As promised, a playlist for the holiday weekend.
This is the same PL I shared last year on July 4. I listened to it again this week and still thought it was pretty good.
I hope you enjoy it, and have a happy and safe Independence Day weekend.
As promised, a playlist for the holiday weekend.
This is the same PL I shared last year on July 4. I listened to it again this week and still thought it was pretty good.
I hope you enjoy it, and have a happy and safe Independence Day weekend.
I’m about to check out for the holiday weekend. I’ll post a special playlist for the weekend on Friday.
Before I step back for a few days, I thought I’d provide some more music recommendations. So here are a few good albums from the first six months of 2020. If you have free time over the next few days, open up your music streaming app and try something new!
Ratboys – Printer’s Devil
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud
Trace Mountains – Lost in the Country
Hazel English – Wake UP!
Jess Williamson – Sorceress
Wares – Survival
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Country Westerns – Country Westerns
Complete stats available at my Last.fm page.
The Cold Dish – Craig Johnson
This is the time of year when I abandon my To Read list and seek out Best Summer Reads type lists online. One such list suggested this book, which was a nice spin on the detective procedural.
Walt Longmire is a sheriff in a small town in Wyoming. He is in his 50s, widowed, and spends too many nights pounding too many beers. He went to USC to play football, lost his deferment and got drafted into the Marines, who provided him with an all-expenses trip to Vietnam in the height of the war there. He is also very well read, and drops lots of lovely literary references into his conversations.
Just as he is about to start his first romance since his wife’s death, a couple of dead bodies show up in town. Both dead men were involved in a case several years earlier where a group of white teenage boys sexually assaulted a mentally challenged Native American girl from the neighboring reservation. Although the boys were convicted, there was outrage in the Indian community about the lightness of their sentences.
Longmire thus begins an uncomfortable search to find this assassin. Uncomfortable because he believes that justice was not served in the original case. Uncomfortable because his best friend may be a prime subject. Uncomfortable because of how it brings that old trial back to the attention of the community, which he hopes will elect his preferred successor when he retires before the next election.
There are some nice zigs and zags before the killer is identified. A solid read, although I don’t think I’ll read any more books in the series.
Last Days of Summer – Steve Kluger
This, on the other hand, was an utterly magical and delightful read. It was funny and deeply affecting.
It begins in 1940, with 12-year-old Joey Margolis having a very difficult time. His father has recently left Joey and his mother alone in Brooklyn for Manhattan and his new, younger wife. The neighborhood bullies use Margolis’ Jewish faith as an excuse to kick his ass on the regular. Looking for help, Margolis begins writing letters to the New York Giants rookie phenom third baseman Charlie Banks, claiming he has cancer and other illnesses in an effort to get Banks to both hit a home run for him and announce on the radio that Margolis is his friend. After a couple form-letter replies, Margolis tracks down Banks’ home address and writes him there, which elicits a somewhat put out response from Banks.
This kicks off a back-and-forth between the two that carries the book. The bulk of the story is told through letters between the two, through transcripts of Margolis’ meetings with a psychologist, his letters to the Roosevelt White House, and correspondence between his teachers and mother.
The correspondence between Margolis and Banks blossoms from contentious into a great friendship. Banks learns of the pain in Margolis’ life and speaks up for him to the bullies, stands in for Margolis’ father at his bar mitzvah, and eventually takes Margolis on a road trip as the Giants’ bat boy during the 1941 season. Through his mentoring of Margolis, Banks softens some of his harder views, comes to terms with the death of his brother, and learns how to appreciate his relationship with an actress/singer.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor Banks enlists and the story takes a pretty predictable turn, which still hits hard despite knowing what is coming.
The relationship Margolis and Banks forge is extraordinary. They give each other shit and support in equal measures and help each other grow into more mature humans. Kluger perfectly captures that feeling of being a pre-teen, baseball obsessed American boy, while also getting just the right cultural touchtones to correctly place the story in that pre-war period.
I enjoyed the hell out of this book.
Life continues to be fairly boring. Well, at least in our house. There is obviously plenty going on in the world, and I’m feeling the urge to revive my Covid posts.
This weekend was especially boring, thanks to plenty of much-needed rain most of the day Saturday and then on Sunday morning. S has been busy trying to knock out Downton Abbey before it leaves Amazon Prime this week. I finished up a show I’ll write about next week. And we are getting the house ready to have some visitors later this week.
With that lack of material, I might as well write a bit about my latest round of golf.
You may recall my previous round was awful. I could barely hit the ball, it was going hard right with every club, and I was thoroughly discouraged.
In the time between rounds I corrected an issue with my grip and did some exercises to get my swing path more inside-out. All this was backyard stuff; I refused to go to a driving range because I wanted to take a break from hitting a big bucket of balls. Little 10-15 minute sessions with foam balls, the practice net, and then some chipping.
How did all that work out?
Well, I think I played the best round I’ve ever played, at least tee-to-green, last Thursday.
I shot an 86 on my home course, which I will remind you is a pretty easy track. I played with a couple random guys who I met up with at the first tee. It was a weird experience: it was the first time I’ve ever clearly been the best player in my group. One guy was just learning how to play and was pretty brutal. But he was out there and trying to have fun, so respect to him. The other guy only played nine holes with us, and he shot in the low 50s. He wasn’t terrible, just not consistent. He was where I was about a year ago. He was also good company and we exchanged numbers and he may pull me into a group of guys he plays with regularly.
So, all that work on my swing, what were the results? I hit driver off the tee on 13 holes. I had four slices, but those were all much less severe than the previous week. The remaining nine tee shots were long and straight. In a few cases very long. Relying on my phone’s GPS, which isn’t as accurate as a range finder, I was consistently hitting my drives 260–280 yards.
On the 12th hole I caught every last bit of the ball, placed it perfectly at the top of the hill in the fairway, caught the downslope, and the ball rolled and rolled and rolled. In fact it went right through the group in front of us, which I thought was well out of reach. By my phone’s measure, the drive went 345 yards. THREE FUCKING FORTY FIVE! Naturally I hit my approach shot a little fat so had to chip on and then curl in a bending 15-footer to get my par.
I chipped in for birdie on 16.
I hit the two best iron shots of my life, a six iron from 170-ish that went over a line of trees and landed safely on the green about 15 feet from the pin and a four iron from 205 and was long, true, and landed three inches above the edge of a bunker and somehow did not roll down into it. My line was just off on this second shot but it was a gorgeous shot in the air.
I began the year with a goal of parring or birdie-ing every hole at my home course. That took a bit of a hit when I couldn’t play for three months. But I added three more notches to that list Thursday (two pars, one birdie) and have now checked off 12 holes through just four rounds. I’m intentionally avoiding noting what holes I still need to check off so I don’t get in my head about them the next time I play that course.
My putter was what let me down Thursday. It’s not that I putted poorly, it’s just that I was consistently missing under the hole. I had at least six putts miss by less than three inches, and because they were inside the break and the greens were dry and fast, I was leaving myself with 4–6 foot second puts instead of tap ins. I really hurt myself on the par 3 eighth, where I had about 60 feet for my first putt…and I putted past the hole and off the green. Second putt was short then I missed a very makable third putt before tapping in for a 5. Yeesh.
Those putting woes did not bring me down, though. I was thrilled with how I hit the ball, especially after I had been so lost a week earlier. The 86 is my new low score. The list of glaring errors was smaller than it usually is. I’m trying hard to realize that there are always going to be mishits, chunked chips, and misreads on the greens. That’s true for golfers with single-digit handicaps. The key is to both minimize them and be able to recover. Take a big piece of turf and watch your ball bounce about 30 yards down the fairway? That happens. Relax and make the next shot better, don’t let it turn into two or three duffed balls. I feel like I did that Thursday.
Again, I temper my enthusiasm based on the course. But I felt great after this round.
Speaking of handicaps, I finally joined Indiana Golf and have begun plugging in my scores for a handicap. Right now I have two full rounds and a 9-hole round in the system. I believe you need five 18-hole rounds before the computer cranks out your handicap. So I should have confirmation of a number in a few weeks.
I’m excited about the week ahead. S’s sister from Denver and her family are coming in for the holiday weekend. My brother-in-law and I are scheduled to play a couple rounds while they are here. He’s in the 4–5 range for his index. We’ve talked a lot about golf for the past year but this will be our first chance to play together. I’m looking forward to playing a couple new courses, although unfortunately the two courses I most wanted to play are either packed because of the holiday or shut down because of activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His 10-year-old son is going to play with us one day. And we’ll likely take L to the pitch and putt course one day. Hoping at least some of my game from last week is present this week.
Another longer set of music this week.
“Find Your Way Back Home” – Neil Finn featuring Stevie Nicks and & Christine McVie
The whole Neil Finn replacing Lyndsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac thing is so odd that I kind of refuse to believe that it actually happened. But Finn leveraged that to get his two most famous new bandmates to join him on his latest solo track. His music has mellowed out a lot in the last decade, but this is one of the few songs over that stretch that I’ve enjoyed.
“Deeper Water” – Neil Finn and Paul Kelly
The first time I listened to “Find Your Way Back Home” Spotify jumped into Finn’s catalog afterward, and instead of picking a song off his first couple solo albums that I listened to hundreds of times back around the turn of the millennium, it selected this, from a live performance Neil did with Australian folk artist Kelly in 2013. And this song, a Kelly original, is absolutely terrific. It really elevates when the electric guitar comes in and Finn takes over lead vocals. The entire performance, done at the Sydney Opera House, is great as well.
“Truganini” – Midnight Oil
Let’s keep it with another Aussie legend. A few weeks back I caught an old Saturday Night Live from the spring of 1993. Christina Applegate was the host. Chris Farley did his “In a van, down by the river” routine. And Midnight Oil performed this, maybe their last big song. Peter Garrett did Peter Garrett things.
“Godless” – Close Lobsters
I still say these Scots sound Australian, which kind of makes them the perfect band for my tastes.
“A Ghost” – Travis
The kings of the modern, Scottish indie movement will release their first album since 2016 this fall. The lead single has more momentum than just about any song they’ve ever released, while still retaining that classic “Travis-ness.”
“Breadwinner” – Widowspeak
This duo put out a song that finished #13 on my Favorite Songs of 2013 list, but their last album didn’t do much for me. This new track, though? It’s absolutely magical.
“Nothing Will Hurt” – No Joy
A nice evolution in sound for this band, which began as more of a shoegaze act. There’s all kinds of delicious, new wavey goodness in this track.
“Summer Breeze” – The Isley Brothers
We’re in that summer breeze season, y’all.
The dishwasher is a constant source of battle in our house. As I considered it this week, while once again rearranging dishes my kids put in the wrong spots, I realized I am never more of a Dad than when I’m correcting how they put dishes into the dishwasher.
“These can’t go on the bottom rack, they stick through and hit the spray arm!”
“The good knives have to be hand-washed; the heat of the dishwasher will ruin their handles!”
“OK, I know I’ve told you this before, the small plates have to go on this end, the large plates on the opposite. Otherwise you can’t get the bowls in.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that you have to double-up the bowls like this? Otherwise I have to run the dishwasher twice a day.”
“Sure, you’ve been on the high honor roll all year but you can’t put your cups in the right way?”
Before you call CPS to save my children from an abusive home, I will admit most of these comments are in my head. I’ll open the dishwasher in the morning, sigh loudly at how everything is in the wrong place, and spend the next two minutes rearranging while I have these little conversations in my head. By the time my girls roll through the room I’ve either forgotten about their misdeeds or realized there will be bigger things to yell at them about over the course of the day than how the dishwasher was loaded.
Still, you’d think they would figure it out, right?
First off, obviously some changes to the site’s look. Big changes, for now. I know it’s a little jarring and I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it, but as I was doing some other administrative work, I figured why not throw up a theme that looks like nothing else I’ve used in my 17-year blogging career? I’m happy to read feedback, good or bad, if you want to share in the comments.
I won’t waste your time with too many details but I changed hosts for the second time in a year. I moved last year to get around some security issues my previous host could not manage. When I made the move, I screwed a few things up royally with the new host and while I was able to fix most of them, a few things I never got right. With the contract coming up, I figured it was easier to make another fresh start than try to deal with tech support.
So onto my third host in about a year. The transition seems to have gone smoothly, so far. The security features I wanted to add a year ago are now in place. I have access to everything I need to have access to. Hopefully there’s not something I messed up Sunday that will show up in a month or two and make this a hassle again.
Onto the weekend, which was all about me.
Saturday was my birthday, Sunday was Father’s Day. Obviously I tore it up.
Saturday morning L took me to over to the pitch and putt course. Well, I drove and paid but it was her idea.
She tried to play with me but got frustrated and gave up after the front nine and just putted on the back nine. It didn’t help that even at 8:00 AM it was already very warm and muggy. She was more interested in running through the sprinklers that were on near a couple holes than actually working on her swing. As always there was one bad hole on each nine that kept me from challenging my lowest ever score. I shot a 67, well off my best of 63. Just couldn’t buy a putt over three feet.
– – – –
After cooling down and eating lunch, L and I got into our big project for the weekend. A couple months back she started asking for a gaming PC. She’s really into Fortnite and has a YouTube channel with one of her buddies where they post videos of their games. She also streams their games. They’re up to 30-ish subscribers, which I think is pretty impressive for a couple of 11-year-olds. She’s learned how to edit video, add graphics, do voice-overs, etc. She’s gained some skills. Plus she’s good at killing virtual people, which is a little concerning.
I thought that she was fine sticking to the Xbox but she made a very persuasive PowerPoint presentation arguing her cause and a month ago we agreed that she could go forward with the PC. She’s taken on a bunch of chores around the house and agreed that when her birthday rolls around and she is eligible for a phone, she will get a cheaper one that her sisters have.
I did some research, found a recommended build list, and have been ordering parts for about three weeks. The final one arrived Saturday morning so we were off to the basement to start assembly. I had a bunch of YouTube videos queued up to guide us and had a general idea of what I was doing. But it is still pretty harrowing knowing that if I screw it up, I’ll have several hundred dollars of useless electronic gear staring back at me.
We hit a couple snags along the way that cost us about an hour. There are two cables that we never figured out how or where to connect. I spent a good 30–40 minutes trying to figure them out and eventually gave up. Turns out they aren’t needed because eventually everything worked fine.
The first time we flipped the power switch nothing happened, which next to sparks and an electrical fire is about the worst outcome. Fortunately after a quick review of some wiring, I realized I had connected the main power switch to the wrong pins on the motherboard. I clipped them to the right spot, flipped the switch, and the fans kicked on and the RGB lights lit up. But we had no video, our monitor a black rectangle.
I troubleshot on Google. I checked connections. I was getting seriously concerned that the most expensive piece of hardware in the case, the graphics card, was defective. But it was L who realized that I had connected the monitor to the main I/O HDMI port rather than to the HDMI port on the graphics card. I swapped them and – voila! – we had video.
It took another hour or so to download new drivers, make a Windows installation disk, and get the operating system installed. But before dinner L was downloading all the software she needs for her gaming. Between dinner and my annual birthday cheesecake, she was playing Fortnite on her new rig.
I’m pretty pleased that we pulled it off. It’s not super difficult, but as my issues with the power switch showed, simply putting the wrong cable in the wrong spot can throw the whole build off.
Not sure if there are any gamers out there, but her rig contains the following components:
MSI B450 Gaming Plus Max AM4 motherboard
16 GB of RAM
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU
Deepcool GAMMAXX 400-CPU Cooler
Sapphire Radeon Pulse RX 5600 XT Graphics Card
All in a Phanteks Eclipse P360X case
She also cashed out some money and bought a fancy gaming keyboard and mouse.
She seems pretty happy. Now we just need her to start collecting some of that sweet YouTube ad revenue to make this worth it!
Why build vs buy, you may ask? Well, when it comes to gaming computers, who can be a lot more cost effective if you pick and choose components and put it together yourself. This was probably 60–70% the cost of an equivalent assembled gaming rig, and comes without any bloatware to slow it down. The big downside is there’s no warranty on the final, assembled product and any errors in construction are all on you.
Oh, and the girls enjoyed asking me, “Sooooo, how does it feel to be in the last year of your 40s?” over and over while giggling. Did not love that part of the weekend.
Sunday was pretty chill. It was rainy here so we didn’t ever open the pool. We needed the rain so that was fine. I read some. Worked on updating the site. Took the cardboard we’ve accumulated over the past three months to the recycling. After dinner – grilled steak and chicken, although sadly on the gas grill rather than charcoal because of the rain – the girls took me out for ice cream. It was a big moment: the first time M drove the entire family somewhere. C and L tried very hard to remain quiet but about two blocks from home they got the giggles and couldn’t stop. M did just fine. Then S and I watched “Knives Out” and enjoyed it.
Pretty, prettyyyy, prettyyyyyyy solid weekend. Hope the other fathers out there had good weekends, too.
It looks like it has been nearly a month since I shared new music in a Friday post. That has left quite a backlog. So let’s get caught up with a mega-playlist to take us into Father’s Day weekend.
“Carousels” – Doves. The first new Doves song in over a decade, and it does not disappoint. Sounds mature yet maintains the energy that was present through their excellent run of albums. Very happy they are back together.
“I See You” – Phoebe Bridgers. Her new album is out today and getting great reviews. I can’t wait to wrap this post up so I can start listening.
“Cameo” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Speaking of great albums, RBCF’s latest dropped last week and I’ve been listening to it a ton. A great album filled with terrific tracks. This might be the best of the bunch.
“Go!” – Spielbergs. Sounds like pretty much every other Spielbergs song, which means it kicks ass.
“American Crisis” – Bob Mould. While on the subject of ass kickers, here are Mr. Mould’s thoughts on the state of our country.
“Mahgeetah” – My Morning Jacket. I pulled up MMJ’s It Still Moves album this week for the first time in a long time. This is one of the better side one, track ones of the early ’00s.
“Why Can’t You be Nicer To Me?” – The White Stripes. Want to feel old? The White Stripes’ second album, De Stijl, the one that started getting them national run, came out 20 years ago this week. Remember when The White Stripes and The Strokes and Interpol were on the vanguard of an exciting wave of new music that was revitalizing the rock scene? That was 20 freaking years ago, The White Stripes are no more, The Strokes are on like their third comeback, Interpol are focused on side projects, and rock music has become a niche genre rather than the dominant form of pop music. Also, those of us who were already a decade into adulthood at the turn of the millennium are getting old.
“Sweeter” – Leon Bridges featuring Terrace Martin. I love how Bridges is constantly, yet subtly, adjusting his sound. No wild changes of direction. New songs always retain elements of his last batch of music while gently adding exciting new elements. A poignant song for this moment in time.
The Border – Don Winslow
For an author, finishing a trilogy has to be difficult. Especially when you didn’t set out to write a three-book series to begin with.
This is the final entry in Winslow’s excellent Power of the Dog series, in which he unfurls the epic story of the rise and fall of a Mexican drug empire and the forces that were aligned against it.
I think authors have two choices when writing a series: you can either tie each book closely together, make it necessary to read the previous entries to understand the latest one; or you can fill later editions with plenty of hooks back to the history laid down by earlier books, while still making them readable on their own.
Winslow takes the second tack. It would surely help to have read one or both of the first two Power of the Dog books, but you can also jump right into The Border and figure things out. He jumps back in time often enough, without being distracting, to either catch up or brush up the reader.
As with every Winslow book I’ve read, I really enjoyed this. The Border brings the series up to the current moment in time. After four decades of chasing the Mexican cartel leaders, Art Keller has become the head of the DEA late in the Obama administration. He entered the job with a secret: a few years earlier he had killed Adan Barrera, the head of the most powerful cartel in Mexico, in the jungles of Guatemala. That murder set off a period of chaos on Mexico as the Sinaloa cartel began to disintegrate and a host of leaders attempted to claim more territory for their organizations.
Much of the book is about the machinations of those Mexican factions. Older bosses attempt to take Barrera’s place, while a younger generation is trying to push their way into power. They enter new alliances while always seeking to push themselves ahead of their partners. Winslow has a real gift for introducing a dizzying number of characters but always coming back to them and adding depth to their stories so that none of their stories are throw-aways.
In Washington, Keller is attempting to adjust the focus of the DEA, and American drug policy as a whole. That is not always a popular idea. Especially with an election ahead.
Ah, 2016. Winslow makes that year’s election, and its aftermath, a key component of the book. While Obama appears briefly as himself, a man named John Dennison stands in for our current president. Keller takes the elements of the Russian scandal and flips it to be about Mexican drug money. A lengthy, harrowing undercover operation eventually discovers direct ties between the son-in-law and the biggest Mexican cartel, which sets off a special counsel investigation and eventual constitutional crisis. If much of the series was about the ill effects of the War on Drugs on our country, this book becomes very much about our hyper-partisan political age in general, and our most corrupt president ever in particular.
I have to admit, I struggled with the political angle. I think Winslow could have brought in American politics without shifting into an examination of our Kleptocrat in Chief. That subject is so emotional that I think it distracted a little from the bigger story. I would rather Winslow have split that off into a separate novel.
While the big moments are full of drama and excitement, where the book really excels is in telling the stories of minor characters. We get peeks into the life of Jacqui, a Long Island junkie, and how her life spirals deeper into the abyss as her addiction takes a greater hold.
The minor character that most hit with me was Nico, a 10-year-old living in the slums of Guatemala who, after being forced to join a gang, flees for America. We follow him as he literally rides on top of a train through Guatemala and Mexico, losing friends and avoiding perils along the way, and then slips into the US only to be immediately captured and eventually sent to a juvenile correctional facility. The chapter of his life in juvie is one of the most fun and yet heartbreaking in the entire book. Eventually he lands with an aunt and uncle who are living illegally in New York, and just as he begins to carve out a normal, American life, he gets sucked into the world of gangs and slinging dope.
Winslow is not a brief writer. There are no quick asides. This book checks in at over 700 pages, and they’re not Stephen King 700 pages that read twice as fast. This book requires an investment from the reader, but it pays off.