Saturday, January 28, 2012

Garnet Valley Cheer Challenge - January 28, 2012

Spirit Squad
Since my daughters got involved in cheerleading a couple of years ago, the month of February has become cheer month. Practices occur once or twice a week for extended periods, and pretty much every weekend in February has an event somewhere. This year there are to be events at Garnet Valley, Chichester, Wilmington, Ridley and a big one that is an overnight trip out to Hershey.

The first of these events was on our home turf, the 10th annual Garnet Valley Cheer Challenge. Many of these events tend to be structured the same way, with an earlier session lasting three or four hours that has club teams and girls ranging in age from "ankle biters" at 5 or 6 years old through high schoolers. A later session of another 3 hours or so has school teams from middle schools and high schools. Both Julia's Spirit Squad and Grace's BYC Pee Wees are club squads, and compete in the earlier sessions.

Cartwheeling Grace
I have written before about how touched I am by the reception that Julia's Spirit squad receives every time they perform, and today was no exception. They performed first, received their customary standing ovation, I teared up, and they were presented with a first place trophy for winning their division. As Julia likes to point out, they are undefeated in their careers, never having not come in first. We try to keep Grace from pointing out too loudly that they are the only team in their division. For these kids more so than anyone, it is the effort that counts, and I couldn't be more proud.

Flexible Grace

Grace's Pee Wee division team went fairly early on, and did very very well. Grace has a prominent position in things, and at one point does a solo cartwheel pass in front of the entire rest of the squad as they build a pyramid. Forgive the gushing Dad, but she nailed it. Watching the other 5 or 6 teams in their division, I thought that they had a pretty good chance of finishing second or third, but that first place seemed like a lock for another squad. When the awards were announced at the end of the session, first place went to who I expected (and writing this later, I honestly forget who, but it may have been Drexel Hill). Grace's squad got second place.
Julia, Grace and Coach Emily

A very good start to the month.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stop and Watch

A topic of conversation came up with some friends (again) recently, and it is one that has come up periodically with different people over the years in similar flavors. Basically, the question is this: what movies will you always stop and watch some of if you flip past them while changing channels on the television. Here is what came readily to mind for me (in no particular order). Most are obvious, but some are less so...
  • The Hunt for Red October - Still the best Tom Clancy movie. Played to death on cable but I will watch some every time. "Vassily... One ping. One ping only"
  • Terminator 1 or 2. You can't beat liquid bad guy...
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The original is of course a classic, but Last Crusade was the best of the lot for me. I choose to pretend the 2nd (Indy and the Incredibly Annoying Kid) never happened.
  • Star Wars, but only the 1st or 2nd (episodes 4 and 5). No fighting teddy bears, and the whole second set just never soaked in nearly the same way as the first trilogy. So much CGI stuff was going on that I think they lost the people, and with it a lot of the reason to care. And they didn't have Harrison Ford.
  • Raising Arizona. Hilarious lesser known movie.
  • The Princess Bride - I had read this book in college shortly before they made the movie of it, and it is both a great movie and a faithful adaptation of an excellent little book. "Inconceivable!" "You keep using that word... I don't think it means what you think it means."
  • The Rock - Sean Connery on Alcatraz. I'm not even sure why, as this isn't a great movie... I think it's just the Alcatraz part.
  • Any of the Lord of the Rings films. Favorite books from childhood, and fantastic movie versions. Different, but great.
  • Roman Holiday or Sabrina - I fall in love with Audrey Hepburn every time.
  • Most but not all of the Star Trek movies. I was not a big fan of the original show, but loved the Next Generation. Most of the movies are very good. Older crew is a campy good time, and the NG crew is terrific.
  • Gladiator. Strength and honor. "On my command, unleash hell".
  • The Usual Suspects - Kevin Spacey alone is worth watching.
  • The Firm - Not a big Tom Cruise fan, but this is the best movie adaptation of the best John Grisham book.
  • Apollo 13 - A Ron Howard masterpiece.
  • Jaws - There are still moments of breathtaking suspense in this for me despite having seen it countless times. "We're gonna need a bigger boat."
  • Pulp Fiction - This is an odd one for me, because when I first saw it I thought it was overrated (vastly overrated actually). I don't think so anymore. I do still think Tarrantino as a whole is overrated, but not this film, which I now find to be hypnotic.
  • Alien and Aliens - The first was classic suspense, implying mainly but not showing, while the second one will always remind me of the summer in college where I worked the grounds crew at Paxon Hollow Golf Club and the guys repeated lines from this endlessly. I think at one point in time I could recite the movie line for line...
  • You rarely see the old 1970's and early 1980's James Bond films shown anymore, but I still love them. You Only Live Twice is still my favorite. But Thunderball, Goldfinger and all the others of that era are all great. "Do you expect me to talk?". "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."
  • A couple of guilty pleasure Ridley Scott films: Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. If you ignore the historical... um... liberties... these are a pair of enjoyable period pieces in an era of history that I love. be Continued...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dallas, Texas

National Meeting and a little Sightseeing
Texas School Book Depository
I spent the week in Dallas, Texas for an annual national sales meeting, and as much as it pains a Philadelphia Eagles fan to say this, it's a nice city. The meeting was great, the hotel was very nice (the Hilton Anatole), the food was terrific, and I had a chance to see a few historic sites (however briefly). And I also managed to squeeze in 5 geocaches, making Texas a new state for me, my 19th.

Over the course of the week, we ate very well. The food at the hotel was terrific, and we had a couple dinners out at places that I really enjoyed. One was at an upscale Mexican restaurant named Javier's, and another was at a place called Gilley's (after Mickey Gilley, country music star of days gone by). Javier's was fantastic Mexican cuisine (not TexMex tacos and the like), while Gilley's was a touristy Texas roadhouse place complete with line dancing lessons, calf roping (from a fake horse, on a fake calf) and mechanical bull riding. It was pretty hokey, but had a certain charm I guess, and the barbecue was pretty good.

View down Elm Street (Grassy Knoll on right)
The business trip was a Tuesday through Friday meeting that required a flight down on Monday afternoon due to available flight scheduling. The meeting didn't actually start until Tuesday around lunchtime, so that left Tuesday morning mostly free. As any good geocacher would, I had figured out where my hotel was located and what was nearby, and was happy to find that there were a number of geocaches within reasonable walking distance of my hotel. Additionally, the historic district of the city was less than two miles away, and was an easy $10 cab ride away.

I got up at a reasonable hour on Tuesday morning and got a cab to Pioneer Plaza in the historic district. There were two virtual caches there within a couple hundred yards of each other, and virtuals are rare enough that they are worth seeking out. The first one, Rush Hour, was a giant group statue of a cattle drive,  complete with separate life sized statues of a trail boss, his herd, and other cowboys. It was a cool thing to see, and was my first Texas cache. On the other side of the Plaza, beyond a very old cemetery, was Men in the Gray Flannel Suits, a virtual that brought me to a very nice Confederate monument. Being a history buff in general, and a Civil War history buff in specific, I always love it when a cache brings me to a place like this.

Fence corner on the Grassy Knoll
After spending some time looking at the old graves and marveling at the history laid to rest here, I began the three or four tenths of a mile walk to Dealey Plaza. My third and final virtual cache was to be The Grassy Knoll, a monument at the site of the John F Kennedy assassination. I intentionally saved this as the last of the three virtuals I was trying to get in this area because I was afraid (and rightly so) that if I went to this one first I might well just spend all my time wandering around... looking... thinking... taking pictures. I am glad that I went in the order that I did, or that may well have been true.

As a history buff, there are certain places that evoke a very strong feeling, and despite the fact that the JFK assassination happened before I was born, this location was very powerful.

Kill Shot?
Approaching from the southeast, I had great views of the current County Administration building that was the Texas School Book Repository at the time, with the 6th floor windows in plain view. Elm Street itself bends in an "S" curve down the slope from the intersection below the building, passes beneath the slight rise of the Grassy Knoll, and passes under a train bridge before merging into the highway on-ramps on the other side. At the top of the Grassy Knoll is the famous fence corner at the edge of the parking lot behind, the spot from which conspiracy theorists say the actual kill shot on JFK was fired. In the picture I have included as a view from the fence corner, I tried to capture a single vehicle at the exact spot the presidential limo would have been when the obvious shot in the Zapruder film struck. I did a pretty good job, as there is a white "X" painted at that spot on the road, and you can see it just behind the shadow of the SUV in the picture.

I spent about a half hour wandering around, taking pictures, and just soaking in the feeling of the place. It was odd that a place I had never been to before could in some ways seem familiar. I can honestly say that this was one of the coolest places that geocaching has ever brought me to. I would have liked to see this no matter what, but if I were not looking for caches in Dallas while I was here, I probably would not have gone out of my way to come here with only a little time to spend. I am glad I did.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hiking Log

I have created a page on this blog to list the hikes I have taken, where they were, how long, etc... It's a simple list of when and where I have been. I have a few entries in, and will try to complete it as best I can before being diligent about keeping track going forward.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eric Johnson at the Colonial Theater - 1/7/12

Andy McKee's 40 minute 8 song set ended at around 9:00pm, and Eric Johnson and his three piece band took the stage about a half hour later at 9:30. Johnson was touring with a bass player and a drummer, and that was it. They took the stage. Johnson mumbled a brief "hello"to the audience, and they launched into their first song.

That would be pretty consistent over the set that would last for about an hour and a half. Sometimes Johnson would say something to the audience between songs, but more often than not, one song would just move into the next. Generally, the extent of his banter with the crowd would be along the lines of "how's everybody doing tonight?". But what Johnson may lack in charisma and stage presence, he more than made up for in ability. I have seen some great guitarists live, including Clapton several times, ditto Mark Knopfler, Stevie Ray Vaughn once (Spectrum 1982 opening for the Moody Blues), and Derek Trucks, and I can honestly say that none of them could match EJ purely on speed. The man's fingers simply flew across the neck of his Strat (or Gibson SG some of the time), and perfectly cleanly and with fantastic clear tone. Words cannot really do justice to his technical ability.

The other thing that would become obvious over the course of the evening was the number of different types of music that he could play well; blues, rock, a quick-picking country song off his new album, pure jazz, and covers of a number of different songs. Scattered throughout the set he did Dear Prudence by the Beatles, April Come She Will by Paul Simon, a Coltrane jazz song (Mr. P. C.), and The Wind Cries Mary by Hendrix (as one of the two songs in the encore). And due to the majority of the songs being all instrumental (with many long jams), the show definitely had a different feel to it. Not bad by any means, just different. Most concerts by a musician of this stature would be one known song after another (the "greatest hits on tour" phenomenon); this was a good old fashioned jam fest. Sure, they were songs, but the feel was of three good musicians just airing it out onstage.

My autographed CD...
I have to admit that while liking Eric Johnson, and knowing a little bit about him, he is one of those artists where I have a couple of albums, like him, but for the most part couldn't name many of his songs despite being able to hum or sing along with the ones on the discs I have. So for a few of the songs last night, I recognized them, but couldn't name them for you. The one obvious "have to play it" song is Cliffs of Dover, which was his last song before leaving the stage prior to the encore. It was fantastic, and mostly made up for my disappointment in him not playing SRV. As I said in my post about this upcoming concert, SRV is the one song I would be disappointed if he didn't play. He didn't play it. Oh well. What he did play was astounding. I have left many concerts by my favorite bands saying "that was fantastic", but not many where I have left saying "wow, what was that I just saw?!?!". Last night was one of those. I suspect that I will own most if not all of his available works by the end of the week...

Merry Christmas to me!

[Afterthought and update - A little digging around after writing this post found that some of the names of the songs he did were When the Sun Meets the Sky, Zap, and Dry Ice (by the Electromagnets, an early Eric Johnson band) as the final encore song. Songs I have since positively identified from the newer Up Close album include Fatdaddy, Gem and On the Way, but I am sure there were others as well.]

Opening Act - Andy McKee - 1/7/12

The Colonial Theater
My Christmas present from Dave and his family was tickets for Dave and I to go see Eric Johnson at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville last night. I love live music, I have always liked Eric Johnson, and the opportunity to see anyone good in a small venue is a treat.

I work right down the street from the venue, and have driven past it hundreds of times, but have never been inside. Having looked at the website linked above, I knew that it is a 658 seat old style movie house, from back in the days when the town movie theater was the only game in town. They tend to be beautiful ornate old buildings (although generally in various states of shabbiness). When we got inside and make our way to our 8th row seats, this proved to be no exception. It was pretty well maintained, and seemed smaller than I would have expected for the seating capacity. There was a small stage with a drum kits, some mikes and some amps, and that's about it. We were perhaps 30 feet from the stage front. (I also picked up an autographed CD/DVD combo of EJ's legendary 1984 Austin City Limits concert on the way through the lobby...he was 29 then, and is 57 now).

As it turned out, Lori bought a single ticket at the last minute and went with us, but would be sitting by herself. She had a seat next to the mixing board at the very back of the floor, but when she went to sit down, and usher told her that they should not have sold that seat to anyone and put her in the front row of the balcony instead (a much better seat).

Opening Act - Andy McKee
I hadn't realized that there was an opening act until Dave had sent me a message earlier in the day, but he knew of the guy, Andy McKee, and had done some YouTube searching to see him. He told me I had to see it to believe it, and he was right. McKee plays what he terms "percussive guitar", meaning that he both plays the acoustic guitar but also uses the body of the guitar as a drum.

Wikipedia calls him a fingerstyle guitarist. He plays with an amazing combination of strumming, plucking, finger tapping, hammering on with the left hand only while the right hand is doing something else entirely, and probably a bunch of techniques I can't even describe. He played about 8 songs in a 40 minute set, and Dave and I were flabbergasted by the end of it. I swear he had a third hand somewhere that we couldn't see. It truly was wizardry. I am a fan. A big fan. He was funny, engaging, and talented in a style of playing that I can honestly say I had never seen before. What a treat.

Check out his biggest YouTube hit "Drifting" here, and another song that I absolutely love, "Rylynn", both of which he played last night.

As an aside, he also played a guitar the likes of which I had never seen. The frets weren't perpendicular to the neck, but fanned out from the middle; the center fret bars were upright, but those nearer the neck leaned toward the neck, and those nearer the body leaned toward the body. He also re-tuned his guitar to all sorts of crazy tunings between each song while bantering with the audience. That's harder to do quickly than it looks.

Next... The Main Event

Friday, January 6, 2012

Eric Johnson - coming soon!

Just a teaser... Guitarist Eric Johnson is scheduled to come to the 658-seat Colonial theater in Phoenixville tomorrow night at 7pm. Dave and I are in the 8th row. Merry Christmas to me, and thanks to Dave and his family for the terrific gift! Expect a full review after the show. If he doesn't do my favorite song of his, I will be disappointed.

If anyone out there in the ether happens to be at the show, stop by and say hi. We'll be the two middle-aged guys who can't dance... (That's probably not specific enough, but it's the best I can do)


Words are simple. Or perhaps not so simple. There is a wonderfully written post here where a mom talks about use of the word retarded. It's a simple enough word. As the writer points out, all too often the word is used to mean stupid. People don't necessarily mean harm by it, they just use it out of ignorance. And I don't mean malicious ignorance. They have never stopped and thought about it. Of course, some people do actually believe that retarded is synonymous with stupid. But those of us whose lives have been touched by the word, or shaped by it, know that it means something completely different...

I don't intend to preach, but the link is worth the couple minutes it would take to read.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fiction Reading Recap - 2011

This will be a necessarily brief post. Over the past few years, I have consistently read at least a couple dozen fiction books, and posted short reviews of most of them here. I had some goals for this year that were very reasonably in line with what I had managed recently. But pretty much none of that happened.

In prior years I had read 25-35 books. This year I think I read 4 (not counting a few fluff books, to be a snob about it...). I am not even going to bother to go back and look, the number is so paltry. There are some caveats around this precipitous drop in output. For one thing, I read quite a few short stories this year, both in magazines and in story collections, but since most of those were not part of finishing an entire book, I do not count them. And in general, I did read plenty, just not fiction. This year I got back to reading way more history than I had read in the prior few years. These I don't generally keep track of or write reviews of (though I am not sure why not...).

The one fiction reading goal that I definitely got an A+ in was the one about not buying ridiculously more books than I read. I read very few books. And I only bought a few more than that. So I got something right...