The New Year

Our summer of change, 2018, is officially over. The girls went back to school today. M begins her final year at St. P’s as an 8th grader,[1] C in 6th, L in 4th. The last time all three girls will ever be in the same school building. I think they were relatively excited to go back. M and C were up and dressed before my alarm went off, which was nice. I imagine next week I’ll be shaking them awake again.

Our commute to school is about half what it used to be, but the girls’ mental clocks were still on Carmel time apparently. At 7:25, the time we normally left the old house, they all trooped out and hopped in the car. I had to call them back in, reminding them we didn’t have to leave so early and that we still had to take pictures.

When we got to school, they all turned right as they are all in the same hallway. I said goodbye and turned left to the PTO welcome back coffee for an hour or so of socializing with parents.

Last school year got off to a weird start for me. Right when school began was when we began updating the girls’ bathroom. For six weeks I had to hang around the house most days letting people in and out. In a brand new house…nothing has changed. Today I had to get back to let an electrician in to do some work and wait for a furniture delivery. Tomorrow I’ll likely have a carpenter in the house and his work will stretch into next week. Fortunately these little projects should be done fairly soon.

How was this summer? It was certainly a momentous summer, moving into a new house. I think, though, from the girls’ perspectives it was kind of a bummer summer. Although there was a lot of excitement with buying a new house, getting lots of new furniture, etc., this whole process has dominated my time. I know we didn’t do as much cool stuff as we’ve done in past summers. We never even got around to making a summer To Do list. On top of that, we took the lake house out of the equation. There have been a few emotional moments from the girls about all the changes.

That’s the thing: as a kid you can’t appreciate how some short-term pain will make for a better future. The new house allows us a lot of new opportunities here. We can host friends a lot easier than we used to, for example. Losing the lake house means we can take more trips. I think in a few years when they look back they’ll see that this summer was a momentary lapse that set up more fun stuff down the road. But if you forced them to be honest, they would all likely curse us right now.

I mentioned in my post Monday that we went to a neighborhood gathering on Sunday. The folks across the street invited some of their favorite people from our area over to allow us all to get to know each other. It was a nice gathering. Most of the families were older than us. Two were younger. No one was right in our age range. There was only one kid L’s age, the rest were all younger. But we’ve met some families from further down the block that have older kids the girls will hopefully get to know eventually.

Our host decided to play a game of neighborhood trivia, which was a lot of fun even if we could only guess at most of the questions. We learned our neighborhood was first plotted out in the 1930s – our hosts’ home was built in 1889. We learned that way back, the property our home sits on was owned by a golf pro and he had a several holes laid out over the acres he owned. L thought that was pretty cool. We also learned that our “neighborhood” used to just go back about five or six houses beyond ours. The rest was farmland until the 1990s, when the street was extended and a larger neighborhood was built behind us. We wondered why our street was so narrow and lacked sidewalks and then suddenly got broader, added sidewalks, and the homes looked newer than the others on our street. There’s also a fellow native Kansan on our street. It’s good to know some names and faces for when folks walk or drive by.

  1. Her first day of kindergarten there was exactly nine years ago today.  ↩

The Golfs

I remember hating how much my stepdad and other guys his age loved Jack Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters. I couldn’t believe they wanted some washed-up, has-been like Jack to win instead of the brash, exciting, much younger Greg Norman.

If my stepdad was still around, he would have been laughing at me yesterday as I watched most of Tiger Woods’ final round at the PGA, hanging on to every shot like it was 2002 again.

Before we get to that, I should note that after a long, long time not having any interest in golf I’ve regained at least some of my love for the sport lately. I’ve been watching the Golf Channel a lot. I bought L a kids club and some foam balls to hit in the front yard. Unable to hit with her, I decided to go buy a super cheap set of starter clubs for myself. I checked out a couple golf books at the library. I discovered there’s a driving range close by I may actually go hit some balls at this week. Whether I actually start playing again is another thing. But I at least have some interest in the sport, both as a participant and spectator, again.

Before Tiger started doing his thing this weekend my attention was drawn by KU alum Gary Woodland leading after the first two rounds. I figured he wouldn’t hold on; no one wins majors wire-to-wire. He had a rough opening nine Saturday but righted the ship enough to play with Tiger on Sunday. As cool as it would have been for Woodland to win, as soon as Tiger started dropping birdies I was pulling hard for him.

When I pumped my fist after he dropped back-to-back birdies to close his front nine I realized I had become my stepdad in 1986, rooting for the old, washed-up, has-been guy.

M was hanging out in the kitchen and started asking questions.

“Why is everyone so excited for that guy? Hasn’t he been good forever?”

I explained, in very broad terms, that Tiger hadn’t won a major in a decade and had barely played over the course of several years because of injuries.

“How do you get injured in golf?!?!”

“When is this tournament over? Will you stop watching golf then?”

When I saw Tiger birdie again at 15 to go to –13, I let out a cheer before we had to leave for a neighborhood gathering. Although I set the DVR to record the rest of the day, I figured Tiger would probably come up just short. Not so much because of his age or his recent history, but more because Brooks Koepka just didn’t look like a dude who was going to lose. He looked a lot like a young Tiger, in fact, overwhelming the course and the field.

While at the party, I checked the scores and let out a groan when I saw Tiger had finished two strokes back. I remembered that putt on 11 that stopped right on the edge of the cup and somehow didn’t fall. Or the one at 14 that was inside the hole before spinning out for a bogey. Two strokes right there and maybe it’s a different end result. More likely Koepka finds another stroke somewhere down the stretch. It was his weekend, after all.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. In recent years I’ve pretty much just watched the weekend parts of the Masters and then the same for the US and British Opens if we were home. Other golf tournaments I had no interest in watching. Partially because Tiger was gone. Partially because I hadn’t touched a club in ten years. But with L showing an interest in the sport that may pull me back in at least casually.[1]

  1. We’ll see how long L’s interest lasts. The first day she swung a club she was hitting the practice balls pretty well. We hit twice over the weekend and she was really struggling. I told her that golf is super hard and it takes lots of work, so she shouldn’t get frustrated. With soccer starting soon it may be a struggle to keep her engaged until late October.  ↩

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 11

Chart Week: August 5, 1989
Song: “18 and Life” – Skid Row
Chart Position: #32, 5th week on the chart. Peaked at #4 the week of September 23.

These late 80s countdowns are not my favorites. By 1987 my tastes were drifting away from mainstream, Top 40-style music. Emphasis on the word drifting, because I still liked plenty of music that Casey counted down every week, just a lot less than I had a few years earlier.

I came across this countdown several times last weekend on SiriusXM, each time during the 30s. Aug. 5, 1989 was about two weeks before I went off to college, where I eventually made my official divorce from Top 40 radio. But as I looked back on this week’s chart I had two thoughts:
1 – There was a lot of shitty ass music on the charts that week
2 – Sadly, I think I still liked a lot of it

That got me to thinking about 1989 in general, and the last five months in particular. I went off to college with a case full of cassettes that spanned all kinds of genres. There was some New Jack Swing era R&B. Plenty of rap. Mainstream pop. Hard rock. Classic rock. Even some hair metal in there. I know I spent a lot of time that fall listening to Public Enemy, Prince, Billy Joel, Cinderella, Warrant, New Edition, Keith Sweat, Guy, Madonna, Boston, Van Halen, NWA, Aerosmith, and Soul II Soul. It was a wacky, wild time, man.

Of the hair metal I listened to then, this is a song that still holds up pretty well. Which shouldn’t be a surprise because Skid Row had a seriousness and depth to their lyrics that put them on a different level than other bands of the summer of ’89 like Warrant and Winger, to name two. Plus Sebastian Bach was a cool bad ass. Years later a couple buddies and I saw a guy who vaguely looked like him on our plane. We spent the entire flight mock shrieking, “We are the youth gone wild!” to each other.

Good as this song is, I was shocked that it peaked at #4. Really?!?! That’s kind of incredible. It made me feel a little better about blasting it with the windows down as I drove to the recycling center Sunday morning.

Settling In

Another pretty busy weekend in the books and now we’re suddenly just over a week from school starting. Yikes!

C went to King’s Island amusement park with a friend on Friday. L had two birthday parties over the weekend. M had two friends over Sunday night. We took them all to Top Golf, they slept over, and we made a pool run Monday afternoon. And we hosted a gathering of three families on Saturday night. Like I said, pretty busy few days.

I noticed something funny over the last couple days, when adults stopped by to drop off kids or pick up kickball supplies: they all stopped as soon as they stepped into our house, took a deep breath, and said something to the effect of “Ahhhh, new house smell!” Which I laughed about because I kind of don’t notice the new house smells anymore. We’ve lived amongst the fresh paint, wood, and carpet for six weeks now. I don’t know if I’m just immune to them now, or six weeks of cooking and cleaning, having guests over, etc have masked them. Apparently it’s more me getting used to them if our guests are still noticing the new house smell the moment they walk in. Or maybe they’re just being nice…

That made me notice how the overall newness of the house has worn off a little, too. We still have a long way to go to get it exactly how we want it. If we count the outside, where the yard is going to take at least two seasons to shape up, it’s going to be a long, long time before everything is perfect. But we’ve also knocked out so many projects that we planned for with eagerness in June that we’re kind of in a lull as we figure out what to do next. Fall will bring another big shipment of furniture – we have couches, tables, a big cabinet, and more scheduled to arrive in late September/early October – and the change of seasons will mean we do different things in the house.

But where our first 5–6 weeks were built around long lists of tasks that needed to be checked off, suddenly things are much slower. Which means we should start settling into some normal routines, like naturally remembering to clean the bathrooms, do laundry, etc without having to write it down. Or even developing normal living routines where we spend mornings in this room, evenings in that room, and so on. I still kind of wander aimlessly when I have free time, unsure of where to hang out. I’m sure all of this will get worked out quickly, although the girls going to school next week will hit the reset button.

One very underrated thing about our new house I’m just beginning to appreciate is being able to see the TV from the kitchen. At our old house it was impossible to do so. Thus for many years we had gotten out of the habit of watching either the local news or Sportscenter during meal prep times. I kind of enjoy being able to see if it’s going to rain around cross country practice time while also getting dinner ready. I still don’t actually watch the news much – there are already too many political ads that make me race for the mute button – and I’ll only casually watch Sportscenter since it is about 85% NFL talk. But I like having the option.

Friday Vid

“Leave It Alone” – Amanda Shires. This song totally blew my mind this week. Shires is Jason Isbell’s wife and a member of his backing band, The 400 Unit. When I first began exploring his music, I checked out some of the songs she had recorded in the past. They leaned a little too country for my tastes.

But her new album, To The Sunset has been getting a lot of very positive buzz so I decided to check out this advance single. One critic likened it to what would happen if Emmylou Harris sang over some Johnny Marr guitar. That’s quite the comparison. And this is an utterly delightful song.

I’m a few tracks into the whole album – it was released today – and Shires has definitely shifted her sound in a more pop-oriented direction without completely turning her back on her Texas, country roots. I like what I’ve heard so far. There is some serious talent in that family.

On Venmo and Privacy

I’ve been using the Venmo payment service for a few years. Mostly I use it to pay my sister-in-law, who is a personal chef, for the meals she makes for us weekly.

When I first signed up for the service, I thought it was strange that I could see a timeline of all the transactions of my friends who also used it. And there was a global timeline, where I could follow anyone who used the service. I turned that shit off quick, making sure my transactions were listed as private.

Below is a fascinating article about what can be done with data that is not marked as private on Venmo. A couple of the examples – the drug dealer, the philandering adults – are kind of funny. More concerning is the one of the woman who made hundreds of purchases for unhealthy foods and the implications of her insurance company finding them and using them against her.

As with any other social media platform or free web service, you always have to consider who can see the data you’re sharing and what the company that controls the service can do with your information. Select those privacy options carefully.

Venmo: how the payment app exposes our private lives


July 2018

For the first time I’ve had to adjust my stats posts due to family activity. We have both a Google Home Mini and a couple Sonos speakers that are connected to my Spotify account. So I’ve had to weed out some of the music my wife and kids played over the past 31 days. My wife sure loves The Lumineers…

  • Wild Pink – 103
  • Bruce Springsteen – 57
  • Ryan Adams – 31
  • Frightened Rabbit – 18
  • Manchester Orchestra – 18

Complete stats available at my page

Old TV + Reader’s Notebook

As I’ve documented here many times over the years, sometimes I get paralyzed by the many options I have for watching quality TV. There is a long list of shows that I need to go back and watch, but I’m always torn about where to start, whether to watch one to completion on its own or to start several at one time, and whether to focus on shows I’ve not seen or mix in some classic shows as well.

The first weekend we had cable installed in the new house I came across a block of The Office episodes on Comedy Central and watched for about an hour. That finally pushed me to jump back and re-watch an old favorite. I’ve been watching 4–5 episodes of The Office each day over the past week—plus and am now deep into season three. If you remember the show’s timeline, I’m up to the point where corporate announced that, despite their initial plans to the opposite, the Stamford office would be closing and merging with the Scranton office.

I don’t think The Office was a show that I watched episodes multiple times during its original run, but it’s amazing how many moments from those early seasons were still incredibly familiar. That’s the sign of an iconic show. I had forgotten how, especially in season one, the Jim-Pam thing was often cringe-worthy. It took the writers some time to veer away from cliche and turn that relationship into one of the best will they/won’t they duos since Sam and Diane.[1] I had also forgotten that there was a genuinely cruel side and dangerously incompetent to Michael Scott that drew from Ricky Gervais’ David Brent character on the British original. I remembered Scott as a well-meaning, lovable buffoon.

Another memory of the show I had that was incorrect was that it got off to a very slow start over season one. Sure, there was some footing finding in that first year, and many of the secondary characters would not blossom until later. But the show was pretty damn good from the beginning. I was obviously thinking of Parks & Recreation, which barely survived a difficult first half-season before making some casting and directions changes in season two that turned it into a classic.

Anyway, that’s all lead up to my latest book which has me thinking about rewatching another classic of modern TV.

All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire – Jonathan Abrams
Reading this oral history of The Wire made me want to jump back into those DVDs badly. At its best, the show was as good as anything ever put on TV. Seasons three and four are among the medium’s greatest and true fans of the show can argue about which was better for hours.

Abrams got just about every key actor on the show to share their experiences. It makes for entertaining reading. Andre Royo, who played the junkie/informer, was the star of the book. His insights were full of enthusiasm, passion, and honesty. So many of the actors where obscure when the show began and it is interesting to see how, notably, Michael K. Williams and Idris Elba handled going from nobodies to cult heroes to stars. As was hearing about how the show was developed from David Simon’s and Ed Burns’ ideas, along with their yearly battles to keep the show on air, adds to its mythology.

I did find it to be fawning at times. I lost track of how many times an actor referred to Simon as brilliant. Which he kind of is, but still. I think the overall tone was typical of a piece of pop culture like The Wire: a show that was critically acclaimed, criminally under-watched, and then became a legend after its run ended. There seems to be a push to remind everyone of its greatness. While there is some talk of discord on the set, for the most part the memories shared are of unity of purpose, belief in the mission of the show, and a fondness for the years the group spent together. Which is really fine. I don’t necessarily want to read a bunch of dirt for the sake of dirt. But even as much as I loved the show, it came off rather fluffy to me.

Now the only downside is we don’t have a good area in the house, currently, where I can go back and watch a show that has sex and violence and drugs and lots of racial language without being overheard by the girls. Once we get our basement put together, though, I may have to pull those DVDs out and run through the series again. Until then I’ve got The Office and a long list of other shows I can work through.

  1. Speaking of old TV shows, every fall I wonder if I should go back and re-watch Cheers, or at least season five, rather than just watch the Thanksgiving Orphans episode in November.  ↩

Weekend Wrap

It is a dreary, rainy Monday. A good day to just lie around and not do anything. Which is a good thing since about half the house is out of commission thanks to a stomach bug that is still working its way through the house.

Not especially good timing for that as last weekend was a big family gathering for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday celebration. Her official party was Saturday evening and we brought the immediate family to our place for a lunch and hanging out on Sunday. I don’t know the exact count but I’m guessing at least 10 people had some kind of intestinal issue over that stretch. The odd thing is some of the people who got sick were ill before they interacted with each other. So we may have served as a focal point for the joining of several varying GI bugs. If there’s a Super Flu racing through the country soon, you can blame us.

Other than that, the celebration was good. It was a relatively cool weekend, at least for July in Indiana. Lots of good food. Our first chance to meet our newest nephew, who is nine months old. The first time all of S’s siblings have been together in a long time. We’re interested to see how the big group photos turn out. When you have a three-year-old, three two-year-olds, and a baby it makes for interesting photography times.

Friday I drove down to pick up M from her week of camp. She had another really good time, making a couple new friends and hanging out with two of her best friends. They were all in tears when I picked them up. I reminded her, good naturedly, that she would see her school friends in just a couple days. She said “But this is our last year at camp!” Which seemed like a solid point. Until she told me, on our way home, that she wants to come back next year for one of the other sections of the camp that is open to older kids, she wants to be a junior counselor when she turns 16, and she wants to be a full counselor when she goes to college. Teenage girls, man…

She turned 14 while she was away. I’m retiring the birthday posts, mostly because I feel like the girls are all pretty locked into their personalities and it’s harder to think of several hundred words to write about them on their birthdays. She definitely seems like a 14-year-old, though. Mood swings, irrational emotional outbursts, moments she expresses strong confidence countered by ones when she is totally unsure of herself. Every element of her personality expressed to its maximum level. It’s a delightful time to be a parent.

We’re down to two-and-a-half weeks of summer break remaining. We have a fairly busy week of activities lined up this week, weather and health permitting. C begins her normal cross country practice schedule this week. Kickball practice is about to start, too, and soccer is a couple weeks away. Our not-so-lazy summer schedule is about to shift into the super packed stretch of weeks that are the beginning of the school year.

Reading for the Stars, Vol. 10

Chart Week: July 10, 1982
Song: “Play the Game Tonight” – Kansas
Chart Position: #17, 10th week on the chart. Peaked at #17 for three weeks.

I would guess I heard this song approximately once in a quarter century before I heard it at, of all places, a high school football game a few years back. In the hour of pre-game, pump-up music that was heavy with AC/DC, Guns ‘n Roses, and Metallica, the dad who was playing the tunes threw this in. It was very random, but, when you consider the title, also a pretty inspired choice.

I guarantee I didn’t hear it again until I became a SiriusXM subscriber and now I’ll hear it a few times a year on the Classic Rewind channel, or in a VJ Big 40 Countdown.

I heard it on our local AT40 replay two weeks ago while eating a bagel. It got me inspired to do some Sunday morning Wikipedia-ing. I read about the change in band’s lineup, when original vocalist Steve Walsh left and was replaced by John Elefante in the early 80s. Elefante, who sang “Play the Game Tonight,” was the choice after a rather broad search for a replacement for Walsh. There are several relatively obscure singers who were also in the running along with one who was on the verge of major fame. Sammy freaking Hagar auditioned to be the lead singer of Kansas! That kind of blew my mind, because it doesn’t make much sense.

Kansas always made somewhat pretentious, album-oriented, progressive rock. They are perhaps the archetype for a cheesy, late 70s American rock band. There was never any affectation to anything Sammy did. He was just a good time, straight outta the bar, rock ‘n roller. There were no attempts at deeper religious allegory in his lyrics as in some of Kansas’ songs. It seems like an odd combination and makes sense that it didn’t work out. I wonder if it was the band reaching out to him, an artist who had not yet carved out broad solo success, or the ambitious Hagar wanting to latch on to a band that had a couple massive hits a few years earlier and were trying to claw their way back into relevance.

The bigger question to me, though, is had Sammy joined Kansas, what happens when David Lee Roth leaves Van Halen? If he had hauled Kansas back onto the charts, but with a far more ornate sound that VH’s, would he still have been a candidate to replace DLR? I think probably not. So who does Eddie go after then?

I’m going to spend approximately 35 seconds thinking about this. My first thought was someone from Night Ranger, who blew up in 1984 and played a similar good-time r-n-r to Sammy’s solo work. But Jack Blades played bass and Kelly Keagy played drums, so the Night Ranger’s two lead vocalists would not slot into VH at that time. (As far as we know Eddie wasn’t ready to throw Michael Anthony off the bus yet in 1984.)

Tommy Shaw was responsible for many of Styx’s most rocking hits, where Dennis DeYoung penned their softer, more Top 40 tunes. DeYoung had gone off on his own by 1984. Styx was in limbo. Shaw both sang and played guitar. Now I’m not sure if Shaw was dynamic enough to front VH. DLR was an impossible guy to replace, but at least Sammy brought his own brand of laid-back charisma that helped him slot in fairly easily. I honestly don’t know if Shaw had full-time lead man chops.

Fortunately Sammy Hagar did not take Steve Walsh’s slot in Kansas, he put out some solid solo songs for a few years, and then we got a couple pretty good albums out of Van Hagar. As for Kansas, they had one more top 40 hit in 1986 and then faded away. I think some version of the band still tours, so good for them. “Carry On Wayward Son” is an all-time classic good enough to get you on the casino and state fair circuit.

This song, though, is pure 1982 classic rock shlock.