After you have a parent die, you think of them in odd moments and ways.

Example: one day last fall I was shaving. As I stood there, scraping metal against skin and stubble, for some reason my brain jumped back 31 years to the night my stepdad taught me how to shave. I remembered him showing me the proper amount of pressure to use, how to avoid nicking the edges of my lips but still get the area around them cleaned up, and his amazement at my ability to shave with either hand. He kept his razor in his right hand at all times, reaching across his face to shave the left cheek. I, on the other hand, just swapped hands and used my left hand for the left side. That seemed perfectly normal to me but blew his mind a little bit.

I chuckled at this memory and then did the math trying to recall how old he was that night. Thirty-six. Which, you know, wow.

I also thought of my mom’s age at the time, 34. Then I thought ahead to her age when she died, 46. That’s when my mind was blown a little. As I stood there, shaving on a warm, late fall morning, I, too was 46. I did some more math and figured that if I made it through the upcoming weekend, I would have lived more days than she had. Which was utterly amazing.

We’re at the age now that, unfortunately and sadly, several of my loyal readers and friends have lost parents. I never pretend to have all the answers that will help ease their grief, but I also have always felt an obligation to provide some kind of comforting words based on my experience. I usually say two things:

1) There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whatever feels right to you is the correct way. As long as you aren’t being destructive to yourself or your loved ones, never feel guilty about crying too much or not enough, being too sad or not sad enough. Do what you need to do.

2) You will think about your lost parent every day for the rest of your life. This one has always bothered me a little. I don’t mean to tell people who are in deep grief that that pain will never go away. No, the message is that every day something will remind you of your lost parent. You may be going about your day normally and hear a song they loved, come across something you have from their home, or just see a particular kind of late afternoon light that reminds you of riding to practice together and laughing at their bad jokes.

Or shaving and remembering how your stepdad, who is now two years gone, bought you your first razor and how you have almost passed your mom in total days lived.

I share this today because it is the 20th anniversary of my mom’s death. And I still, honestly, think of her every single day. The memories aren’t often sad or of her death. Just little things here and there.

Over the years I’ve had plenty of regrets of the things she missed – my marriage, being a grandmother, her not being there for my stepdad in his final years – but those, also, are fleeting. Most days it’s just a quick thought of her in the midst of other things. I keep the last picture we took together here on my desk, and although I don’t look directly at it very often, she’s always right there in my peripheral vision. Kind of like those fleeting thoughts each day: always there, but just out of focus.

There are a few days I think of her, and miss her, a little more. Mother’s Day. Her birthday. And February 22. In the first few years after her death, on Feb. 22 I would constantly check the clock and count down until the time of her death. When the time arrived, I would often go somewhere on my own, and both think about it and try not to think about it at the same time. Weird, I know.

More recently, I’ve just acknowledged the day early on and then gone about things as I would any other day.

As the 20th anniversary approached, though, I’ve been thinking more back to that day she died. I’m astounded at how strong my memories are of the first 12 hours or so after she died. Honestly, I think I remember everything about the period from the moment I got the phone call from my stepdad until I finally passed out on my grandmother’s bed early the next morning. After that, the following week is a blur.

As many of you know, S lost her mom in 1993. So we talk a lot about the Dead Moms, as we call them, in our house.[1] We often wonder how they would have changed as they aged. Would they have mellowed, become more strident in their ways, or some combination? Would they get along with each other? Would the four of us all get along? I’m pretty sure my mom would have been the one we had to tell to stop buying the girls so many presents at Christmas, for example.

And, to be honest, we use them to make fun of some of our closest friends. When someone tells about a crazy mother or father in law they have to deal with, we will always chuckle to ourselves. Later we’ll laugh together about how we never have to worry about St. Carolyn or St. Marie pissing us off, ignoring our instructions for the kids, or meddling in our business. They are forever frozen, all their rough edges softened by grief and two decades of them being memories.

  1. The coda of our famous First Date Story revolves around telling each other our moms were both deceased.  ↩

TV Stuff

I’m working on a couple longer, more personal writing pieces to share over the next couple days. Thus, rather than writing about the Olympics or college hoops, I’ll share another link from my Instapaper stash.

I had planned on doing a What I’m Watching post before the holidays. That, obviously, kind of went to shit and is tough to recreate now since most of the shows I was watching then have wrapped up their seasons or are on hiatus.[1]

But this appreciation of the best show on TV, The Good Place, is worth sharing.

The Good Place Has the Best Acting Ensemble on TV

Everyone on that show is great. And Ted Danson is a god-damned national treasure.

  1. Stuff I watched a lot in the fall: The Good Place, Brooklyn 99, The Vietnam War, Ghosted, Bojack Horseman (season one only so far), and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Other than Ghosted, which was uneven and flawed, I enjoyed all of those shows a lot.  ↩


I found myself watching the entire NBA All Star Game last night. That was kind of a surprise because that’s not something I’ve done very often in, oh, 20 years or so. Plus the Olympics were on, with some decent live coverage that didn’t revolve around four hours of figure skating for once. But L was excited to see Steph and Victor Oladipo, so we started watching and then I kept it on after she went to bed.

It was a pretty solid way to waste two and a half hours.

Well, except for the half of Fergie’s singing of the National Anthem that we caught. There’s been enough piling on this morning, so I’ll just say that even L said, “Whoo, that’s pretty bad!”

This year’s game came with the novelty of trying to de-noveltilze the game, if that’s the right word. Yeah, it was a still going to be an All Star Game with some inherent looseness compared to a “real” game. But the players and league were trying to reduce the silliness that had taken over in recent years. No more threatening 200 points or basically turning the game into a dunk contest with defenders rarely venturing inside the lane.

I think it was a pretty decent success.

I loved the concept of picking teams. And LeBron is right: if they keep this concept in place, they have to do the draft during All Star Saturday and televise it. That would be so awesome! Especially given how the dunk contest is so meh these days. But a televised draft would be amazing. Especially if you had a green room with all the potential draftees lined up and we could see the looks on their faces as they get passed over or are forced to play with someone they have a beef with. Un-drafted guys could lobby to end up on one team or the other. This would be great and really must happen.

The game? Solid. No All Star Game in any sport should be played with maximum intensity. It is an exhibition designed for the fans. Baseball tends to do a good job splitting the difference between fun and competitiveness. I think the NBA re-discovered that midpoint last night. The game was entertaining, the players seemed to be having fun and getting along and were interested in putting on a show. But it still resembled a game of basketball.

Oh, and we got a really good last four minutes or so. The intensity picked up. Defense got played. Teams were trying to get switches to good matchups not just for show, but to try to get a bucket. The last possession, when LBJ and Kevin Durant trapped Steph Curry and chased him around so he couldn’t get a shot off was just the best. It reminded me of another play I saw 10 years ago.

The big winner of the weekend was LeBron. More than any recent superstar in any sport, he has willingly taken on the role of being THE spokesman for the sport. Every word he said this weekend was perfect. Every action he made during the game was perfect. I’ve always liked LeBron. But this weekend was the first time I’ve probably ever loved him. I believe his love for the game and interest in making it better is genuine, and his efforts to use his platform to help others is equally genuine. The Jordan vs. LBJ conversation has gotten louder over the past couple years. I’m always been firmly Team MJ. But I will say, if LeBron keeps going a few more years and turns the on-the-court debate into a tie, the things he’s doing off-the-court seem like more than enough to break that tie.

Oh, and I’m not even talking about the political angle that was thrust upon LeBron this week by an idiot TV commentator. You know I’m down with LBJ there.

All this – including conversations between players and referees to try to improve on-court relations between those groups – are more signs that the NBA is the best pro league going right now. Football is a mess. Baseball seems to be tired of its labor peace as several small disputes and a few larger ones appear poised to turn ugly quickly. Meanwhile the NBA has the most exciting game to offer, puts its players out front, embraces rather than runs from making political and social stands, and is actively engaged in finding ways to make the game and game experience better.

Reaching For the Stars, Vol. 2

Chart Week: Feb. 7, 1981
Songs/Chart Positions: “Killin’ Time” – Fred Knoblock and Susan Anton, #28
“Smoky Mountain Rain” – Ronnie Millsap, #27
“I Made It Through the Rain” – Barry Manilow, #26

My normal Sunday routine is to get up sometime between 8:00 and 8:30, watch the local news long enough to check the weather, and then move into the kitchen to have breakfast. While eating I flip on the radio to check the week’s American Top 40. I always have a little contest with myself to see how quickly I can determine what year the show is from based on the song that is playing. From there I decide if that week’s countdown is worth listening to. My sweet spot is normally 1982 through mid–1986. Earlier or later than that and I often lose interest fairly quickly.

Last week’s countdown was from 1981, and full of mediocre songs, so I only listened long enough to eat.

Why write about this week, then? Because three songs that were just off the chart hinted at a new era that was fast approaching.

But, first, the three songs I listened to.

The only way Fred Knoblock was cracking the Top 40 was by singing about having a fling with Anton, a former Miss America finalist who was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world in 1981.[1] It’s a cheesy, saccharine, weightless song perfect for the era when every family had a fondue pot tucked into their pantries and “Afternoon Delight” was still part of the cultural memories of most Americans.[2] Although actors hitting the charts with bad songs has happened in all musical eras, the touch of country in this song makes it easy to peg as something from the transitional phase that was the late ‘70s through the rise of the New Wave era.

“Smoky Mountain Rain” is a good damn song. There, I said it. But, again, its AM radio blend of country and adult contemporary identifies its time of origin quickly. Despite its date of release, this is not 80s music.

I know I have some friends who are down with Barry Manilow. That’s cool. My mom listened to a lot of Barry in the late 70s, so his tunes are certainly a part of my musical education. But if you forced me to listen to Barry, this is not a song I would pick.

I may not like these songs, but they cut to the heart of why I enjoy listening to these old countdowns. I can listen to any 80s song any time I want to thanks to the magic of streaming music services. In that on-demand world, I can jump across years and tie together just my favorite songs. When I listen to old AT 40s, I’m forced to hear the songs in their original contexts, surrounded by other records of different genres. I love hearing a song that became a timeless classic just as it was creeping into the Top 40. I also love hearing Casey Kasem talk about artists who dominated the charts for a few years but are completely forgotten today. We had no idea that “Don’t You Want Me” would still get played dozens of times a week today, or that The Knack would never be heard from again.

Each week, as I listen to the old countdowns, I use the Weekly Top 40 website for more context. One of the great things about the site is it lists not only each week’s Top 40, but also songs that fell out of the countdown, songs that debuted in the Hot 100, and that week’s Power Plays; songs that, based on airplay and sales, were likely to move into the Top 40 soon.

The week of February 7, 1981 fascinates me. As I scrolled through that week’s chart, it did not feel very 80s to me. The three songs I heard Sunday seemed largely representative of that entire chart: mostly adult contemporary, mostly older artists, with a strong influence of the 1970s throughout. It seemed better suited to a small, transistor AM radio than an FM stereo receiver that was part of a big sound system.

But then you look at that week’s Power Plays and see something different. Number 43, “Kiss On My List” by Hall & Oates; #42, “Rapture” by Blondie; and #41, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar. Now these are 80s songs! Only “Rapture” has any New Wave ties, although it is far more famous for being the first significant charting song that incorporated rap. “Kiss On My List” is pure 80s pop. And Benatar was combining stadium rock and melodic pop into one of the iconic sounds of the new decade.

Finding these transition points in old charts makes listening to a bunch of crappy songs worth it. Music didn’t suddenly become all New Wave synth pop in March of 1982, or all hair metal ballads in the summer of ’89. The shifts come slowly, over several months, with one song breaking the trail for a few more, until finally dozens have moved pop music in a different direction.

1982 feels like the first year that “80s music” dominated the charts. The first hints of that shift were making themselves visible in the winter of 1981.

  1. Knoblock actually had four other songs that hit the country charts, including 1980’s “Why Not Me,” that made it to #18 on the pop chart. I stand corrected!  ↩
  2. Dude, that “Afternoon Delight” video is dope as hell!  ↩

Friday Playlist

“Lovesick on a Hotel Wildfire” – Korey Dane. This is a song Spotify sent my way, and I’m glad it did. Apparently I’ve heard a couple of Dane’s songs before, although I did not recall his name. He’s been called a “stoner Springsteen,” and this song certainly fits that vibe.

“Name For You – Flipped” – The Shins. A few weeks back Strand of Oaks released his Harder Love album, which featured both different versions of songs from last year’s Hard Love and songs that had been recorded in its sessions but did not make the final album. The Shins have done something similar. They took last year’s Heartworms and revamped every song: slow songs get fast, fast songs get slow, genres get swapped, and so on. The result is The Worm’s Heart. This song, which was my favorite from the original album, translates quite well in its new form, too.

“Baby I Love You” – Ryan Adams. A single for Valentine’s Day. From everything I’ve read, this is a one-off single rather than a leftover from last year’s Prisoner or Prisoner B-Sides albums. I want to be careful how I say this: Ryan Adams, for all his immense talent, is not Prince. But he has a very Prince-like ability to crank out a kick ass song at any time. 

“Weather With You” – Crowded House. This popped up this morning, and it made me think of spring and warm days. We’ve had a few such days this week, but this is Central Indiana: spring is still a long way away. From 1991’s wonderful Woodface album, when Tim Finn joined his brother Neil in CH and they created some of the greatest vocals of the decade.

“Safe European Home” – The Clash. I’ve been trying to squeeze in a song each week that is x0 years old. So most week’s we’ve had a song from 2008, 1998, etc. This classic is from 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope album, often viewed as a weak point between The Clash’s self-titled debut and the legendary London Calling. But there was nothing weak about this song, which poked fun at the band’s love of Jamaican culture and how their expectations of the country were shattered by their first visit to the island, during which the band just avoided being robbed for all their money and gear. BTW, The Clash have one of the great side-one, track-one runs of all time. Their first three albums began with “Janie Jones,” “Safe European Home,” and “London Calling.” A lot of bands would kill to make those three songs over a 20 year career. The Clash did it on the first song of their first three albums! Sandinista’s “Magnificent Seven” was pretty good, but not in the class of those three songs. 

“Nameless, Faceless” – Courtney Barnett. Yes!!! There had been rumors that Barnett already had a new album ready, despite just putting out an album with Kurt Vile last year. We got the first single and a release date – May 18 – yesterday. I keep a list with release dates of albums I’m looking forward to. Right now there five albums on the list. All will drop in April and May. It’s going to be a good spring.

Reader’s Notebook, 2/15/18

I have a few more books to share, but this time I will do something a little different: write about a book I have not finished yet.

I looked into the site’s archives and couldn’t find a direct reference, but I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I started writing about the books I read here is because of the influence of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column in The Believer magazine. The Believer is an art and culture magazine I would pick up occasionally back when I traveled for work. As I was already a fan of Hornby, I always looked forward to his columns both for suggestions on new things to read and for his delightful accounts of what he purchased and read each month.

A few weeks back I was hanging out in Barnes & Noble while M was at volleyball practice.[1] In the Essays section I found Hornby’s  Ten Years in the Tub, a collection of his columns for The Believer. I picked it up, flipped through it, and realized I probably hadn’t read one of his columns since I stopped traveling for work in 2004. I put the book back on the shelf, but added it to my library list. On my library trip the following week, the book was in, so I grabbed it. I decided this would be a very casual read; I’d only get through a column or two at a time in between other reading projects. If I needed to renew the book, or even return it and complete it down the road, that would be fine.

I’m right at halfway through the book as I type this. Thanks to it, I have a new sub-list within my master To Read list of books Hornby has written about that interest me. The rest of this entry will hit on three of them.

It’s been fun to read through Hornby’s columns. He is a voracious reader – sometimes knocking out over 10 books a month – and even better, still buys a lot of books each month. For that alone he is inspiring. He also tends to read good books, which makes my To Read list better. And his writing remains sharp, funny, and personal, all elements I’ve always tried (with varying levels of success) to infuse into my writing.

Y: The Last Man, Book 1 and Y: The Last Man, Book 2 – Brian Vaughn, Pia Guerra, José Marzan Jr.
My once-per year crack at a graphic novel/comic book. Hornby actually reviewed the first three books in this series but I’m only through two so far. Comics often revolve around some kind of catastrophe, usually involving radiation that mutates normal people into super-beings, and the resulting ramifications for society. This series is built on a catastrophe but then focuses on how regular people react to it.

The catastrophe? Something – no one knows what yet – has abruptly killed every living male mammal. Except for two, that is: Yorick Brown, an unemployed recent college graduate who relies on performing magic and escapes to make money, and his pet monkey. Brown’s only goal is to conceal his identity until he can somehow make his way to Australia, where his girlfriend was on a research trip before men were wiped out.

But the surviving women of the world have other plans for him. The US government, including his mother who in a representative from Ohio, wants to lock him away in a protected location where his genes can be studied to see if he holds the key to the survival of the species. A group called The Amazons, who see the destruction of man as a moment of liberation, want to hunt him down and kill him. His sister just happens to be part of this movement, and is intent on being the Amazon that captures him. And a group of Israeli soldiers seek him for, well, we’re not sure yet. It could be to use his DNA to build up a bigger army to continue rolling over their Arab neighbors, something they’ve done easily since so many Israeli women have military training. Or it could be to destroy him before an Arab country snatches him and gets working on their own new army first.

The story is pretty solid: A post-apocalypse story is always good in my eyes. The writing is good. And, as with stories like The Stand, there is the built-in hook of making you want to read until you learn what it is that wiped out almost every man on earth. I’ll be going deeper into this series.

Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
I had not read, nor heard of, Walter’s books. But Hornby is a fan, reviewing several of his books favorably. And this one is really damn good.

The main character is Vince Camden, a man in the witness protection program living in Spokane, WA. He runs a donut shop in the mornings. In the late night hours he gambles with the local riff-raff, sells a little weed, and also dabbles in his old racket: selling stolen credit cards. Life is a lot slower than it was for him back East, before he informed on the Mob, but he’s also alive and not doing too bad.

In late October 1980, though, two things happen to change his life dramatically. First, he receives his voter registration card. By his reckoning, in his former life he was always either in jail/prison, on parole, or a convicted felon on election day. This will be his first opportunity to vote, and the responsibility hits him hard. He begins badgering anyone he talks to about who they’re going to vote for in the upcoming election. He doesn’t just want to know how people are going to vote, but why. He feels an immense responsibility attached to his vote, and he wants to make sure he’s considered every angle before punching out a candidate’s chad.

The second turn in his life is running into a guy, known as Ray Sticks, from back east. Ray is not the kind of guy you want to run into. It shakes Vince to his core and soon he is back in New York, trying to figure out who sent Ray west and if he holds a contract on Vince’s life. This trip ends in a late night card game with boss John Gotti and his crew, from which Vince escapes with his life in exchange for doing Gotti the proverbial favor.

Much of the book revolves around Vince, and other characters, trying to figure out who they are. Does his moving across the country, taking a new name and occupation, change who he is? Will his potential girlfriend become a different person when she gets her real estate license and moves in with Vince, giving up her life as a prostitute? When a cop turns dirty after his child dies, is he the same person or someone completely distinct from his earlier self? All of that, along with the standard mob and crime angles, make for a good enough book.

But where Walter really shines is in a thin section in the middle of the book. Here, he briefly jumps into the heads of both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan on the Sunday before the election. Carter has just received new conditions from the Iranian parliament for release of the American hostages. He grapples with the appropriate response while looking back on the past four years, and what will happen the following Tuesday. Carter comes across as weary and resigned to the inevitable, worried most about doing the right thing for the hostages, but also concerned at his inability to connect who he is today to the man he was in 1976. Reagan, on the other hand, is light and buoyant. He knows he’s going to win, and is quick with one-liners that convey his optimism. There is a simpleness to him that suggests he does not understand how profoundly becoming president will change his life. Or, perhaps, it suggests that because of his age or his refusal to waste time thinking about such things, he will remain the same person when he leaves office that he is going in.

I loved this section, not just for grounding the story firmly in a distinct moment in time, but for how showing Carter and Reagan on opposite ends of the same moment reinforces the theme of how experience, location, and outlook change who we are.

  1. I can only go back-and-forth to school so many times each day. So if I can squeeze a Target, grocery, or other errand run into a practice window, I’ll avoid doing the round trip.  ↩

KU Hoops Update

This Big 12 basketball season is exhausting. Every time I look at the schedule, checking the next 2–3 games, there is never a break. Every game comes with a series of questions and perils. There have been years when the top has been better, when you could look at the top 2–4 teams and think they all have a shot to get to the Final Four, but those years also often featured a couple teams at the bottom that everyone could pencil in for wins. I’m not sure if the conference has a true title contender this year – go ahead and queue up the “Big 12 is overrated” conversations when no one makes it to the Elite 8 – but, damn, there are no nights off.

Take KU’s recent schedule, for example. There was the stretch where they played at West Virginia, Texas A&M at home, then at Kansas State in six days. I had serious fears about the Jayhawks going 0–3 in that stretch. Especially when they fell behind by 13 in Morgantown. Instead they went 3–0 in those games, including their first two double-digit wins since December.

After that came the “easy” stretch, where KU would take on Oklahoma State and TCU at home, then travel to Baylor. Because it is 2018 and this is the Big 12, they went 1–2 and were a little fortunate to get that one win. Instead of banking three wins and carrying a lead into the final third of the season, they found themselves looking up at Texas Tech. Was it just three weeks ago KU had a two-game lead on everyone and the national media was proclaiming the conference race over?

Shit happens quick in the Big 12, ya’ll!

KU started another brutal three-game stretch last night in Ames. Despite sitting in 10th place in the conference, Iowa State had already beaten Tech, Oklahoma, and West Virginia at home. The KU game is always their game of the year. And they were in the game in Lawrence last month until about the 2:00 mark, when their young pups all fell apart. Yeah, nothing gimme about this. And with West Virginia and Oklahoma coming to Lawrence over the next week 0–3 was, again, a distinct possibility.

So thank goodness that Lagerald Vick found his mojo for the first time since late December, Udoka Azubuike was un-guardable when he was on the court, Malik Newman filled the gaps left in off nights (again) from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Devonté Graham, and the Cyclones again showed their youth by launching lots of bad shots all night. Some terrible free throw shooting late made it a ballgame, but KU still escaped with a road win none of the other contenders have.

Of course, they also have two home losses, something Texas Tech does not have, so the win only helps them tread water rather than gain a game.

KU has been here before, down a game with a handful to play. Although I’ve had doubts this time of the year in the past, there was also always that understanding that KU always finds a way to finish strong, while the other contenders always found a way to falter.

Just as I thought in January, I still believe this year is different. I have a hard time believing that KU can close out the year 5–1 with Texas Tech going 4–2 over the same stretch. Tech looks too solid to me to do KU any favors. And 5–1 seems like a big ask for this KU team.

The biggest factor to me is how Devonté Graham is already running on fumes. He’s shot the ball poorly for two weeks, getting worse each game. He’s struggling to finish at the rim. Last night he missed three free throws late. KU’s just asking too much of him, to play 40 minutes every night, going hard on both ends, and always having to be the guy to bail the team out in big moments. It’s amazing he’s still playing as well as he is. He seems solid mentally, but the physical toll is obvious. And it’s not getting better over the next three weeks.

The only way around that is if Svi gets his groove back after three-straight off games, Newman continues to attack the basket, and Vick can hang onto whatever he tapped into last night. A and B seem likely and possible, respectively, but C is another story. Vick got benched a week ago and publicly shamed by Bill Self. Then KU went out and offered a scholarship to a kid that suggested that Vick may not be back next year, perhaps by mutual agreement. I don’t have a ton of confidence he is going to get back to scoring around 10 ppg consistently.

But there’s a lot of ball to be played. Maybe the pressure will get to Tech, KU will get hot, and in 10 days the Jayhawks are back in first. I’m not betting the house on that, but there’s still a shot.

Nordic Skating

This is has nothing to do with the Olympics but is a must-watch. It is equally amazing and creepy. The best parts are about halfway through this piece, when you see the ice surface flexing and then cracking after Marten Ajne skates across it.

I can’t ice skate, so I’ve never been tempting to go out on our lake when it freezes over in the winter. And even if I could, I would always be nervous about how thick the ice is, especially since our lake gets very deep very quickly. No way in hell I’d ever try something like this. But it is fascinating to watch and listen to.

Big Weeks

It was a big week for L.

Last Thursday was St. P’s annual leadership day, where they invite other schools to come in and take a look at several of the leadership programs they run for the students. Last year L got to give a brief speech about her experiences in the program.[1] This year she took a big step up and got to be one of the two student hosts of the sessions. She and an eighth grader helped run the central part of the program for the visiting teachers, administrators, and students. She received a script that we worked on for about a week, so really it was just reading and being comfortable in front of crowds. Still it was another fine entry into her resumé for about eight years from now when she’s applying to all the finest colleges.[2]

M and C were also involved in leadership day in smaller roles, and all three girls got their pictures on the school’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts for their efforts. Big week for our Brand!

Yesterday was also day one of the tournament for L’s basketball team. We have no idea how the brackets were made, as there is no explanation on the league’s web page. But somehow, despite finishing in the top half of the league our first round game was against a team that finished higher than us, and then the winner had to play the third-place team, a team that beat us by 3 two weeks ago. I’ll blame this on Indiana, where you can somehow combine a blind draw with byes for the highest ranked teams.

Game one, our girls played really well. One girl, who is normally a complimentary player, must have been pissed off by something because she had like 20 steals. She was just a terror, running around grabbing the ball from anyone that got close to her. We had a comfortable lead the entire game and ended up winning by eight. L had six points although it took her about 30 shots to get those six. She’s become a bit of a chucker. If she ever learns how to shoot she’s going to be trouble.

We were supposed to have an hour off between games, but that stretched to nearly two hours as the other games were getting backed up. The game before ours, which was a fifth grade game, took literally 25 minutes to play a six-minute quarter between all the fouls, timeouts, breaks to settle down pissed off players, and arguments from coaches. At one point the game had a chance of going to overtime. Our head coach walked over and whispered to me, “If this game goes to OT, we’re forfeiting and leaving.”

Thankfully it didn’t come to that. Although perhaps that would have been a good idea.

All the energy our girls played with in game one was gone. Everyone was walking around, losing their defender, failing to help on defense, not bothering to rebound, and generally looking like we did way back in early December. We knew this team had one play, that we had figured out how to stop two weeks ago, and somehow we just let them run it over-and-over. In the final minutes of the first half we had a couple girls that literally gave up and just stood around and stared at people.

We led 2–0 and then gave up 56-straight points. Or thereabouts. I think it was 19–2 at halftime, although we were all so frustrated that my eyes weren’t working right.

At halftime we completely revamped the lineup, figuring to have any chance we needed to put our best five on the court. We also challenged the girls to score eight points while limiting the other team to none. That almost worked. We started the half on a 6–0 run, the girls were playing D, getting every rebound, and actually setting screens so we could get good shots up.

That was too big a deficit to make up, though. And by playing our best five together, we ended up subbing in another group that should not have been on the court together. To their credit, that five played a lot harder, too, but they just didn’t have the ability to keep the momentum up.

We got the lead under 10 a couple times, but ran out of steam and the other team hit several shots late to stretch it out again. I think the final was 31–18. So we won the second half! L finished with six again, although it could have been eight. Like I said, it was all a little blurry. That other team was just better than us. They knew how to play together, were great at helping on D, out-worked our girls for rebounds and loose balls, and had the best player on the court who was really good. I’m really not sure how we had a lead on them two weeks ago and only lost by nine.

So we’re done with hoops for the year. The girls all got a lot better from when we started practicing in November. No official stats but I’m pretty sure L was the leading scorer for the season. There were lots of frustrations – don’t get me started on how our girls refused to run inbounds plays correctly even though we have one for baseline, one for sideline, and we’ve practiced them every single practice for three-plus months – but they were further along than most of the other teams we played. Of course, we were in a C league. I can’t imagine what the A teams are like at this age. They probably already play like 80 games a year together. Our girls are far too goofy for that kind of commitment. Plus it would get in the way of kickball!

M had a good athletic week, too. Her volleyball team won back-to-back games to even their record for the season. The first match they won easily. The second one was a struggle and went to three games. The team they played probably should have been a B team, but our girls fought hard and pulled out the third game. That one was a bit of a grudge match for our family, as it was held at the parish around the corner where our girls all went to preschool. When we walked into the hallways, M said, “Oh! It smells just the same as it used to!” Apparently the odors in the hallway have not changed in nine years. I suggested it was the scent of urine and tears, which made some of the parents around us laugh.

  1. And you may recall that in the fall of her second grade year she was asked to introduce Sean Covey at a regional conference as part of the same initiative at St. P’s.  ↩
  2. She now wants to go to Purdue to study engineering, then go to Stanford for law school. All while playing soccer at the international level. Which is more ambitious than I ever was, or have ever been.  ↩