Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Great Read

I've read a few regencies in my day, but I'm not an active follower of the genre. Still, I love a good historical. And when an author can transport you into a time period, a reader gets full enjoyment.

Laurie Alice Eakes is a writer that does just that.

Her latest work, A Necessary Deception, tells the story of a young widow that extends her hand to an enemy that once befriended her late husband. As the back of the blurb tells you...

When young widow Lady Lydia Gale helps a French prisoner obtain parole, she never dreamed he would turn up in her parlor. But just as the London Season is getting under way, there he is, along with a few other questionable personages. While she should be focused on helping her headstrong younger sister prepare for her entré into London society, Lady Gale finds herself preoccupied with the mysterious Frenchman. Is he a spy or a suitor? Can she trust him? Or is she putting her family in danger?

But the above still doesn't provide enough of the action. When Lady Lydia Gale's gesture leads to
threats of treason and arrest as well as blackmail, the reader knows they're in for a story that will keep them on edge to the end.

For those of you that got giftcards for a Christmas and are looking for a good read, this is an inspirational novel that is well worth checking out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Littlest Actor

Every family has a story that keeps on giving, one that will be retold for the rest of their days. This is ours. And while I have run it on previous Christmases, I hope you won't mind if I run it again. It occurred a few years ago, when we lived in Oregon. May you Christmas worship time be memorable to you.

Every Christmas Eve, my wife and I take our sons to the children’s service at our church. The service includes a kids’ pageant and our boys seem to pay closer attention than they do during the typical church service. Also, we feel that attending Mass on Christmas Eve provides a wonderful way to begin the holiday. After the service is over, we go out to dinner to the one place open on Christmas Eve, a Chinese restaurant.

While my wife and I believe every family Christmas is special, we cannot conceive that any will be more memorable than this one. It was to be a big night as our older son, Andrew, was finally old enough to participate in the Christmas pageant. He enjoyed two rehearsals and getting into costume, admirably playing the role of a shepherd.

Because church seating at Christmas is limited and we wanted to take pictures, we arrived almost an hour early to get a seat up front.We knew it would be difficult to keep our pre-school age son, Christopher, seated for the long service and the time before it. Therefore, my wife saved our seats while I played with Christopher and kept him entertained. When it was close to time, I corralled him and took him to our seats; he sat on my wife’s lap and anxiously looked for his older brother and the start of the show.

Just before the beginning of the pageant, the stuffy air in the crowded church became a little more unbearable than usual. As there were several babies in the immediate vicinity, my wife and I both thought one of them must have needed changing. Catching the odor, Christopher said aloud, “What’s that smell?” He turned around, looked at his Mom, and said, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!”

We did our best to quiet him down, while the people around us were suppressing their laughter. He continued on, repeating the words, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!” Eventually, Christopher quieted down and the pageant began.

After Mass ended, we walked to the car, buckled the kids in, and drove away. On the way to the Chinese restaurant, my wife and I discussed the incident. She realized that the words Christopher used in church were the same ones she had used with him during his potty training. Also, we were convinced one of the babies close to us during the service must have had a poopy diaper or probably just passed gas. We chuckled about it.

However, our little guy provided the last laugh. Overhearing the discussion, Christopher, with the smile that only a young child can produce, piped up with one more comment, “Oh, in church? That was me.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Time to Remember

I don’t remember when I learned to tie a tie.

I remember when I was growing up that I used clip-on ties for a while. However, at some point in my youth, my dad gave me a lesson that included half-Windsor, full Windsor, and several words that I don’t remember. I eventually decided on one method for tying ties and learned to do it quickly. It’s second nature now.

So what does that have to do with anything?

Last week, my older son’s middle school band performed at Midfest at the University of Georgia. It’s a prestigious honor to be invited. Schools send in their audition tapes a year in advance and only a select few bands are invited. In order to do make it, you need to produce several years of excellent students in addition to a winning tape.

We knew it was going to a special event, based on the prestige and the selection process the band had to go through just to get invited.

My mother and her husband even came down from North Carolina to watch it. My mother pronounced it worth it, the best school band concert she’d ever seen (i.e. better than mine when I was that age). I agree. The concert was absolutely phenomenal and I don’t just mean because I’m a parent or because the acoustics in a university concert hall exceed those in middle school cafeteria.

It was a special night and one as a parent I’ll never forget.

So what does a band concert have to do with a tie?

The band upgraded their outfits for the concert. For the boys, this included ties.

Last week, I taught my teenager how to tie a tie, passing down another father-to-son tradition. It felt like I’d reached another milestone in his growing up, though one I’d never considered before.

My wife and I will never forget the concert. We know our son won’t either.

But I’ll never forget teaching him to tie a tie.

I hope my son remembers it, too.

When he passes it down to his son.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Welcome to the Forest

We have five trees in the house.

I’m not exactly sure when this little forest started. It had to be after last Christmas. Last year, we had our one live Christmas tree on the first floor and then a smaller plastic one on the walkway between the bedroom and the loft that led to the boys’ rooms.

There must have been a sale last year.

When my wife asked the boys and me to bring the new trees upstairs from the basement, I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about at first. However, I looked in the storeroom and there they were: three seven-foot plastic trees, still in their boxes. I don’t remember her picking them up last year. She may have just gone shopping, unloaded them herself from the car and stored them in the basement. Given my keen attention to detail, I never noticed them.

But they’re out now and they’re up.

We have our one live tree next to the stairs.

We have a snow-colored tree in our sun room, decorated in candy-cane-colored plastic ornaments.

We also have a typical green plastic tree in our den, next to our TV. It’s also right next to the window and on the same side of the house as the snow-colored tree. I’m sure the neighbors in the subdivision across from ours can see both trees through the woods behind our house, now that the leaves have fallen and cleared the line of view. Those neighbors may think we like to celebrate Christmas a little. We do

The boys also now have their own tree in their loft, decorated with sports-related ornaments. They put it up themselves and put all the decorations like they wanted them. My wife re-arranged the decorations after the boys went to bed.

We still have the small one in the walkway. This makes five. Plus we have several little trees on counters.

I have to say I like all the trees. I’ve always liked houses that displayed more than one tree. It makes a house seem more festive.

However, I can’t remember ever having conveyed that sentiment to my wife. She likes decorations, but she’s always been much more subdued than I am.

I’ll spend the rest of Christmas wondering how she knew.

And thankful that there are no trees in the bathrooms.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It’s the Chicken Man*

*with apologies to Toy Story 2 from where I got that line

My younger son (my nine-year old) loves fried chicken.

Let me rephrase that. My younger son is crazy about fried chicken.

Awhile back, Food Network did a show about a fried chicken battle between two places in Pittsburg, Kansas: Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s. Chicken Mary’s won the competition.

Since that show, my son has been begging us to go to Kansas for vacation, solely for the purpose of eating chicken. However, that’s only part of it. He added chicken from Chicken Mary’s to his Christmas List, asking that Santa bring him a take-out order. My Uncle Steve has jokingly suggested that we get a take-out box from Chicken Mary’s, put leftover chicken bones in it, and then leave a note from Santa with an apology that says “he just got hungry.”

Recently, an online article about the “best chicken places in the U.S.” caught my eye. I read the article and noticed that one of the places, Mama Dip’s, was located in Chapel Hill, NC, less than an hour from where I grew up. Knowing that we were headed to NC for Thanksgiving, we planned a trip to Mama Dip’s. My younger son was ecstatic.

The evening came and went. The chicken was delicious. My son declared it “better than KFC.” (Granted, we hoped it would at least be that.) However, he talked about moving on to bigger things. He still wants to go to Chicken Mary’s. He still wants Santa to bring him take-out.

What’s the strangest gift your kids have ever asked you for?

Pictures of Mama Dip's from http://www.chapelhillmemories.com/. Picture of Chicken Mary's from http://www.city-data.com/.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Christmas Music War

My wife and I disagree over the proper time to begin playing Christmas music. She believes that Christmas music shouldn’t be played until December 1st and definitely not until after Thanksgiving. Me, I prefer to start the seasonal listening early.

I know I’m not the only person who likes to hear Christmas music early. One of my favorite movies, The Rookie, brushes on this. The movie is based on the life of Jimmy Morris, a high school teacher and baseball coach that realized his dream of playing major league baseball. The movie stars Dennis Quaid in the lead role. In one scene, Quaid’s character is eating at a diner. The patrons are chatting, when Morris notes the song in the background.

(Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…)
Jimmy Morris: Frank, ain’t it a little late to be playing that song?
Frank (the proprietor): It’s 8:30.
Jimmy Morris: It’s March.

The proprietor responds that the song is too good to be played only one month of the year.

As I said earlier, my wife is a “Christmas music begins December 1st” kind of woman. When she drives my car, she sometimes winces when she turns on the radio.
“Honey, why are you playing Christmas music?” she asks.
“It’s that time of year.”
“It’s early November.”
“I like it. It’s a radio station. I can’t be the only one who likes it or there wouldn’t be a market for it.”
“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!”

My view extends to movies. My favorite is Miracle on 34th Street. As Christmas approached one year, I asked my wife, “Do you want to watch Miracle this evening?”
“Not tonight, Honey. I have a headache.”
I try again a few days later, “Do you want to watch Miracle tonight?”
“I don’t feel like it. Maybe in a couple of days.”
This continued. On Christmas Day, I asked one last time. “How about (Miracle) tonight?”
“I’m too tired. Tomorrow, I promise!”
Come tomorrow, she says to me, “Christmas is over. We need to wait until next year.”
If we must adhere to her policy, we should at least find a time during the holidays where we actually do watch the film.

So what do you think? When is the proper time to listen to Christmas music?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I’m still in a little bit of shock.

A few months ago, when I submitted a short story for a Christmas anthology, I was hopeful, but didn’t know how much of a chance I had. Also, it’s difficult to get your head into a Christmas setting with the summer sun beating down on you. I once heard that Christmas CDs are recorded during the summer and that the decorate the recording studios with Christmas decorations to get the artists in the mood. I thought I would try something similar, so I played Christmas music in the car on my commute.

I submitted my story

And now it’s out. I’m one of five authors in a book called Hot Cocoa for the Heart, a Christmas anthology from Highland Press.

It can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. A Kindle version is also available. I’ll hope you do me the honor of checking it out. Below is a blurb from the book. I thank you.

Five poignant stories straight from the heart. From soldiers wounded in action during World War II and Iraq, to how the aftermath of car crashes affected peoples' lives, to a dedicated woman who teaches itinerant deaf students. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and immerse yourself in their trials, triumphs and tears.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Season's End

The football season ended too early.

I know the college and pro seasons still have a ways to go. However, the one I cared about the most, my younger son’s team, is nothing but a memory. When the final buzzer blew and the 9-year old Mill Creek Hawks were on the wrong end of a 31-21 scoreboard, a football season that had seen bunch of boys earn a #1 seeding in the playoffs came an abrupt end in the quarter finals. It was the only loss of the season. Unfortunately, it was one too many and came at the wrong time.

We finished the season with a banquet that included trophies and awards, along with a lot of Mill Creek related football wear. Some kids have moved on to basketball season. For us, we’ll take a break. Baseball sign-ups are in January and both my kids are ready to play. We’ll see some of the kids and parents in the other dugouts. We’ll shake hands and catch up, but it won’t be the same. It wasn’t last year after the end of the 2010 football season.

The season actually began in July this year with speed and agility camps. In August, tryouts were held and teams picked. The kids practiced five days a week for two weeks, then shifted to three days a week after that for the start of the season. The regular season continued for nine weeks, eight games and one bye. The football field where the team practiced got a lot of use. There were five or six teams on it for every practice, working in 20- 25 yard areas (and the end zone), all taking their turns on the equipment. When the younger kids vacated at 7:30 p.m., another five teams of older kids showed up to use the field from 7:30 to 9:00.

During practice, parents sat in the stands in bunches, trying to figure out what the kids were working on. A number of parents took advantage of the track that surrounds the field, getting in some exercise, though not nearly as much as their kids. Each practice, I logged between 2-3 miles. It kept me healthy. However, what was more fun was walking each practice with two of the other dads. Did it slow us down to walk together? Yes. At the same time, it was an opportunity for all of us to downshift after a hard day’s work. My wife, whose hobby is origami and who is the most wonderfully creative person I’ve ever known, created various spirit-type items for pep rallies and game days throughout the season. She loves doing it, because she loves the atmosphere, the camaraderie of the season, and the people we get to spend fall with.

This past Saturday, my son’s elementary school had its fall festival. I ran into one of the dads from the 2010 season. It was great to see him and we talked a while. He spent the 2011 season on another field, watching his kids play on another 9-year old Mill Creek team. It will likely be the same next season. Some of the parents we see next season will be the same ones we saw this season. Some will be on other teams. It’s a fact of life. This entire group won’t be together again. One of the coaches for my son’s team lives down the street from us. His son and mine play together all the time. They were on the same team both this season and last season, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be on the same team next year.

Still, I look forward to next year. I hope my son gets picked by a team that has as many of the same kids as this year.

Because this year’s team had a wonderful group of parents.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Last Look at Halloween

Being a Dad means walking down the street with a pint-size werewolf and asking him how school went that day, being thankful that the weather is nice, despite the freezing temperatures from the morning, and understanding why Halloween is the 2nd biggest commercial holiday of the year.

It's about the kids.

See you next week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

O Haunted Night

We took our kids to the Buford Corn Maze last Saturday.

We chose that day as our best option, given that we thought the place would be packed on Halloween weekend. Also, given how my beloved Auburn Tigers played on Saturday afternoon against LSU, getting out of the house was the only way to avoid having to watch the highlights.

One of the biggest attractions at the Corn Maze is the Haunted Forest. Both my sons, ages 14 and 9, were excited about seeing it. However, as I scanned the rules, I became a little concerned that my 9 year old might not be able to handle it. Per the rules it said:
Recommended for 13 and up

“It says 13 and up.” I commented to my younger son. “Are you sure?”

“Dad. I’m fine.”


We were greeted at the entrance by two overdressed Goths who smiled and welcomed us in. We’d only gone a few feet when one of the props broke from a still position and decided to follow us.

“Who-o-o-o-o,” the ghoul said.

My nine-year old grabbed on to me. “It’s alright,” I said. “You’ll be fine.”

But my nine-year old couldn’t take his eyes off the female ghoul behind us.

“RAHRRRR!” a voice said from close to our feet as a monster pretended to claw at us from a broken cage.

And from there, my nine-year old was a basket case. He hung on to me for dear life and I couldn’t move without him dragging his feet on the ground. My 14-year old was fascinated, but I couldn’t tell if it was with the attraction itself or his little brother.

“Daddy, I wanna go,” my nine-year-old said.

I remembered the sign from the entrance.

Actors will not touch you. Please do not touch them.

“Don’t worry,” I said, remembering the sign. “The monsters won’t touch you. You’ll be fine.” It didn’t help.

As we proceeded through the forest, I realized how it worked. One actor would follow you so you’d focus on what was behind you and then someone would spring in front of you. However, I was too focused on my son. I missed their entrance.

“Daddy, can we leave?”

I looked around for the next turn in the forest. “Hold on,” I responded. “I’m looking for the next way to go.”

“Left” a gravely voice replied from behind the wall.

We continued to make progress as best we could. A Friday the 13th wannabe jumped in front of with a machete. I smiled back at the guy and said, “Sorry, he’s had enough.”

I looked at my younger son again. “Don’t worry. They won’t touch you.”

“That’s right. We won’t touch you,” said one of the ghouls in a low voice.

We eventually made it out of the forest and my nine-year old was relieved. We jokingly asked him if he wanted to go back in. His eyes flew open. He shook his head.

We promised we wouldn’t bring him back next year. He seemed fine with that.

I do have to admit to that the ghouls in the forest did sense that my younger son was scared. Another one must have noted the Auburn pullover my older son wore into the forest.

At some point in the forest, I could have sworn one of the ghouls said “War Eagle.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Divided Loyalties

My kids, like most in the area, are Falcons fans. They’ve watched games with me every week this season and they cheer hard. It hasn’t been the start that we’ve hoped for, but there’s still ten games to go.

However, given that we live in an area where college football is still on top, and given the love of Auburn they inherited from me and a few gazillion other relatives, they follow former Auburn players with a particular gusto. Last year, during Auburn’s run to the national title, my nine-year old began to follow Cam Newton. He lived with every play last season, reveling in the undefeated season. The greatest day of his life was his “low five” exchange with Newton during the Tiger Walk at last year’s Auburn-Georgia game. He touched his hero. Thankfully, he’s washed his hand since then.

When Cam Newton was drafted by the Carolina Panthers, my nine year-old became an instant Panthers fan. He goes on-line to read statistics, watches Panthers games on computer when they aren’t on TV, watches ESPN for highlights, and keeps up with his hero. Besides, the grandparents are Panthers fans, so he felt right at home.

So, this weekend’s match-up between the Panthers and the Falcons provided a challenge. For my 14-year old, it was not an issue. Wearing his Falcons t-shirt, he rooted for his team and rooted for the Auburn players on the other side, too. However, my 9-year old found himself conflicted. How could he cheer for Cam and the Falcons (a team with no Auburn grads)?

When the game ended, he was both happy and upset. He’s nine. He can do that. At the same time, he noted the first two items on his Christmas list.

1) A Cam Newton Carolina Panthers jersey.
2) A copy of Madden 2012, so he could control Cam and make great plays like his hero does.
3) Tickets to a Panthers game so he can watch Cam in person.

I know next week won’t present the problems for my nine-year old that this week did. (My 9-year old cheers for the Lions because of Nick Fairley, but it’s just not Cam.) Also, there’s one more Falcons-Panthers game left this season and more to come in the future, given that the teams are in the same division. I’ll have to see how he handles it.

It’s more fun to watch than the game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gone Scuba Divin'

Actually, I haven't gone scuba diving, sky diving, fishing, or anything like that. However, I'm taking a blogging holiday for the day. I thank all of you who read my blog. I'll be back next week.

Best regards,

Walt Mussell

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pitchers and Catchers Report

The above title normally applies to February.

In February, pitcher and catchers will report for a new season of major league baseball. The playoffs have just begun, so we’re a long way from thinking about next year.

However, for the first time in several months, my nine-year old, who wants to spell the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen (he’s already adopted his mannerisms), threw pitches with me in our driveway. It was a tense opening. My nine-year old has been playing or practicing football since July. Neither of us opened very well. Balls were overthrown and underthrown. We’re not ready for the season.

Still, he threw some good pitches, too (I thought so anyway). He threw a few strikes and put a few close balls in there that an umpire might call strikes. Then there were the wid pitches, though I may just be getting slow. When a ball gets by me, I hope it gets stopped by the fence behind me. Unfortunately, it’s not solid like the wall behind a major league home plate. Many balls get into the backyard and we have to go get them One ball went into the bushes. We still can’t find it.

But it was a good first session. And, we can keep at it until the weather gets cold.

Next season awaits.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For Want of a Few More Minutes

If you’ve ever been to a Catholic church, you will notice something that is the bane of pastors and associate pastors everywhere.

Toward the end of a service, after a practicing Catholic has received Communion (bread and wine), most of them will return to their seats. However, to the consternation of many pastors, a number of attendees will head for the exits.

For those of you haven’t been to a Catholic service before, leaving imediately after Communion means leaving before the service is over. It’s like leaving a movie after the villains have been vanquished but before the heroes say goodbye to each other.

Sometimes, there are reasons for leaving early. Last Sunday, I had one. My older son had gone camping with his Scout troop. They were scheduled to return at 12:00, but there’s never been an event where they didn’t arrive home early. I’d planned to stay for the full service. However, staring at a packed house with a service that was going longer than usual, I decided I needed to leave.

While in line for Communion, my younger son leaned his head back and looked at me. “Dad, we can’t leave. Father’s at the door.”

I glanced to my left at the church exit that led to the rear parking lot and the location of my car. My son was right. Our assistant pastor was celebrating the Mass that day. Sometime during the Mass, our head pastor had entered to watch. He stood in the center spot in front of the four doors that led out of the worship area.

I glanced at my watch. There was a minimum of ten minutes to go, fifteen if there was a speaker talking about a retreat or something similar. I uttered a silent prayer that my son’s troop might be on time instead of early.

A minute later, my cell phone buzzed. I checked the number and knew time had run out. I leaned over my son’s head. “We’re going.”

We received Communion and headed toward the exit. I did what any good Catholic would do.

I confessed.

I looked him in the eye, shook his hand, and said, “Forgive me, Father, but I got buzzed in line. My son’s troop is home early from their camping trip."

Father laughed, slapped me on the shoulder with his Bible, and told me to go.

My son stared at me as we walked out the door. He couldn’t believe we left early.

When he’s a dad, he’ll understand.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Look Back

The streak is over.

After seventeen straight wins, my beloved Auburn Tigers walked off the field in defeat.

Some of you may not realize this, but I graduated from Auburn University. I used to write a weekly blog on Auburn football in addition to doing a parenting blog. I eventually gave up on the football blog to concentrate on the parenting one.

I’ve always thought of Auburn football as an adrenaline rush. When I was in school, I never missed a game. In my sophomore year, I played in the marching band. I have many fond memories of those days, with the notable exception of the band needing a police escort to get out of Neyland Stadium (University of Tennessee) after Tennessee upset then #1 Auburn 34-20. (The students tore down the goal post and tried to run over the band with it.) Auburn football has always been a cardiac affair.

I have to admit, the streak was fun while it lasted. Out of the 17 games, over half of the victories were by a touchdown of less. Nearly three quarters of them were come-from-behind wins and at least five of them were by double digit totals. The last three games alone were in doubt until the last minute.

That’s Auburn football.

It’s so nerve-wracking that Auburn fans get nervous watching videos of the team play.

And for seventeen games, including both a National Championship, and an SEC title, it was wonderful.

This year’s team has struggles. The defense has more holes in it than the relationships at the end of The Bachelor and Bachelorette shows.

But it’s still Auburn football, win or lose.

So, to all my Auburn friends, I say only one thing.

War Eagle!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Enter the Colonel

I signed on to head the popcorn drive for my son’s Boy Scout troop.

Part of me says I don’t know why I did it. However, the other part of me knows exactly why.

It offered an opportunity.

As parents, we often say we want to get more involved in our kid’s activities. I’ve broached the topic here before. My job keeps me busy. I can make activities that require me to show up occasionally, However, activities that require repeated time commitments are out.

So when the position of popcorn chair for son’s scout troop was needed, I thought here was an activity I could do. The commitment was a sizable one, but it would only take me through November. This one I could handle, I said to myself.

It doesn’t mean it won’t be easy. My limited experience with the popcorn tells me that the girl scouts must be much better organized with the cookie sales. However, I will soldier on.

I ran into my son’s Cub Scout den leaders recently. During the conversation, I told them I was handling the popcorn drive.

They both smiled at me. “You’re the colonel,” they said.

“Colonel (kernel)” is the term given to the popcorn chair. I smiled back and said, “Yes, I am.”

And while we’re on the subject, would anyone like to buy some popcorn. Drop me a line or post your e-mail here. We do sell on-line. I’ll send you a link. :-)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I tried to play Madden NFL 11 with my kids this weekend.

It wasn’t easy.

My younger son plays the game often. He’s pretty good at it, and plays the game at the top (Madden) level. He wants to get the latest version as he wants to play with Cam Newton at QB. My older son doesn’t play it as much, preferring baseball and other Wii games. Still, he’s better than his Dad.

When we tried to log in, I had to get my son to take it down a few notches. At first, it didn’t work. Even starting at rookie level, he wanted to put in all the extras.

“Dad, let’s put in the fumbles. Let’s put in the penalties. Let’s put in the injuries. Let's put in turbo speed.”

The fumbles is a particularly interesting option. It’s like playing contact flag football. You have to get your players out of bounds. If they get hit, they’ll fumble the ball. For a guy who’s just learning to maneuver the characters, it wasn’t the fun way to go.

We finally had to re-set the game and I know my kids took it easy on me. I had to learn how to pass, throw, and run. Still, with thirty seconds left before my time expired, my younger son rubbed a bit of his expertise in. He set up with four wide receivers and blew by my defenders for an easy TD.

“Dad, you had the wrong defense there. You had linebackers covering wide receivers. That’s a mismatch.”

I know that, but knowing is one thing. Reacting to it fast enough is another.

Until the next time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Raising The Bar

Three months short of our older son’s 4th birthday, he was diagnosed with autism.

I’m not sure if my wife and I really understood what that meant back then. We’d heard the term. We’d seen stories. Once we got the diagnosis, we read the literature. The learning curve was steep. We tried to stay on the road. It was a challenge for us.

It was a greater challenge for him.

The biggest issue he faced was with his speech. He had difficulty processing what he heard. He had difficulty saying what he was trying to say. My wife once commented that our son speaks English like it’s his second language. Try as we might, we couldn’t figure out what the first language was.

We got as much help as we could through insurance and hired private help, the type that insurance wouldn’t cover. We also worked hard with him ourselves at home. When he started school, we got him an Individualized Education Profile (IEP), trying to obtain services for him. Slowly, it started to pay off.

The first thing we discovered was that he excelled at math. Numbers came easy to him, though word problems were troubling. We also found that he liked science and history. Language arts was another story. His language issues proved hard to overcome. However, he did get better.

As his abilities improved, we changed his focus. However, we discovered he did as well. He was pulled nearly every day for special services. He didn’t like being singled out and worked with one goal in mind…to get out of services.

We worried when he started middle school, concerned if he could handle the increased work load. He did well, particularly in math, and his grades were good overall. He also joined the band as a clarinet player. His service levels were reduced, but he still got them for speech and language arts.

Seventh grade came and our son surprised us. He secretly made arrangements to change from regular math to accelerated math class and passed the test to be admitted. He also tried out for and made Honors Band. Toward the end of of seventh grade, he applied to be a Peer Leader at his school. The position would allow him to help younger students to adjust to middle school. His speech capabilities were an issue, but he didn't let that stop him. He went through the application and interview was accepted as a Peer Leader.

This year, he started 8th grade. He continues to be in Accelerated Math and Honors Band and he added Accelerated Science. We were worried that more accelerated classes would tax him, but he wanted to stay in the class. He’s also moved to a regular Language Arts class. He continues to have speech problems and take speech lessons at school. However, he looks forward to the day that he can eliminate that, too.

My wife and I know that challenges remain. However, we couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments. The day he was diagnosed, I doubt we foresaw this for him. However, I’d be afraid to believe he has any limits now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peter Banning Doesn't Live Here

“Dad, you missed two of my games last year,” my 9 y.o told me in reference to his football team from last season.

“I made eight of your games,” I responded, knowing that I’d caught six of the regular season games and both playoff games. (I would have caught more playoff games, but they unfortunately lost that second one. I also made both preseason scrimmages but I didn’t point that out to him. Granted, I didn’t remember it at the time.)

Still, the comment hurt a bit. I love watching my kids play sports and I do my best to make their games. During baseball season, I’ve served as scorekeeper. This fall, I know I will serve at a couple of football games in a volunteer capacity.

But I’ve seen the schedule. I know the horrible truth. I will miss a couple of games this season, too. And this year, like last year, I know there’s nothing I can do.

Still, I know it doesn’t make me Peter Banning. However, I can’t help but feeling that way. For those of you unfamiliar with the reference, Peter Banning is a character from the movie Hook. In Hook, Peter Pan has grown up and is now a hotshot lawyer with a wife and kids. He makes a lot of money but never makes time for his family. Hook plots his re revenge on Pan by kidnapping his kids and trying to establish a “connection” with Pan’s son, trying to entice Pan’s son to him instead of Pan.

I would not recommend Hook from an entertainment point-of-view as the movie proves it is possible to have two incredible personalities like Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman in a movie and have it suck anyway. Still, the movie does a good job of pointing out the importance of being there for family events.

I’ll miss two games. I have to live with that.

But I don’t doubt that I’ll always be there for my boys.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Calm Before The Storm

School started last Monday, at least for the kids in Gwinnett County.

I think we were ready for school to start. At the same time, it still feels early. Out in Oregon, where we used to live, kids start school in September. That seemed reasonable. When we moved to Georgia, we did it in the middle of the school year. It took more than a month between the time we left Oregon and the time we had a house in the Atlanta area. The day after we moved into our house, my wife took our older son to school to enroll him. The school placed him in a class that morning. A little over a month later, he was out for the summer as we tried to deal with the fact that he’d essentially missed over two months in school in total.

Fast forward to now. A week of school is already completed. I know my kids are studying. Yet, it seems like they’re getting through everything fine so far without me. I know they get homework. I’ve heard them talk about it. My wife has them focus on it when they get home from school. They’ve gotten it completed without having to ask me.

That feels strange.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to finishing my work, sitting down from dinner, and then studying with the kids until they had to go to bed. I haven’t had to do that yet. Then again, it’s only been a week.

I know the days will come where they need my assistance and I’ll be working with them every night. At that point, I'll start wishing it was already summer. At the same time, I know they’re growing up. My wife has impressed upon them good study habits. As they’ve grown older, they’ve gotten more capable at doing their work themselves, despite the increasing complexity of their assignments. I’m proud of their self-reliance.

Still, part of me looks forward to the day that I come home from work and find that my kids still need their Dad’s help.

It’s great to be a parent.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Elisha's Request

When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, "Request whatever I might do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha answered, "May I receive a double portion of your spirit."

-2 Kings 2:9

Football season has started.

It’s been a long time coming. Two years ago, when our 9-year old was only just seven, he begged us to let him play football. Knowing his penchant for taking up new hobbies and then losing interest (a trait my wife would say was inherited from me), we told him he would have to wait for a year. A year later, with him now 8-years old, still wanting to play, and willing to invest his Christmas and birthday money in equipment, we agreed to let him play football. He had a blast. We enjoyed it, too. And we told him he could play again if he wanted to do so.

Last season, when his team was in the playoffs, we went to the pastor after church and requested a blessing for safety.

This year, though, we didn’t wait until the end.

Back in July, with pre-season agility camps in swing, we went ahead and requested a blessing. As my son really likes our associate pastor, we approached him after church and he was happy to do it.

A few weeks later, back from vacation and ready for the season, my son decided one blessing wasn’t enough. This time, after church, he approached the pastor and asked for a blessing for football season. The pastor was happy to oblige.

Maybe it’s a little crazy to go twice for a blessing for the same thing, but when I see the recent tragic events of high school kids dying at football practice, I don’t once question the wisdom of getting a double portion of spirit. With the heat, the coaches of my son’s team have made sure that the kids get plenty of water and breaks as well as practicing without pads. We also make sure that our son drinks plenty of fluids at home.

Hopefully, the weather will cool off soon to the type of weather that football was meant to be played in. Still, even when it does, we’ll take all the blessings we can get.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Suggestions for the Arizona Tourism Board

One last word on our trip out west to visit family.

We really enjoyed our recent trip. We try to visit my in-laws as often as we can. When we lived in Portland, we saw them often. Since moving to Georgia, our trips are fewer, so we make our visits longer.

As I showed last week, there were a number of memorable things about the trip, particularly the Grand Canyon among other things. I hope we do go again someday and I would recommend it to anyone.

However, for those planning a trip to Arizona, I would like to provide you with a list of things that won’t be found on any website discussing Arizona tourism. While these items in no way should ever dissuade a visit, they should be acknowledged.

1) The bugs in Arizona are bigger then you may be accustomed to. Attacks are not an issue. However, expect to wash your windshield more often.
2) There are no bank signs showing the temperature. At some point, hot is just hot and the number is meaningless.
3) For those traveling from California, Exit #9 on I-40 in Arizona has cheap gas.
4) Just because an exit has a sign for a fast food restaurant does not mean that the fast food restaurant is close to the exit.
5) Pitch dark can take on a new meaning.
6) Even if a hotel has multiple pools, do not ask if one of them inside unless you like making the hotel staff laugh.
7) If the sign at the exit says no services for 60 miles, believe it.
8) For those visiting the Petrified Forest, the trees you remember from textbooks are at the south entrance. The only food in the Petrified Forest is at the north entrance. Plan accordingly, especially if you have kids.
9) The Chapel of the Holy Cross (Sedona) is still a tourist attraction. It’s closed on Christmas and Easter.
10) There is an abundance of mules for those who wish to ride the trails in the Grand Canyon. For those who wish to hike the trails, there is an abundance of mule poop.

Have a good week.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66

I’m still jet lagged.

I don’t know what it is about going to the West Coast for a few days that takes me awhile to adjust to on my return, but I’m still going to bed late and waking up late. For someone who’s a habitually early riser, this is not an easy adjustment to make. I went to Japan back in 2008. It took me three days to get my rhythms back in sync. I’ve been home a week from my family’s visit to California and I’m still having problems.

However, I must say it was an awesome trip. During our time out there, we took a family trip to places in Arizona. We visited the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, and toured around Sedona.

I probably first learned about the Grand Canyon in Elementary School. We studied about western U.S. geography in 4th grade. I remember we watched films. I saw pictures. (There was also that three-part episode of the Brady Bunch where they went to the Grand Canyon.)

But there’s nothing that could have prepared me for the grandeur that is the Canyon. We came in through the south entrance, which is the part that’s accessible year-round. (There is a north entrance that’s only accessible during the summer.) We feared it might be hot, but you’re 7,000+ feet high when you’re visiting there. Rains threatened and kept it cool. We went to several viewing sites and also watched the sunset. I gave my wife a hard time, telling her that she was taking so many pictures that she was missing it.

On Day 2, we went to the Petrified Forest, another fascinating geographical marvel that I’d only read about. While not as impressive as the Canyon, the Forest was still amazing. My younger son wanted to take piece home, an activity that is forbidden but impossible to monitor. We told him no, that taking things would destroy the Forest for future generations.

We’d planned to spend our third day back at the Grand Canyon. However, we got a pleasant surprise at our hotel in Sedona. We arrived at our hotel late at night, the outside giving new meaning to the term pitch dark. However, when we awoke and stepped outside in daylight, we were blown away by the natural pink rock formations.

The thing I didn’t expect on this trip was Route 66. Much of the trip was on I-40, which parallels the old Route 66 in the western U.S. There are numerous signs that point out Route 66, both drivable and non-drivable sections. As my boys have seen Cars numerous times, they enjoyed this, too.

I would love to visit again some day, but I don’t know when that will happen. We’re running out of places within driving distance of my in-laws place in southern California. We’re thinking that we might have to meet somewhere. Our first choice is Mount Rushmore, though we figure we could also go to Yellowstone.

May need to check the geography to make sure we can do it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thank You, David Aardsma

We just returned from vacation. By just returned, I mean it’s Monday as I write this. We flew overnight from Los Angeles to Atlanta, landing Monday morning. We spent the last eleven days with family in southern California. The trip included several days in Arizona with stops at the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, and the red rock country in Sedona. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever viewed. When you see the Grand Canyon, you understand immediately why it was the first area Teddy Roosevelt designated as a national park after creating the national park system. I will talk more about that next week, after I have a chance to review the pictures.

Today, though, I want to talk about baseball.

While in California, we attended a game between the Angels and the Mariners. My in-laws bought Angels caps in advance for the boys and a stuffed rally monkey that my 9-year old adopted.

The most exciting thing about this game for the kids, though, was the chance to see Ichiro. They’d seen him once before when the Mariners visited Atlanta. They looked forward to it then and still remember it. However, whenever the Mariners return to Atlanta, it’s a distinct possibility that Ichiro may have retired by that time. So, this time may be my boys’ last chance.

We went early to watch batting practice and were able to watch from the first base side of the outfield. The Mariners warmed up in front of us. In hopes of drawing Ichiro’s attention, my nine-year old wore a Mariners cap that we have.

Getting noticed, however, was a problem. We weren’t the only ones in the stands trying to get the attention of the ballplayers. Many fans were around us, hoping to obtain signatures or foul balls. Luck didn’t seem to be with us as none of the foul balls bounced our way. Seattle pitchers and outfielders, who were shagging the balls, would often throw the balls into the crowd. However, the players were just as likely to throw the balls back in to be reused.

When players threw balls into the crowd, they often pointed at a kid in the stands to let them know. However, none of the players pointed at my kids.

Until Seattle closer David Aardsma fielded an Ichiro grounder.

He scanned the crowd, likely saw my younger son’s Seattle ball cap, and pointed right at him Aardsma threw a perfect strike with a soft touch. My son caught it. He now had a ball hit by Ichiro, courtesy of Aardsma.

I admit I was nervous. I was afraid my son would drop it. I was also afraid that someone might try to take it from him. The balls are marked with a special logo for the Angels 50th anniversary and are apparently prized by Angels fans. Thankfully, the fans there operate with a non-interference code when someone is chosen.

If only I had it on film. At least, though, I have the image in my head forever.

I saw an announcement that Aardsma will have Tommy John surgery. I wish him a speedy recovery from a grateful parent.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rockin' The Suburbs

I’m always amazed by the diversity of songs on my older son’s iTouch. He gets his favorite songs from movies he has seen. He has songs by Elvis, Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, Coolio among a huge smattering of names.

One movie he liked a lot a few years back was “Over the Hedge.” Among the tunes in Over the Hedge was a rewrite of a Ben Folds song called Rockin’ the Suburbs. The lyrics were funny. The song also had a monologue from William Shatner, who voiced one of the characters in the movie.

My wife listened to Rockin’ the Suburbs on my son’s iTouch recently and got a shock. Neither of us had ever heard the original version before, but found the original lyrics to be unsuitable for children.

We explained the situation to our son and he knew he’d have to get rid of the song. We also explained that he wouldn’t be able to get his money back. He’d made the purchase. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize what he’d bought.

We looked for the version from Over The Hedge but were unable to find it on iTunes. We told him that if he really wanted it, he could buy the movie soundtrack. I’m thankful that he understands our decision.

Readers, what would you have done? Would you have let your child keep it? Would you have tried to get your child’s money back? I’d like to know.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Holidays

With family in town, I took a break an enjoyed. Instead of a blog post, I've posted a few pictures. Hope all enjoy them. Moreover, hope everyone enjoyed spending holiday time with their families.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Bridge Not So Far

“Mom, can we play bridge tonight,” my nine-year old asked his mother as my whole family walked along the beach last week.

“Bridge?” I interjected. “Where did you learn to play bridge?”

My son stared at me. “Dad, it’s no big deal. We each get a deck of cards and see who can build a bridge the fastest.”

“Oh,” I said, understanding his meaning and laughing inside at the same time. I knew that neither my wife nor I know how to play bridge. In the seconds before my son explained, I’d imagined most of his friends and their families, wondering which ones might be bridge players. It was useless. I’d never played the game in my life. I know of no one in my generation who knows how either.

In my parents’ generation, it was a different story. My mom used to play bridge all the time. She belonged to a bridge club that would meet once a month at someone’s house. They’d have food and prizes. I think this went on for several years as I remember a number of parties at the house with the kids having to stay upstairs. When I got up to go to school the day after a bridge club meeting, I noted that the card tables were still out, covered with half-full bowls of snacks and unfinished drinks. Mom always cleaned the day after.

I don’t know if bridge is a dying game, but games with family never dies. While we were at the beach, we did the usual things. We spent the day swimming, caught a fireworks display, ate a lot of good seafood at local restaurants, and caught a movie. The kids spent time at a Nascar Speedpark.

However, we also played cards, mostly regular deck versions of Uno and Old Maid. Old Maid was the funnest. My wife called it by its Japanese name, babanuki. The baba part of the word refers to the Old Maid card, so my wife gave it a southern spin and called it the “Bubba” card. It proved to be a difficult game to play with the kids. Neither of them could keep a straight expression when they got the “Bubba” card, so we always knew where it was. However, I think we all eventually lost one and called babanuki done.

We did a lot of fun stuff while we at the beach, but the card games stay with me. It may be sitting at home for a night, but it’s still TV-off, family interaction.

And that alone can be special.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nate McLouth Slept Here (for five minutes at least)

I spent last Thursday in a place no parent enjoys being, the emergency room.

My nine-year old, excited about a Braves win over the Mets last Thursday night, went to bed happy. A few minutes later, he started crying about a severe headache and then upchucked what was left of his dinner.

My wife and I gave him ibuprofen and placed a cold compress on his head, trying to soothe him. However, when the compress had no effect, we realized the ibuprofen likely wasn’t going to help much either. We got him dressed and then I started that late night drive to North Forsyth’s emergency room.

We got checked in quickly and seen quickly. The diagnosis was dehydration, a product of the recent start of Agility Camp (a precursor to fall football practice). He hadn’t been drinking enough water overall and it finally got to him. Oddly, it hit him on Thursday, a night when he doesn’t have practice. Still, my wife and knew the diagnosis was true. He wasn’t drinking enough water.

However, before we went home, the doctor at North Forsyth wanted to run a CAT scan. Since there’s no history of migraines in the family, the doctor wanted to rule out anything unexpected. So, off my little guy and I went to a room with a table and a big white doughnut. My son, a little scared, asked if I could stay with him. The technician said I could, so I donned a lead apron. Thinking about my son’s love of sports and that he was practicing for football, I thought of a way to calm his nerves.

“Just think,” I said, “Falcons have been on this table.”

“Yes,” the technician added, “and Braves, too.”

I glanced at the technician. “You can’t tell me who, can you,” I asked, hopeful.

She shook her head. “No.”

“I figured there were privacy issues.”

I turned back to my son. “You hear that? Falcons and Braves were both on this table.” An outfield collision from a Braves game last summer entered my mind and I had to bring it up. “Just think. Last baseball season, Nate McLouth was on that table.”

My son smiled and he calmed a bit. A minute later the machine began moving and I sat and watched as he never stopped smiling.

We got the results a little over a half hour later. No issues. The hospital discharged and we headed home.

Assured he was feeling better, my wife and I lectured our son on the need to drink enough water. Hopefully, it won’t happen again.

To my son or Nate McLouth.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

O Coffee My Coffee

This week, Fox News and The Huffington Post both posted stories about too much coffee causing auditory hallucinations. (I’ll leave it to readers to decide where of these two entities I likely saw this article.) Researchers in Australia asked participants in a study to down various levels of my favorite beverage and then made them listen to three minutes of sound on earphones. All participants were told that White Christmas would be selection they would hear. Instead, they got three minutes of white noise. The higher the level of caffeine intake, the more likely a participant in the study would say that they heard White Christmas. The notable level was apparently five cups of coffee. People who’d ingested five cups were three times as likely to state that they’d heard White Christmas as opposed to those that hadn’t. The story matched a similar report from LiveScience in 2009 that suggested people hear and see things after only three cups of coffee.

Admittedly, this isn’t the first time this year I’ve heard health news about coffee. It comes out all the time. I’ve heard recent studies that suggest coffee may inhibit certain forms of cancer. I’ve also heard it causes certain forms of cancer, so that’s a mixed review (or picking your poison). But, if you start listing all the supposed health benefits and detriments of coffee, it begins to sound like one of those prescription drug ads you see on TV.

But the idea of hallucinations was new to me.

My kids think I drink too much coffee, especially my nine-year old. Often, he will come up to me with a method he hopes will stop it.

“Dad, I bet you can’t stop drinking coffee for a single day.”

“OK. What’s the bet?”

He wags his forefinger in the air. “If you can’t go the weekend—“

“Weekend? Earlier you said a day.”

“OK. Day,” he says with a huff. “If you can’t go a day without drinking coffee, you pay me five dollars?”

“And if I can, then you pay me five dollars?”

“Uh, no. A quarter.”

“That doesn’t sound very fair.”

He hems around a little more but fails to come up with an equitable solution. Eventually, he gives up.

But what if the hallucinations are true?

It means my wife would have a medical reason for when she claims I didn’t hear her correctly.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Pursuit of Money

My 9 y.o. was looking to spend money recently. It’s a common thing. When he gets a little bit of money (birthday, Christmas, grandparents, etc.), he immediately wants to head for Target or WalMart and look for something to buy.

We’ve told him often that he needs to save his money for something he really wants, but he never seems to listen. His older brother is patient and knows how to save. He often picks out something he wants, counts his dollars from gifts and chores, and sticks to his plan. The lectures work on him.

But for my younger son, the money is burning the proverbial hole in his pocket. If it’s there, he can’t wait to spend it.

And such was the recent chain of events. Having received cash gifts for a once-in-a lifetime religious event (First Holy Communion), he looked forward to the things he could by. He picked up a Jackie Chan double feature and a couple of Beyblades, leaving himself with $30. My wife and I told him he should wait until something special came along.

Two days later it did. A new Wii game for major league baseball.

The price was $50.

He knew then he was done for and he was despondent. The Wii game was it.

My wife and I told him he had no one to blame but himself. For once, he admitted we were right. He begged us to help him get it.

We refused. We figured it was a good lesson for him. If the game meant something, he would figure out a way.

And he pursued this goal with vigor. The video was unopened. He returned it. One of the Beyblades was still unopened. He returned that as well. It got him beyond $45 but left him short of $50 (not including tax). We figured out a way to get him 5% off and told him he could use it. He still didn’t have enough. He even tried to sell the open Beyblade to his older brother. That didn’t work.

He begged for extra chores. He begged for an allowance. My wife told him he could earn 25 cents a day if he kept his room clean and his toys picked up. He’s still nine though and that one was beyond him. He didn’t make any progress.

And just when he’d given up, it happened.

A tooth began wiggling.

One gap-toothed smile later, he had the money he needed. The game was purchased. He’s been playing it ever since.

My wife and I don’t know if he’s learned his lesson. But for a brief time, he actually learned to save.

Until the next time.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tribute To A Volunteer

I hope a lot of people read this today. Tomorrow it may not be up.

But with the school year having ended, I wanted to say something about a special elementary school volunteer.

When we moved here several years ago, it was so that we could be closer to family. However, it was also because I had a job offer that would allow my wife the opportunity of being a stay-at-home Mom. She made the kids lunches in the morning, drove them to school, and was able to pick them up when the school day ended. From there, she planned activities, made sure they did their homework, and had dinner ready when I got home. It was fine for a while.

But after awhile it didn’t work for her.

So, with the idea of getting more involved in the education of our kids as well as getting to know their teachers, my wife began volunteering at the elementary school. It started slow. She helped in the classroom, but mostly she volunteered in the Media Center (what we used to call a library). She soon found herself at school four days a week, not only working in the Media Center but also teaching science labs. Not only do the teachers know her well, but the kids do, too.

Our older son is in middle school now and will be in eighth grade next year, so he doesn’t see his Mom during the school day anymore. However, he did for the three years he attended elementary school here in Georgia. It kept him on his toes and studying. Our younger son will be in the fourth grade next fall. I don’t know how he feels about seeing his Mom everyday. Secretly, though, he seems to enjoy it.

And I know that her contribution to our kids’ education has been inestimable.

I said at the beginning that this post may not be up tomorrow. My lovely wife is very private. Lauding her contribution to the school and our children’s education publicly could have me sleeping on the couch. At the very least, it will likely get me a call sometime today asking that I remove this.

For now, though, I just want her to know what I think of her.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Finally a Champion (Baseball Part Two)

My two boys enjoy sports. I’ve said that here before. Their experiences are a little different. My younger son plays baseball and has added football. He is pushing us to let him play basketball this coming winter. Though my older son has played basketball and soccer, he prefers baseball and plays that both fall and spring.

They are competitive with each other, when it comes to sports, even though their likes are different. I’m guessing brothers are like that. One of things they’ve competed on is Championships. Each of them was in a Championship game a couple of years ago. My younger son’s team won their game and brought home the trophy.

My older son’s team lost a heartbreaker, up two runs in the final inning before losing by one. I remember that latter game very well. My older son’s team trailed by one going into the final inning and he was first up. He finagled a walk, stole second, and then was brought home for the tying run by a teammate’s hit to center. I remember that my son missed home plate and I began yelling at him to go back and touch it before he got called out. (He didn’t listen to me, but he did listen to his coaches who had realized it as well.)

This season brought my older son back to his second championship game and a shot at finally matching his brother.

My older son is in his first year of Pony League, having moved up last fall. Most kids in Pony are in either 8th or 9th grade. (My son is in finishing 7th grade.) It's his fifth year overall to play. He started in Minor leagues, and then went into Major. Now, he’s completed his first year of Pony.

And it was a nervous night for parents.

To begin with, my son’s team, the Mill Creek Tigers, had an excellent season this spring and were seeded #1 in their post-season tournament. It meant they got to skip the opening round, playing the winner of the game between the #4 and #5 seeds. They had a good night in that second round game and propelled themselves to the championship two days later.

And that’s what brought the nervousness. The Championship game was against the #3 seed, the Mill Creek Reds, a team that started the season slow but finished strong. They were the only team my son’s team didn’t beat during the season. The Tigers played two games against the Reds and both were close. In each game, my son’s team fell apart in one inning and that was the difference.

In this game, it looked to be different. Going into the top of the 5th inning of a seven-inning game, the Tigers led the Reds 9-2. And then the roof caved in. The Reds scored seven runs in one inning, the maximum allowed, tying it up. With the score tied 9-9, my son’s team managed to plate another run in their half of the 5th and made it 10-9.

With hearts in our throats, the Tiger parents watch as the Reds threatened in the 6th and 7th but couldn’t score. The final was Tigers 10, Reds 9. And my son had the championship and trophy he so desperately wanted and that my wife and I wanted for him.

Pony is a different league from the previous ones that little kids play in because Pony is where kids start to drop out of some rec league sports either to play on school teams or concentrate on other sports. In all the leagues below Pony, there are plenty of teams in the league to make up a good season. For Pony (and higher levels), the rec league combines its season with another rec league in order to produce a full slate of games.

My son is looking forward to playing baseball again in the fall and then again in the spring. I do not know, however, if he’ll play beyond that. He’s recognized that his talents may not match his love for the game. Also, there are things he wants to do in high school that may not allow room for baseball.

He’s had great seasons and has game balls from all the times he played, except for this season. The coach didn’t believe in game balls, saying that baseball was a team sport and that the team won or lost. My son understands this. Of all the game balls he has won, one of them is extra special. One season, he had a coach that only gave out a game ball if the team won. The team went .500 that season. My son received one of the game balls for having a two-hit day in which his second hit brought home both the tying and winning run. Until this season, nothing had eclipsed that ball.

Congratulations to my son and to the Mill Creek Tigers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Strike Three (Baseball Part 1)

My nine-year old son takes winning seriously.

In games at home, he pushes the rules trying to eke out any advantage that he can. If he starts losing, he begins to mope, making the game less fun. We cautioned him about his attitude, telling him that he can’t win everything and he needs to learn to be a better sport. Though we think he’s improved, he still shows signs of disgust.

One of the places he does occasionally lose it is on the baseball field. I’ve seen him strike out with kids on base and he goes into the dugout and looks ready to cry. Else, he gets mad and slams his helmet. If his team should lose and one of his hits might have meant the difference, he pouts all the way home.

We’ve told him to cut it out.

We’ve explained to him that it’s a game. It’s okay to be competitive. But, when you cross the line between competitive and being a bad sport, that’s unacceptable behavior.

So it was with trepidation as we watched his at bat at a crucial juncture in a playoff game last week. His 7th seeded Reds were leading the 2nd seeded Rays 5-2 in the third inning. Bases were loaded and there was no one out. My wife and I were hoping he could get it through the infield. He’d singled up the middle in his previous time at the plate. He fouled off six pitches, including a long fly ball, before the ump rung him up looking. He turned, disgusted with himself, his face showing anger. If he could have squeezed a dent in the aluminum bat, he would have done so.

And then he walked back to the dugout and sat down. He was mad. But he didn’t let it get to him.

I walked over, high-fived it with him, and told it was a great at bat.

“Dad, that ball was outside,” he said.

“I know,” I told him. “Nothing you can do about it.”

The next two kids struck out to end the inning. No runs scored. The other team came back in the bottom of the third inning and took the lead 6-5. After the third inning, the game was called on account of time elapsed.

My son felt as if he let his team down.

I assured him he hadn’t.

Trailing 6-5 and with only one out, he took the mound. The previous pitcher had run out of pitches and his team needed two quick outs to hopefully get another inning. He gave up a hit to a close friend on his first pitch, before striking out the next two kids (which included another close friend). However, time had elapsed anyway. They didn’t get another shot.

After the game, my wife and I told him how proud we were of his attitude. We bought him his favorite, french fries, his treat for when he does well.

Because he had.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shirts and Caps

I spent four years in Japan, living there from July 1990 – July 1994. When I moved there (can’t believe it’s now more than 20 years ago), I worked in the public school system for my first year, teaching English to Japanese middle school kids. From there, I spent two years with a machine tool company and one with a magazine publisher.

One of the things I always noticed when I lived there was when school kids went on field trips. I don’t mean like going to baseball game or some other type of school function. I mean field trips where they would go sightseeing various temples for a day or possibly an overnight trip. It was hard to miss these kids.

Every one of them was wearing matching shirts, caps, and backpacks.

I always thought of it as being a good idea, though I didn’t remember doing the same when I was a kid. Also, I heard some parents in Japan complain about the costs of these items (particularly the backpacks, though these were obtained for school and they all happened to match). Still, as I saw a small number of teachers and chaperones herding a large number of kids, I couldn’t help but appreciate the safety aspect of it all.

I never imagined seeing anything like that here in the U.S.

And technically I still haven’t.

However, my older son recently went on his first overnight school trip for a music competition in Tennessee. I was thankful a little bit of safety. They bought three t-shirts, one for each day of the trip. They wore the shirts on a schedule that made sure all of the students were dressed the same each day. I’m sure it made life easier for the chaperones, though I’m sure it was still difficult keeping up with a bunch of teenagers. They didn’t have the caps and backpacks, but that was okay.

They all came home safe.

They even finished second in their musical competition.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Exhibition of Pictures

My third grade son took a trip recently to downtown Atlanta to see how government works. (A bunch of third graders watching adults act like third graders. It promised to be fun.)

One of the things he wanted to do on his visit to the capitol was to take pictures. This was not a first for him. He often borrows his Mom’s camera and takes pictures of my wife and me when we’re on family trips. He will also borrow the camera at family gatherings. (My wife says he’s a better photographer than I am. My wife also blames my poor photography as the reason for having no decent pictures of her for several years of our marriage.)

Still, there was no way my son was going to be allowed to take my wife’s camera to downtown Atlanta without his Mother or I with him. So, my wife bought a disposable camera for about five bucks at Wal-Mart. He happily took it with him and finished off the roll that afternoon.

The problem came when we tried to get them developed.

My wife initially took the camera to CostCo, a place where we get pictures developed when we want prints made from the disc in her camera. CostCo turned her away. They don’t handle film anymore. She drove to a couple more places. No luck

Eventually, she figured out one place that might take the pictures (I think she went back to Wal-Mart.) and was able to drop them off. It was relatively costly compared to what people used to pay for things like this. Gone were the days of double prints for a low price. Developing film was a service the store still offered, but they didn’t do a lot of it. We got single prints and it was costlier than what we pay for prints from a disc.

My older son has a school trip soon. He’s going up to Tennessee. My wife is considering sending a disposable camera with him as well. (Yes, he’s also a better photographer than I am.) I look forward to seeing the pictures of his trip.

A few weeks ago, my younger son asked me if I was around when people played music on ‘big black CDs.” I told him the word was “records” and said I had been around.

I never expected developing film to go the way of the record.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Time at the Movies.

We all love a good movie. We often watch them together, either going to a theater or getting a movie off of cable. We also have a lot of DVDs at out house. The boys will watch their favorites periodically. We’ve also taken some away either for disciplinary reasons or because the movie, which we didn’t see in the theater, was more than we thought our boys should be watching.

However, I have a small collection of DVDs, full of my favorites. The biggest problem with my collection?

No one wants to watch them with me.

I have a collection of all of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes’ movies. The man was the best Holmes’ ever. I have a copy of Robin Hood, the Errol Flynn version. (Rathbone plays Sir Guy of Gisbourne in this one. As Rathbone was apparently the worst fencer in Hollywood, Flynn demanded a double on all fight scenes.) I also have my Christmas movies, that I put the kids through each year. Then there’s Excalibur, a semi-violent King Arthur saga that I’m not going let the kids watch until they’re old enough to be on their own.

However, every Easter, I pull out one of my favorites: The Ten Commandments. Starring Charlton Heston, the movie is a mixture of pageantry that never ceases to amaze me (along with Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, who also never ceases to amaze me). There have been days when my kids have asked me Biblical questions and I’ve pulled the movie out if I could to show a certain Biblical event. They haven’t minded it then. However, watching the whole thing from start-to-finish is something no one but me cares to do.

This year I gave up on them. I watched the movie in pieces over the course of the two weeks leading up to Easter. I didn’t ask them to join me. I just accepted that I would have to do it on my own. Apparently, that was fine with them. I’m sure my wife saw the DVD downstairs. She knows I never bothered her with it. And the kids never asked.

Maybe next year, they’ll remember they didn’t watch it and they’ll ask me to trot it out. We could make popcorn and watch it again as a family. Or maybe I’ll have to watch it again on my own.

Oh well. If that’s the only thing we don’t do as a family, I can live with that.

Do you have movies you love that your family doesn’t want to watch with you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another Step Away from Childhood

When my younger son was born, I, for reasons which I still don’t fathom, gave him a nickname.

I called him “Squirt.”

It’s not a nickname anyone else uses. He does have a long name can be shortened. My wife and I use the long name. Many of his teachers and coaches call him by the shortened version.

But often, to his face, I say “Squirt.” The term carries a lot of connotations. It means “little one,” but it can also mean “shrimp” or “half-pint,” terms sometimes used to demean a person’s size. Still, he was a little guy and for the longest time he didn’t mind. While tucking him in one evening, I called him by his name.

His response?

“Dad, I’m Squirt.”

Well, my little guy is 9+ now and the day I knew would come has come. He’s asked me to stop using the moniker.

I should have expected it. I was named after my father, who was named after his. For many years, I was called “Little Walter.” (Yes, I understand there’s a difference between a name only one person uses and a name everyone uses.) While I didn’t mind “Little Walter when I was young, I grew to despise it. My feelings about this were the reason I chose not to name either of my sons after me.

At some point, I demanded to be called “Walt.” It took awhile to make the change. People continued to call me Little Walter for years, even after I surpassed my father’s height. There was only one person I didn’t ask to call me Walt. That was my Grandmother. My grandfather went by “Walt.” There was only one “Walt” in my grandmother’s life. I thought that was how it should be. If she wanted to call me Walt, she could.

Last Sunday evening, I tucked my son in as I usually do. And, I called him by name.

He smiled back at me. “Dad, you can call me Squirt. Just don’t do it in public.”

Thankfully, he prefers the Cartoon Network website to my blogsite on the computer.

Goodnight, Squirt.

So, what nicknames did you have for your kids and when did they start requesting a change?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hijinks at the Rink

Among the many hobbies I have or have had at one time in my life, there is one that until recently I have not participated in since our arrival in Georgia over five years ago.

I like to ice skate.

I didn’t grow up ice skating. I started while I lived in Japan in the 90s. (Yes, I know. Some people pick up kendo, flower arranging, or some other local sounding interest. I started ice skating.) I found it relaxing because it took all my concentration to not go splat at first. In other words, I forgot about everything else. I started one summer, finding a rink in downtown Osaka. I used to skate about every other week or so, taking the subway into town. I wore the largest skates the rink had. They weren’t the right size. However, the leather had stretched after continued usage, so I could get my feet in them. When the weather got colder, a winter only rink opened up much closer to my residence. I ended up going every week. On a vacation trip to the U.S., I bought myself a pair of skates. When the winter rink closed and I started taking the train back to Osaka, I discovered the rink downtown had purchased an extra large pair of skates just for me.

I kept up the hobby after I returned to the U.S. for good. My wife and I lived in Portland after we got married. There was a rink near the house and we occasionally took the kids. However, when we moved to Atlanta, I couldn’t find a rink nearby. I knew there had to be one. But, between work and all the kids’ other activities, I never really looked. I stored my skates in the basement, where they sat for several years.

A few weeks ago, my wife found my skates while we were cleaning. She suggested getting rid of them. I wasn’t ready.

Then my wife found a rink over spring break. My younger son, in particular, got excited about the discovery. He loves to watch hockey and has a Thrashers calendar on the wall. So, with a rink discovered, we scheduled a family night out last Friday.

It turned into a boys’ night out as my wife wasn’t up to it. We went to the rink. I laced up my skates and helped my boys get ready as well. Then I got on the ice. At first, the muscles didn’t work like I remembered. I could skate forwards and backwards but felt every turn. I also tried quick direction changes, amazed that I didn’t collide with someone. I skated with the boys and tried to help them. My teenager could get around and didn’t need my help, but he was still timid on the ice. My nine-year-old spent most of the night hugging the side. Eventually, he moved onto the ice in order to play with another kid about his age (as well as get away from the other kid’s little sister).

The two hour night session passed quickly. The rink closed appropriately with Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road, Jack.” However, my kids declared they wanted to return soon. I promised we would.

What things have you wanted to do for a long time that you haven’t done?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Two First Class Performances

When I was a kid, I was active in Cub Scouts. I earned about every award you could earn. Eventually, the church that supported my Cub Scout troop decided to start a Boy Scout troop. I was one of the first to go into it.

That troop lasted about two years before folding.

And during those two years, I earned a few merit badges. In the progression to Eagle, I earned the rank of Second Class Scout. I had a long way to go. (For those of you unfamiliar with the ranks, it’s Scout-Tenderfoot-Second Class-First Class-Star-Life-Eagle.) When my troop folded, I could have joined one of many other troops available. However, I never felt the desire to join one of them. I was too busy with other things. A couple of years later, I tried volunteering with my own church’s troop. However, I was still too busy. I couldn’t maintain a commitment.

My older son is involved in scouting. He enjoys it a lot. He didn’t start until he was a Webelo, but he has been active. He works on merit badges. I think he’s up to thirteen now.

More importantly, he recently just earned a new rank. He became a First Class Scout. Yep, he surpassed his old man. And I couldn’t be happier.

He’s already strategizing about how to make Eagle. He’s volunteered to work on his first service project. He’s going to camp this summer to earn merit badges that are required for Eagle. He may eventually make it some day.

Scouting isn’t the only place where he’s exceeded what I could do. He also loves baseball and is still playing both in the fall and in the spring. Like scouting, he started playing baseball late, too. However, he’s been at it for a few years now. When he started, he had trouble hitting.

He didn’t give up.

Over time, he got better. We’re now about halfway through the spring. He doesn’t usually hit the ball very hard. Still, he gets on base at least once per game. More impressive is that he rarely strikes out. Instead, he puts the ball in play. He struck out in the most recent game. That was only after three two-strike foul balls.

As for me, I had enough trouble putting wood on the ball. I stunk as a hitter.

I’m proud of my son and what he has accomplished. I hope he knows how much.