Thursday, June 14, 2018

Turning Pages...

It's been a busy week around here, with Grace finishing up her middle school days, and looking ahead toward high school.

Hard to believe.

Doors close. Others open. Time passes. It's the way of life, but sometimes difficult to wrap your head around. Especially for parents...

And pardon the gushing to follow, but she has made us very proud.

Last night she had her last practice for the Xcel Gold gymnastics team at Roth's Crosspoint Gymnastics. She loves gymnastics and would like to continue to do it, but the team practices are a 100% overlap with marching band practices in the late summer and fall, and it is more important that she be a part of this school-based activity with all of her school friends. So after the practice last night, there were many tears, lots of hugs, and a generally bittersweet time. It's nice to know that so many of the team members like her.
CPG team banquet, early June

Leaving something behind that you still care about is difficult. To say the least. But the friends she has made will continue to be her friends. While many of them don't go to the same school as her, they live in the area, and she will be able to keep in touch. Some will inevitably fade away. A few won't. That's life. There is already a sleepover on the calendar for next week...
Grace and her buddies

She has grown a lot through her short competitive gymnastics career, and made a lot of good friends. She is part of a gymnastics team, but ultimately, when it is time to perform, it is just her and the judges, and facing that challenge for two years, and ending up on the podium often, has been terrific for her self confidence. And there have been those handful of times when she was number 1, at the top of the podium, when mommy and daddy pride really got to shine.

And I can't say enough about Coach Bill and Christina at the gym. Bill was an olympic caliber gymnast for over a decade, a member of the US national team for many years, the first US men's gymnast to score a perfect 10 in international competition, and he has a skill named for him in the "book of rules". Beyond all that, he is a caring and compassionate coach. CPG is what you would want a gymnastics program to be - a community.
Grace and Coach Bill Roth

Today she had the final 8th grade awards assembly, and the official end of middle school. She's had a good run, and has done herself proud. Today she got the team Social Studies award (4 people selected out of ~90 kids), to go along with a team English award in 6th grade and a team Science award in 7th grade. I'm proud that she has done so well in different subjects over her three middle school years.
Social studies subject award

She also got a distinguished honor roll award (straight A's in all 4 quarters of the year), making 11 out of 12 quarters of distinguished honor roll in middle school. She's still bitter about that one B+ in math for one quarter last year... Which doesn't bother me at all, but I kinda like the fact that it bothers her.
Distinguished Honor Roll all 4 quarters of this year

A note on parental expectations. We like that Grace does well. She is bright, and we expect her to do well. At this level, if she doesn't do well, it only means one thing - she didn't put in the basic amount of work necessary to do what she should have been able to do. Things may well change as the years go by and things continue to get more and more difficult. And that's OK. As long as she is putting in the effort, and doing the best she can, then I am OK with that.

Lastly, I have greatly conflicted feelings as I watch my little girl grow up. Maybe we should have put her in the pickle jar when we had the chance, but that opportunity is gone. So I guess we just have to watch her grow up and enjoy it for what it is.
8th grade send off dance (Grace at right)

But as for today... It's been a good 36 hours. A very good 36 hours.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Pennsylvania States - Xcel Gold - 2018

We knew that Grace had qualified for States, and would be going no matter what, but we didn't know exactly what date and time her Xcel Gold group would have their reporting time. It turns out the answer to that question was 7:45 on Friday morning. So that meant a day off from school on Friday, and a departure after school on Thursday afternoon.

The trip out the turnpike was uneventful (other than the fact that Grace doesn't like tunnels, of which there are 3 or 4). We had picked both girls up around 1:30 and were on the road by 2:00. This got us to the hotel in the northeastern suburbs of Pittsburgh by about 6:30.

Running into a teammate of Grace's, and one of her good friends, they told us that their family had eaten at a Primanti Brothers chain outlet just a few minutes down the road from the hotel. We went there to do the tourist thing. I know that Primanti Brothers is the famous place in Pittsburgh where you get a sandwich and they put cole slaw and french fries in the sandwich.
A Primanti Brothers chain store...

We pretty much universally agreed that the classic Primanti Borthers sandwich was....meh. Not bad. But not particularly good either. Bland. Nothing special. Meh.
...and an overrated sandwich.

As for the meet itself, Grace did very well. 9th in beam. 13th in the all around. No bad for a state-wide competition.
My baby's name in lights at States!! 9.2 in Floor.


As always, I am happiest knowing that she is part of a team, doing the best she can, and having fun doing it.
My baby at States!!


This will be a great memory for Grace.
Grace and teammates

The meet started around 8:30, and all the awards ceremonies and everything were done by about 1pm.

We left the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena and headed southeast to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater... but that's a story for the next post.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Late spring Ryder Cuteness

Alright. I'm becoming the crazy dog person.
Looking out the front

I blame the kids.
On the trail of prowling squirrels

Seriously.
This is how we sit on sofas to watch TV, right?

Remember, I'm the one that said dog over my dead body.
Chillin'

But I'm still here, and the better for it.

Hall of Fame Night, 2018

Maybe Justin Hayward and the rest of the Moodies, and Dire Straits (or at least Mark Knopfler, who probably won't show up), or others don't think much of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (class of 2018), but I do.

The Moody Blues are my favorite band from that era. My adolescent years. Great memories. Good times. A lifetime ahead and a world of possibilities...

Dire Straits might be second.

Good Stuff. And a connection to which will always keep me young. Young at heart anyway...

Moodies... The Story in Your Eyes, also at Red Rocks, 1992. Puffy pirate shirt and all... And more recently, at the Mann Music Center in 2107, at a show that Leo and I attended. If you listen carefully, you can hear me singing along in the background... Or Gypsy, when I was about 4 years old....

Dire Straits, Tunnel of Love, the Alchemy era...

Congrats and welcome to the Hall of Fame.

Don't Speak

Musically, I'm an old fart. Let's get that out of the way. Most good music (but not all, grudgingly...) was created before 1990. Or before 1975...

But on the evening of the day that the Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Bon Jovi, the Cars, Nina Simone and others get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are reminders that some great music was created after 1990. Barely. :-)

Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, Don't Speak, 1996 at Red Rocks outside of Denver, Colorado...

There is something visceral that speaks to basic fundamental human emotion here.

Which is what transcendent music is all about...  (And as always, live music is the best music)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

West Chester University 2018

The third and final meet of Grace's 2018 spring season was held at West Chester University on 3/18.

She placed 1st in the vault, her favorite event, but this was still a very pleasant surprise. She definitely had a set back in vault (and everything) after spending 5 weeks in a boot during December and January (stress fracture of the 4th metatarsal). Plus two weeks hurt leading up to the boot and a month or so of getting back into shape. All the strength training in the world doesn't make up for not being able to be practicing your skills and routines on the equipment.
First place, vault

More important, for me anyway, is the sense of team, and the fact that Grace is a part of something bigger than just herself.
Excel Gold team, 1st place, 2018

It's always nice to bring home a big trophy. Lots of medals for Roth's Crosspoint Gymnastics.

All that's left for the 2018 spring season is States, in Pittsburgh in early May. Grace has qualified and we will be going!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Gratuitous Dog Cuteness - March

It's been a while, so it's time to subject the great beyond to doggie cuteness.
Ryder thinks he's human...

Grace likes to take pictures of Ryder, and she takes some very good ones.
...but he sure is cute!

It's odd. We will have had Ryder for one year on March 19, which hardly seems possible. In a way it seems hard to remember a time when we didn't have a dog...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Eric Johnson - Cliffs of Dover

I get caught down the rathole of YouTube live music every so often (OK, a lot), but the one thing that always makes my jaw drop is this one. Perhaps the greatest piece of live guitar work I have ever come across.

I've probably posted this before, but so be it.

Eric Johnson, Cliffs of Dover.

I was lucky enough to see Eric in Phoenixville with Brother Dave a bunch of years back. He played this, which made me happy. And didn't play SRV, which made me sad.

Oh well. Life is a compromise.

Friday, February 16, 2018

National Sales Meeting - 2018

For the sixth year now, my company has done a large national sales meeting for our commercial sales organization and related support functions.
General Session

Being a commercial operations support function, I get to go. These meetings last from a Monday to a Friday, and have been mostly at Gaylord (Marriott owned) resort/convention facilities.
Dinner Party in the Atrium

In those 6 years, we have done the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine Texas 3 times (including each of the last two years), the Gaylord in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry twice, and the Disney World Dolphin and Swan once.
Alternate reality in the Atrium

In the interests of recruiting and maintaining a world class sales organization, the meeting is first class, and has been both productive in terms of content as well as a boost to morale.

This year, we didn't have any major weather complications around the country, and everyone was able to get in and out of the meeting with no real problems.

I used to travel more for business than I do now, and I can't honestly say that I miss it much, but it is nice to get to go to a first class facility for a productive and informative meeting every now and then. But now back to my office until next year...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Parkettes Invitational 2018

Overshadowed (I admit) by the Eagles appearance (and victory!!) in Super Bowl LII, was Grace's gymnastics meet at the Parkettes Invitational in Allentown PA.

Grace did what she often does, which is to not place extremely high in individual events, but to be consistently good enough to have a very good all around score.
4th place, vault

The Excel Gold team from Roth's Crosspoint Gymnastics also did very well, placing 3rd (??)
Team happiness

Go Eagles! (sorry)

Monday, February 5, 2018

World Champions

It's hard to describe the effect a Super Bowl win has had on Eagles Fans.

As noted previously, I didn't see a single play of the game live due to Grace's gymnastics meet, but having taken today off well ahead of time, I have been spending a decent part of the day watching the game on DVR, and watching all the commentary on the local sports stations.

It's funny how much less stressful watching the game is when you know how it will end. I find myself taunting Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels all throughout the Tom Brady lovefest that was the NBC broadcast. They wanted a Brady comeback victory so very very bad...and didn't get it...but I digress.

It is remarkable the number of adult Eagles fans who are brought to tears by the victory. Calling in to the radio stations. Or interviewed on TV. As happy as I am in the victory, I'm not one of them. Necessarily. Or at least for the personal joy of having won a Super Bowl (to the degree that a fan can win a Super Bowl)...

What I do find moving, and what has brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion, is the reactions of others.

Beloved Hall of Fame Eagles reporter Ray Didinger's son David coming out to embrace Ray on the set of NBC Sports Philadelphia during the after-game show, bringing Ray to tears. I love and respect Ray...the ultimate gentleman. I have to be happy for Ray.

Stan Hochman, another old school newspaper reporter who died a few years back and never got to see this.

Bill Lyon, yet another of the old guard of newspapermen who is suffering from the onset of dementia (publicly acknowledged), who did get to see it.

Brent Celek, Eagles tight end and the longest tenured Philly athlete, finally getting a taste of the ultimate victory. Brent may well choose to retire after the victory. There couldn't be a more fitting way to ride off into the sunset. Seeing him in tears on the field during the celebration made me tear up.

Jon Dorenbos, 11 year veteran long snapper of the Eagles (and famous magician), who was traded to the Saints prior to the start of the season, failed a physical due to the discovery of an aortic aneurism, retired (had successful surgery), and was invited to the Super Bowl by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, and who was told "when we win the Super Bowl, you will get a ring." A classy move and well deserved. As noted in other posts, "Ohana means family, and family means no one left behind..." Kudos to Jeffrey Lurie.

And all the Eagles fans who have stories that go something like this: "My dad had season tickets for 30x or 40x years. We always went to games together. He never missed a game. He wanted a Super Bowl win so bad and never got one. He died "x" years ago and we buried him in an Eagles jersey..."

My dad was't THAT degree of Eagles fan, although he definitely was a Phillies and Eagles fan. He saw Eagles games at Franklin field. And never saw a Super Bowl win. He lived through the pre-Super Bowl championship in 1960 (and 1947 and 1948 for that matter). He saw the loss in 1980. And the loss in 2004. But never a win.

So I think of this Super Bowl victory as being for Ray and his son. And Stan. And Bill. And Brent. And Jon. And all those other nameless dads and granddads who passed before getting to see one. And my dad. And yes, lastly, for me.

E A G L E S Eagles!!!!!

The Moment of Victory

I had "watched" the first three+ quarters of the Super Bowl on ESPN's Gamecast while watching Grace's gymnastics meet. Play by play text updates were better than nothing, but...

The Patriots took their first lead of the game, 33-32, while they were doing the awards ceremony (Grace didn't have a very good meet but tied for second for score on Vault, getting 4th place because of overall score tiebreakers). I will have to admit that my reaction was probably similar to most other Eagles fans: "uh oh...please don't do this to me again..."

We finished up and got in the car to head home, going west on 22 to get to the Northeast Extension south. Thankfully all in range of WIP, the Eagles flagship radio station. Merrill Reese and Mike Quick. Familiar voices. Friends to all Eagles fans.

We were somewhere between the Lehigh Valley exit and the Quakertown exit when Nick Foles threw a TD pass to Zach Ertz to put us back up 38-33. The Patriots had taken the lead and then we responded. We came back. Foles playing like Brady. A minor whoop and a fist bump with Grace. But still a lot of time on the clock. Only a five point lead...
Ertz touchdown, 38-33

Then nearing the Quakertown exit when the Patriots got the ball back, had Brandon Graham strip-sack Tom Brady, and the fumble was recovered by rookie Derek Barnett. A big whoop and several fist bumps. A touchdown would seal the deal. But it wouldn't be that easy.

Passing Quakertown when rookie Jake Elliott hit his third field goal of the day, a 46-yarder, breaking his own 42-yarder rookie Super Bowl record for a kicker, set earlier in the game.
Elliott from 46 yards. Eagles 41-33.

Eagles up 8. A one-score game to tie (a TD and a two point conversion), but no chance of losing the game short of overtime. Feeling pretty good, but this is Brady and the Deflatriots. So anything is possible. Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels on NBC rooting HARD for Brady and the miracle finish...

With the score 41-33, Brady and the Patriots got the ball back, gained some yards, and were near mid-field with 9 seconds to go.

Only 9 seconds. Maybe 2 plays. Probably only one.

This can't happen. But every Eagles fan knows it can. We're bred with that gene that says if it can go wrong it will go wrong... And often has.

We were just north of the Lansdale exit.

Brady dropped back. Was rushed and almost sacked again by Graham. Stumbled. Rolled to the right. Longtime Eagles play-by-play man Merrill Reese called the Hail Mary. Ball in the air. Deflected. Batted again. Hung in the air. And fell harmlessly to the ground. There was a moment of silence before Merrill announced that time had expired and that the Eagles were Super Bowl champions. Color guy and ex-Eagles great wide receiver Mike Quick went nuts in the background.

I looked over at Grace, unsure of what had just happened. She gave me a big (tired) smile. I let out a big whoop. Or two or three. Super Bowl champions. For the first time in my life (or anyone's life, for that matter). Super. Bowl. Champions.
Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles

The last 10+ miles of the Northeast Extension were surreal. Fireworks to the right. Then ahead to the left. Then behind to the left. Then ahead to the right. All over the place. Fourth of July in February.

Justifiably happy Eagles fans everywhere. First championship since 1960. First ever championship in the Super Bowl era.

A few words stuck in my head. "You can't beat Brady in a shoot out".

Well, guess what. Nick Foles and the improbable Eagles just beat Brady in a shoot out.

In the immortal words of 2008 Phillies world champion Chase Utley: World F#$*ing Champions!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Super Bowl Sunday

The Eagles play in the Super Bowl today for the third time in my lifetime. We lost to Jim Plunkett and the Raiders in 1980. And lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2004.

Maybe the third time will be the charm. If it is, this city is going to go nuts. As well as we support all of our teams, we are first and foremost a football town, and winning a first Super Bowl after all these years would be (fair to say) the biggest pro sports event of my lifetime.
Nick Foles and the suddenly improbable season

It's almost hard to believe that we are where we are after our MVP candidate Carson Wentz went down late in the year, but having gotten here, I actually think we will win.

I'll be keeping tabs as best I can from the Parkettes Invitational gymnastics meet in Allentown, where Grace will be competing, starting at 6:30pm, which is exactly the moment of kick-off.

In related news, it was announced last night that Brian Dawkins ("Weapon X") was voted into the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility. It is a fitting tribute, as Dawkins was the heart and soul of this team for 13 years, was probably the best safety of his generation, and became the blueprint for what the ideal modern safety is.
20 leads the Eagles onto the field

Congrats to Brian and Go Eagles!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Blogging Catch Up

For anyone with an interest, I have spent the last few evenings trying to catch up on blog posts that should have been written in 2017 but weren't.

There are about 15 new posts from August 2017 onward.

More to come (and a commitment to do better in 2018 than I did in the back half of 2017).

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lava Caverns Crafting

There is a situation developing in our D&D campaign that has me needing to put together some lava terrain for an ancient fire elemental temple cavern complex. Taking a cue from some terrain building I had seen recently on Runehammer Games' YouTube channel, I decided to do mine in a similar vein.

Walkways, platforms, monuments and passages were all carved from 3/4 inch foam insulation board, with a sharp beveled edge and linear geometric patterns. This was all done with simple free hand carving using an Xacto hobby knife. I didn't bother to base coat the pieces since they would be getting multiple layers of paint.

Stage 1 was a thorough coating of a ~60/40 mix of Craftsmart "Wine" and Black. This was liberally applied with the most important thing being that the recesses were filled in. The flat surfaces were less important to get an even coat on, since they would be getting 3 more coats.
Stage 1 - 60/40 mix of "Wine" and Black

Stage 2 was a heavy sponge of "Wine", unmixed out of the bottle.
Stage 2 - Heavy sponge of "Wine"

Stage 3 was a medium sponging of Craftsmart "Terra Cotta". This was done heavily enough to lighten up the pieces pretty substantially, but not so heavy as to completely obscure the darker "Wine" color underneath.
Stage 3 - Medium sponge of "Terra Cotta"

Stage 4 - Seen below in action (complete with Arian the Sorcerer's lightning bolt template!), the final stage was a somewhat random and somewhat heavy dry brush of Folk Art "Yellow Ochre". This simple step was the magic ingredient that took the pieces from "nice" to "yeah, that's what I was going for!"
Stage 4 - Light dry brush of "Yellow Ochre"

We used these pieces in our most recent D&D session, and they looked great. More on that over on my D&D campaign blog...

Folk Art acrylic craft paints are probably better quality than Craftsmart paints, but the local Michaels store now stocks a broader range of Craftsmart colors than Folk Art, and at 70 cents each (compared to 1.59 or so for Folk Art), you can't beat the value. For bulk use in crafting projects like this, I'm liking the Craftsmart paints a lot.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Closet Remodel

Not a glamorous project to be sure, but I pulled apart the shelving in the coat closet in our laundry room (our primary everyday entrance into the house from the garage), and replaced it with the HangTrak system that we have done all of the bedroom closets and pantry in.

Part of what we wanted was better shoe storage at the bottom of the closet, and due to the fact that we have nine foot ceilings on the first floor, the hang track vertical supports aren't long enough to go from the ceiling to near the floor (they max out at 7 feet long). This necessitated a 48 inch vertical from a support at the top, and another 48 inch vertical for the show racks from another support bar halfway up the wall. It's not the best look, but when coats are hanging, it is completely hidden so it doesn't really matter.
Mostly done

Dismantling, spackling, painting and then installing the new closet system took maybe 4 hours spread over the course of a couple of days. Now instead of fixed wire shelving in a less-than-optimal arrangement, we have a 100% fully adjustable closet.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ray Thomas (1941-2018)

Ray Thomas, a founding member of the Moody Blues, my favorite band, died on January 4 of prostate cancer at the age of 76.
Ray Thomas in recent years

Ray had been retired from touring with the band for the last 15 years or so, but I was fortunate enough to have seen him perform with the band maybe 8 or 10 times between 1982 and his retirement from the band in 2002 (has it possibly been that long??). His rich powerful voice was amazing, even though he was not considered one of the lead singers of the band (and less and less as the years went by).
Earlier times

Ray was less active with the band in later years, but he wrote a bunch of great songs from the "core seven" albums between 1967 and 1972.
Moody Blues from the core seven years

He would probably be best known for the flute solo on Nights in White Satin, but Moodies fans would probably pick Legend of a Mind (this link is Royal Albert Hall in 2000, not the famous Red Rocks show as it claims to be) performed live as his most lasting contribution. The band retired Legend when Ray left, and I still miss it. Shows always ended with Nights, Legend, Question and Ride My Seesaw...
Ray on stage, 1990's

Other favorites of mine that were written by Ray include And the Tide Rushes In, For My Lady, Eternity Road, Our Guessing Game. There are many more.

It is nice that the announcement that the Moodies were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year came before Ray's passing, but that is probably a more important event for the fans than the band.

I had hoped that the band's induction would bring Ray and Mike Pinder back on stage one last time. Sadly, that can't happen now (and likely wouldn't have anyway).

Thanks for the memories, Ray. And all the great music.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

River Update - 12/28

A bunch of us went down to the River on a holiday-season day off to see where things stood, and do a walkthrough of a few things that the builder wanted us to take a look at.

There were a lot of changes since the last time I had been down. Plumbing and electrical rough in was partially complete, some HVAC work was underway, all of the interior framing was done. Windows and doors were all in.
Kitchen-to-be

The most significant difference though was the outside. Roofing was on. Siding was mostly done. From the outside, it looked almost done, as compared to the inside which looks nowhere near done.
River facing facade

I really like the style and color of siding we picked, and the roofing looks great too.

Exciting stuff.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bernina 830

With all of the quilting, costume sewing and other sewing that Amp has been doing, she has been on the lookout for an upgrade machine. The Bernina she has now as her main machine is terrific, but it is on the smaller side for quilting.

The Bernina 830 has been the one she has had her eye on for a while, but they are prohibitively expensive. However, now that there is a newer model replacing the 830, she found one at the local sewing shop that she frequents that was a very good deal, relatively speaking. Done and done.
Bernina 830

As you can see in the picture compared to her old Bernina, this thing is huge, with a very wide throat which will make quilting much easier. It is fully computerized, and can even do programmed embroidery.

Amp has barely had time to scratch the surface of what it can do, but loves it. Which makes me happy. Many great projects to come...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gratuitous Dog Pics - Late Fall Edition

My indulgence...another round of gratuitous dog pictures. Pardon me...
Comfy dog bed

One and a half year old blue tick beagle.
Bundled up against the cold (by Grace)

We have had a number of snow storms early in the winter this year, and Ryder has had a blast in all of them. He seems unaccustomed to the snow, which would make sense if he is from Georgia or the Carolinas, as we have been told.
New winter coat

He runs around, chases imaginary things, and generally acts as though he has no idea what snow is or how he is supposed to behave in it. It's pretty adorable.