Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ice Hockey - Penn State versus Vermont

I wouldn't normally have been in attendance at the "Philadelphia Faceoff" college hockey game between Penn State and Vermont, but this year (the third annual) was different; Grace and the Garnet Valley 5th grade and Middle School choruses were singing God Bless America and the national anthem.
3rd annual Philly Faceoff

We were to arrive at the Wells Fargo Center at 11:00am for a 1:00pm game. The kids would be escorted down to the ice for an 11:15am sound check, then brought back to a waiting area to kill time until 12:20, when they would be taken back downstairs to the non-public concourses under the arena to wait for their big moment.

At about 12:30 the college teams came out for their fifteen minute pre-game skate, and then the Zambonis cleaned the ice.
Pre-game skate

At 12:55, the lights dimmed, the teams were announced, and then our kids came out to do their thing. In a professional arena that seats 20,000 for hockey, there were maybe 7,000 or 8,000 fans in attendance, which is not bad all things considered. We had about 100 kids crammed onto a few strips of carpet, but they sang well and got a nice ovation.
Garnet Valley sings the national anthem

Unfortunately, Amp and Julia were at the practice for Oliver at the high school, so it was just me and Grace, but we had a very nice time.

As for the hockey game itself, Grace got bored near the end of the second period, and it having been a long week, we left our seats with the score tied at 0-0. As we were making our way toward the exit Vermont scored to go up 1-0. As we were a little further around the concourse, Vermont scored again to make it 2-0. As they were announcing the goal scorer of the second Vermont goal, the horn went off again for another goal, this time by Penn State to close the gap to 2-1 Vermont. After watching 50 minutes of game time and seeing no goals, we heard three in the 5 minutes it took to exit the building. Go figure. (Sports kharma, I know...never leave a game before the end...).

Driving home in the car, and talking about it afterwards, Grace was pretty excited. Which is good. Not everyone gets to stand on the ice surface of a 20,000 seat arena and sing the national anthem. She said it was a little bit scary, but a lot of fun. I'm glad. This should be an experience to remember.

Friday, January 30, 2015

13th Annual Garnet Valley Cheer Challenge

(Back on Saturday January 24...)
It's that time of year again. After weekly practice sessions throughout the Fall and Winter, the Brandywine Youth Club Spirit Squad of special needs girls, with Julia cheering (and Grace as an assistant coach!), performed in their first event of the season.
Julia (back row nearest) and Grace (front leading nearest)

As usual, they started off with the home event, which is the Garnet Valley Cheer Challenge (the 13th annual) at our own high school. Attendance was down due to a few teams pulling out because of an overnight snowstorm, but it was a great event as always.

As has been the case in prior years, our squad performs first, gets medals and a trophy for being first in their "division", and then gets to hang out and watch other squads perform.
Julia and Grace (end of back and front rows)

The sequence of events, no matter how routine it has become in the several competitions that our girls perform in every year, never fails to choke me up; a gymnasium full of cheer squads and parents from all over the area giving our girls a standing ovation. Some total strangers, in no way connected to our girls, having tears running down their cheeks.

It reminds me of the Special Olympics motto: Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

If ever there was something to lend credence to the old adage "winning isn't everything", well, I guess this is it. Sometimes winning is just showing up...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review - Everything I Never Told You

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."

And thus begins a terrific book. A couple weeks after finishing Anthony Doerr's fabulous All the Light We Cannot See, I now already have another 5-star book in 2015 - Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014, Penguin Press, 292 pages). This is a debut novel, and one of the best I have read recently.

This is a powerful story of the oriental and mixed-marriage experience in the 1960s and 1970s, the failures and disappointments of parents, the expectations parents impose on their children, the crushing weight this brings to bear, and the damaging secrets kept within families.

Given the captivating opening line, this wasn't about what had happened, but about why. It is both tragic yet perhaps hopeful, and powerful because it rang true to me. It was predictable in places, surprising in others, and kept me turning pages until I was done in three evenings.

"Stunned, Lydia fell silent. All their lives Nath had understood, better than anyone, the lexicon of their family, the things they could never truly explain to outsiders; that a book or a dress meant more than something to read or something to wear; that attention came with expectations that - like snow - drifted and settled and crushed you with their weight. All the words were right, but in this new Nath's voice, they sounded trivial and brittle and hollow. The way anyone else might have heard them. Already her brother had become a stranger." (pg. 263)

"...she had been afraid so long, she had forgotten what it was like not to be - afraid that, one day, her mother would disappear again, that her father would crumble, that their whole family would collapse once more. Ever since that summer without her mother, their family had felt precarious, as if they were teetering on a cliff. Before that she hadn't realized how fragile happiness was, how that if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it. Anything her mother wanted, she had promised. As long as she would stay. She had been so afraid." (pp. 272-273)

5 stars out of 5. I loved it.

Books this year: 3
Total pages: 1,050
New authors: 1

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review - The Laughing Monsters

The second book this year is The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson (2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 228 pages). The dust jacket blurb calls this a "high suspense tale of kaleidoscoping loyalties in the post 9/11 world that shows one of our great novelists at the top of his game." Meh.

I have read some of Johnson's previous works and enjoyed them, but I found this to be good but not great. The story is that a Scandinavian intelligence agent (or not?) returns to west Africa to meet up with a former associate to do...I'm not sure what. There was talk of Uranium, money making schemes, marriages, visits to the Uganda-Congo interior borderlands, CIA involvement, and more...stuff.

As you can tell, this was not my favorite book, mostly, I suppose, because I am not sure what the point was. Which in fact, may have been the point - that the fragmentation of society in modern west Africa, and the resulting "every man for himself" attitude, has turned the region into an unpredictable mess. If that was the point, it made an OK but unspectacular read.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Books read this year: 2
Pages: 758
New authors: None

Best book of the year so far - still All the Light We Cannot See.

Looking ahead, I am deep into another book that is shaping up to be a fantastic read...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review - All the Light We Cannot See

As far as books go, I have begun 2015 with what will probably end up being a strong contender for my favorite book of the year, no matter how many more I read. Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014) is a captivating 530 pages.

Set primarily during World War 2 and the years leading up to it, the book traces the lives of a handful of different people, and is told from each of their varying perspectives. It is a compelling page turner full of well developed characters, and is constructed in a very interesting way. The book is comprised of a multitude of short chapters, generally not more than 2-3 pages each. The chapters bounce from person to person, and jump backwards and forwards on the timeline. Working your way through the story gives glimpses of the climax, the beginnings, and the development of the plot, all intermingled. It is like reading a 500 page puzzle where the pieces are placed for you, one by one, in a seemingly random but actually very calculated manner. While you are given glimpses early on of where things are headed, and it is relatively easy to make certain deductions, it is the unravelling (the journey to get there) that helps to make the book so fascinating.

The characters are compelling and include French civilians (prewar and occupied France), as well as Germans who begin as children in prewar Nazi Germany and end up as soldiers. Eventually all the pieces come together in occupied St Malo, France in 1944. It is about people being molded by the time and place in which they live. About some people taking advantage of war, and others being taken advantage of by it. It's about fear, duty, obligation, perseverance, love, kindness and cruelty.

Brilliant book. Very highly recommended. 5 stars out of 5. A National Book Award finalist for a very good reason.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Years Day Hike

Well, it's 15 hours into 2015 and purely by chance I have taken a step toward addressing a few things I would liked to have done more of in 2014 - I went for a hike and found 5 geocaches along the way.
Ready to set out

Dave texted me yesterday that he and Leo were planning on trying to get in a day hike today somewhere not too far from home and asked if I wanted to go. We didn't have anything specific planned at home, so I said "sure." Within a few hours of that we had a plan to meet at my house at 9:30 this morning and drive an hour down I-95 to Susquehanna State Park in Maryland, where we would have a number of different trail options to choose from to cobble together a 6-8 mile hike, and still be home by 3-ish.
Along the Susquehanna River

After a little New Years Eve celebrating last night and getting to bed at around 1:15am, I was questioning the wisdom of my choice, especially given that the high was only supposed to be around 35 degrees.
Beaver damage

As it turned out, the excessive layering options I brought along weren't necessary, as it was a sunny cold day, but not Arctic by any means. The first 2.5 miles or so were along the banks of the river on an old rails-to-trails trail that was like walking on a sidewalk. The gurgle of the water over the little sections of rapids was peaceful. At one point there were a grove of trees with obvious beaver damage, but they looked older and not very recent.
Giant American Beech

Getting away from the water, the remainder of the hike was on parts of the Deer Creek and Susquehanna Ridge trails, along with some of the connector trails. Plain forest in the winter (with the occasional glimpses of roads and civilization) isn't always the most beautiful kind of hiking, but it was great to get out.
Even bigger White Oak

Highlights of the hike (besides for the river views) were a pair of amazing old specimen trees; a giant American Beech and a 200+ year old White Oak. Gorgeous.
Ridge top river view

When all was said and done, we had covered a fairly leisurely 7.0 miles, found five geocaches including an earthcache, and were back home at my house by 3:30pm. It was a very nice day, and a good start to the new year.