Opening Day, Part 1

A quick kickball update following opening day for C and M.

C’s team played in an early game that I kept score for. It was close early, tied 8–8 after three, but C’s team had two big innings to break it open and won 35–17. Our girls looked really good in the last three innings with several girls who struggled at the plate last year getting big kicks in key spots.

C homered in the first inning and had two singles, scoring once more. She came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the 5th and toed the ball, popping out to end the inning. She should have had another home run. She absolutely destroyed a ball but the umpire called it dead because the pitch came before all the runners had returned to their bases after C’s foul on the previous pitch. And she was awesome in the field. She played either suicide or pitcher the entire game. She made three putouts at first, a couple at third, one at home, and caught two line drives. One inning she accounted for all three outs.

When her game was over we hustled the 4 miles over to St. P’s to watch M’s team take on their arch rivals. When we arrived M’s team was up by 2 runs. It all went to hell pretty quickly after that. They actually played all seven inning for the first time ever against St. B’s, but lost by 19. St. B’s has five girls as good or better than our stud player, and most of the rest of their team is better than ours as well. M got on base a couple times with bunts, but never scored. And she struggled in the field. Apparently she jammed her finger early and did her best not to touch the ball after that in her hybrid suicide-third base spot.

So now they have to win out and hope St. B’s loses a game at some point in order to force a playoff with St. B’s to get back to City again. That’s unlikely. One of our players knew it. “So we’re out of the playoffs, right?” she asked right after the game. Bummer.

L’s first game is this coming Monday.

Busy From the Beginning

The first full week of school is now underway. the girls were a little grumpier the last two mornings than they were on Thursday and Friday. I admit so was I.

I’d love to get into some kind of daytime routine, but we also started a bathroom remodel yesterday. It should be pretty quick – knock on wood – but it also means I have to hang around during the day to let people in, answer questions I don’t know the answers to,[1] etc. I had hoped to get back to the gym this week, maybe get out and take some pictures. No luck yesterday or so far today, but still three days left to try to get that part of the school-year routine kicked off.

Our family calendar is a complete mess. Last night we had a kickball practice, a cross country practice, and an athletics meeting. Tonight we have two kickball practices and a meeting for S. Tomorrow we have two kickball games.

Next week it even more fun: seven kickball games! We are trying to reschedule one, but that just means we’d have seven the following week. We’re trying to get C to at least one cross country practice a week, but that’s tough with all of these games.

On our initial schedules we had five nights with two kickball games, always at different schools. If we reschedule one of L’s game because of a school conflict, we will have a night when we have three games at three different locations. Joyous.

And we still haven’t added in L’s soccer schedule yet. We should get that next week, but fortunately kickball will be halfway over by then.

Whew! I keep telling myself to relax and not stress over how busy our afternoons and evenings will be, not to worry about traffic or feeding the kids in between all our drive time. Focus on the girls getting to spend time with their friends, representing their school, and having fun. I’m hopeful that will keep my blood pressure in check for the next month.

As for the game schedules our girls got, well, they could be better. We don’t have to travel to any of the farthest-flung schools like we have in the past. But M’s and C’s teams especially have very difficult schedules.

M’s team starts tomorrow against their arch rivals who have beaten them all three times they’ve played, including in last fall’s city championship game. That class hasn’t lost a regular season game against a same-age team in four seasons.[2] It could happen in game one of this season. After that they play three more games against schools that are usually pretty good.

C’s team has a brutal schedule. They play three games against two different teams from the north side’s best program. She’s in the 5th/6th grade division, so odds are at least one of those teams has sixth graders on it. The only good news is that school also tends to lose a lot of their best players to club soccer right around this age. And then C’s team also plays two other games against schools that almost always send teams to City.

Third grade is such a crap shoot we have no idea. L’s team plays a couple games against a really good school. But are their third graders any good this year? Are our third graders any good? We won’t know until we play.

Practices have been funny to watch. M’s team has been playing against the 8th graders. Before their first scrimmage, a lot of us wondered if the 7th graders might win. That was silly. The 8th graders have slaughtered M’s team all three times. So maybe that bodes well for the season, because playing against 7th graders will seem easier now.

C’s team is pretty solid, although they lost one of their better players to a broken arm.[3] They’re starting to show a much better understanding of how to play defense, which the good teams start doing in fifth grade. Now if we can just get some of these girls to kick the ball through the infield.

L’s practices have been wild. Third grade kickball is kind of a nightmare because roughly three girls out of 15 will have even half a clue how to play, no one can play defense, and the ball tends to get thrown to the wrong place a lot. The games promise a lot of 20-run half innings because neither team can get three outs on defense. I’m helping coach this team, which I may regret when we’re in the midst of our third-straight two hour game.

But all three girls are having fun, which is the most important thing.

  1. “Where does she want the lights to go?”
    “I don’t know, I better text her.”  ↩
  2. They lost two games as fifth graders to a team of sixth graders. By six total runs. Not that any of us remember.  ↩
  3. M’s team lost a girl to a stress fracture, and L’s team also lost a girl to a broken arm. None of these injuries happened playing kickball, I should note.  ↩

Friday Playlist

A busy day for me, as it’s kickball jersey distribution day. So a slightly different playlist, with the Spotify tunes focusing on three of the greatest pop songs ever made. Seriously, if you put these on an endless loop, most of the world’s problems will drift away. 

“There She Goes” – The La’s

“Into Your Arms” – The Lemonheads

“Someday, Someway” – Marshall Crenshaw

“Pain” – The War on Drugs. After they released “Strangest Thing” last month, I vowed not to listen to any more early tracks from TWOD’s upcoming album. They had already released three songs, and I wanted the album to be as new as possible when I first heard it, front-to-back. They dropped this track last week. I immediately broke my promise and listened to it once. But I swore I wouldn’t listen to it again. Of course now I’ve listened to it 20 times or so. And then they performed it on Kimmel earlier this week, and sounded fantastic doing so. Some of the excellence of the studio version’s three-staged guitar outro is lost live, but it still sounds really good. If “Strangest Thing” wasn’t so brilliant, I’d be freaking out over this song right now. As it stands, it’s a fourth excellent track from what is lining up to be the album of the year. 

First Day Back


First day of school! Summer is over!1

The girls and I closed out the summer with a pretty fun day yesterday. I took them to a wall climbing place. We got there right after they opened and they had the walls to themselves for about 45 minutes. There was a combination of both automatic belays and ropes that I had to belay2 for them, so I could get two girls started on the auto lines and then help a third on a standard line. They had a great time, for the most part. L especially was right up the walls and touching the top, 25-30 feet up on all but the trickiest paths. C did pretty well, too. M struggled a bit, but she’s also at the point of self-awareness where she gets that and isn’t bothered too much by it. She still had fun when she was climbing and swung around on the auto-belayed lines and made her own fun.

S had meetings last night, so the girls and I hit a new chicken spot we’ve been meaning to get to for months for our final dinner of summer break. I think they sensed the moment, and were actually pretty nice to each other most of the day. And appreciative of all the stuff we got to do, big and small, over the past 10 weeks. I asked what their favorite thing we did all summer was. Both M and L said going to the Royals game in Kansas City. C said sleeping late. I asked her to pick from the things we did out of the house and she said, “Nope, it’s still sleeping late!”

I give this summer a B/B+. We had weeks where we crammed a lot of activities into, and other weeks where we just sat around all day arguing with each other. I don’t think that’s terribly unusual for families that have a parent home all day. But I still think I let them get away with being lazy too much. And it felt like our summer was really front-loaded. We did a ton of cool stuff the first few weeks of June, then petered out pretty quickly. We made a big list of things we wanted to do and there are still a lot of entries that have not been checked off. We can use those for fall weekend activities, of course. But a few were best done in the summer months so may have to be held until 2018. A few recent summers, when we reached the ends, I looked back and thought, “Damn, that was a great summer!” This year didn’t quite hit great levels, but wasn’t terrible either, for sure.

Although they complain about going back to school, all three girls had their book bags completely packed up with all their supplies several days ago. All three made their lunches yesterday. C got up a little after 6:00 today and was downstairs, dressed, eating, and giggling when I came down at 6:35. M’s light was already on.3 I only had to wake L, who was a little grumpy at first but looking excited by the time we headed out.

Drop off was uneventful. They’ve all had multiple kickball practices, so have seen most of their friends already. They still seemed excited to get into their classrooms, see who they’re sitting around, and finally get at their new supplies. I got everyone settled into their rooms and headed over to the welcome back coffee in the cafeteria. In the past, I’d pop in, grab a bagel, say hello to a few people, and then duck out. Between having been at St. P’s for eight years now, having three kids in school, and being involved in athletics, I now make the rounds a little bit. Kind of proud to say that I was the last dad left, as moms from kickball kept coming over to say hello. I’ve finally made my mark!Drop off was uneventful. They’ve all had multiple kickball practices, so have seen most of their friends already. They still seemed excited to get into their classrooms, see who they’re sitting around, and finally get at their new supplies. I got everyone settled into their rooms and headed over to the welcome back coffee in the cafeteria. In the past, I’d pop in, grab a bagel, say hello to a few people, and then duck out. Between having been at St. P’s for eight years now, having three kids in school, and being involved in athletics, I now make the rounds a little bit. Kind of proud to say that I was the last dad left, as moms from kickball kept coming over to say hello. I’ve finally made my mark!
On my way home I grabbed some Chik-fil-A breakfast to eat while editing the pics from our Back to School photo shoot. I cranked up some White Stripes to dangerously loud levels and am enjoying a morning to myself in the (otherwise) quiet home. We’re about to have our guest bathroom remodeled and a load of tile is being delivered shortly. I have a long list of things to do that I’ve been putting off for weeks, notably getting a haircut which I haven’t done since late May. But today is going to be a chill day before I jump into house cleaning and running errands tomorrow.

  1. Academic summer, of course. We still have traditional summer and astronomical summer to wrap up. 
  2. Yes, I couldn’t use the word ‘belay’ correctly in a sentence before yesterday. 
  3. She’s taking longer to do her hair now, so I told her she had to start setting her alarm and getting up on her own if she needs 30-45 minutes to get ready. 

Running Out of Time

People right at my age grew up at the very tail-end of the Space Age. In the late 70s we weren’t too far removed from the glory days of the Apollo program. I remember our school library being stocked with cool books about both the missions to the moon, and others that focused on theoretical trips beyond the moon that seemed imminently possible in 1978. With the Space Shuttle program in full gear in the early 80s, it was a fairly regular occurrence for the big TVs to be wheeled into our classrooms so we could watch the latest launch or landing.

I also remember learning about the Voyager missions, which in the late 70s had just begun. Their time scale seemed so far into the future: they wouldn’t complete their intersections with the known planets until 1989!

Of course, now the original mission for the Voyager crafts is much further in the past than it was into the future back then. This New York Times Magazine look at the team that still run the Voyager program is fascinating. Like so many things over time, at some point it becomes more costly to train new people to join the program than the return on that investment. So the team is filled with people who have spent almost their entire adult lives monitoring and caring for the Voyager crafts, and those folks are steadily peeling off due to retirement.

Baring a collision with another object, the probes will continue to race through space for billions of years. But NASA’s lifeline to them will run out in the very near future, closing a door on a huge chapter of our space history.

I highly recommend reading through this.

The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe

Gearing Up

We got our final lake weekend of summer vacation in the books. Like our last visit, two weeks ago, this was a split weekend. Saturday was gorgeous: upper 70s, no humidity, warm sunshine, and a fairly open lake as a lot of the locals were already back in school. Then clouds moved in and Sunday was cool and rainy, which caused an early return home. We still have a Labor Day weekend trip planned, but with school and sports starting, it’s unlikely we’ll make another trip down before then.

We are pretty well prepped for school. We knocked the school supplies out early. We did a shoe-buying trip a week ago. Closets have all been organized, uniforms sorted and properly distributed. The school lunch calendar is on the refrigerator and the girls have marked when they’re getting hot lunch for the next three weeks. Backpacks are all ready to go Thursday morning.

C surprised us by starting to get up early on her own last week. And for the last two nights she’s gone to bed at 9:00 while her sisters stayed up until their summer bedtime of 10:00. For a kid who has almost no impulse control, C can sure surprise us when she is determined to do something.

When we got home Sunday I was hit with a flurry of “We have to do X and Y before school starts!” pleas. Funny how we had a couple weeks when no one wanted to leave their rooms or get off the couch, and when we had three days left with practices sprinkled in, all of a sudden everyone has an agenda.

You know what’s crazy: we didn’t go to a pool as a family all summer. We have a few friends who have pool memberships that we thought we’d tag along with as guests sometime, but those invites never came. And it was always on the list to go to the city pool, but it just never worked out. We may still be able to knock that out on a weekend while the pools are still open.

Today is full of practices, so other than a final Target run, we can’t really squeeze anything in. Tomorrow may be a State Fair day. We’ve never been, they’ve been begging to go for years, and it seems like a pretty solid way to spend the last day before school begins.

Friday Music Link

It seems like pretty much every week brings along some 30th or 40th anniversary of some event that makes us children of the 80s feel awfully old.

This week’s anniversary was the 30th of the release of Def Leppard’s Hysteria. Over at The Ringer, Rob Harvilla gives the album its proper due.

Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ Is Still the Greatest Hair-Metal Album Ever Made

Man, was that album unescapable. And seemingly forever, as it really wasn’t until nearly a year later, in the summer of ’88, when the album really took off and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was played approximately every 15 seconds. As much as I was listening to hip hop and New Jack Swing-era R&B my senior year of high school, Hysteria was just about always in my personal rotation, too.

Harvilla’s article is great: it’s equally tongue-in-cheek and serious. But I must lodge one objection: Pyromania was a better album. As shiny as Pyromania was, it still had an edge and roughness to it. On Hysteria every single rough edge has been polished away. If that album was represented visually, it would be an immaculate sheet of glass. I will still listen to Pyromania a few times a year. I never listen to Hysteria, other than its title track or “Animal” if I come across them. “Sugar” is an instant skip if I come across it on the radio.

One of my prouder blog posts ever was this breakdown of Pyromania from almost seven years ago. Really not sure how I didn’t win all the blog awards for this one.

Pyromania 27 Years Later

By the way, worth noting that shortly after I bought the Pyromania CD back in 2010, I found a copy I had purchased like two years before. I sent about 95% of my old CD collection to a yard sale a couple years ago. I hung onto one copy of Pyromania though.

Friday Photo


Fufjifilm X-T2, 23.3mm, 1/75 second at f/3.2, ISO 3200

In general I’m quite pleased with our home. There are small things I would tweak here and there, one major structural change I would have liked the builders to have considered. But those are minor quibbles, and we have no desire to move any time soon.

Still, from a photographic point of view, our house frustrates me. Or actually our lot frustrates me. Our property is filled with trees, almost all to the west side of the house. So we never see the sun set. In fact, it gets dark at our house about an hour earlier than actual sunset thanks to our grove of 30-40 foot trees.

Every night the local weather folks post pictures gorgeous sunsets around Indiana and I sit on my couch and grumble. Sure, I could walk, bike, or drive a couple blocks away if I really wanted to catch a good sunset. But that’s usually not the first thing on my mind at that time of day.

Thus I was thrilled to snap this pic last Friday when we were at the local church festival. It’s not an A+ sunset pic. But I was still glad to get some range of colors from the final oranges of the day to the gradual shift to the dark blues of night.

Friday Playlist

“Valley Boy” – Wolf Parade. Wolf Parade’s absence hasn’t been quite as long as some other bands that have returned this year; their last album was just seven years ago. And in the interim, its members were still active in other groups, most notably Dan Boeckner in the Handsome Furs and Divine Fits. Based on this song, it’s like they never went away.

“Living On the 110″ – Prophets of Rage. The idea of Prophets of Rage held some appeal to me. Tom Morello, Chuck D, and B-Real combining to form a rap-rock super group? Sounded awesome. The early songs I heard from them last year were not great, though. However, this one connects and is pretty solid.

“Eastwick” – Julia Jacklin. It seems like there’s a long list of young, female artists who write their own songs and make amazing, affecting music in the process. Courtney Barnett, Lydia Loveless, and Nadia Reid to name just three. Jacklin continues to prove that she belongs near the top of that list, too.

“Spring And By Summer Fall” – Blonde Redhead. Wow, this song, and the album it comes from – 23 – are 10 years old! A perfect track for a morning that feels more like late September than the first week of August.

“Regional Echo” – Jen Cloher. Cloher is getting attention as much for who she is married to – Courtney Barnett – as for her music. Don’t get distracted by her spouse’s identity, though. This is an outstanding song that proves Cloher is a musical force all on her own. This is a wonderful song, complimented perfectly by this video, which appeals to my photographic eye.

Reader’s Notebook, 8/3/17

Walking the Himalayas – Levison Wood.
I didn’t know anything about Levison Wood before I saw this book at the library. I didn’t know he is fairly famous for his on-foot treks, which have been turned both into multiple books and TV shows. I just liked the idea this book is based upon: him walking the length of the Himalayas, from Afghanistan to the Bhutan-Tibet border.

Now, this walk was not all at altitude. He wasn’t traipsing along the tops of the highest mountains in the world, although he did spend plenty of time going up-and-down peaks. He also spent an equal amount of time crossing dusty plains, packed Indian cities, and in saturated tropical jungles. Along the way he is led by a Nepalese guide who helped him stay safe during political violence there in 2001, meets with the Dalai Lama, and survives a frightening car accident that puts his trip on hold for nearly a month while his broken arm and shoulder heal.

I really liked the pacing of Wood’s writing. He’s not sharing every detail of every day on the trail. He hits the high points, shares a general overview of the moments in-between, and generally keeps the pace pretty brisk.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid
This has been on my To Read list for some time. I attempted to check it out a couple times but all the copies were out at my library, so it had slipped a bit down the list. But, recently, I came across more praise for it on Twitter and made an effort to find it.

This is a slim and quick read; I knocked it out in just a few hours. In addition to slim and quick, I can rattle off a long list of other adjectives to describe it. Odd. Wacky. Suspenseful. Unsettling. Infuriating. Disturbing. Confusing. Dark. Twisted. Nearly brilliant.

The book unfolds as an internal monologue by a young woman who is traveling with her new boyfriend to have dinner with his parents at their country home. She runs through the details of their meeting, the early days of their relationship, what attracts her to him, what things about him bother her. Her thoughts are interrupted by their brief bits of conversation, or interactions with others, which are always far from normal. She also shares information about a strange series of phone calls she’s been getting. The unknown caller keeps leaving very odd messages for her, which have spooked her.

All this is set upon the bedrock of the statement, “I’m thinking of ending things,” that she shares to being the book. For all the positives in the relationship, she is ultimately dissatisfied and seeks a way out. As with the gun that is placed on the set in act one, the book spends just over 200 pages careening toward the payoff for this line.

The core story is layered with occasional interludes of dialog from an unknown group of people who are discussing what appears to be the suicide of a coworker or neighbor.

I think the best way to describe the book is just by looking at the list of adjectives I shared above. Those are the feelings I bounced through as I read it. There is a slowness to the beginning, when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. There are moments where the book gets too cute: a two-page stretch where the same sentence is repeated over-and-over for example. There are stretches where I was yelling, “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING HERE?” to myself, as the characters made utterly baffling choices. And I’m not sure the ending, which explains away a major structural issue with the story, completely convinced me.

As with movies like Memento and The Usual Suspects, that ending creates the urge to immediately flip back to the beginning and start reading it again, looking for the clues you missed along the way and trying to put them together in the proper order so that the ending makes sense. Overall, I think the genius of Reid’s writing wins out over the areas that are troublesome. But just barely. I’m still not certain it all works, or that the parts that lead up to the final moments actually fit together as Reid hoped them to. If this book was twice as long and had the same issues, I wouldn’t be able to recommend it. But its length makes dealing with those flaws tolerable.