Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Dolgopolov

Current Overall Standing: 20th
My MVP for the Week: Alexandr Dolgopolov (Ukraine) with $98,246, defeating Marin Cilic (Croatia) for the title at the ATP Studena Croatia Open

It's been a break out year for Dolgopolov. He attained his career-best ranking of #20 in April. This is his first singles title at the ATP level.

12 Books in 12 Months: A Book about or Set in Your Favorite Place

Book: The Soul of Vermont
Author: Richard W. Brown
Image via

There's no place like home. I have been privileged to visit truly magical places in my life: Kamakura, Japan; Picton, New Zealand and Boracay, Philippines among others. I suppose I could have been more exotic in my imagination and found books set in those locales. Yet, ten years ago, we figured we could live anywhere in the world and we chose Vermont. We lived in Burlington for three years before we bought our house in the woods. On one return trip after two weeks away, my eyes actually watered at the first sight of Mt. Mansfied, a sign we were close to home. I've never felt that way about any other place I've lived. I never want to move again.

The DC area was a fun place to grow up, having access to such a beautiful and extraordinary city. Even so, I envy my daughter for the childhood she has here. On a winter's night, she can look out her bedroom window and see a family of deer passing through the virgin snow, bathed only in moonlight. We buy our maple syrup from the family of one of her school friends. The frogs at our ponds can get pretty noisy in the spring but I'll take them over the traffic noises of suburban rush hour anytime.

The Soul of Vermont elegantly captures the place I love. We live in the northwestern corner of the state and most of Brown's photos are of the northeast. But there are a few from our area as well. Each chapter is devoted to a season and Brown wrote lovely accompanying essays on the experience of each time of year. In general, I am skeptical of coffee table books as I feel they are overpriced and I can't help wondering how many people actually read them except to admire the pictures. I do realize that photographers need to make a living, too, and I have developed a renewed interest in their art over the past few months. Brown has certainly created a beautiful book.

I guess if anyone's going to write a book about our living room couch, I'll have to do it myself.


My Wife was a little surprised that I was inclined to post again so soon. I guess the title of the challenge does seem to imply that one only posts once a month. But I didn't really see it that way. My plan, at least for myself, was to post the books as I finish them. I've done my best to allow for personal interpretation of the rules. After all, I'm not the blog police - just trying to plant an idea. If others are inclined to post just once a month, have at it.

For my own reading, I feel I need to take care of as many of these as I can before the school year begins. I'm also trying to read the shorter ones first so I don't feel crunched for time when I tackle the longer ones.


I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are here.

If you'd care to join the challenge, please let me know by commenting below or e-mailing me at Also, please tell me how and where I can follow your posts. Don't be shy about suggesting other categories, either. It is my intention to compile a new list of 12 once this one is completed. My only parameter is that no one should have to buy anything in order to complete the challenge - nothing beyond a library card required.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

12 Books in 12 Months: A Book from a Genre You Don't Normally Read

Book: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Author: William Shakespeare

Image via Simply Books

Alas, My Wife doth not swoon to my recitatals. Into the other room do they send her. Away, away, to read elsewhere she goes. Forsooth. Just because.

I haven't read a play since high school. In fact, I don't think I've ever read a play except for those that were assigned to me. I have no excuse. I like plays. I believe in plays. I love the Bard, in particular. I have seen more of his plays than I have read.

I have seen this particular comedy performed at DC's Arena Stage. I was probably in high school at the time. It was a somewhat modernized version. Demetrius and Lysander threatened one another with switchblades rather than swords. My strongest association with the play, though, is the film Dead Poets Society, one of my all-time favorites. That movie implies that the part of Puck is a more prominent role than it is, though, as My Wife points out, Shakespeare frequently wrote more interesting supporting parts than leads. Witness Mercutio vs. Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. I can understand the appeal of Puck to an actor but I think I'd prefer to play Bottom so I could wear the ass-head.

Shakespeare's awfully bawdy - double-entendres all over the place. I've got some good pick-up lines to try on My Wife sometime:

my heart unto yours is knit,
So that but one heart we can make of it (Act II, Scene ii, 47-8)

run through fire I will for thy sweet sake (Act II, Scene ii, 103)

Of course, Shakespeare's great for insults, too. I may use a few of them for fantasy football smack talk:

With the help of a surgeon he might yet
recover, and yet prove an ass. (Act V, Scene i, 303-4)


I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are here.

If you'd care to join the challenge, please let me know by commenting below or e-mailing me at Also, please tell me how and where I can follow your posts. Don't be shy about suggesting other categories, either. It is my intention to compile a new list of 12 once this one is completed. My only parameter is that no one should have to buy anything in order to complete the challenge - nothing beyond a library card required.

Checking in with the Cubs: Quality Time

Thanks to WGN, I got to spend some serious quality time with the Cubs this week. I got to watch four of the five games the Cubbies played between Sunday and Friday. Unfortunately for me and for them, only one of those five games was a win: Sunday's series finale against the Astros, the only team in baseball with a worse winning percentage than their own.

Marlon Byrd photo via Chicago Cubs Insider

No secret, it's been a terrible year for the Cubs. The biggest news for the team this week was trading right fielder and leadoff man Kosuke Fukudome to the Cleveland Indians for two minor leaguers. Cries of "just wait 'til next year" are starting early this summer.

I watched this week's games with consideration of my question earlier in the week: what makes for a good baseball game? As I said, I watched four games in all: Sunday's 5-4 victory over Houston, Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Brewers, Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Brewers and Friday's 9-2 loss to the Cardinals. The first three games were all close throughout but I'd say the Sunday game was the only one that qualified as exciting. Late-inning drama is good. The Astros came from behind to take the lead in the eighth but the Cubs tied it in the bottom of that inning, then won it with a walk-off single in the tenth. The two Brewers games I watched were not as suspenseful. Even though the games were close, Chicago's impotent offense combined with Milwaukee's lockdown bullpen made for easy Brew Crew victories.

I've come to the conclusion, though, that baseball lore isn't really about great games. It's about memorable moments: the good, the bad, the ugly but most of all, the unusual. An outfielder throwing out the runner at home is pretty exciting. In the National League, a pitcher defying the odds to get a base hit is always fun, especially for Matt Garza who got his first Major League RBI on Sunday. The highlight of Friday night's blowout was Albert Pujols getting his 2,000th career hit on an RBI double.

To me, the most aesthetically pleasing play in baseball is the double play. 4-6-3, 6-4-3, 3-6-3, whatever: they're all pretty. The Major League guys make them look so easy. All it takes is a little bit of time at a minor league park to see that they should not be taken for granted. You don't make it onto a big league infield without being able to turn them in your sleep. 5-4-3 triple plays are pretty special, though I don't think I've ever seen one except in a highlight reel.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Favorite Athlete: Horse Camp

I love living in a small town. Last week at swim lessons, one of the moms invited Our Girl to attend her horse camp this week - total spur of the moment. Sure, why not, we said.

Image via Karen's Whimsy

We live in what has to be considered horse country, stables all over the place amidst the dairy farms. For her second birthday, we took Our Girl to visit one of them and she was pretty intimidated. I don't think she'd realized how big horses were. Since then, she hadn't shown much interest in riding. We were a little surprised by how readily she agreed to go. But heck, it's summer and it's gotta be more fun than hanging out at home with Dad!

It was a neat camp. They learned about the history of horses, the role of the horse in Native American culture, horse yoga (ya gotta love Vermont), etc. They'd already moved onto other things by the time I came for pickup but apparently Our Girl did very well with the riding. She's already asked if she can do it again sometime.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

12 Books in 12 Months: Announcing a New Challenge

Photo via Lindsey Pollak

With the help of my friends Mock, Marc, Hello Kitty Fan, Mrs. Mock and My Wife, I have designed a new blogging challenge/online book club: 12 Books in 12 Months. The challenge is a reader's scavenger hunt, a quest to read a book from each of a dozen predetermined categories in a year's time.

The categories:
  • A classic work of children's literature
  • A book you have re-read more than once...and just read again
  • A book for which you have already seen the movie
  • A book for which you have not already seen the movie
  • A book you read because you wanted to laugh
  • A tear-jerker
  • A book you really don’t want to read but everyone keeps raving about it
  • A book from a genre you don’t normally read
  • A book about or set in your favorite place
  • A book by someone with your same initials
  • Your mom/dad/sister/brother’s favorite book
  • A book that has been banned
The books can be completed in any order as long as all 12 categories are eventually fulfilled. The year begins once the first book is finished. One can participate via blog, facebook, goodreads, private notebook, whatever.

If you'd care to join the challenge, please let me know by commenting below or e-mailing me at Also, please tell me how and where I can follow your posts. Don't be shy about suggesting other categories, either. It is my intention to compile a new list of 12 once this one is completed. My only parameter is that no one should have to buy anything in order to complete the challenge - nothing beyond a library card required.

Field Trip: Jammers Jammed

I went to a Lake Monsters game last night with Mock and one of his cousins. Mock has several cousins and this is the second mention for this one so he needs a pseudonym. We shall call him The Carpenter, because he is one. The game was delayed about an hour due to rain. The reserved section is under the roof so it wasn't so bad once we found our seats - plenty of time to eat, grab a beer, settle in, etc. The visitors were the Jamestown Jammers, a Florida Marlins affiliate.

Image via Brent Powers LHP

I did try to keep a scorecard, as I did for our previous Monsters' game, and actually made it deeper into the game this time. I think it's time to discuss the value of the scorecard exercise. In the current information age, keeping one's own scorecard certainly isn't necessary. Even minor league Websites provide detailed play-by-play game summaries. But the main benefit is that keeping score forces you to pay attention. For watching a game on television, it's wonderful. I find I have a much better sense of a game's big picture and pick up on more of the finer details as well. When the boys asked me last night how many walks there had been (quite a lot compared to base hits at that point), I had the answer right in front of me.

On the other hand, the main drawback is that it obligates you to pay attention. I might even go so far as to call it anti-social. I lost the thread of the game last night when I got caught up in conversation in the late innings - which is, after all, the whole point of going to a game with other people. I also find the scorecard provided in the typical game program is inadequate - not enough room for substitutions. I prefer the form I've been using at home. Regardless, I don't think I'll try to keep score at live games anymore.

Which is not to say that the program isn't worth the 50 cents I paid for it. The inserts with lineups, stats and general team updates are excellent. Besides, who can't use a free pencil?

There were plenty of base runners in the game: eight hits, eight walks and two errors. But there were only 3 total runs, the Monsters winning 2-1. The low-scoring affair prompted a question which I put to you as well, dear reader: what makes for a good baseball game? With other sports, my usual answer is that both teams play well and it's a shame one has to lose. A late-game mistake can ruin a great game for me and baseball nearly always hinges on a mistake - perhaps a small one - by somebody. Do extra innings make for a great game? They can help. A close score is certainly essential, ideally keeping within three runs for the entire game to my mind. We agreed that no-hitters qualify as great games. I'd say the ultimate is when both pitchers are working no-hitters late into a contest. Any thoughts out there?

In my experience, an individual baseball game can't quite compare in atmospheric electricity to a close basketball game, for instance. I remember basketball games at my high school where the entire crowd stood for the whole game. Baseball games aren't like that. The aesthetic of the sport is different, and that's okay - wonderful, in fact.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: Kimbrel

Private League: won 7-3 (97-55-8 overall, 1st place out of 10, 6.5 games ahead)
Public League: 1st place out of 12, 0.5 points ahead
My Player of the Week: Craig Kimbrel (Relief Pitcher, Braves) with 3 saves, 7 strikeouts, a 0.00 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP

Photo via The Golden Sombrero

I took a chance in the 18th round of the private league draft and grabbed Kimbrel, the Braves' rookie closer. He has rewarded both me and the Braves with 32 saves so far, already the most ever for a Braves rookie. He broke the Major League record for most saves for a rookie before the All-Star break and was selected to his first All-Star Game. He is very much in the running for National League Rookie of the Year.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Simon

Current Overall Ranking: 19th
My MVP for the Week: Gilles Simon (France) with $310,467, defeating Nicolas Almagro (Spain) for the title at the German Open Tennis Championships

Photo via Ticket Tennis News

Today's Hamburg final was a fun match. Neither Simon nor Almagro possesses a big kill shot so rallies were long with lots of tactics involving angles and court position: classic clay court tennis. This was Simon's ninth ATP tour title but his first at the 500 tournament level, as the commentators frequently reminded us.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Favorite Athlete: Swimming, Summer 2011

Our Girl took a Red Cross Level 2 swimming class this past week. Unfortunately, she didn't pass. I accept responsibility for that. Prior to this week, we didn't spend much meaningful time in the water this summer - one day in Mock's pool. That's it. Inspired by the class, though, Our Girl and I have been spending quite a lot of time at the town pool - really a pond. In fact, if we could have had one more day, I think she would have passed. Yesterday afternoon, after class, she was swimming up a storm. She even managed a convincing back stroke, which is beyond Level 2. Oh well.

She's not upset about not passing. Really, why should she be? She still learned a lot and knows what she needs to work on for next time. Besides, it encouraged both of us to get in the water more which she loves. I'm the one who cares about the levels. I think it's important for everyone to learn to be a strong swimmer. As such, I need to get more involved. So, I've already put in a request for two weeks of lessons next summer, combined with more time in the pool this year and next.

We had a difficult week on the family decision front. As it turns out, this coming year's dance class is on the same evening as soccer practice. Our Girl really wants to do both, of course. Dance is her passion and soccer is an important activity she shares with her school friends. After much hemming and hawing (on my part) we made her choose. It's a tough one. Her teachers for both activities are really great. Both have become important people in her life. We decided (more or less) as a family that she would regret missing a year of dance more than a season of soccer. It's not the last time we'll need to make such difficult choices. Perhaps we can take the opportunity to explore other activities she might enjoy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Coffee Table: Leigh Montville

Image via BARNES & NOBLE

My main complaint about the last biography I read, Jonathan Eig's The Luckiest Man, was the idealization of its subject, Lou Gehrig. Leigh Montville's Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero does not suffer from such problems. While Montville confesses in his author's addendum to idolizing Williams as a child, he offers a remarkably balanced portrait of an extraordinary man. When Williams was good, he was miraculously good - as a hitter, a fisherman, a philanthropist. When he was bad, he was catastrophically bad - as a husband, a father, a polite conversationalist. It's all in the book. No punches are pulled. Montville did a very nice job of presenting a complete human being.

Montville's research was based largely on interviews of those who knew Williams personally at various stages and in varying aspects of his life: former teammates, fishing buddies, live-in nurses, etc. As such, the writing frequently takes the tone of friends sitting around after a funeral, spinning yarns about their old pal. Different sides of the same story emerge, revealing different sides of the same man. As readers, we are the privileged flies on the wall.

Quite a lot of celebrities big and small make cameos. Joe DiMaggio, somehow predictably, doesn't come off very well. The greatest scorn, however, is directed at the subject's own son, John-Henry. On the other hand, I now feel quite warmly towards Dom DiMaggio, Joe's brother and Ted's longtime teammate.

It's not all baseball. I was a little worried when Williams retired on page 235 that the material would dry up a bit and the second half of the book would be a tough slog. Not so. The Splendid Splinter's "larger than larger than life" existence, as Montville put it, didn't slow down much over the following four decades. Two entire chapters are devoted to fishing - one to saltwater, one to freshwater - and they're both pretty interesting. The brief managing stint, the familial soap opera, the end-of-life cryogenics circus - it's all here. Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero is a fun read for a baseball fan but don't expect a paragon of virtue and be ready for a lot of F-bombs. One does get the sense Ted could make a longshoreman blush.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Checking in with the Orioles: The Benefits of Reading

Yesterday, the Orioles wrapped up a three-game home series against Boston. Going into the series, I had modest hopes of just one win against the mighty Red Sox to help keep the season from falling completely off the rails. They got the win. Actually, I think there are some other positives to take from this series against an obviously superior team.

Photo via Krem's Sports

Monday, July 18th

Scoring 10 runs against Red Sox pitching is a good thing, even if your own staff gives up 15. Every player who came to bat for the Birds managed to reach base at least once, even pinch hitter Josh Bell. Four different players had extra base hits in the contest. Derrick Lee hit a triple. Thanks to Buck O'Neil, I watch triples with greater interest now. Buck described the triple as the most exciting play in baseball. They're rare and precious things, too. Jose Reyes (Mets) currently leads the Majors with 15. The leaders in homers and doubles have twice as many.

Moneyball continues to influence my baseball watching experience. I have a much greater appreciation for the Sox' Kevin Youkilis and for patient hitters in general. I do not envy any pitcher who has to face Pedroia, Gonzalez and Youkilis one after the other. Is there a more disciplined 2-3-4 combo in baseball these days?

I pay closer attention to pitch counts now, too. According to Moneyball, there is a huge statistical difference in the outcomes of at-bats that begin with a 2-1 count vs. those with a 1-2 count. Indeed, every plate appearance is a narrative all its own but clues to the end are planted early.

Tuesday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 20th

Obviously, these were very different games: the first a Baltimore win, the second a shutout loss. But the positive development I see applies to both. Not only did Jeremy Guthrie and Jake Arietta both turn in quality starts but both were allowed to pitch through the seventh inning, even though it meant pushing the pitch count above 100. Buck Showalter has been very conservative in managing his young rotation this year. While I can certainly understand why, an overextended bullpen is unavoidable and the Orioles' late-inning troubles can be directly attributed to that. Letting the starters pitch longer could have great long-term benefits in the second half of the season.

The 10 Things

It's been less than two weeks since my last check in so not a lot has changed in regards to Matt Trueblood's 10 things the Orioles must do to win the pennant. It is worth updating a few of them, though.

3. Nick Markakis elevates. Markakis's hot streak continues. His current averages are .290/.340/.392. He is still behind last year's figures - .297/.370/.436. His ground outs/air outs ratio has improved since the last check in, now at 1.07. He's getting closer to last year's 1.04.

6. Buck Showalter makes the team his own. There has been improvement here on the two metrics we're watching. Team slugging is now .405, up from last year's .386 - good for tenth best in the Majors. Team fielding percentage is up a tick to .983 vs. last year's .982. The winning percentage is .411, doing a tight rope walk above last year's .407

10. Adam Jones becomes Batman. Offense is up. The batting average is .287 compared to .284 last year. The slugging percentage has soared: .477 vs. .442. He did get caught stealing for the first time this year recently but an 86% steal percentage is still better than last year's 50%. Defense is down. The fielding percentage is better but still down: .980 vs. .984. The range factor is down: 2.62 and still short of last year's 2.91.

The Trade Deadline Approaches

The trade deadline is July 31st and in their current state, the Orioles will definitely be sellers rather than buyers. The Baltimore player who seems to have the most buzz around the Majors is Guthrie. I don't think he's the right guy for the team to be shopping. If the franchise is ready to bag the year, then sure let you're only reasonably reliable starter get away. But I think it's best to deal from strength for need. As I said in my last check in post, the one part of the team that has functioned well is the back end of the bullpen. Setup man Koji Uehara (pictured above) is 36 years old and is having a good year. His value to the team is unlikely to ever be any higher. If it were my call, Uehara would be the bait with prospects for the rotation as the catch. Until you have decent starters, a good bullpen is a meaningless luxury.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: Markakis

Private League: won 5-4-1 (90-52-8 overall, 1st place out of 10, 6 games ahead)
Public League: 1st place out of 12, 4.5 points ahead
My Player of the Week: Nick Markakis (Right Fielder, Orioles) with 2 runs, 4 RBI, 5 runs and a .429 batting average

Photo via Dempsey's Army

Yup, I stayed up for all 16 innings of last night's Red Sox-Rays game to see how my matchup with Mock would finish. Heading into the game, Mock had the lead and I figured I was toast. He had a whopping six players in the game while I only had one. However, the pitchers' duel worked in my favor and I was able to pull ahead in batting average to get the win. There were several incidents when either Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz or Ben Zobrist could have given Mock the win with a single swing of the bat. He has a good shot at payback this week. The Sox open a three-gamer at Camden tonight.

The best news for me over the shortened week was vaulting to first in the public league. It's only July and there's a long way to go but it's nice to be in the driver's seat. Markakis is on a brilliant hot streak right now, benefiting both the Orioles and me. Though born in the US, Markakis played for Team Greece at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Field Trip: The Vermont Lake Monsters

Image via Brent Powers LHP

The Vermont Lake Monsters are our local minor league baseball team, based in Burlington. They play in the Short Season Class A New York-Penn League. The Lake Monsters have a new Major League affiliation this year. After many years with the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals organization, Vermont is now hitched to the Oakland A's.

All three of us went to this afternoon's game against the Aberdeen IronBirds, an Orioles affiliate. We met Mock, his cousin and both of their families for an afternoon at the ballpark. We used to live right down the road from Centennial Field but hadn't been to a game since we moved out to the country. The stadium opened in 1906 and is probably going to have to make some improvements in order to continue hosting minor league ball. But it is still small, charming and accessible for a family day out.

Photo via Lake Champlain International

I adore minor league baseball. As I've written before, I first went with my grandfather to an Omaha Royals game back in the early '80s. Frederick Keys games were a frequent entertainment option in high school. Tickets are cheap. The seats are close to the action. The players are relatively human.

We offered to buy Our Girl a baseball cap but she wasn't interested in any of the options. She took full advantage of the snack opportunities, though: a snow cone, cotton candy and ice cream in the form of Dippin' Dots. The beer selection for the grownups was impressive for a baseball game. We both had UFO Hefeweizens, a product of Harpoon Brewery, our preferred brand.

Mock got his head shaved as part of a cancer benefit. I chickened out. As My Wife said, "I know you're comfortable with the fact that he's a better person than you are."

Oh right, the game! The Lake Monsters are off to a great start this season, leading their division by four games. The IronBirds, on the other hand, have been terrible, now 14 games behind the pace in theirs. I realized with the first at-bat that I had no problem rooting for the home team, despite the visitors' association with my big league team. While I would certainly pull for the O's over the A's, I have a much stronger allegiance to Burlington, where we lived for three years, than I have to Aberdeen, which I've only driven past on the highway.

The IronBirds began the affair with a four-run first inning and never looked back, taking the victory 9-4. The Lake Monsters' best player on the day was also the "Featured Player" in the program. Xavier Macklin (RF) had a great game: 3-for-4 plus a walk, driving in two of the team's four runs. According to the program, he likes spaghetti but hates corn (?). He fears roller coasters but likes the Yankees (??!!). As this is Vermont, we obviously have to know his favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream: Cinnamon Buns.

Now, to don my Orioles fan hat. The Birds' top prospect in Aberdeen is middle infielder Mychal Givens. A 2009, second round draftee, Givens filled the DH slot today. He had an average game: 1-for-4. Mock's cousin made a few Robin Givens jokes but as far as I can tell, they're not related. I was more impressed by the Dutch-born Dudley Leonora (2B): 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and one RBI.

We only made it through the eighth inning. By then, pretty much all children involved had lost their patience. I'm eager to go again sometime, perhaps a boys night outing.

Here's one for the road. Mock told us the story of this Evan Longoria video and was kind enough to share the link with me. Enjoy:

Let's Talk Tennis: The Summer Clay Season

My Tennis Fantasy

Current Overall Standing: 25th
My MVP for the Week: Potito Starace (Italy) with $15,986, losing to Robin Soderling (Sweden) in the quarterfinals of the SkiStar Swedish Open

Photo via Jungle Key

This is a nice time of year for a guy like Starace. Clay is his best surface and the post-Wimbledon European clay swing is generally avoided by the bigger names as they rest up for the coming North American hard court slog. Unfortunately for Starace, Sweden's own #1 did show up for this one and Starace landed in his quarter of the draw.

Golden Squid Report

Jurgen Melzer (Austria) has won yet another doubles title, teaming up with his buddy Philipp Petzschner (Germany) to take the MercedesCup. This is Melzer's eleventh men's doubles title overall, his fourth with Petzschner. At the moment, Melzer is ranked twelfth in the world in both singles and doubles.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 30: Your Favorite Song at This Time Last Year

Song: "Fall at Your Feet"
Writer: Neil Finn
Band: Crowded House
Album: Woodface

I don't fall in love with songs as often as I did in younger days. More often, a tune I've known for years will unexpectedly get under my skin and haunt me for a time. I already shared one of those on Day 22. "Fall at Your Feet" is another. For about a week, I could not get the song out of my head, the bridge in particular. In that beautiful moment, the song becomes a desperate plea: Kiwi soul.

Crowded House is an under-appreciated band. Finn has a wonderful talent for writing good bridges such as this. "Fall at Your Feet" has inspired a few nice covers.

Boy & Bear:

James Blunt:

Neil Finn himself did a very nice acoustic version:


Thus concludes my "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. I've enjoyed this project a great deal, a true labor of love. I'm a little sad that it's finished. It's also been fun to learn about my friends' musical interests.

Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 29: A Song from Your Childhood

Song: "It's Alright to Cry"
Writer: Carol Hall
Performer: Rosey Grier
Album: Free to Be... You and Me

My sister and I had a Fisher-Price record player when we were kids and this was the LP that wore out the needle. I remember bringing it in to share at pre-school, too. This song was my favorite at the time. I was a sensitive child...

Rosey Grier is an extraordinary man. Famous first as an NFL defensive tackle, he later served as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy. Grier was guarding Kennedy's wife at the time of the senator's assassination. He and decathlete Rafer Johnson subdued shooter Sirhan Sirhan. In the late '60s and early '70s, Grier became an important symbolic figure amidst the changing sexual politics of the era: an undeniably masculine man unafraid to express his enthusiasm for perceived non-masculine pursuits. In addition to singing, Grier published a book called Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 30: Your Favorite Song at This Time Last Year

Thursday, July 14, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 28: A Song That Makes You Feel Guilty

Song: "Endless Love"
Writer: Lionel Richie
Performers: Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
Album: Endless Love: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

This one was hard. I would be lying shamelessly if I were to say that I've lived a life free of guilt but I don't have many musical associations with guilt. I thought of one.

I had a friend in Japan whom we shall call Karaoke Queen. She is an ideal companion at karaoke bars because she's a good singer and also because she is trilingual: English, Japanese and Korean. If you can read those three languages, you essentially have the entire songbook to choose from in a Japanese karaoke establishment.

Karaoke is beyond popular in Japan and it was a frequent entertainment choice for our gang. KQ and I would occasionally do a number together. One night, towards the end of the evening, we sang "Endless Love" as a duet. Now, KQ had a boyfriend. We shall call him Burly Aussie (BA). He was burly but a really sweet guy, too. BA was out of the room when we sang and was quite hurt when he heard we'd sung "Endless Love." Apparently, he thought of it as "their song." Oh boy...

He forgave us, of course. No harm, no foul. But I have always felt a twinge of guilt about the whole episode.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 29: A Song from Your Childhood

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 27: A Song That You Wish You Could Play

Song: Six moments musicaux, D 780 (Op. 94), #6 Allegretto in A-flat major
Composer: Franz Schubert
Performer: Hideyo Harada

Seriously, pick an instrument and I'll tell you which song makes me wish I could play it - or play it better. Guitar? Led Zeppelin's "Over the Hills and Far Away." Trombone? "Tuba Mirum" from Mozart's Requiem. Cello? Pas de deux from The Nutcracker. Pretty much every time I hear a bass clarinet, I wish I knew how to play it. As a child, I harbored fantasies of learning to play every instrument in the world and I never completely gave up on that dream.

It's easy to choose which instrument above all I'd wish to play better. In my job, piano skill is invaluable. I first encountered Moment musicaux #6 in college in an analysis class. I absolutely fell in love with it. I sat in the listening room, staring at the score and listening to the piece over and over again. I couldn't get enough. I tried sitting down at the piano to play it myself but it was way beyond my capacities. I think I even brought it to my piano teacher to see if she could play it. She was very obliging, as I recall.

Harada's tempo may actually be a touch too slow for my tastes. As a conductor, I'm very particular about such things. It's close to just right, though. I think most recordings go too fast. You've got to be able to hear all of those rich harmonies.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 28: A Song That Makes You Feel Guilty

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Family Adventures: Frost Trail

The photo above is from My Wife's write-up of our latest hike:

The Hike That Wasn't - Frost Trail

I concur with most of her lessons learned and I would argue that it still counted as a hike even though we didn't complete the trail as originally planned. We were still on the trail for and hour and a half, getting in a decent workout. We have taken a very goal-oriented approach to our hiking and I think maybe we could look at some of our hikes differently. I'm completely with the idea of giving a new hike a full day but if we have the time and want to get out, we could plan a more leisurely stroll, allowing Our Girl plenty of time to fit in nature sketches and the like. Perhaps we could set a time goal rather than a distance goal: hike for 45 minutes, then turn back, for instance. There may be crystal clear weekends when we won't be able to fit in a full hike but can still make use of the time we have to stay in hiking shape.

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 26: A Song That You Can Play on an Instrument

Song: "Ming Court"
Chinese Folk Song
Book: Standard of Excellence Enhanced Comprehensive Band Method: Book 1 - E-flat Alto Saxophone by Bruce Pearson

I am currently teaching myself to play the saxophone. During the first nine years of my music teaching career, I have been a choral/general music guy. But at the end of this past school year, our band director came up with a crazy yet wonderful idea: the two of us co-teaching fourth grade band next year! He has taught 4th grade before in another district but never in ours. I, on the other hand, have never conducted a band except in the emergency situations when he's been called up for National Guard duty (not kidding). So, I will be very much the apprentice. He did lend me an alto sax to practice with for the summer.

In truth, I can't say I've even had a meaningful association with a band instrument since high school trombone days. I did pick it back up briefly for what we unofficially called our Band for Singers class in my certification program but that's it. My experience with the saxophone is bare minimal: three months of lessons some 25 years ago. But it's been fun learning. I'm still working at not feeling self-conscious about it with other people in the house. "Ming Court" is the song I have most recently mastered. No, the player heard in the video is not me.

Of course, a search for "ming court" on youtube also brings up the following. This one's for you, Mock!

If there are any sax players or instrumental music teachers out there, I am having an issue with which you may be able to help me. I'm suddenly squeaking on D (fourth line, treble staff) whereas I was not before. I tried changing reeds - didn't help. I checked the mechanism - nothing suspicious that I can tell. I've tried approaching the note from above and below - it's just that one. I can hit the note by tightening my embouchure but that seems like cheating. The problem seems to be the octave key. Any thoughts? My own high school band director is a facebook friend. I've got him on the case but I'm open to any and all suggestions. E-mail:


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 27: A Song That You Wish You Could Play

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: Zobi Wan Kenobi

Private League: tied 5-5 (85-48-7 overall, 1st place out of 10, 2.5 games ahead)
Public League: 2nd place out of 12, 5.5 points back
My Player of the Week: Ben Zobrist (Second Baseman/Right Fielder, Rays) with 1 home run, 3 RBI, 6 runs, 3 stolen bases and a .474 batting average

Photo via Fantasy Phenoms

My opponent this past week is my main rival at the top of the standings. Both of our matchups have been very close. I eeked out a 5-4-1 victory the first time. We won't see each other again before the playoffs but I'll have an eye on his team the rest of the way. Meanwhile, I made up some serious ground in the public league. I'm certainly hoping the progress can continue after the All-Star break.

I face Mock this coming week. Perhaps I can gain a measure of revenge after his Major League team (Red Sox) clobbered mine (Orioles) this past weekend. Four game sweep - ouch!

I grabbed Zobrist in the 10th round of the public league draft and he's been a wonderful asset. I love having players who can play in multiple positions, contributing to my roster's flexibility and depth. Zobrist is eligible at first, second and outfield.

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 25: A Song That Makes You Laugh

Song: "New Math"
Writer: Tom Lehrer
Performer: Tom Lehrer
Album: That Was the Year That Was

I'm not sure when exactly my parents introduced Tom Lehrer to my sister and me. I have a feeling it must have been after Sunday dinner one night. I was way too young to get all of the jokes but I was old enough to appreciate the subversive nature of the humor. Eventually, I made tapes of the records and they became family favorites on road trips. I am especially fond of "New Math" for the joke about base-8. The video above provides the visual aid which the record lacked.

Later in his career, Lehrer wrote several songs for The Electric Company. Joe Raposo, the show's music director and writer of my Day 15 song, had been a friend of Lehrer's at Harvard.

Daniel Radcliffe, spreading the joy

Finally, I was hesitant to include this last clip. I wanted to use at least one video of Lehrer himself and this is, to my mind, his very best song. It does, however, violate one of my basic blogging rules of avoiding both religion and politics. It is all in good fun:


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 26: A Song That You Can Play on an Instrument

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Rochus

Current Overall Standing: 24th
My MVP for the Week: Olivier Rochus (Belgium) with $39,780, losing to John Isner (USA) in the final of the Campbells Hall of Fame Tennis Championships

Photo via Photo Gallery Actors

Rochus is one of my favorites, a true sportsman. The 5'5" Belgian turned 30 this year and is no doubt in the home stretch of a solid career. It's great to see him turn in such a strong result, his second year in a row in the final at Newport.

Just like that, the grass court season is over.

Follow Up: Djokovic, the New King

Mock asked a tennis question! I am so pleased:
Did I see him eat a blade of grass after winning? We thought that was pretty cool but have seen he received some not so nice comments....

What say you, Squid?
Tennis has, in a sense, been spoiled in the era of Federer/Nadal dominance. In addition to their astonishing athletic gifts, Roger and Rafa epitomize the gentleman athlete. Both exhibit near-pristine sportsmanship and rock-solid public images - welcome rarities in the world of celebrity. For Djokovic, it hasn't been quite so easy. He retired from key matches with injuries several times. He took too long between points, bouncing the ball endlessly before delivering his serve. He poked fun at his colleagues before he'd earned sufficient locker room cred. Plus there's his family entourage, a PR disaster waiting to happen - his parents spouting rhetoric of entitlement and Fed/Nadal bashing. So no, he is not a continuation of Roger/Rafa smooth.

But he's no jerk, either. He's not Lleyton Hewitt who managed to antagonize nearly everyone in the sport during his reign. One could argue that for all of their polish, Federer and Nadal are not the most colorful of characters. Djokovic brings a bit more personality to the top ranking. As I noted in my final Wimbledon post, he tweeted squirrel-taming photos throughout the tournament. Back when he first made the US Open final in 2008, he did on-court impressions of other top players. While the players themselves were not amused (Maria Sharapova the notable exception), I thought they were hilarious:

The Federer/Nadal era has passed before a lot of people were ready, probably myself included. But there's not denying that Djokovic has earned it. The jester wears the crown.

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 24: A Song That You Want to Play at Your Funeral

Song: "You Are the New Day"
Writer: Peter Knight
Ensemble: The King's Singers
Album: New Day

Peter Sellers is the all-time champion of this game. The great comic actor requested that Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" be played at his funeral as a final joke for his friends. They all knew he hated the song!

Funerals are not for the deceased. They are for the survivors. I hope to live long enough and well enough that when my time comes, the occasion can be seen as a celebration of life rather than a gloomy reflection. Mourning loss is a healthy, human necessity but with each ending is a new beginning.

I have performed "You Are the New Day" as both singer and conductor. It is a puzzling song - deeply spiritual, while never referring to a deity by name. Ultimately, it is a song of renewal and if my wife, my daughter or anyone should mourn my passing, I would wish for them to wake up the next day reminded that life lies ahead with new chapters yet to be written.

As a musician, the most enjoyable aspect of the song is the equality of the vocal parts. No one gets cheated. The Bass I part is just as much fun to sing as the Alto II part. Soprano I is just as satisfying as Tenor II. All are synthesized into a glorious whole. Take my word for it, that's difficult to find in a choral arrangement. The only other piece that I can think of that's comparable in that respect is "Carol of the Bells" by Leontovych.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 25: A Song That Makes You Laugh

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Checking in with the Orioles: Train Wreck

Since my last check in with the O's, very little has gone well for the team. In mid-May, it looked like the Birds might at least spend the season making life difficult for their AL East brethren. No longer. This squad has been absolutely awful since then and any talk of contending for the playoffs or even finishing above .500 at this point seems completely absurd. Injuries and terrible pitching have taken a heavy toll.

Photo via Baltimore Sports Then and Now

The past two evenings have been particularly awful with the Orioles at Fenway for a four-game series just before the All-Star break. Both games were Red Sox thrashings: 10-4 and 10-3. Neither game was even that close.

Thursday, July 7

I did have the pleasure of good company on Thursday evening. Mock, Orange Man, Mock's cousin, a school colleague and I met at a local pub to watch the affair: The Pour House in South Burlington. I was the only Orioles fan present so I received much well-deserved ribbing for my pathetic team. My Sox fan companions certainly enjoyed the proceedings: six homers for their boys, including three-in-a-row off of newly-promoted reliever Pedro Viola. "Didn't he pitch for the Twins back in the '80s?" Orange Man quipped.

Despite the pathetic game, a merry time was had by all. I'm hopeful that we'll do it again. There's already talk of taking our families to a Vermont Lake Monsters game soon.

Mixed reviews for the Pour House. The food was alright, but unspectacular. The onion rings were good, my burger average. They have a decent beer list, as one would hope given the name of the establishment. I always order Switchback if it's available. Switchback is a local brew only available by the keg. $3.60/pint is a decent price, too. The service wasn't the greatest but I'd say under-staffing was the main issue there.

Although the bar has multiple screens and advertises itself as a sports bar, I'd say we were among very few who were there to watch the game. We were the only ones still seated at a table by the end of nine. I can imagine, however, that a contest still competitive after six innings might have inspired greater interest.

Would I go again? Sure. But is it worth checking out other places? Yes.

Friday, June 8

Squid: Can Zach Britton provide the Birds with a quality start?
David Ortiz: No, sir.

It only took five batters to answer my question of the evening. Ortiz's blast to right drove in three runs, but a slice of the eight compiled by the BoSox in the first inning. Mercifully for Britton, the eighth run was unearned. The lefty starter didn't even survive the frame, relieved by righty Brad Bergesen for the third out.

Of course, the headlines this morning focus on the bench-clearing brawl at the end of the eighth inning. Boston made a curious move just two batters earlier, pinch-hitting Drew Sutton for Adrian Gonzalez. I can understand resting the star slugger in a blowout and giving a young player an at bat. But I wonder if there wasn't something more at play. Perhaps the Red Sox anticipated that reliever Kevin Gregg might throw at someone and they wanted to be sure Gonzalez wasn't the one to get pegged.

There were a few bright spots for the Birds. Derrick Lee owns Josh Beckett and got extra-base hits in both plate appearances against the Boston righty: a double and a solo homer. Bergesen pitched brilliantly for three innings, perhaps making a reasonable argument that he should have his spot in the rotation back. He did take a hard shot in the arm on an Ortiz screamer up the middle and had to leave the game - thankfully just a bruised forearm, no break.

The 10 Things

The season is slipping away in Baltimore. Their win-loss percentage is still up from last year and I am hopeful that the team can post enough of an improvement that Buck Showalter gets to stick around as manager. It is silly to think of this team as a contender anymore but let's have a look at Matt Trueblood's 10 things the Orioles must do to win the pennant. We might find further clues as to how it's all gone so wrong.

1. Brian Matusz becomes an ace. Matusz's return from injury had been seen as the final piece of the puzzle for turning this team into a contender. Instead, it was the point of the season when all seemed to go horribly wrong. Rather than solidifying the rotation, Matusz is struggling at AAA Norfolk while the parent team flounders.

2. Koji Uehara wins the closer role. The one part of the team that has actually functioned reasonably well is the back end of the bullpen. Jim Johnson has settled into a seventh-inning role with Uehara as setup man and Gregg closing. Johnson and Uehara both have ERAs under 3 while Gregg's is at 3.41. Of course, the three haven't been handed many late inning leads recently but there seems little reason to shake up this part of the roster right now.

3. Nick Markakis elevates. Markakis seems to be back on track. His numbers are much improved from our last check in: .292/.339/.382. That still lags behind last year's figures - .297/.370/.436 - but improvement is good. His ground outs/air outs ratio is up, however: 1.11. Getting below last year's 1.04 would bode well for his power game.

5. Justin Duchscherer gets healthy. Who? He's scheduled for an exam with the team doctor on Monday.

6. Buck Showalter makes the team his own. There has been much understandable hand wringing over the lack of production with runners in scoring percentage but there's some good news here. Team slugging is currently .403, up from last year's .386. Team fielding percentage is exactly the same as 2010: .982. Even with the current miserable slump, the winning percentage has improved: .419 vs. .407. The going is very rough indeed at the moment but overall, net positive.

7. Zach Britton finds his way. Reality has come home to roost. Not long ago, Britton was in serious contention for AL Rookie of the Year. Last night's throttling effectively ended that campaign and, more to the point, helped justify the team's decision to send him down to AA Bowie. The future is still very bright for this guy but he's got work to do.

8. Left field poses a good problem. Left field has evolved into a three-man platoon with Nolan Reimold taking the field when the opponent has a lefty on the mound. Overall, the return of Reimold to the roster, and to Major League form, is excellent news for the club. Luke Scott is currently on the DL with shoulder issues but expected back after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, depth at this position has certainly been a blessing.

9. Chris Tillman breaks the ceiling. Also currently in Norfolk.

10. Adam Jones becomes Batman. The batting average is up slightly, .285 as opposed to .284 last year. The slugging percentage is up: .455 vs. .442. The stolen base percentage is up: 100% vs. 50%. The fielding percentage is down: .978 vs. .984. The range factor is also down: 2.65 vs. 2.91. So, the offensive side is in pretty good shape. The fielding isn't so great.

A Few Quick Thoughts on the Draft

There are two times during the season when it's particularly worth examining the top-to-bottom health of a Major League organization: the draft and the trade deadline. For a team still in need of overall improvement, I think youth development is the way to go. Prior to the 2011 draft, the Orioles farm system was ranked by Frank Piliere as the 25th best system in the game - not so great. By most accounts, however, the Orioles had a good draft this year and perhaps they're on the road to improvement.

I am concerned about the fact that the top two draft choices, RHP Dylan Bundy and 3B Jason Esposito, were both chosen despite known signability issues. On the other hand, it's a strong indication that the franchise is willing to spend money. I just wonder if that's the best way to spend it. I'd rather they invested in scouting and development to be sure they get the right people and train them. And if you're going to spend really big money, why not use it on known entities in free agent signings?

The way things are going, the O's are sure to be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline. Vladimir Guerrero would seem the most attractive candidate to other teams with pitching prospects being the Birds' most urgent target.

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 23: A Song That You Want to Play at Your Wedding

Song: "Prelude" from Te Deum
Composer: Marc Antoine Charpentier
Orchestra: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Conductor: Sir Neville Marriner

We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary just last month. We were married at the Tree Farm in an outdoor wedding in the manner of the Quakers. Quaker services, weddings included, don't traditionally have music but Tree Farm Quakerism has always involved the singing of songs at meeting. We also wanted to involve friends and family as much as possible in our nuptials so we invited a couple of our friends - husband and wife trumpeters - to play.

I was unsatisfied with the options for processionals so I wrote my own. I am not much of a composer but I hammered out something simple. My players graciously sorted out the transpositions for me. Sadly, I didn't keep the sound file I created for it. I must have the score around for it somewhere but who knows where?

We also wanted a trumpet call to ceremony and our players brought "Prelude" for that purpose. During the ceremony, my father led us in a selection of songs: "Simple Gifts," "Vine and Fig Tree" by Shalom Altman, "Morning Has Broken" and finally "As We Leave This Friendly Place," an adaptation of J.S. Bach's Chorale 38 as arranged by Vincent B. Stilliman. I also created a trumpet arrangement of the last one for our recessional.

For our reception in the meadow, we rented a stereo system and asked a few friends and family members to make good, old-fashioned mix tapes for us. By special request, my new mother-in-law created a compilation of traditional Lebanese music. There was also my a cappella arrangement of "Here, There and Everywhere," as explained on Day 1. As a special treat, the Maid of Honor/Wedding Cake Baker provided a stirring recitation of the lyrics to "Stand by Your Man" as part of her toast.

It was a wonderful day, made more so by the personal involvement of those nearest and dearest to us.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 24: A Song That You Want to Play at Your Funeral

Friday, July 8, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 22: A Song That You Listen to When You're Sad

Song: "Ain't No Sunshine"
Writer: Bill Withers
Performer: Bill Withers
Album: Just as I Am

See Day 20. Same philosophy, different song.

This song only gets better with age. I love its sparseness, its quiet. There is honest pain in this number. You can really see the raindrops streaking down the window glass with this one. Simple. Perfect.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 23: A Song That You Want to Play at Your Wedding

Thursday, July 7, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 21: A Song That You Listen to When You're Happy

Song: "September"
Writers: Maurice White, Al McKay and Allee Willis
Band: Earth, Wind & Fire

When we're happy at our house, we dance. Funk is my favorite dance music and Earth, Wind & Fire is as good as it gets. The hard part is picking just one song! "September" brought EWF to a whole new audience when Gap used the song in an ad campaign. I actually had a temp job with Gap's online store at the time and got to see the ad before its general release.

Speaking of ads, I can't believe I neglected to include this video with my Day 18 post. The following is my favorite commercial ever.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 22: A Song That You Listen to When You're Sad

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 20: A Song That You Listen to When You're Angry

Song: "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)"
Writers: Stevie Wonder and Yvonne Wright
Performer: Stevie Wonder
Album: Talking Book

When I lose my way emotionally, I feel the best thing to do is to go back to the well - to return to the things that nourish me, remind me of my priorities and provide perspective. Musically, the well takes the form of soul music. I love the classics: Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, etc. My favorite soul album, though, is Talking Book, a record teeming with genius. Wonder made the album when he was all of 22 years old and trying to shed himself of Berry Gordy's overbearing influence.

Talking Book reminds me of a dear friend, one I haven't seen for many years now. We hung out first in college as musicians and later in Japan as English teachers. He was a great companion for exploring Japan. He was a religious studies major in college so when we went to visit temples and shrines, he knew his stuff regarding the symbolism of the art and architecture. I have a very nice memory of hanging out with him in my Yokohama apartment listening to this album together, marveling at the artistry. This song was our favorite. While the whole track is outstanding, the end is particularly glorious.

How could I stay angry with all of that to think about?


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 21: A Song That You Listen to When You're Happy

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Family Adventures: Butler Lodge Trail/Wallace Cutoff

I encountered this slug on the return leg of our latest family hike, a harder than expected trek recounted by My Wife on her blog:

Hike #10 - Butler Lodge Trail/Wallace Cutoff

I thought I'd wait with the slug until the ladies caught up with me so I could point it out to them and perhaps they could avoid stepping on it. My Wife was not impressed. She was less impressed that I was taking photos of the little critter. So, just for the record, that's slug = gross but butterflies clustering on a dead beaver = good wholesome family fun.

I do have a few notes to add to her writeup. Walking away from the parking lot and towards the hiking paths, we made the initial mistake of turning left at this gate:

The gate is there to stop cars, not hikers. There is a small path going around the lefthand post. Notice, too, the sign at top left:

It was definitely a challenging hike but now it's done. This is one of many hikes which counts towards the Green Mountain Club's new Side-to-Side certification which one can earn by completing 84 of the The Long Trail's side trails. We'll find something easier for next time so we're not all zonked by the end.

To remember for next time:

- More water for the trail. We generally keep a supply in the car for the trip home but it would be good to have at least one extra bottle in my pack, especially on a hot day.
- Hand sanitizer.
- Wet wipes.

Wish list:

- Water purification kit.

I think I'm going to keep this running list on the side bar so it's all in one place. It's a handy thing. It seems silly to have it scattered in various posts.

Let's Talk Baseball: Bold Proposal Early July Standings

We come to the end of the third month of Season 2. For those new to the program, here is my original post for the idea and here is how things shook out at the end of last season, setting up the two divisions I'll be using for the 2011 season.

Photo via Nats320

The current standings are as follows:

First Division

1. Phillies (unchanged from May)
2. Yankees (+4)
3. Red Sox (+1)
4. Braves (+1)
5. Giants (+2)
6. Rays (+1)

7. Cardinals (-5)
8. Rangers (+1)
8. Tigers (+3)
8. Angels (+2)

11. White Sox (+3)
11. Reds (unchanged)
13. Rockies (unchanged)
14. Padres (+1)
15. Marlins (-12)
16. Twins (unchanged)

Second Division

1. Indians (unchanged)
2. Diamondbacks (+1)
3. Brewers (-1)
4. Pirates (+3)

5. Mets (+5)
6. Nationals (+7)

7. Mariners (-2)
8. Blue Jays (-4)
9. A's (-4)
10. Orioles (-3)
11. Dodgers (unchanged)
12. Cubs (-2)
13. Royals (-1)
14. Astros (unchanged)

Biggest rise: Nationals
Biggest fall: Marlins

The teams in italics are the six different teams to win the past six World Series titles. I am hoping that trend will continue and yet a different team will win this year.

Apparently, the idea of abolishing divisions has been seriously considered in realignment discussions, though not with the parameters I have outlined. Sports Illustrated's Joe Lemire doesn't like the idea as he feels it would diminish the game's great rivalries. I don't buy it. With an arrangement like mine, soccer enjoys some of the world's most compelling sports rivalries: Arsenal/Man U, Barcelona/Real Madrid, Inter/AC, etc. Those teams manage to maintain vibrant enmity without playing one another 18 times a year. Plus, their league schedules are exactly the same which makes for a meaningful comparison at the end of the season - baseball can't say that for the Red Sox and Yankees.

I still have a real world division leader in my second division: the Cleveland Indians. If one of my second division teams wins the World Series, I shall consider this experiment a welcome failure.