Saturday, March 20, 2010

What I learned playing catch

I put this in my Facebook profile a couple of weeks ago. It may be an old adage, or a variation of one, or it may be something I just made up. In the last two weeks, I realize how true it is.

"The more I become like my parents, the better I like myself."

I like simple things now. A fire outside on the patio. Cooking out. Having a beer with friends. A memory long forgotten, brought back by a song on the radio. Here's one that I never really considered until the recent bout of warm weather...

Playing catch.

It's so simple. And I don't mean to get all "Field of Dreams" on everybody, but bear with me. (That was a beautiful thing, though, at the end. Makes me cry every time.)

When he's in the mood, Tristan will join Aidan and me outside to play. He's more difficult to play catch with, for a few different reasons, most of which stem from his autism. He has a VERY short attention span. Shiny things and squirrels and cars and the dog and sticks and grass and rocks and dirt and other things all tax his concentration. He likes to play, but it seems like he always wonders about doing something else.

He gets frustrated when he doesn't do something well. He doesn't get very far away because he wants to catch and throw every ball just right. When he misses, or more accurately, when I fail to make it land squarely in his glove, he lets out a little scream while he's chasing after it. But when he catches the ball, he has an absolutely priceless look on his face. He gets a little too close to throw the ball back, and I've taken a few unfortunate hits, but he's fun to watch.

Aidan, however, is my catch-playing partner. We've been playing every day since it got warm. We even play in the morning while we're waiting for the bus. I can't help but think about Ralphie's kid brother in "A Christmas Story" who can't move his arms while I'm watching Aidan try to throw while wearing a winter coat. But he's so eager to play catch whenever we can, even in the cold.

He's hard to teach because he's left-handed, but like everything else, he's good at it. He can really throw pretty hard. He doesn't catch particularly well yet, because he's just a little bit afraid of the ball. I think he's got "pitcher" written all over him.

Most of the time, we don't talk, and there's a rhythm that we get into, and it's just nice to watch him. He uncorks a wild one every now and then and we have to crawl into the bushes to get it. Or he'll miss one and has to chase it into the street.

Occasionally, he asks questions and a few days ago, he came up with one that is really the point of this whole story. "Did you play catch with your Dad, Daddy?"

His question made me stop what I was doing for a moment. I hold my Dad in high regard, and I learned a lot from him, but my Dad was a long-haul trucker when I was a kid.

I held the ball when I answered his question so Aidan would fully understand. "We played catch sometimes, but Grandma Shirley was who really taught me to play catch."

"Gramma Shirley played catch?" he said, his voice getting really high on the end, as it is prone to do when he's surprised by something.

"You bet. She was really good. And she was a good teacher," I said.

"Do you think Gramma Shirley will play catch with me next time we're in Wichita?"

The thought of that made me laugh. "Suuuure, buddy. Grandma Shirley would LOVE play catch with you."

Sorry, Mom.

Oh. And thanks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's never good when you hear these words: "Honey, I think we need to paint"

Nothing can help you feel better about your home than new paint. The problem is... I hate to paint. I'd rather move than paint.

Ashley decided to paint one night while I was at work a while back and our living room and hallway has been green for seven years. The dining room and kitchen are greenish. I think the little sample thing said it was "Rubbed Sage." But the green of the living room can best be described as "Sports Bar Green."

It's dark. Really dark. It's always been a challenge to get any light in the room. Think about the most popular color to paint the Man Cave to make it look most like a bar and you've got it.

It's been scarred from seven years of twin boys being here. There's some patching to be done. We also have chosen not to put any kind of decor on the walls because the boys, until recently, would have sacrificed any art to the HGTV gods. The same cannot be said for the boys, as they went through a very prolific period of putting their own brand of artwork on the walls from ages 3-6. As we trust them now to not to leave their mark, Ashley has determined a change is needed.

We (and by "we" I mean "Ashley by herself") picked out a cream color to paint the paint the living room. I think the paint name is the not so cool "Alabaster." We (remember?) chose it instead of Vanilla Sugar, Euchre, Ivory Glow, Honeybutter, Deep Cowslip, Cottage Linen, Haystack and Homestead Resort Cream. This accounts for about one-quarter of the colors we were considering.

Who knew there were so many different names for cream? They all look alike, till you put them next to each other. If I held up one, then another, you'd swear I was holding up the same color sample. It's kind of like being at the eye doctor and sitting through the whole "Which is better... A or B?" thing he does. Except this time it's Ashley and she's holding up little beige squares. Like I'm supposed to know which will go better with our furniture and rug.

Since we're changing from a very dark green to a very warm cream, I'm guessing we (from here on out, "we" means "Joel alone") will have to put up one coat of primer and two coats of paint. The other cool thing is that I have to do ALL the taping because I can reach the ceiling without a step ladder. To top it off, I get to refinish the TV armoire. But Ashley is unsure will make the cut in the living room, but she just wants to see what it will look like darker to better match the end tables. It may be relegated to the basement, which by the way, we (remember?) will refinish this summer.

We can't wait to get started.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ramblings from a sleep deprived person about sleep deprivation

Since our twins were born (almost seven years ago), it's a rare occurrence that I sleep more than five hours a night. I've justified it by saying "I just don't need as much" or "I've got things to do" or the oft-quoted line from Road House, "I'll get enough sleep when I'm dead."

I think I've grown accustomed to little sleep. There have been segments of my life that sleep was a commodity in short supply.

Anyone who has been to grad school knows how little sleep you can survive on. We wore it as a badge of honor. A typical conversation was "You look horrible. How much sleep did you get?" "About seven hours." "You got seven hours last night?" "No. I got seven hours so far this week."

When I moved to Kansas City after grad school, I had no responsibilities and a good job with a lot of friends in the same situation. It was very unusual to get home before midnight and there were many occasions when I left the bar when the bartender did.

For six years, we owned a bar and I worked nights. We had the boys and Ashley worked days. I got used to hitting the rack at 2 a.m. or later and getting up at 6:30 when Ashley left for work and I had to be up with the boys.

But now, I don't have to survive on that little sleep. The serious side effect are lack of patience and of course, the health concerns associated with getting less sleep than you should. I'd like to be able to sack out for seven hours, but I just can't. On the weekend, my wife can sleep until I wake her. Yesterday she slept 11 hours. I'm jealous.

It may come down to the fact that the early morning hours are my own. I don't fight for computer time. I catch up on the news and scores. I can linger for a while on Facebook. I search through Twitter to see if there is anything I should be reading not covered by more traditional news media. I write my blog if the feeling hits.

It's nice and quiet in the house. The only noise is the sporadic clickety clack of me typing. It just takes so long to write anything because I yawn so hard my eyes water. I just need a little pick me up. Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit caffeine.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Guys Weekend - Gambling, Booze, Strippers and Hockey... What More Could You Want?

My wife got me a great birthday present this year. Ashley and Kerri, my buddy Jim's wife, made plans before Thanksgiving to send us to St. Louis for a hockey game. Jim's birthday is a week before mine and he's a big Blues fan, too. They got us tickets, made hotel reservations and sent us out for Guys Weekend.

When we found out, it was all we talked about. Guys Weekend was going to be filled with poker, booze, cigars and strip clubs. We joked about how anything that happened in St. Louis stayed in St. Louis.

I think that's what separates guys in their twenties from guys in their forties. We didn't do anything even remotely like that.

Don't get me wrong... we drank a lot, but we didn't puke in a parking lot. We ate crap all weekend. White Castle for lunch on the way in; chili dogs and beer at the hotel Happy Hour before the game. The healthiest thing we ate was nachos, I think.

We even went completely the opposite way of any Guys Weekend when we escorted a lady and her son from the hotel to the arena. They were from Indiana and it was the kid's first NHL game, first time in St. Louis. She asked if they could walk with us. She was a little worried that maybe something would happen, not knowing that the area around the arena is probably the safest spot in the entire city on game night.

No problem, we said, in essence violating every Guys Weekend rule about gentlemanly conduct.

The Blues won big over the Rangers and we hit an Irish bar to celebrate. A DJ started cranking out dance tunes and we left, what with all the women dancing and all. We headed to the casino.

We played poker until the wee hours. I drank till last call. The chili dogs disagreed with Jim and he quit drinking much earlier. (What a girl!) We were definitely more sober than our cab driver who kept moving into turn lanes that were actually oncoming traffic.

We only slept about four hours and made it to a poker tournament across town. The drive back to Kansas City involved a lot of caffeine and sunflower seeds to keep us awake.

All in all, it was a good weekend, albeit a pretty tame one. We're pretty sure we need to make it an annual birthday event. Maybe in your forties, that's what you need instead of craziness. We don't have to tell the wives it wasn't the wild weekend we made it out to be. But I think they have their suspicions, though.

They're asking to go next year.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I know it's just corn, but it's been on my mind

Ashley and I have been reading about the evils of canned foods. We're trying to take better care to eat right and save money where we can. I didn't really think I'd turn into one of THOSE people, but this is probably going to stick. If this kind of diatribe annoys you, don't read it because I'd hate to think I lost a friend over corn, but here goes.

Cost Last week, we bought a 5 lb. bag of frozen corn at Sam's for $4.00 or something like that. A case of eight cans of Green Giant is about $10.00. This is by no means scientifically deciphered, but I'm guessing that's a saving of about half.
Winner... frozen.

Nutrition I looked up the nutrition information today. I didn't know if the corn we get is brine packed or whole kernel drained, solid, but... sheesh... whatever. The canned stuff was 15 more calories per serving. Everything else seemed to be negligible.
Winner... frozen.

The Kicker Wait... I probably need to mention sodium. THIS IS THE KICKER. Frozen corn has 1 mg of sodium while the canned stuff has 273 mg. I've never been one to worry about sodium, but everyone is telling me I should so I'm making this one of the factors by which I judge my future corn purchases.
Winner... frozen.

Hold it. What about taste?
Glad you asked. Frozen corn tastes A LOT better. The texture is better too. It's not mushy, which makes it more versatile in recipes. Any time I've tried to make anything with canned corn as an ingredient, I've been disappointed.

In the comparison between frozen and canned corn, I haven't seen any reason, other than nuclear apocalypse, to keep buying the canned stuff. I'm trying to come up with something snarky or funny with which to end this blog, but there's nothing really funny about corn.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Top 10 Stories from the Vancouver Olympics

Whew! The Olympics are finally over and I saw countless hours of coverage. Two, sometimes three channels bringing me the sights and sounds in beautiful high definition.

I must confess that I like the Winter Olympics much more than the Summer Games. The only event that I failed to see at least some of was Skeleton. Yes, I watched some figure skating, but I AM married so it's the law.

My worry is that I'll have nothing to watch during the afternoon. I'll survive, don't get me wrong, but now I'll have to make decisions. I will NOT, however, miss hearing the "Five Dollar Foot Long" song played at the start of every commercial break.

Here are my observations from the Games, Top 10 Style.

10. Death was a big story line at the Vancouver Games, starting with the death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run just hours prior to the Opening Ceremony. The Games ended with Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette carrying the Canadian flag at the Closing Ceremony. Rochette's mother passed away just two days before her event. Rochette skated, dedicating her performance to her Mom and earned a bronze medal. And athletes kept coming up to have their picture taken with her, which I thought was tacky.

9. Shawn White - He's a rock star at the Winter Olympics. The two-time halfpipe gold medalist is easily the American face of the Games. Aside from the fact that he seems well grounded and is just happy being a laid back snow-boarder, he simply does his event better than anyone ever imagined, setting the bar and continually exceeding the expectations of everyone but himself. I was a little disappointed to hear that he no longer wants to be referred to as "The Flying Tomato" because that's a perfect nickname for the redhead daredevil.

8. Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko called out the judges and gold medalist American Evan Lysacek for not having a quadruple in his routine. Plushenko said that Lysacek should not have been awarded the medal. That's kind of like Chris Carpenter saying Tim Lincecum didn't deserve the Cy Young award because he doesn't throw a splitter. A sissy boy slap fight on the medal stand would have propelled this to #3.

7. Apolo Ohno - By far the most exciting and eventful Olympiad has to belong to the speed-skater turned Dancing with the Stars participant. Not only did he become the most prolific American Winter Olympian, he did it with some incredible races on the short track. To tie Bonnie Blair for most medals all time, two Korean skaters had to wipe each other out in the final turn of the final lap. They did. The set the new medal record, Ohno had to leap over two skaters who crashed right in front of him. He did. To end the Olympics on the most dubious note, Ohno would have to get disqualified during what many think will be his last Olympic race. He did. (By the way, he didn't deserve disqualification, in my humble, never speed-skated EVER opinion.)

6. Curling - It's no secret that the U.S. lags behind, but with the great strides that the sport has made over the past four years, the coverage and the sponsorship, the Americans were expected to fare much better this time around. But with both skips constantly choking during round robin matches, neither team were in contention for a medal.

5. Americans make headway to end Scandinavian dominance in Nordic events. The Nordic combined team won a medal for the first time ever, winning a total of four medals out of nine possible. The events combine ski jumping and cross-country skiing, two events which don't really go together at all, and are usually dominated by the northern-most, snow and ice covered countries such as Norway, Finland, Sweden, Austria and Germany. In the team event, Americans earned their first ever medal ever, taking the silver, finishing a couple of seconds behind the Austrian team. Bill Demong won the first ever gold medal for the Americans in a Nordic event.

4. 50 km cross-country. No big surprise at who won, but the simple fact that there is such an event kills me. It's the equivalent of the Summer Games marathon, except that it's longer (31 miles) and it's on snow. You have to be some kind of masochist to want to ski 31 miles. In a day.

3. Americans ended a six-decade long drought by winning the gold in four-man bobsled. There are several great things about this, not the least of which is that driver Steve Holcomb is a former soldier. The team managed to break the course record on each run. They won by a total of .38 second, which is the equivalent of a 8-0 win in hockey. The cool trivia is that former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine designed the sled, named "The Night Train."

2. In the hockey tournament, you couldn't have scripted a better story. The Canadians need to win on their home ice in a game they invented. The face of the NHL, Sydney Crosby, is front and center all the time, prompting me to say that NBC stands for "Nothing But Crosby." The Americans win the round robin game. The gold medal game goes to overtime and Syd the Kid beats tournament MVP Ryan Miller on the short side with a laser. Crowd goes wild. Across the country, kegs of LaBatt's Blue exploded and Canadians everywhere pulled out their denim jackets to go out for a night of formal celebration.

1. In my opinion, no Top 10 sports list should end with anything other than the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Top 10 upsets? #1 is the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Top 10 uplifting sports stories? #1 is the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Best team ever? #1 is the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Best NCAA Basketball teams ever? #1 is the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. You get the idea. Nothing (probably) can ever touch that event in the spectrum of sports. The political ramifications, the country's mood during the gas crisis and Iranian hostage crisis, the dominance of the Russian team... everything just conspired to make that the greatest sports event EVER. No argument.