on the years gone by, chatted about what's become of the people who were in school with me; we talked baseball, Brett Favre and politics.

(We did, by the way, gather to watch Brett's preseason debut on Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs ... Funny how that worked out. Me, being the longtime Brett Favre fan, watching him, playing in a purple Vikings uniform, against my former home team, the Chiefs ... Brett did not look good.)

The weekend was filled with fun reminiscing of my days as a student journalist -- including the week of Sept. 11 and some of the shenanigans we played in our fabled Wells Hall ... The eating was excellent, with return trips to some old favorites (A & G's, Pagliai's Pizza, The Palms) and trips to some newer places I'd never been (LaBonita, Java Cafe) ... And I managed to sneak away for about an hour Friday afternoon to take a walk around the campus and explore more of the changes ...

After all, it's been about four years -- a whole college career -- since my last trip there.

This return to the campus was so rejuvenating, recalling a place that's a stronghold in my root system ... There were other parts that were so surreal. Like noticing that almost nothing in the newsroom had changed in the last eight years, aside from some sleek new Apple computers and a line of front pages adorning the hallway to the newsroom -- including some I helped create. The office furniture that a couple professors and some of my journalism buddies spent a whole day taking apart and moving was still standing strong.

During my walk, I marveled once more at the symbolism and architecture of the Bell Tower and the Administration Building ... I stood perplexed and somewhat disappointed at the way two new residence halls had all but eliminated "the tundra" where we played pickup games of football, baseball and Frisbee; and yet the crumbling residential towers remained ... I gazed with pride at all of the improvements around what I prefer to keep calling "Rickenbrode Stadium," and took a few minutes to watch the football team practice for another run at a national title ... I toured the Gaunt House as construction crews worked on renovations and preparations for the new president ... And I stood amused in front of Hudson & Perrin Halls -- the place I had lived two years -- which had been decimated and rebuilt as a shiny, glassy piece of modern living.

Still, for me, one of the most mind-blowing sights of the weekend was watching the students texting on their cell phones and chatting on their Facebook pages almost non-stop. To think that 10 years ago the Internet had existed only a couple years in the public domain, you were rich if you had a cell phone and social networking meant going to a bar -- on arrangements you made via your land line phone ...

Here's some of images from the trip ...

... A rainbow over the country side on Thursday night ...

... Enjoying some relaxation time in my hotel room ...

... The Bell Tower ...

... The Administration Building ...

... A football practice at Bearcat Stadium ...

... The new and improved Perrin & Hudson Halls ...

... And returning home to Chicago and the dream of the 2016 Olympic games.


Help save a newspaper reporter

This just in from my friend Trisha ... Please help!

Favre: Purple people feeder

... So Brett Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings yesterday. He's coming back ... again.

I watched the wires and tweets with great interest yesterday morning as the news trickled in ... And then last night got a kick as the local TV stations -- as usual -- parked themselves on camera shots of an empty podium and babbled about the latest comeback ...

Finally, at about 5:45, Favre stepped up to mic and spoke; we ate our dinner and watched the history unfold ...

A few lingering thoughts ...

I still love Brett Favre and I probably always will. His 16 years with the Packers were thrilling and memorable ... Sure, there were times he drove us nuts with his interceptions, but those ups and downs are part of sports.

I really admire his guts and has passion to keep playing, and I believe him when he says his decision to sign with the Vikings isn't about getting revenge on the Packers. It's about wanting to play football.

Though, I did love the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's headline: "The Ego Has Landed."

I can't see him doing well in the Metrodome. He's notorious for his poor performances in domed stadiums.

And his arm? C'mon. He's 39 and coming off surgery, and now it's been revealed he has a torn rotator cuff. We saw how he crumbled down the stretch with the Jets last year; I think he'll be lucky if he makes it through this season.

Judging the comments showed from Vikings players on "Sportscenter" this morning, it doesn't appear his teammates are exactly thrilled he's joined the team.

Mark Schlereth said on "Sportscenter" this morning what I was already thinking: "No team is one player away from going to the Super Bowl." There are too many factors that go into a 16-game NFL season and the playoffs for anyone to be pegging the Vikings as a Super Bowl team just because they've signed Favre.

I'm calling it now -- The Vikings won't be in the Super Bowl this season with Brett Favre.


Summer movie list

Kates started her school year this week. My baseball season is nearing its end. September is on the horizon. This summer is so over ...

Kates and I had high hopes of playing catch-up on our movie-watching this summer, and I had hoped to be coming to you with a long list of great movies we saw ... But we weren’t as productive as we had hoped -- and the movies weren't that great …

Hopefully we'll have better luck this fall. In the meantime, here's a synopsis -- aside from our John Hughes study -- of what we did watch ...
* * *

Surprisingly, of all the movies we crossed off our list this summer, “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Rickie Bobby” ranks as a favorite.

Now, almost all of the reviews I’ve heard from friends and relatives about the movie portray it as the dumbest, most pointless movie Will Ferrell has made to date.

Maybe my expectations for “Talladega” were so low that it helped its cause. I really enjoyed it.

To be sure, it’s not a terrific film. And it’s nothing I’d lunge at seeing again. But if you’re in the right mood, and you happen to catch it on TV, it’s good for some belly laughs.

The story depicts Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, who overcomes a rough childhood and his father leaving him to join a NASCAR pit crew. When he takes the wheel in the middle of a race, he becomes an out-of-nowhere star driver who's appearing on the cover of every racing magazine. He does it all with the help of his best bud since childhood, Cal Naughton Jr. ... But when French Formula One driver Jean Girard comes along, Ricky's life begins to crumble, and he must fight to win back his family, Cal's friendship and his NASCAR supremacy.

The cast is stacked. Gary Cole as Ricky's dad. Jane Lynch as his mother. John C. Reilly as Cal. Sacha Baron Cohen as Jean Girard. Plus, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, Molly Shannon, Rob Riggle and Jack McBrayer (aka "30 Rock's" Kenneth).

Arguably my favorite aspect is Ricky Bobby's kids -- Walker and Texas Ranger (really!) -- who deliver some of the most quotable, memorable and raunchiest lines of the film. Ricky Bobby's dinner table prayer and the subsequent conversation had me rolling ...

* * *

Music & Lyrics” … This was one Kates and I had wanted to see when it was released in theaters. Now, we’re both glad we didn’t waste the money … I found Drew Barrymore adorable, as usual. But the only parts that were remotely entertaining were the “Pop” music video that opened the film and then the pop-up version of the same song that ran during the closing credits.

Everything else fell horribly flat. The ending was cheesy and predictable.

* * *

Night at the Museum” … Entertaining, thrilling and charming!

In it, Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a middle-aged man who's fallen on hard times and must find a decent to job to restore his son's confidence and appreciation in him. Daley settles for a night security job at the Museum of Natural History ... And you know the rest -- the exhibits inside the museum come alive at night.

During the course of the movie Daley must learn to control the exhibit characters and teach them to work together in what turns into a fight to protect one of the museum's gems from a gang of thieves.

It, too, has an excellent cast with Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Dick Van Dyle, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs and Ricky Gervais as the tightly-wound museum director who can't speak in complete sentences ...

At one point, as the excitement was building and the climax was nearing, Kates laughed and said “This is too much.” ...I answered, “It’s like ‘Toy Story’ on steroids.

* * *

Akeelah and the Bee” ... This film depicts Akeelah (Keke Palmer), an intelligent 11-year-old girl who's distracted by her tough homelife and her gang-ridden neighborhood of south Los Angeles. But a principal sees her stength in spelling and, after she wins a school spelling bee, pairs her with a professor (Laurence Fishburne) who can train her to rise to the National Spelling Bee ...

During the course of the film, Akeelah must learn to overcome her nervousness while helping her mentor face his demons, too. Alkeelah also must prove to her overprotective mother (Angela Bassett) that she can succeed and in doing so she becomes an inspiration for her neighborhood.

It's an excellent film that's also probably slightly underrated. As veteran actors, Fishburne and Bassett are stirring in their roles and draw out deep emotions. Meanwhile you can't help root for Palmer's Akeelah with the way she presses on and taps out some jaw-dropping words and picks up some fun friends along her journey ...

If there's any blemish, it's that the ending feels like a cop-out ...

* * *

Sex and the City” … Yeah, I could go on and on about the off-the-wall fashion, the New York name dropping, Pop Culture references, and of course the sex …

All that stuff was slightly over the top at times, but the truth is I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. Admittedly, you kind of have to be fan and have seen the show to understand some of the references (Kates and I have managed to catch almost all of them ...). But even if you’ve only seen a few shows here and there, it’s a fair film ...

Really, the movie runs like a 2 ½ hour episode of “Sex and the City.” Kates thought it was a little too long, but I thought the length was good. And the storyline -- complete with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha, Big, and more -- was entertaining.

Bring on the sequel.

* * *

Click” … Yawn.

In it Michael Newman (played by Adam Sandler) leans he can control his life with a magic remote control he gets from the mysterious Morty (Christopher Walken). Newman proceeds to fast forward through all the uncomfortable parts and slowly his family life erodes ...

... What Newman fails to figure out -- in frustrating fashion for any viewer -- is an obvious answer to his problems could have been the pause or rewind buttons.

The whole thing is very “Family Man” -ish in its themes of a man trying to correct past mistakes and wishing for a more ideal home life …

At least the movie gave me a reason to watch the beautiful Kate Beckinsale for awhile ...

Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

* * *

Happy Feet” was even worse …

After being mesmerized by the trailer when the movie hit theaters, we were struggling to even get through the film; Kates bailed after a few minutes, but I held on – barely. Actually, I’m pretty sure I dozed through a couple scenes. …

The film couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a heart-warming story about the awkward penguin who persevered beyond his awkwardness, or a love story, or an environmental message. The plot was as thin as ice …

Thinking about it now, no wonder the trailer showed nothing but that cute little penguin tap-dancing to Stevie Wonder. There was nothing else worth showing.


Hair goods

... I've long had a crush on Rob Thomas's hair. For as long as his music has been on the charts, I've wanted a hair cut like his.

Tonight, Phoebe was sporting it pretty good ...

The story behind the squirrel photo

Have you seen this?

At first, I questioned it, too ...

But the couple says it's real ...

Great stuff.


Game 12: Late season tryout

We didn't have it today. We got beat -- rocked, you might say -- fair and square. 16-3.

We were playing the top team in the league. They're 12-0, after all, and even if we had played as well today as we did last week, it would have been a monumental task for us to knock them off.

They put us down 3-0 in the first inning, and then scored eight runs in the third inning, with the help of a three-run home run, to make the score 11-0. Their hits and runs were more scattered in the remaining innings ... After the fourth inning, we pulled our starting pitcher and sort of threw in the towel, deciding instead to use the rest of the game to play with our defense.

That meant I got a turn on the mound. Yep, I was called on to pitch an inning in the sixth ... I hadn't pitched in a game situation in probably 15 years, but it's something I'd been itching to do the last couple years since I've started playing again. I was ready and willing; I knew the biggest hurdle was going to be actually getting out there and building my confidence back up ... And those of us who were called to pitch figured the blowout we were enduring was the best place to try it.

I felt good during my warm-ups and I was hitting the strike zone. Then it came time for the inning to start and our catcher met me on the mound. "What have you got for pitches? Fastball? Slow curve?" he asked.

"I got nothing," I answered. "It's going to be nothing but straight pitches and strikes. Hopefully the fielders are behind me." And that was that.

My first two pitches were called for balls, but I soon found a groove and got the first batter to shoot a fly ball straight up over the first base line. I called for it and made the catch for the first out ...After that, the inning was sort of a blur of me trying to limit the damage and hold my own. I walked a couple guys, our third baseman made an error on a routine ground ball and a couple batters got away with some bloop fly balls to center field. I think I gave up one or two runs ... I got out of it when a batter hit a slow roller toward the first base side, I came off the mound and tossed the ball to the first baseman for the third out.

After that, I was sent back to right field, where I'd been prior to my pitching stint, for the ensuing innings. Other players took their shots at pitching, and I took shortstop for the final inning.

Offensively, I guess I had a couple things I could be proud of today ... I was in the lead-off spot again, and worked a 3-2 count during my first at-bat before swinging and missing a letters-high pitch for strike three. ... In the fourth inning, I knocked in our first run with a sacrifice fly to right field ... In the seventh, I worked another 3-2 count and drew a walk, my first of the season (Good thing, usually my walk numbers are high. Lately, I've been scrutinizing why I had yet to get a walk this season ...). Then I took second on a passed ball, moved to third on a ground ball and scored our second run on a single ...

Our best effort just wasn't good enough today.

Last game of the regular season is next week. Playoffs start after that, and we're sitting as the fourth seed.


Happy 40th Woodstock

With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock this weekend, I've been reading and watching a lot of material during the last couple weeks about the landmark rock festival ...

I've known for a long time about the magic of the musical performances -- Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix -- and the tales of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll coming together on a rural New York farm ...

But I guess I'd never fully realized the cultural impact and magnitude of the festival until now. The way it was practically thrown together by a couple promoters during the summer of '69. All of the stars aligned ... and when the crowd of a half million showed up, they formed a community, were surprisingly peaceful, shared food and space and enjoyed the music -- among other things.

Last night, I watched "Woodstock: Now & Then," a fascinating, well-done documentary that aired on VH1 and will air again Monday on the History Channel ... and I was charmed by, again, the stories of how the festival came together in the preceding days. The observations of the now "twinkly eyed senior citizens" who were there. The rain. The way Max Yasgur, the owner of the property, opened his arms and welcomed the festival as the young generation's right to express themselves ...

"Now & Then" also featured some great insight into the performances by Santana (oooh, that drum solo!) and Crosby, Stills & Nash (It was just their second performance as a band!). I was charmed, too, by the the "School of Rock" kids and seeing the glow in their eyes as they discussed their studies of Woodstock and the music that surrounded it ...

Aside from the documentary, The New York Times also posted some good material this week, including this home movie, which as far as I can tell from the description and the clips appears to be groups of kids leaving the festival and driving past one bemused family's home ... It's just as fascinating to see the cars and the behaviors of the people driving by.

I'm mesmerized. I wish I could have been at Woodstock. If only time travel were possible. ... More realistically, I'd love to at least visit the site and museum there someday.

I also can hardly wait, now, to see "Taking Woodstock."

Like Gail Collins, one of my favorite columnists, who also appeared in the VH1 documentary, writes this weekend: "Whenever anybody asks you to do something off the wall, you should really try to do it."

More good reads ...
a 40 years after Woodstock, generation gap finds harmony, poll shows
a 40 years later, Woodstock still fascinates

Sixteen Candles

Kates and I continued our study of John Hughes films last night ...

After finally watching "The Breakfast Club" last weekend, I mentioned my sudden urge to see "Sixteen Candles," the John Huges/Molly Ringwald/Anthony Michael Hall -- if you will -- prequel to "Breakfast Club." So Kates immediately went online and reserved it at our library; she brought it home the other night.

Like with "The Breakfast Club," I found myself thoroughly enjoing Anthony Michael Hall's geek character. And Ringwald was fun to watch as the just-turned-16 Samantha Baker crushing on the popular boy in school. Seeing a young John Cusack and sis Joan playing their respective geeky characters was an extra special treat.

My overall reaction of the film though? ... Eh.

To be sure, it is lighter and funnier fare than "Breakfast Club." ... But I expected the plot to draw more on Samantha's family forgetting her birthday. At the outset it seemed that the storyline would run for the duration of the film, but there's still a lot of movie left when Samantha's parents realize their mistake and apologize. The rest of the film is left to a cooky wedding ceremony, the aftermath of Jake Ryan's wild party and then the love-ly ending ...

Like with "The Breakfast Club," 25 years has taken a lot of the edge off "Sixteen Candles."

(Update: 08.18.2009 -- John Hughes: The soundtrack to a generation ... A good read about the music Hughes included in his films.)


Vinyl comeback

I’ve just updated my vinyl records collection after another summer of garage sale hunting … I'm really proud of how it's grown and the quality of music in it.

NBC had a good piece over the weekend about the comeback of vinyls …I stopped at a Best Buy a couple weeks ago to pick up a new CD (Regina Spektor's new "Far" album), and my heart skipped a beat when I saw a shelf loaded with vinyl records. I could hardly believe my eyes -- Best Buy! Big-time, corporate electronics store! Has vinyl records! ...

It is a neat sight, for sure ... The only problem is the newer bands and big stores charge up the wahzoo for their vinyls, which they seem to market more as collector's items. For my money, the best bargains and the really good stuff still come from the local outlets and the second-hand stores.

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village


Sweet sixteen

So Phoebe turns 16 months old this week ...

We've been reading how Month Fifteen is a month loaded with milestones. For us, I'd say that's pretty accurate.

She's always had a curious and fearless way about her. But now she's walking with confidence and strutting her stuff with authority, swinging her arms at her side. She pushes her baby doll's stroller or her push cart up and down the hallway and through the kitchen with not a care about what’s in her way ...

In the last week, she's also taken to a rocking horse Uncle Orrin gave her for her birthday in April. In fact, she didn't just take to it, she hopped on it without Kates or I ever helping her on board. She rocks on it, not like it's a gentle pony, but a bucking bronco – and saying "Weeee!"

"Weeee!" We hear that a lot these days ... Riding her rocking horse. Pushing the stroller around the house. Walking around the kitchen. Driving over hills.

She's getting better at running and jumping and climbing – which is both so fun and so scary. She scales staircases in seconds, and she's going to be climbing onto furniture any day now ... She already loves it when Kates or I lift her on to the bed or couch so she can jump on the furniture. ... Our bed, with its sea of blankets and mountains of pillows, is particularly amusing to her. After a couple hops on the bed – fully supervised, of course – she’ll dive into the pillows and explode into laughter.

She also loves being chased ... The other night, we got into a peek-a-boo/chase game in the hallway that got her totally riled up and left me out of breath. We'd meet in the hallway for an embrace and a brief game of tickling, then we'd both turn around and go to opposite ends of the hallway. She would step into her bedroom, I would huddle behind a blanket. Then, when she started back down the hallway, I rushed toward her again. She's burst into laughter, we'd embrace, I'd tickle her. Then, we'd turn around and start the exact sequence again ... We must've done it for 15 minutes. It's that repetition that toddlers apparently love. So simple, and so much fun.

She's becoming a pretty good helper ... Kates has had some success training her to help clean the floor after she’s dumped her Cheerios and carrots on it during meals. She's also started learning how to help pick up some of her toys. She likes to help me push the vaccum to the closet and back – she remains weary of the vacuum once it's turned on, however ...

Most of all, she looooves helping us close doors. The microwave door. The dishwasher door. The refrigerator door ... But not before she’s swooped in and walked off with the mustard from the refrigerator door. At times, she’s waved the bottle around the living room a couple of minutes before Kates or I can look up and realize her grand theft.

She's fascinated by whatever objects Kates or I pull from our bags or our shelves ... She also is magnetized by our landline phone or the old fan in our kitchen wall. Any time either of them come to life, she scurries toward them, points and studies them. Even if they're not working, she studies them and wonders – it's almost a worry, actually – why the fan's not blowing, or why we're not using the phone.

Speaking of objects on shelves. We've allowed her to play with small plastic jars of push pins and paper clips in our den area. They're on a shelf that's just high enough for her to reach ... Now, whenever we enter the den, the first thing she does is run to that shelf. She grabs both jars and proceeds to walk around the room, shaking both of them above her head.

She loves pulling glasses off faces … Which has become so annoying to me that I wait until after she’s in bed to take my contacts out at night, no matter how much they’re bothering me.

And she loves bringing me my baseball cap … If she spots it sitting on a desk or table, she pulls it down and brings it to me. If I’m sitting where she can reach my head, she even tries putting it on me. Once the task is complete, she walks away in approval. But if she catches me removing the hat, she’s back to help me put it back on – as if I need to wear it for my protection.

Keys – remember the lockout fiasco at the daycare – remain a fascination. Now, she even knows the word … “Keese!” she shouts and points whenever we come in the door and she sees a keychain on our hook.

"Baby" is probably her best and most used word these days – not only because it refers to her beloved baby doll, but also because I think she just enjoys saying the word …

She can say doggie, and off, and up … She hasn't been afraid to say "hi" to compete strangers in the grocery store, and she often walks around the house shouting “two!” – though we can’t be sure she knows what that means …

She knows "yucky" – which she pronounces "uggie," as in rhymes with Huggies – refers to things that are dirty and we'd rather not have her touch. Mostly this comes into play when she tries pulling things from our garbage cans ... But a couple weeks ago, I was leading her across our deck. She noticed leaf lying on it, bent down, pointed and said "Uggie!"

She says “all done” – which sounds like “all da” – and she can say “please” – which sounds like “peas.”

A few weeks ago she learned “Yeah!” … In the last week, she’s learned “no.” Though it’s a pleasant, dainty “no” – not a whiny, snobby “nooooooo!” We’ll see how long that continues.

Best word of all? … Kates and I were sitting at our table and finishing our dinner Saturday night while Phoebe was dancing and playing around the kitchen. All of a sudden, she started saying “Mommy” in this sweet, little adorable voice – in a way that only a 16-month-old girl could speak it. It was the first time she’d said the word, and she repeated it over and over for several minutes, as she went back and forth from a toy at one end of the kitchen to resting her head on Kates’ leg. … Kates and I just broke into laughter while our eyes welled up.

Sweet, sweet stuff.

Check out this video of her eating over the weekend ...


The Breakfast Club

So I fulfilled my promise to myself over the weekend

I finally sat down and watched “The Breakfast Club” with Kates on Saturday night …

I did enjoy it, and I can now understand why it’s held in high regard … Though, Kates and I mused as the credits rolled that we got a different perspective watching it as adults than we might have had as the angsty, pressured kids portrayed in the film. For a good portion of the movie I was thinking, Geez, I should have seen this in high school …

I can’t say I thought the movie was perfect, that it will rank among my all-time favorites, or that I think it deserves all the praise I’ve read/heard about it … I thought the abundance of teary-eyed confessions were a little over-the-top at times.

On the other hand, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Judd Nelson's and Anthony Michael Hall’s portrayals … And I couldn’t keep from smiling during the dance sequence, which I thought was arguably the highlight of the film.

I’ve had “Don’t You Forget About Me” looping in my head ever since.

(Update 08.12.2009: Molly Ringwald has an excellent piece at The New York Times: The Neverland Club.)

Here's the trailer ...


Game 11 1/2: When lightning strikes

We've played some tough games, this season. But today, the weather was our toughest opponent.

We'd been toughing out a heat wave this weekend. Heat indexes of 95 degrees ... Before today's game, half our guys were shooting e-mails to coordinate who was bringing the water-filled coolers -- not how we'd set up our lineup.

By game time, the air was still thick with humidity. But clouds had settled over the diamond, covering the sun, and a swift breeze was blowing out toward right field.

We were up against the second place team today, the same team that knocked us around for a 12-2 loss in our second game of the season ... But we knew if we could keep our defense tight and just get our bats going against their pitching, we could hang with them.

We gave up one run in the top of the first and then went down in order in the bottom half of the inning. I led off with a flyout to left field. ... In the second inning we tied the score, 1-1, but they went ahead again in the top of the third, 2-1.

Then the lightning struck -- figuratively.

Our first batter in the bottom of the third grounded out. The second batter singled. The third batter struck out. The fourth batter was hit by a pitch ...

So it was my turn to bat with two outs and two runners on. I took the first pitch for a ball, low and away -- but the ball skidded away from the catcher and the runners advanced. When the catcher tried to gun down the lead runner at third base, the ball sailed into the outfield, and the tying run scored. The other runner moved to second base.

I took my second pitch for a ball, up high ... The third pitch was at my waist and a little off the plate. I took a good cut -- and smoked the ball for a line drive into right-center field. The ball rolled to the fence, and as I rounded first base I was thinking I had a chance at a triple. But the outfielders made a clean relay and I went in standing at second base for a double instead. We had taken a 3-2 lead.

We didn't stop there, either. The next batter walked, and I scored from second base when the following batter hit a liner into left-center field ... We knocked the starting pitcher out of the game and put together enough hits to take a commanding 8-2 lead at the end of the third inning. We were stoked.

Then the lightning struck -- literally.

The win gusts had picked up to hurricane-caliber. The clouds swirling over the ballpark were getting darker -- so much that a couple of us were dispatched to turn on the stadium lights -- at 4:15 in the afternoon. There was a brief downpour as we took the field to start the fourth inning, but it was nothing we didn't think we couldn't play through ...

But the umpires spotted a flash of lightning beyond right field, and that would put an end to our fun ... By rule, the game had to be postponed 30 minutes every time a lightning strike was spotted. In the time we waited, two more were spotted -- even though the clouds appeared to be dissipating in the west. After about 20 minutes, the umpires put it up to our managers to decide whether it was worth continuing. We could be waiting here for a long time, they reasoned.

The coaches decided to end the game, and we started packing up ... It was too bad for us. If only we could have gotten six more outs, the game would have been official -- a big win! Now, we'll likely have to start from scratch -- if we even decided to makeup the game. This late in the season, it's possible we won't replay it.

About an hour later -- once I had shed my uniform, showered and settled in at home for a night of watching Sunday Night Baseball -- the TV stations were breaking in, warning of severe thunderstorms approaching. Right on cue, as the TV's radar showed nothing but red over our area, the sky darkened again and the rain came in force.

It was probably a good thing we called our game, but ... ah, rats.


Living the high life

I met up with Windell Middlebrooks today. Otherwise known as the Miller High Life deliveryman ...

He swung into town for a tour of the city, stopping at various grocery stores and food locales ... My friend Liz and I caught him at a popular Italian delicatessen. It was one of those quirky, cool opportunities that -- when they come along -- you have to seize them. Sort of like waking up and deciding to go to a Hillary Clinton campaign stop.

In person, Middlebrooks is as cool and down to earth as he appears in the popular commercials. As the line snaked around the aisles of the store, I couldn't help but notice the lack of stereotypical beer drinkers and instead families and kids who came because they simply love the commercials ... Mr. Middlebrooks graciously stood with that big smile of his and reached out to shake the hand of every fan who stepped in front of him, before snapping pictures and signing autographs.

As he told my friend Liz in an interview earlier this week, "I'm just a country bumpkin asking, 'Where we goin' next?' "

For the record, here's my favorite Miller High Life commercial ...

(Also see: "The Common Sense Party," "27 Feet of Nonsense" and "11.50 for a hamburger.")

* * *
... It's Friday afternoon.

... There's a steady rain falling outside. A good pour actually. The grass is loving it just as much as I am, I'm sure.

... And for the first time in as long as I can remember, we have no plans for this weekend. Nowhere we have to be ... I can hardly contain my excitement.

... I just had a mini-vacation last weekend, and I only worked a four-day week. But with the highs and lows and dramatics of this week, I'm already wanting another one ... I started this morning with an arson and multiple stabbings. Ugh.

* * *

EW has a good read today on the legacy of John Hughes.

... I can't say I've seen a lot of his movies, and I consider myself more a child of the '90s than of the '80s -- especially when it comes to movies -- so the news of his death yesterday didn't have a marked impact on me when I heard it. Truthfully, it took Brian Williams naming some of the movies that held his nameplate for me to think, 'Oh yeah, that guy.'

... Still, I consider "Home Alone" one of my all-time favorite movies -- even though the above-mentioned tribute pushes it aside. And I appreciate the cool-ness of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," even though I do think it's slightly overrated ...

Kates on the other hand has seen -- and loved -- most of his movies. She's had "The Breakfast Club" on a special edition VHS tape for as long as I've known her, and she chides me all the time for never having watched the film ...

I keep telling myself one of these days I've got to sit down and watch it. Maybe this weekend ...


When the lights go out

So we had a "planned" power outage in our newsroom this morning ...

When I walked into the building this morning, the security guard actually pointed to a collection of lanterns set up on the front desk and he asked if I wanted one to help me see ...

My friend Liz was the second person to arrive and brought a cooler for soda and assorted drinks. That's right, no vending machines, either ... I had stopped at a downtown convenience store on the way in to get some goodies for myself. Although, as a lunch treat, the company did have Subway sandwiches delivered for us.

The entire newsroom was dark and devoid of the usual buzz, except for the shine of our computer screens -- which were running on a generator and limited for use. In fact, only one corner of the newsroom had power, which meant most of us were assigned to computers other than our own. That also meant many of us had to work without the various settings, programs and software each of us uses to do our individual jobs each day. I'm also a pretty clean/organized person who was assigned to a desk where a co-worker has stacked decades/ mountains worth of ... stuff.

As one of my co-workers put it, we were running on about 10 percent of our usual capacity ... But then again, if there's any certainty in our business, it's that we'll publish the newspaper -- wind or rain, snow or sleet, every day of the year.

Knowing the troubles of the media industry these days, you might think the outage stemmed from budget cuts. Actually, it was only done so the local electric company could replace an old underground cable.

It wasn't fun, but it wasn't terrible either ... Just another quirky day in my quirky work.

Update 08.07.2009: ... Oh yeah, Facebook and Twitter were down, too.


Game 11: Selling the drama

When I arrived home this afternoon, I thought my head was going to explode from information overload. I didn't know whether I should laugh or cry.

I had been listening to friend rant and vent to me for most of the morning about church issues. Guys I play ball with were going berserk, via e-mail, over organizational issues within the league. I was stuck listening to a co-worker's endless phone calls regarding a search for his lost dog. And I was trying to do some actual work! ...

Exploring all the issues and philosophies at the core of these discussions is better saved for a self-help book or a workshop about leadership and making decisions -- neither of which I'm prepared to do within this post ... Suffice to say, by tonight, I was more than ready to get on the ball diamond and blow off some steam.

It was a gorgeous night for a ball game. The sun was shining, the weather was cool, not too hot, not too windy. We were playing at the city's historic '30s-era ballpark. And for once, the stands were relatively full.

The night started slowly for our team, though ...

In right field, I got the most action I’ve had all season. I made three catches, including a potentially game-saving catch to end the top of the fifth inning … The batter hit a shot down the right field line and I got a great jump on it. I tracked it all the way, faded back and then made a superb over-the-shoulder catch in the right field corner. Oooh, it felt good.

That catch propelled us into the bottom half of the inning with us down, 5-1 … Our catcher – our own “Big Papi” – crushed a home run over the left field wall to put us on the board in the second. But our bats hadn’t done anything since …

Finally, in the bottom of the fifth inning, we put together a string of hits and closed the gap to 5-4. Then, I came up with one out and the bases loaded …

I was desperate to do something. In my usual leadoff spot, I started the game by flying out to center and then struck out on a changeup in the fourth inning … My at-bat in the fifth almost turned into a repeat of my “epic at-bat” a couple weeks ago as I battled with the pitcher and fouled off multiple pitches … Finally, the pitcher threw me a hanging knuckleball that I just barely got a piece of …

The catcher laughed and said, “That whole thing was, like, in slow motion. You should’ve been able to knock that out of here. It was like ‘The Matrix’ it was coming in so slow.”

“I’d be happy to try it again, if you'd like,” I answered as I dug back into the batters box.

The pitcher didn’t try it again. Instead, he threw me a fast ball just above my waist … I took a swing and slapped it just right of second base. The shortstop misplayed it, two runs scored as the other team threw the ball around and when the dust settled – I was standing on second base having knocked in the go-ahead run. I was feeling redeemed.

As the rest of the game played out, we tacked on a few more runs and our defense was flawless. Our pitcher threw all seven innings on two days rest and struck out nine batters, while walking just one batter.

We won the game, 10-5. It was grand team victory … and a pleasant end to my dramatic day.


A rockin' review

At this point, I can only dream of ever getting myself to a Paul McCartney concert ...

I'm still trying to decide whether this review makes that notion even more agonizing or helps fill the void ... Either way it's an excellent read that puts you there, even if you weren't.

There's another great read about Paul here.

And in case you missed it (I caught it -- and loved it -- on DVR ...) here's some stuff from his excellent Letterman appearance ...


Feel good time

… Oh, to have just one more day of vacation

I’m agonizing here. Although, I suppose it could be worse.

We took what we’ll dub as our official 2009 summer vacation over the weekend …

To one of my all-time favorite camping spots -- Kohler-Andre State Park

More accurately, my summer vacation actually began Wednesday afternoon, and I spent Thursday around the house, relaxing and working in our yard. I say working, but that’s leisure to me …

The camping actually began Friday … After our usual whirlwind of packing (see Phoebe getting into it above), we didn’t hit the Interstate until about 2:30 in the afternoon. It was two hours behind the schedule I’d laid out and I got flustered because of it. Kates and I were bickering. Plus, we were destined to face construction the entire length of the drive …

It didn’t take long for a smile to break over my face, though. We got the “Ultimate Party” playlist going on the iPod, and I knew we were about to have a fantastic weekend.

We arrived at the campground a little after 4, and found Joel waiting with Sophia … He’d called us a couple nights earlier to let us know he was planning to make the drive from Ohio to spend the weekend with us and surprise Dad for his birthday …

I had told Joel that words wouldn’t express how surprised, and how happy our parents would be to see him and Sophia … I was proven right when Mom and Dad pulled up with their camper a little after 7. They stopped in their tracks, mouths agape, and when they finally stepped out of their car, their eyes were hardly dry.

While Mom and Dad set up their camp, Joel, Kates and I grilled chicken burgers over the fire and had our supper … Then we joined each other around a smoky campfire for a night under the open air and the stars hovering over the Lake Michigan shoreline. We figured it was the first time we’d camped as a family in about 12, 13 years. … We talked life, memories, politics and the stresses of work and a poor economy. The conversation was meaningful and refreshing.

Saturday began earlier than Kates and I would have liked -- with Phoebe standing and jumping in her crib at the crack of dawn. About 5:50 a.m. to be exact … Then she proceeded, I’m sure, to wake up the rest of the camping loop by screaming while Kates prepared her morning bottle of milk.

For breakfast, Mom cooked arguably the best French toast I’ve ever tasted … Afterward, Kates, Joel, the girls and I huddled under our dining tent to wait out a good dose of rain and thunder … Later, once the skies cleared, we took a walk around the grounds and spent the remainder of the morning gathered around another campfire -- this time it was built more for warmth than for a gathering place; it was an unseasonably cool weekend -- and watched the girls bounce around our camping space, picking up dirt and clapping cups.

Unlike our last trip, Kates and didn’t get to do the kind of biking or hiking we would have liked – having an active toddler makes that a little more difficult. But we did manage to spend a sunny afternoon on the beach … Joel and I played a great game of catch with the ol’ tennis ball and Velcro paddles. And we tried building a sandcastle together, the designer/architect in him insisted on molding an Indy car, while the creative/fantasy sense in me was interested in the grandest castle I could come up with. So one half looked like the front part of an Indy car, and the other half looked like a standard castle with towers and staircases and moats.

We also got to experience the wonder and amusement of taking Phoebe into the Lake Michigan water … The first time I tried leading her into the water, she resisted, but I tried to assure her she would like it. Then she got that first rush of waves against her little legs and a little laughter came out. After a few minutes I led her back to the dry sand and returned to my sandcastle-building. But every 15 minutes or so, Phoebe was tugging on my shirt to take her back to the water again and again.

Back in camp for the late afternoon, we battled each other in a game of Ladder Ball … And Dad’s classic grilled cheeseburgers – a mainstay on our camping menus – were served for supper.

The night’s campfire was a continuation of Friday night’s … and a beautiful ending to our weekend. And on Sunday morning we said our good-byes.

If only every weekend was such an escape.

The Next Food Network Star

So Melissa d'Arabian was crowned “The Next Food Network Star” last night


After I found myself surprisingly riveted by last year’s edition of the show (I miss Kelsey), Kates was eager to get me in on it again this year. And once again, I was riveted, leading the charge to get Phoebe to bed every Sunday night so we could watch the next round of fast-paced cooking challenges …

No lying, I had Melissa pegged as the winner from the first episode. I was immediately charmed by her bubbly personality and spirit, and I could see she had a knack for cooking meals that were appealing and looked simple enough to Average Joe …

Jeffrey, on the other hand, I wasn’t so keen on – initially. While it was obvious he had the culinary skills, his personality didn’t jive with me. I thought he was too dull … But by the second episode those initial impressions wore off, and I started to believe that if it wasn’t Melissa than Jeffrey would be a likely winner.

So you go Melissa. I think she has Rachel Ray marketability spewing from her.