Sunday, December 07, 2008

This American Life vs. the MP3-CD

There is this show on NPR called "This American Life" that I have been listening to for years. I have 104 podcasts of the show saved in various places, and it is one of the weekly shows I put on my iPod Shuffle for listening to during commutes to and from work (through my radio's auxiliary input, mind you, not headphones), and during my daily walks at lunchtime. I enjoy Ira Glass' interview style, the topics of the show, and the recurring guest speakers such as Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris. The show is more refreshing than Terry Gross' interviews on "Fresh Air", and more substantive (and sometimes almost as funny) as "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" with Peter Sagal, Carl Kasell, and various panelists. There are interesting and bizarre things I never would have heard of without this show, La Pulcina Piccola, a finger puppet opera about Chicken Little (, check it out), and summer camps run by the Israeli military that let young girls fire live ammo (here), to name a couple.

So I have these in-laws now that are pretty cool. They, like all the girls in their family, are artsy, and I heard a story about the dad, Steve, giving one of the girls a present of a book or CD that had to do with Garrison Keillor of "A Prairie Home Companion" fame, so they're familiar with things NPR already. With Christmas coming up, I thought hey, how cool would it be to give them a present of a bunch of This American Life burned to CD? The only problem is, they don't have a computer to speak of to play mp3s, and their home audio system is older, and hence probably can't play mp3s burned to CD. My 104 hour-long shows burned in audio disk format would take around 78 CDs... and may still not play in their home system if it is only compatible with Red Book CDs and not CD-R. That's a bad plan. "Here, Mom and Dad Allerding, here's a crate full of CDs, and some cork and glue in case you need to just turn them into coasters." No, what I needed was something as an accessory that was reasonably priced, portable, and could play MP3 CDs.

What's in fashion now in portable audio are boomboxes you can plug an iPod into, or mp3 players that require interfacing to a computer to load up on files. Since most people have computers with net access these days, or cell phones that you can download songs over the cell network, there is a very small market for CD players that can read mp3 files off of the disk. I managed to find one that was inexpensive and had good reviews on Amazon, but with one reviewer saying the following about it, which was relevant:

Not great for podcasts, otherwise fine

I picked this product up specifically for playing MP3 podcasts burnt to a CD. The podcasts play, but are cut off part of the way through. They are usually an hour long each and seem to cut short about halfway through. I'm wondering if it has a max length it can play for a single mp3 before it freaks and skips to the next one.

Anyway, since that was the primary reason I purchased it, I'm a bit disappointed. Otherwise it seems like a good product.

OK, so I won't order that off of Amazon. I shelved the idea for a few days, and this Saturday I went out doing my final round of Christmas shopping and stopped by Target. In the electronics department, I immediately found a boombox for $40 that said it could play MP3-CDs, the Memorex MP-4047. "Hot damn!" thought I, and I bought it along with some blank CDs, and went home to burn some podcasts.

Along the way, I got nervous about the one Amazon review, and looked it back up to see what product he was reviewing. Unsurprisingly, it was the Memorex MP-4047. So before I gave a well meaning but utterly useless gift, I decided to check one of the CDs I had just burned to see if it had the problem the Amazon guy spoke of. Sadly, it did. There were some files that had some clips in them, and they skipped to the next track after about 20 minutes. One file clipped less frequently, and skipped to the next track after about 30 minutes, and a few played through all the way without any problems.

I did an Internet search on the player, finding lots of retail outlets selling it, the Amazon reviews copied across multiple sites verbatim, and nothing else. The thriving community of Linux geeks were no help, since, again, there is no market for this type of device. I downloaded the manual from (so I didn't have to break the seal on the printed manual, and I could still make the player look the the box had never been opened), and went to its troubleshooting section. There was no mention of limitations on mp3 files, no max or min bitrate, max song length, nothing.

Left to my own devices, and thinking like a programmer being rushed to get a product out the door that no one will ever use, I conjectured that each time there was an audible clip in the file the boombox was playing, it incremented an error counter. Once the error counter reached a given number, the file was aborted. This makes sense on 5 minute songs, as they would sound like crap if, say, 25 clips were encountered before the song ended. An hour-long podcast with a chirp every minute or two is a different animal, though; you can ignore the anomalies, and be really interested in the conclusion of the discussion. Having the player abort before you got to the punchline of an hour long show... that would really suck.

There were a number of approaches I could have taken at this point. I could have split each mp3 file into 10 minute chunks, assuming that no 10-minute file would contain enough errors to cause an abort. I could convert the files into the other file format the MP-4047 supports, WMA files. Lastly, I could re-sample the mp3s with something that had good bitrate and sound level control. I did the latter, since there was less file manipulation and research involved, using the "lame" application (an anagram that stands for "Lame Ain't an Mp3 Encoder") on my Linux box, forcing the files to mono and 44.1 kHz using the following command line:

for x in *.mp3; do lame --mp3input -m m --resample 44.1 $x /home/curtis/Desktop/resamples/$x; done

Having 100 files to go through, and each hour-long file taking roughly 3 minutes to resample, I had some time on my hands, so I went to the store to buy some more baking materials for Liberty's project to bake two complete iterations of Amish Friendship Bread in one day -- 16 loaves -- so that she can give them out as presents and bring some to potlucks.

I spent a grand total of 4 hours listening to the first disk I burned with the new files. There were no audible clips in the podcasts, and all of them played to completion. Success!

So I did two things this weekend of note: I crossed my in-laws off of my Christmas shopping list, and applied my universal problem solving algorithm to a problem that had previously flown under the radar of my geek brethren. Plus I've been chowin' on friendship bread all day. All-around good weekend. And to the Allerding family and friends who stumble across this prior to Christmas... Shhhh!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gifts for Stacey

Stacey is 12 now, playing on her school's basketball team, looking grown-up and acting independent. She has a circle of acquaintances that I have never met; I see her talking to some of them when I have reason to be in her school -- when I volunteered at the book fair, or when I attend an orchestra or choir concert, or a basketball game. She is not at the top tier in the school's pecking order, and doesn't strive to be. The girls she fought with for dominance for so many years have gone their separate ways, and Stacey is at a point where she has a lot of opportunity, and few things weighing her down.

She can sing. She can dance. She can play various sports. She can argue... boy, can she argue. She is not afraid of math, or contributing in class, or of social shunning for being smart. Stacey is tall, and beautiful, and is becoming more classy and discerning every month now. And though she has grown away from total dependence on me, doesn't base her self-worth on my opinions, and is likely to say "no, I don't want to go with you dad, go by yourself" for whatever event, we have managed to find our bond again and love and support each other the way only a father and daughter can. Our relationship went through a rocky period this year, but we had a strong foundation to weather the storm.

I'm so proud of her and her growth that I have a hard time writing about her, as I get too emotional and stop making sense. In her childhood, I did my best to support Stacey in her efforts to explore all life has to offer, friendships, the arts, sports, the sciences. I believed in her, believed that her brilliant mind and her love of life and people would win out over the challenges she faced -- when in school the answers stopped leaping off the page at her, when her longtime classmates stopped inviting her to their parties, when the other soccer players started to get better field awareness and stronger shots than she did, when she started to be less eager to go to voice lessons or dance class.

I knew she was strong enough to get through all the challenges and setbacks, to find her voice, to deny apathy a foothold in her heart, to remember how interesting the world is and how much it wants her to explore. But during the worst of it, I was afraid. She and I had grown cool towards each other, her schoolwork started to slip, the TV was on more and more. The shining dream she had of being the pediatric cardio-specialist, confident, dependable, loved and respected by all, started to fade. I felt helpless, and my efforts to encourage her to keep trying were rebuked.

In the end, our love for each other stayed stronger than the problems. She turned the corner academically, socially, and physically. Best of all, she did it herself, on her own terms, at her own pace, when she decided her wounds had healed enough, and it was time to get back in the game. So, I guess it's not my job any more to kiss her skinned knees and tell her to watch out for the mean kids [figuratively -- I never did either of those things literally], but to let her know that I still believe in her, and that I'll love her no matter how the endgame plays out.

I recently went to Amazon's "gift organizer" and identified who all my purchases over the last decade were for. The process took me from the current date backwards to 1999, one purchase at a time, and it got me feeling pretty nostalgic. Over the last few years, there were plenty of items going to extended family and friends... Liberty has some stuff, little Scout, Uncle Bill, my mentee Dave, some members of the old church group I was in, extended family. The further back I went, the more I found that everything was for either me or Stacey. During the time my life consisted of only Stacey, work, and emptiness, I bought a lot of books for myself to keep sane. And for Stacey, a few trinkets here and there, and mainly books. Amazingly, there were only ten dates that I purchased items for Stacey from Amazon. I thought I used them a lot more, but I guess online shopping never quite replaced the instinct to go out to a real store and handle the wares you want before you buy them.

Here are all of the items I have ever bought for Stacey from, and the dates I bought them:

Nov 27, 1999, "And if the Moon Could Talk" (book). This is the first bedtime story I ever bought Stacey. She was 3 years and 3 months old. Her mother and I were still together, but it was clear that our marriage was on its last leg. She and I broke up 2 months later. I first read the book to Stacey at the apartment I moved into. She and I shared a bedroom for about a year, with her bed immediately beside mine. It faced a kid's bookshelf that I bought for her, and filled with lots of Doctor Seuss and Madeleine books, her favorites. At bedtime, she would get under the covers, examine the bookshelf carefully, then throw off her blankets, run and grab the book she wanted, and get in bed with me and snuggle up to listen to me read it. After that I would put her back in her own bed and tuck her in, where she would contentedly fall asleep. For the first few months at the new place, more often than not I would wake up with her back in my bed.

Sep 23, 2000, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (book). There was a large gap in time, close to a year, between the first and second purchases for Stacey, but I still preferred to look for things in stores back then, and if I was getting something out of the blue for Stacey, I made sure she was with me to help pick it out. She liked the Grinch story from the animated version we had on VHS (still a popular format in 2000) that had Boris Karloff as the Grinch, however we couldn't find the book version of this story in the local bookstores, so I gave buying from the Internet another whirl... Along with watching various VHS tapes with Stacey, I was also going nuts with my new Tivo then, recording lots of Blue's Clues, Rolie Polie Olie, Bear in the Big Blue House, Rugrats (pre "All Grown Up!"), Wild Thornberrys, As Told By Ginger (my favorite), and Madeleine (her favorite) TV shows. We spent a lot of afternoons out doing stuff, playing at the park down the street, buying craft gear to make bead animals and felt art projects, playing at the local mall's play area, and then we spent a lot of nights after we got home with her sitting in my lap watching whatever had recorded that day on the Tivo. The Grinch book made it to our bedtime story shelf, and got read a few times, but didn't displace the favorites for little 4 year old Stacey: Sneetches, and Madeleine's Rescue.

Nov 11, 2000, "Measuring Penny" (book). Stacey was still in a play-based daycare at age 4, and never went to a true pre-school. I had no intention of pushing her to be a focused, driven, and crazy student at a high-class multi-thousand dollar tuition primary school, either. However, we enjoyed playing brain games. At age 4, I had taught her, using circles drawn on a whiteboard at my work, how fractions work... divide a circle into 4 parts, and shade in two of them, and you've filled up one half of the circle... 1/2 = 2/4. She also played a lot of preschool computer games, solved puzzles on (back before they got weird and started charging money to play), and we used to love this card game that was basically nouns that you would deal out a few of and tell a story based on. She quickly changed from making up stories like "There was a carrot, and it turned into a car, and it turned into ice cream" to "After I ate my CARROT, I was still hungry, so I got in my CAR and went to the store to buy ICE CREAM." "Measuring Penny" is a book about a girl who measures her dog as a homework assignment in about a dozen ways, how fast it runs, how much it weighs, how long the nose and tail are, etc. It taught concepts like standard and nonstandard units (Penny's tail is one biscuit long, for example) and that there are many properties things have that can have numbers assigned to them. It was not part of my master plan to put Stacey in front of lots of things like this that have "educational value", whatever that means. I specifically avoided exposing her to a lot of things that had a claim of educational greatness... Dora, for example, which is crap. If it's crap, you won't learn anything. Measuring Penny was not crap, it was fun. For us, learning about the world and about numbers was always spontaneous, natural, and unplanned. Because I never forced things like this on her, letting her choose what book to read or what game to play, she never resisted them, and never grew to think of learning or using your brain as a chore.

Jun 4, 2001, "Angelina Ballerina" (book). I got this for Stacey after we saw a stuffed Angelina doll in a store at the mall, and I explained that the character came from a popular kids book... which was naturally not at the bookstore. Stacey, nearing her fifth birthday, had been in a ballet class I enrolled her in for a few months, and was having a great time. I wanted Stacey to have the same experience in classes like this that kids from non-broken homes had, kids who had moms who had taken dance before, who knew where to go to get dance clothes, who knew the unwritten rules of suburban elitism. As a single dad, I knew none of this, so I went out and researched what some basic ballet positions were, what dance clothes were needed, what the different shoes were, and how to do hair. I could already do a simple braid with Stacey's hair, and had experimented with pigtails, and many small braids, but that was about it. I couldn't french-braid or do a ballet bun, so I learned both of those. I had always been antisocial, so I learned how to talk to people during this time. There was some confusion and anxiety when the other parents didn't know what to make of me, and I wasn't sure if I was "doing it right" as far as smalltalk and when to compliment or acknowledge someone else's kid. I felt, as I have often in life, like an autistic trying to mimic strange behavior and emotions that I didn't understand. I got better at it, and later in life become almost natural about talking to people. I got invited to some suburban parties, joined and participated in a church group, started inviting the neighbors over to dinner, and felt good about myself and how I handled myself socially. Being a better people person, I was able to leverage my new likeable self and my geek skills into a steady series of promotions and job offers, ending in the present day with double the salary I was making when Stacey and I bought this book. The spark was wanting her to have an enriched childhood. I wanted that bad enough to fight against my social anxieties. I struggled against them, and made myself a better man, and it was the love that Stacey invokes in me that set it all in motion. My princess. I hope I never let you down.

Jul 8, 2001, "The Great Kapok Tree" and "The Shaman's Apprentice" (books). Stacey and I went on a little hippie kick shortly before her fifth birthday. These are both picture books written by the same author, Lynne Cherry, that are set in the Amazon rainforest. The Great Kapok Tree is about all the life that is dependent on Kapoks (giant trees comparable in size to a football field), how fragile the ecosystem is, and a plea for conservationism. In the story, a sleepy logger takes a nap and dreams about all the animals who will have no homes if he cuts down the tree he is working on. The Shaman's Apprentice is about the real medicinal properties of plants, and how Amazon Shamans have been using them successfully to treat various ailments common to local villagers, and how a certain Western doctor went back to plants to help fight a disease. Good reads, both.

Nov 11, 2001, "Buddy" and "Fly Away Home" (VHS). I bought these on behalf of my computer-illiterate mother so that she could give them to Stacey for Christmas presents. They are both loosely based on true stories. "Buddy" is based on the life of Gertrude Lintz and the Gorillas she tried to raise as her children, clothed and eating at the table with forks and knives. The part about her selling Buddy to the circus where he was marketed as ferocious and hating humans, and his painful last years with untreated skin conditions, rotting teeth, and death from double pneumonia were conspicuously absent from the movie. "Fly Away Home" is based on Bill Lishman teaching a flock of geese a new migration pattern by leading them with his ultralight plane. Fantastic story, really. In the movie, however, he was given a moderately attractive and precocious daughter, Amy, who had raised the geese from birth, and it was she herself who flew the ultralight on the multi-legged migration from Canada to North Carolina. The movie was also completely Disnified, with a backstory of Amy's mother having died, her moving to live with her estranged father, the evil game warden who wants to pinion the geese's wings, etc., etc. My opinion is that entertainment shouldn't butcher a true story. But these weren't my presents, they were my mom's, and Stacey enjoyed watching them with her. Stacey and she have always been close, and they look so happy together that I'm only mildy annoyed at all the hillbilly that my mom exposes Stacey to, and I mostly don't think about the fact that mom really wanted a girl.

Dec 7, 2002, "Pretty Pretty Princess Dress-Up Board Game". This was a Christmas present that was geared towards Stacey bringing out at sleepovers. She was 6, having a great time in the first grade, and I was integrating myself into the inner circle of her elementary school by volunteering to teach computer classes to 4th and 5th graders, chatting with the office staff whenever I could, cooking for school parties, and volunteering as much as a man could for Stacey's Brownie troop. I had just moved back into the house that May after my ex-wife moved out of it. I reacquainted myself with my neighbors, relearned how to mow, found the appliance manuals, a roofer, a plumber, and a painter, and went about making the house livable again. Life was good. Stacey had lots of little friends, went to a lot of birthday parties, and the other parents liked Stacey, and accepted me as an involved parent. The kids thought of me as the cool dad, and lots of neighbor kids were always over playing with Stacey in her play room. And, we began to host sleepovers where around 4 - 6 kids would show up. We all went out to see movies, or out for pizza, and I always had a giant breakfast waiting for the kids when they woke up. "Pretty Pretty Princess," however, went mainly unused.

Nov 20, 2003, "OshKosh Multi-Color Stripe Turtleneck". Predictably, this item is no longer for sale, being 5 years out of fashion, and I was not even able to find a picture of it anywhere. Such is the nature of kids' clothes. My sense of style is very plain. Most of my clothes for most of my life have been solid color blues and greys, few logos, few flourishes. When I look back at some of my earlier attempts at business clothes, I'm thoroughly embarrassed: short-sleeved button down shirts, a thin solid-colored tie with a four-in-hand knot, no blazer, cheap Dockers, and Florsheims with the bottom scuffed up because they were too expensive to replace. Look ma! I'm a businessman!!1! Seven years old is where it started to be difficult for me to get good clothes for Stacey. Prior to that, JC Penney, Lands End, and Children's Place, and anything that didn't look completely stupid to me was well received by Stacey and her peers. At seven was where styles started to form, and where it was clear who's parents were willing to shell out cheddar to dress their kids as future high-society socialites, who wanted their girls to grow up to drive trucks or join the roller derby, who weren't going to stop their girls from the path to teen pregnancy and dancing a pole, and who wanted their girl to feel pretty without looking pretentious. I was the latter category, naturally. Stacey didn't have strong preferences, and was basically willing to try whatever I thought looked nice. As the years went on, my opinion on clothes (and any other topic) carried less weight, and Stacey developed her own style. It was, thankfully, conservative. Another thing to be thankful for is the relationship Stacey has with Liberty now. She is the hip, younger influence who knows fashion inside and out. She helps Stacey navigate the tween girls clothing landscape, to avoid the trashy, the whoreish, the pastel, the boy band worship, and other ill-conceived outfits and accessories. Not that my input would be bad, just that Liberty's is an order of magnitude better. And better received. In 2003 it was just me and her, though, and we didn't do so bad.

Feb 16, 2006, "The Boy Who Reversed Himself" (book). Stacey was ten when I bought this, and a few months away from finishing the fifth grade. A geek message board I hang out in was having a discussion about science fiction books for kids, and a lot of people reporting liking William Sleator books a lot. The summary of "The Boy Who Reversed Himself" sounded a lot like a couple TV show Stacey and I watched a few years earlier, Strange Days at Blake Holsey High, and Eerie Indiana. So I bought it, and Stacey thought it sounded neat, but never read it. I still see it once in a while on a bookshelf or laying on the floor in a pile of stuff. I even read a couple chapters myself... basically there's a kid who can move into the fourth dimension, which causes him to re-emerge in normal space reversed, and he gets into some shenanigans. This year Stacey was having a hard time all around. I was a bear to live with, having been without a true mate for six years, her peers in extracurriculars were specializing and developing strong skills, and she was muddled down with viola, voice, soccer, dance, girl scouts, the "Able and Talented" special math program, adjusting to life with braces, struggling with increasingly difficult schoolwork and increasingly apathetic teachers, and watching me be disowned by all the friends I asked to testify on my behalf in my divorce. The miracle is that she didn't crack, with all the pressure she was under. She lost some friends, and dropped out of scouts, the divorce ended and her mom and I manage to work together quite well now, and her mom stepped up and gave Stacey an extra level of love and support. She got through it, and because she did I now believe she can do anything. Ten years old and dealing with all that shit at once. Think about it. There wasn't any energy left for her in '06 year for casual reading of kids' sci-fi books, thereby preventing her from falling down the rabbit hole of geeky subculture for a little longer.

Dec 3, 2007, "Super Mario Galaxy" (Wii game), "Brain Age", "Imagine:Babyz", and "American Girl: Julie Finds a Way" (DS games), and "The Settlers of Catan" (board game). This was Stacey's entire Christmas gift list last year, minus a couple gift cards. I was consumed with woo-ing Liberty last December, and she married me a few months later. I did spend some effort on the gift list, though. My mentee, Dave, who is active in the video game subculture, identified Super Mario Galaxy as the coolest Wii game out that season, and I think he was right. It deliberately plays with your sense of orientation and perspective, much the way Dragon Hunters does (click the link and watch the video on the bottom... it's wild). She got a DS the year before, and had specifically requested the Babyz game when we visited a Game Stop one Saturday. She had received an American Girl present each Christmas or Birthday for the last several years, and I found an American Girl DS game that didn't seem like complete crap. Brain Age was popular then, Dave showed it to me on his DS and I liked it, and thought Stacey would, too. Lastly, Settlers of Catan, a German-style board game. It has the potential to be fun, and Stacey, Liberty, and I sat down to play it once and enjoyed it. Now all we need is time where Stacey isn't at some extracurricular, Liberty isn't at work, school, or preoccupied with Scout (and I love Scout, at close to four years old, she's just not board-game friendly yet), and all of us have the urge to sit down and talk to each other. It happens, but not every week. Stacey was into Babyz for a while, and I got into Galaxy a little bit myself, and it still occasionally comes out when there are guests over.

So that was last Christmas, the beginning of the modern era in my life with Stacey, she and I both adjusting to living with Liberty and Scout, she learning the ropes of middle school, noticing that boys notice her, being asked to dances, remembering that she's smart and capable, remembering that she's loved and wanted, building new skills (such as basketball -- who knew? I'll have to write more on that as the season progresses this year), and, as I mentioned at the beginning, making new friends that I've never met, whose parents I've never met. She's growing up, and continuing to amaze and delight me, and I'm so, so glad that I'm there to watch it happen.

So thanks, Amazon, for the trip down memory lane. It helped me remember how awesome my kid is, and how much we've been through together. It didn't help me remember how much I love her, though, that's something I never forget.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How to speak in public, heart attack free

For me, the answer was look at your notes and speak slowly, imagining a toddler curled up beside you listening to her bedtime story instead of the room full of sharply dressed financial decision makers expecting an eloquent epilogue before they pull out their checkbooks.

Allow me to explain.

I have been working with Northwest Counseling and the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio for the last 5 years, volunteering as a mentor, speaking at new mentor orientations, and attempting to recruit new volunteers.  Over the years, I've received a "Commended Mentor" award at a ritzy dinner at the capital building (which included meeting Archie Griffin, and also receiving an award by proxy for AEP and posing for a publicity photo with a group of financial contributors, since the scheduled representative for AEP was double booked), attended events such as "family fun day" at the RPAC rec center at OSU, participated with my mentee, Dave, in building houses with Habitat for Humanity and attended their celebration events, received free tickets to museums and sporting events... it's been a lot of fun.  My visibility in the organization has increased over time, and they turn to me and Dave more now for an example of what a good mentoring relationship looks like, the effect on the life of an at-risk child a mentor can have, and, recently, as a spokesman.

I have never prided myself on public speaking.  I can read stories to kids, teach classes to groups of 20 or less on subjects I have expertise in, participate in group discussions of the book club/church group variety, and lately I've expanded to conducting an awards ceremony for 11 girls and their families on the soccer team I coached this fall season.  But that's it as far as speaking in public goes, and the last one nearly gave me a panic attack.  What I was subjected to last month, however, nearly had me give up the ghost.

A couple months ago, I got a phone call from my contact at Northwest Counseling asking if I would be interested in speaking at Columbus State Community College at a breakfast to talk about my work with Dave over the years.  "Yeah, sure," says I.  Over the next month, I interacted with a couple other people from the Mentoring Center to go over what I would say.  I submitted a rough draft of my talking points to them, and they turned that into vaguely corny prose that I planned to clean up ad lib at the podium.  Everything was swell, and I thought it odd that they went through this much trouble instead of just asking me to show up and speak off the cuff, like I do at new mentor orientations.

In reality, I had not received a crucial piece of information that would have put everything in perspective, possibly changing my original "yeah, sure" answer to something else: the target audience.  My assumption was that I would be speaking to students at Columbus State at a recruiting drive.  They would be disinterested, eating their food, texting, looking at their watches, and bolting for the door when the event was over.

The event was nothing like that.  No, it was a fundraiser with various local businesses with big philanthropy budgets.

Dave and I showed up wearing what we normally do on days we go out, jeans, sneakers, what have you, and when we got to the building we noticed that there were no college students milling about, but lots of people in business wear.  Very nice, tailored business wear.  Ties with perfect Windsors with a nice dimple in the middle, nothing that looked off the rack, polished shoes, the whole 9 yards.  All told there were around 50 - 75 people in the room.

So we start out looking like we don't fit in, and then I find out that Dave and I are the last speakers before the closer, meaning whatever we have to say will be ringing fresh in all the CFO ears in the room when they decide how much they want to contribute to mentoring in Columbus.  I was nervous.  Not nervous like my car is sliding on the ice nervous, or asking for a raise nervous, or the first time the wife sees you nekkid nervous, or even the choking on stage nervous.  This was a recurrence of the deep inner conflict that I struggle with on occasion:  Am I one of them?  Am I in their league?  My being dressed casual to the counterpoint of their business dress only added fuel to the fire.  Who am I trying to fool?  These people can see that I'm a big flake, putting on airs like I think I'm worth some kind of respect instead of fetching their water.

So I got up to the microphone, and most of the panic came over me in a wave, and I had to close my eyes and breathe for a few seconds.  I didn't recite the litany against fear from Dune, and I didn't have a magical hallucination of Stacey smiling at me and saying "I believe in you, daddy," or anything like that.  I just calmed myself down a little, tried not to think about the large crowd staring at me, and stuck mainly to the notes.  I spoke, I got through it without choking, and I received a smattering of polite applause.

Dave, being younger and not having self-worth tied to his performance at the breakfast, did much better... "Um, yeah, I'm Dave, I've been hangin' with Curtis for a long time now, he's cool...." He helped me relax, and we had some comic banter during his speech.  "Curtis, how come you didn't invite me to your wedding?"  Me with a shocked look, "Hey!  We eloped!  It was just the two of us," to much laughter and nice round of applause when he finished and we took our seats again.  The confidence of youth for the win.

I still don't know if I'm "one of them", and I took a lesson from Dave in his brazenly being true to himself, "and if that ain't good enough for you, sit on it" approach to life.  That's who I was at his age, and my trying to conform and be accepted, the very thing I railed against in my own youth, managed to creep its way deep into my soul.  Thanks for helping me understand that, man, and for the reminder of who I'm really supposed to be.  Sure, I'll speak again if I'm asked to, I'll even ask who the audience is and dress appropriately, but I'll stick to just telling my story in a way that's good enough for me, not for them.  They'll either like it or they won't.  They'll either accept me or not, and I'll still love myself the same way regardless of the outcome.

The final result?  After the breakfast was winding down, I went around and said my goodbyes to the people in the room I knew, and several people in the audience went out of their way to grab me and Dave and shake our hands, and tell us how much our story meant to them.  A few weeks later, I received a letter from a Mentoring Center contact on their official letterhead saying how happy they were with what I did, and the effect the story had on everyone, and at least one of the attendees saying it was her favorite part of the event.  The letter came with a nice gift card to a local restaurant, where Dave and I will be hanging out this weekend.

Moral of the story?  Being yourself wins the day.  Dave's apathy to the audience, and them seeing us interact in a way that was honest, natural, and funny, was the sell.  He mentioned casually that he wouldn't be in as good shape as he is now without a mentor who stuck with him.  Nothing I could have said, no amount of rehearsing, getting clothes pressed, relaxation exercises, practice in front of large crowds, triumphing over inner demons, none of that would have trumped this one simple idea.  "Here I am, happy and alive, and here is a big part of why."

Right back at you, Dave.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rested and healed... just in time for the upcoming apocalypse

It's amazing what a couple weeks off from soccer and a few good nights' sleep will do for you. My attitude towards life in general has improved, so has my energy level, and the aches and pains are abating, the abrasions healing, and the pumpkins are carved for Samhain.

I've been listening to a lot of NPR coverage of the crazy financial crisis (including the great shows Fresh Air, and This American Life), and reading through towers of information on Wikipedia, starting here. Through my intensive research and analysis, I have come up with a completely random, unbacked guess as to the underlying issue and it's direct, tragic, consequence:

The U.S. has too much debt. A crisis of some sort would have manifested soon, regardless. If 9/11 didn't happen, if sub-prime lending didn't happen, if credit default swaps were correctly classified as insurance and regulated, if short selling were banned, if the commercial paper market hadn't run dry, if several banks hadn't gone bankrupt, if the stock market hadn't crashed... if none of that happened, the crisis would still have manifested itself in other ways. In other ways just as shocking and destructive. Too much debt. Too many games with money and no real product. For example:

I have a lot of Wachovia bonds, a billion dollars worth, in fact. Wachovia has been in the news a little, and I'm worried that maybe, some time down the line, they won't be able to pay me the interest on my bonds. To hedge that risk, I want to buy a credit default swap (hereafter CDS). I go down to Jane's CDS shop and say "Give me $1 billion if AIG goes under". Jane says "Sure, that will be $2 million per month." Since that's less than the interest I'm making on my Wachovia bonds, I say "Deal", and sign the papers... and watch the market.

Wachovia has a bad quarter, and people are worried that they might go under, including my buddy Bob, who has the same amount of Wachovia bonds as I do. After a tearful, panicked lunch with Bob, I offer to sell him a CDS for his Wachovia bonds. "I'll guarantee you $1 billion if Wachovia defaults on your bonds, for the low cost of $3 million per month". He thinks it over, and says "Deal".

At this point, I'm spending $2 million per month, but bringing in $3 million, and the $1 billion I'd have to pay Bob will be coming from Jane, I'd just have to countersign the check. So now I sell my Wachovia bonds for their current market value, quit my job, and go stock up my bomb shelter with the assets I just liquidated. I'm making $1 million monthly, and have no assets at risk, and no government oversight. Except, I'll owe Bob $1 billion if Wachovia goes under, and I can only afford to pay him that if Jane makes good on her end of the deal.

Things can get more complicated than that, Bob can become an insurer if things get worse, and Jane may have bought a CDS on the cheap from another insurer when Wachovia was making money hand over fist. And it's possible that the point of entry to all this, the source of the $1 billion, should it ever be needed, won't have it. Maybe they've made a lot of bad loans to risky homebuyers who have a history of not paying their credit cards on time, or have rotated minimum wage jobs 5 times in the last year. If Wachovia ever can't pay their bond holders, that could be, like the bullet that killed Franz Ferdinand, the shot heard 'round the world, collapsing all the intermediate companies that will owe their $1 billion to someone.

Ever play Jenga? It's like that. In my opinion, which is worth about nothing since I'm a computer programmer, not a market analyst or financial wizard of any sort, is that something was going to happen now, regardless of whether these specific tragedies were in play, because of all the debt and crazy interdependencies.

Oh, and my 401k is in the shitter, and possibly my dream of early retirement. But since I make my money with my brain and not my back, I can stay employed as long as my brain holds out... or as long as I can fake it, so I'm not worried about survival, just disappointed at all the world traveling I won't be doing.

In closing, it's a good thing I'm all healed up, in case the end times come, and I need to be a little more medieval in my survival strategy. Plus, that should make it a piece of cake to finally lose that pesky last 5 pounds.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Last games of the season

Stacey's soccer team ended the season on sort of a sour note, we lost our last game, making our record 5 - 3 - 2, losing 3 out of our last 4 games. I'm not sure what happened, but we still ended up with a winning record, and the girls had a blast at the end of the season pizza party.

We met at Donatos Westerville (a store I managed back in the day), where Jim treated the girls to a few pizzas, and I passed out the participation trophies, WASA 30th anniversary pennants, and my own creation: personalized acrylic plaques, made by the same guy who did my custom Christmas ornaments last year.

The plaques sit in a base that has blue LEDs, and the light illuminates the plaque, making the frosted areas appear blue. Each girl's plaque had her name on it, a nickname, and something positive that they contributed to the team... "Best passing", "Leading scorer", "Fastest reactions", etc. Here's an example of the template I used for Stacey's:

From U12 Playbook

The girls found it pretty cool, I think, as I went around the table handing out the items and saying something about each player and why I was happy she was on the team. The only sour note about the affair was my inability to keep calm, and still my hands from shaking. I did some breathing exercises to calm my voice, but my body betrayed my nervousness. Oh well, should be easier next time.

The soccer team I play on, the Raiderz, finished the season with a win. I played while still chasing a cold, and struggled to catch my breath for the entirety of my field time. I made no good plays, and half of my touches on the ball ended up going right back towards the opponent I tried to steal from. One of the defense subs injured his leg during the game, so I tried to stay in, even though I was underperforming. Horrible, but we pulled off a 3-2 win without much difficulty.

After the game the players camped out under a shelter, drank some brew, and chatted for about an hour. I had an energy drink in lieu of beer, and enjoyed the banter, contributing a little here and there. I guess I'm mellowing in my old age, because those situations usually get under my skin for some reason. Either I don't like watching everyone drink, or I find their conversation predictable and ignorant. Not so, this time, or the last few parties I've been to with Liberty's family and friends. Just people talking about whatever comes to mind, relaxing, playing party games, with no one to impress. Things don't need to be fantastical to hold my interest these days, which I'm thankful for. In the long run, that will make me seem like less of a pretentious ass.

This winter, neither I nor Stacey will participate in any indoor soccer. I need to heal from being banged up the last few months, and I couldn't drum up enough interest from the other girls' parents to form a complete U-12 team. Just as well, a little less activity will help as Stacey's schoolwork gets harder, and I can return to a regular training program instead of healing during the week from Sunday's injuries.

In other news, I'm in a lot of pain right now. My legs hurt when I walk (soccer induced, no doubt), my back is growing some sort of painful red mark, and I've only been sleeping about 4 hours a night for the past couple of weeks. I've been unsupportive of my girls at home, disinterested, abrupt. In the mirror I look old, and I have a hard time mustering a smile most of the time. I need to rest and heal, and have the support of my immediate family to pull me back up to my feet. Hopefully things will get better soon.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Navratri, Dancing, and Time Travel

So I had this dream the other night that was in the vein of the enjoyable, and predictably cancelled TV show, Journeyman, and the very similar book, "The Time Traveler's Wife". The dream was as follows:

I was driving my car over to my science mentor, who has helped me research and deal with my curse of spontaneous time travel. At some point during the drive, I time traveled back to a time before he and I had ever met, and only realized this as I pulled into his driveway.

When I knocked on his door, he answered, but didn't recognize me, and quickly became agitated. He chased me away, and I ran off of his property (what happened to my car isn't clear) only to have my roommate, Bill, show up suddenly in his car. I hopped in, and the two of us beat a hasty retreat. I was confused, as Bill not only knew to be there, and as far as I knew he wasn't one of my circle of confidants about my "condition", and additionally he was driving the car he owns in the present.

"How did you know to be here? What's going on?"

"I can't tell you yet, I'm involved in the plot," was his reply. Freaky. A dream that breaks the fourth wall with a wink to the audience.

So off we drove, to my old apartment down on Proprietors Road in Worthington, where my self from that time lived. This led me to believe that the year the action was taking place was between 1985 and 1989. As we got closer to the apartment, it became increasingly clear that something was amiss in the timeline. The city had a very third world feel to it, there were police checkpoints everywhere, and an auspicious barricade manned with officers at the entrance to the apartment complex my self from the time of action lived.

At that point, I theorized that a small change had taken place much earlier that caused the timeline to get this distorted, and led to the police actively searching for me in the late 80's. I intuited that the small change probably happened 15 years earlier, say, around the time of my birth!

Sadly, I woke up at this point, right when the plot was thickening. What event transpired at my birth that needed to be corrected didn't reveal itself. Perhaps my own existence needed to be wiped out to normalize things, like the director's cut of "The Butterfly Effect". Perhaps an evil time traveler, my counterpart, the Master to my Doctor, was born at the same time.

So, on to Navratri. A festival celebrating an Indian goddess defeating an evil demi-god was going on over the weekend, and I managed to weasel an invitation from a buddy I work with, and my wife and I decided to make a night of it. The event took place at a high school, and there were possibly 300 people, mostly Indian, mostly dressed in traditional clothes, Saris, long scarves, flashy colors. The event consisted of some food and trinkets for sale in the cafeteria, and dancing around a shrine to the goddess in the gymnasium.

The dances were twofold, first the Garba, a dance in multiple concentric circles around the shrine, everyone moving counterclockwise, dancing in many varied combinations and fills. Liberty and I tried as best as we could to get the basics down, I following the man who invited us, she following his wife. We quickly felt outmatched, and after a few revolutions around the shrine, decided to bow out and observe, trying again to learn the moves. It was fantastic, in the proper sense of the word. Lines of several teenaged girls, all dressed to the nines, all graceful and beautiful, danced lockstep, in perfect synchronicity, with grand, sweeping arm movements and spins. Men dancing out of elation and joy, not out of courtship or coolness, accompanied them. Adult women showed a more conservative femininity, with moves equally as fluid and attention grabbing, without needing the extra flourishes and energy of their youthful counterparts.

A thing of beauty, really. By my count, Liberty and I were 40% of the white people in the room, and neither of us was comfortable looking like the clumsy Americans, and didn't want to give the impression that we came to see how cute all the funny Indians were, so out of respect, we pulled ourselves out of the line when it was clear we weren't getting it on the first pass. Over the years working side by side with people from India, my respect for them as a people with insight and a good work ethic has grown. After seeing them dance one time, my eyes were opened to how full of energy their culture and traditions are. And even though we were the clumsy Americans who didn't know the dance, the couple we came with and their friends gave us nothing but encouragement, showing us steps and asking us to join in, and none of the rest of the crowd gave us any disparagement. Not any. I have never been in a crowd of that many white people and not felt that someone was trying to marginalize or exclude me. Not so here. I felt included to the point that, by the end of the evening, and after the second dance that was much more successful for us, I started thinking of "them" as "my people".

The second dance was the Dandiya, a 5 beat dance where pairs of people hit sticks together in a certain pattern. The pattern we settled on, and there were many variations from the different dancers, was beat 1 bang your own sticks together, then beats 2 and 3 bang one stick, then the other, against your parter's, beat 4 bang yours together again, beat 5 hit both of your sticks against both of your partners. Finally, the next beat 1 you also rotate partners. Seems simple, but keeping a good rhythm was hard at first, and there are several flourishes thrown in. Some people spin when they change partners, some do something else on beats 1 and 4 other than beat their own sticks together (I needed to keep doing that for about 75% of the dance to help me keep the beat). Also, the music (which was live) slowly sped up, and finally, other dancers got added to popular lines. Our line got pretty popular, and we were up to about 16 people at one point. When the music would speed up, some people called out elated chants, and by the end of the dance most people had abandoned the lines and the sticks, and started dancing solo, throwing their hands in the air, spinning, singing out. It was way cool, and Liberty and I managed to keep up with everyone for a long time.

I've since searched for this type of dance on Youtube, and have found either shaky cellphone accounts, or flashy, stylized hollywood-eqsue adaptations. I found nothing that was as folksy or... spiritual, I guess is the word, as the dancing of the people who showed up Friday. I'm glad Liberty and I got to take part.

It was also the first time I had taken Liberty out dancing. As far as good nights out go, we hit the mark, but I'm afraid I may have set the bar a little high for our next dancing night.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More than survival

My wife and I have now been together, as a couple, for over a year. Our love is deeper and our affection stronger than it was during the most exciting part of our courtship. Joseph Campbell recommends that one follow his bliss. Liberty = bliss. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Scout just got back from a week of vacation with her father, and Liberty and she were very happy to see each other. It was clear that she had been coached on who Daddy is during the trip. "You are Curtis," she said to me shortly after she got back, "you are my step-father." And for a while I was Curtis, and no one said Daddy in the house, pointedly, to see what would happen. An hour later, though, I was Daddy more often than not, and I try not to attribute too much meaning to that, as I'm sure it flips the other way when she's with him. He's Daddy, I'm Curtis. Plus, I don't think I'm in the running for favorite man in her life, that was settled shortly after she was born.

The Daddy issue can be pretty touchy for parents (especially when you're younger and age hasn't softened your rage or boosted your confidence yet), but it's been my experience that the word itself has no special meaning for children, despite all our assumptions, and the perceived correlation between petnames and love. The love a child has for a parent doesn't change with the name. For example, we took Scout to our family reunion back in early August, and she met lots of doting aunts and grandmas who held her on their lap, swung with her on the porch swing, etc. To each of them, she recounted something great she had done at "David's house." "I saw Kung-Fu Panda at David's house." "I have new shoes at David's house." So, clearly, he's the first man in her life, and I accept my position as second fiddle.

Stacey's second soccer game was on Monday, and we had a resounding 2 - 0 victory against a skilled opponent. She played goalie again in the first half, and found some relief from her anxiety about being scored on in the first game. We talked ahead of time about staying between the goal posts and the 6 yard box, and sprinting out to the 18 only when she needed to. During Monday's game, she needed to a lot, thwarting many drives, stubbing her fingers once in the process when she grabbed at a ball that was being kicked. She sprinted out and grabbed about four or five balls, once in a bizarre three on one situation, where the opponents were seriously offside and the ref didn't seem to notice. Without hesitating, she ran out to meet the group of three, and grabbed the ball away from the dribbler before she could take the shot. Risky, done with full commitment. Beautiful. As Billie Jean King says: "Be bold. If you're going to make an error, make a doozey." Her ten teammates were singing her praises, and I was a proud father.

We're 2 and 0 now, and I don't know if our luck will hold for the remainder of the season, or exactly what has led us to win both our scrimmages and our first two games. However, I have noticed some differences between me and the other coaches, and between my girls and the other teams. First, we don't do team-building rituals with chants or callbacks... "be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive", (coach)"Are we tired?!" (team)"NO!", or even the pre-game circle with hands in the middle "Go (mascot)!" Second, I have them practice getting around a defender during warm-up, not just taking a shot on goal. I go out and play fullback, and they have to get around me to take a shot... and I'm a pretty good fullback. Third, I don't bitch at them from the sidelines all game, and in fact I jumped on the assistant coach the one time he started to sound harsh and frustrated. Long on positive, short on negative. And like Stargirl, I clap for the other team. Does all that help, or would we be doing even better if I were a drill sergeant and a micromanager, giving no quarter to the enemy, that sort of thing? I don't know, but I like it my way, and it seems to be working out ok so far.

For the time being, in all aspects of life, my family and I are not just surviving, we're thriving. Stacey still tests off the charts at school, and is becoming a better athlete and dancer every year. Scout's love for Stacey and me has grown, as has her vocabulary and coordination. We're working on a bike with training wheels, "om my up" has been replaced with "could you pick me up?", and she now stays with us two thirds of the time while dad is off at college in another city. Liberty is happy with more time with her girl, and has enjoyed the freedom of having disposable income again, not being forced to pinch pennies as a single mom/college student. She's been redecorating the house, playing in the kitchen (homemade granola bars -- kick ass), and looking more and more like she's happy to stick around.

All thirteen of my girls are happy, and thus, I am happy. Life is good.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Scrimmage, Birthday party, Decor

The pre-season of my U-12 team is going pretty well. We finally started getting all the girls together for practices, and they're getting fit and getting a lot of touches during practice, tuning their footwork, ball control, and field reading. Friday was our first scrimmage, and we won handily, 3-0, with some good individual performances. The girls' attitude was cooperative and cheerful overall.

Tuesday will be our second scrimmage, and I'm hoping to see more confidence from the girls, some focus on using the moves we've gone over in practice, and better field positioning instead of moving in clusters, which is a problem that usually works its way out as girls graduate from U12 to older age brackets.

Saturday was Stacey's birthday party. We went back to Summit Vision this year, and did a high-ropes course with a zipline. It was trey awesome. Unsurprisingly, the more dangerous parties tend to have a lower turnout, but the 7 girls who did show joined Stacey in having a fantastic time, maneuvering through obstacles like the build-your-own-bridge, the tarzan vines with little hexagonal planks at the bottom of them, and some other equally cool near impossible tasks. I don't have the pictures from the party yet (Don, ship me that CD, man! I can't wait to see how everyone looked) but I'll get them uploaded as soon as I can.

Stacey will be 12 on Monday, is about 5.8", and could pass for roughly 16 until you notice her speech patterns and mannerisms, which are correct for her age rather than the affected adult style that girls her age use when trying to seem more mature. The days of little Action-Stace listening to my bedtime stories are long gone, but I'm thankful that she's staved off the pretentiousness of tweens for another year. She's still my girl, caring, funny, and affectionate, and I think she'll become an awesome young woman over the next few years. As a parent I've just been winging it, my main tools being love and my generic problem solving algorithm, but obviously I haven't buggered things up too much.

Liberty has been giving the living room and the old play room a makeover, and things look great now. The old play room (technically the dining room in the original house layout) has been emptied and turned into an office area with this IKEA bookshelf/desk combo:

...and a similar bookshelf under the dining room window:

In the living room she has some cool lamps, shelves and a 50's turntable/radio from her old apartment, and a desk that was pilfered from her ex, who is moving out of town:

And let's zoom in on those art pieces. The first is a piece by her mother, Heather, a skilled artist. Her work speaks for itself, so I won't brag on it, just... here:

Is that not awesome? Liberty's old boss and sister's boyfriend Eric is an amateur artist. Here is his piece, "Apprehensive Midget Tree" from his "Doodle some stuff at work" period:

It makes a nice addition to the living room, I find.

So Liberty is making the house hers, and I couldn't be happier. Plus I can't decorate for shit, so it's nice to have someone with taste and an interest living here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coachin', Week 1

So far, so good. My assistant coach Jim has been more available than he thought he would be, making it to all of the practices so far, and his input has been very helpful. He is the captain of the over 30 team I play on, and his two girls are on the team as well as Stacey. If you're just joining the story, I'm coaching my daughter's Girls U-12 team, filled with mainly 10 and 11 year olds.

Most of the girls on the team have made a couple appearances at practice, and more than half of the girls have a good feel for the game, good timing, and strong kicks. When we pair off for passing and shielding drills, Jim suggested putting the stronger girls with the less experienced ones, so that the strong girls could get a feel for leadership, and the less experienced ones could have a good example to follow, and not get left behind.

The parents have all been friendly, and I haven't felt any bad vibes off of anyone. I'm getting a feel for the loneliness of trying to organize events with busy people. I'm getting about a 33% reply rate to my emails from the team parents, even from those emails that say "please reply and say if you're available for X". Of course, I was guilty of that on the other side of the fence, and often went a week without checking email, and only found out about special events at the last second, or missed them entirely.

The girls are eager to please, funny, and also quick to socialize with each other when they have a minute or two of downtime. Their ideas for team mascot have been great: Flaming Balls of Death, Flaming Millenniums, Flaming iPods (notice a theme?), and the Hot Chili Peppers... since our team color is red, that would make us the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My idea of the Red Pandas was rejected outright, sadly.

We've gone over some basic drills, and I'm getting a feel for everyone's attention span, and how complex you can make a drill before the girls lose interest. I say "lose interest" because they are all smart enough to follow instructions that are arbitrarily complicated, but too hard = less fun. Since they all volunteered to play, they expect to have a lot of fun, and not a lot of lectures and story problems. So, I aims to please. Here are the drills that seem to work OK:

Ball shielding drill

1 – An attacker with the ball approaches a defender. As the defender gets close, the attacker will stop the ball and put her body between the ball and the defender.

2 – The defender will move to steal the ball, and when she does so, the attacker moves the ball the other way.

3 – Ideally, the defender and attacker are then close to side by side, with the ball still shielded. Now the attacker can dribble upfield at an angle to pass the defender.

Of course, the above drill only works if the defender does something she shouldn’t during match play: let an attacker get goalside. If the defender is patient and doesn’t take the bait, then the attacker will need some help from a teammate, hence the next drill.

Give and Go vs. One Defender

1 – Like the shielding drill, an attacker with the ball approaches a defender. This time a second attacker runs parallel.

2 – The attacker with the ball passes to her teammate as the defender approaches, then sprints upfield.

3 – When the teammate receives the ball, she immediately passes it back to the attacker, who is now goalside of the defender.

Timing is important here. Notice in the last panel the pass is to where the teammate is running to, not where she currently is. Passing to a running teammate, and shielding from the previous drill, are skills that will improve the girls’ games, skills they will take with them as they move up to middle school play.

As the girls get more confident and practiced at this basic give and go play, something more realistic to match play can be introduced: a second defender. We practice two basic approaches, the defenders are split, and the defenders are concentrated. The simple strategy against split defenders is to keep them split.

Give and Go vs. Split Defenders

1 – Two attackers run towards two defenders playing man-to-man defense. The attacker without the ball cuts over to stay between the ball and her defender.

2 – As the attacker with the ball approaches her defender, she passes to her open teammate, then sprints up field.

3 – Like the last drill, when the teammate receives the ball, she immediately passes it back to the attacker, who is now goalside of the both defenders.

This play requires good cooperation from the two attackers. We practice first with the defenders running in slow motion, concentrating on timing the passes, and getting used to what the play is supposed to look like. After the girls are familiar with what they are supposed to do and getting a good success rate with the drill, we have the defenders speed up to make it more realistic to a match setting.

When defenders team up in a two on one situation, we reintroduce ball shielding, and add the back-pass. The goal of the give and go against a 2-on-1 is to draw one of the defenders away, and to beat the other with foot speed.

Give and Go vs. Concentrated Defenders

1 – The attacker with the ball approaches two defenders, and shields the ball from them on the approach. Knowing you can’t shield very long against two defenders, she looks for a back-pass. Her team mate slides over to receive it.

2 – The attacker back-passes to her teammate, and then sprints through the defenders. If both defenders stay with her, the pass recipient can dribble upfield unchallenged. If a defender is drawn off, the ball carrier can look for an angled pass upfield before the defender reaches her.

3 – The attacker moves across field quickly to receive a return pass. The teammate with the ball return passes upfield at an angle to where the attacker is running.

This play is hard, and is as complicated as I want drills to be. Drills should use a minimal number of players, have simple goals, and have a high success rate. "Get the ball upfield", "pass to the running player", "back-pass, then run upfield", these are good things to work on for this age group that translate into improved match play.

Other things we work on are basic shooting, trapping, tackling (the ball, not other players), and dribbling, all of which the girls already understand. More practice on the basics = doing them more naturally during a match.

So, we're having fun, and I get to experiment with plays and motivating players in a competitive game, both of which are new to me. What will the season bring victory-wise? Will we have a winning record? Be the best in our league? I don't know, but one thing's for damn sure: we're going to have a good time.

Monday, July 28, 2008


For the first time ever, I played a complete soccer game in my over-30 league - 80 minutes nonstop in the blazing heat. There were a number of no-shows on our team, and we ended up playing a man down with no subs, so all of us had to stick out the whole game. We ended up winning 4-1 against a fellow over-30 team that was similarly understaffed (they had 12 players show up, so they only had one sub for the whole game). Our recent string of games against the over-18 teams had helped condition us to play hard at a disadvantage, and we came out on top... with substantial effort.

Late last season we had a similar game, where I arrived right as the game started, the 11th on our team to show up, leaving us a full complement of field players, but no substitutes. I played for 75 minutes, sitting out 5 minutes late in the game to recover and hydrate, and playing my last 5 - 10 minutes basically standing still and hoping the opposing team didn't make it down to me, ending up with a splitting headache and coming close to calling in sick at work the next day. As I recall, we lost that game.

This time I fared much better, as did our final score. First, I'm about 13 pounds lighter than I was then. Second, I've had another year of conditioning to keep my wind up. I closed the game with a few demoralizing clears (I'm a fullback) right as our opponents were making their final charge to catch up from their 3-1 deficit. We scored a fourth goal late in the game, which sealed the outcome. After that, they never made it inside the penalty box.

My problem now is staving off injury. This morning I have a sore thigh, and possible tendonitis in my right ankle. I felt the thigh midway through yesterday's game, and have been feeling my ankle since last week's game, where we played on a field as hard as stone. Fortunately, I'll have a full month to heal, as next week is the family reunion, and then we have two weeks off for a tournament on our fields, and then the fourth week our team has a bye, since there are an odd number of teams in the league. By our August 31 game, I should be all healed up, and hopefully the fields will be in better condition.

So, yeah, the family reunion is this weekend. It started back in the 1970s when my Grandmother organized a get-together in the town she grew up in (Mechanicsburg, Virginia) with her 11 siblings and their families. We meet on the first Sunday in August, and have missed only one year since we started, and the number of family members who show up has grown to approximately 200. Since the numbers have grown so much, my grandfather's side of the family has split off to their own smaller reunion that meets the Saturday before at a different location. It draws a few people who don't usually make it to the big one, and a few like me who go to both, numbering around 30 attendees so far.

This will be the first year I get to show off Liberty and, hopefully, Scout, down there. I'm looking forward to it, but Liberty is showing a little anxiety about it. "Come meet 200 of my family." It's understandable. When she sees that the main questions she'll be asked are "Who are you with?" and "Have you tried the pie?" then I think she'll be OK.

After the reunion, Stacey will be going from Virginia to North Carolina to stay a couple weeks with her Grandma and Great-Grandma, where she'll get to play with babies and be doted on, coming back to be with me shortly before her birthday party. We're going to go back to Summit Vision, this time to do the high-ropes course/zipline. I'm hoping a lot of kids show for that, as it seems like a good time. Stacey didn't have her best social year ever, having the culture shock that is middle school, but I'm hoping the girls who usually show and have a good time will still be up for it.

Last in the news, Stacey's soccer season will be starting soon, and I'm the coach! I took a class to get a coach's license, learned some drills, bought some cones, and checked the little "I'd like to coach" box on the form I signed Stacey up with. I'm excited about it, but a little anxious. I'm hoping I'm going to be healthy enough to participate in drill demonstrations and sprints, and hoping also that I'll be understandable and likable. I'm also hoping my philosophies of "play with your feet, not your hands" and "if you knock 'em down, help 'em up" won't be vilified by the parents.

From my time on the sidelines with other parents, I've seen people preach both sides of aggression and sportsmanship - from no blood no foul, to kids should be kids. Me, I'm more Shoalin: Avoid rather than check, check rather than hurt. I think it's OK for kids to make contact with each other on the field, and blocking with your body is easily interpreted by players as strategic rather than confrontational. Not so with pushing; the more arm you use in maintaining possession/position, the more likely you'll be seen as trying to start a fight. Soccer is fun, and fighting is not fun... so play with your feet, not your hands. That's an easy sell. The other is a little harder.

If you knock 'em down, help 'em up. Maybe I'd be ok with a player going ahead and taking a couple dribble steps and a shot on goal after bumping into someone and knocking them down. After all, it would take that long for the person who fell to take stock of their own situation and determine if they were hurt or could keep playing. Otherwise, I'd like to encourage my girls to sacrifice perceived positional advantage for sportsmanship. If you knock someone down, you are responsible for their injury. The ref should stop play, but if he doesn't, you should pass the ball away, and then help the girl you knocked down back to her feet. If she can get back up and keep playing, she will remember that act of kindness and it will have an effect on her. Yes, I'd like to win games, but not at the expense of being uninterested in the other team's well-being, or worse, a bully. 5 seconds: Pass the ball, help her up, get back in the game. It won't change the score, I guarantee.

On the other hand, being a martyr isn't my bag, so if I get a lot of flak for that, I'll have a challenging problem on my hands. Time will tell how that will play out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bike Riding

One of the few good memories I have of interacting with my (now deceased) stepfather was learning how to ride a bike. We lived in Manteo, North Carolina, well before it turned into the resort town/vacation spot it is now, before anyone ever heard of the Outer Banks or put OBX stickers on the backs of their cars to complement their now plebeian and undistinguished Ron Jon window stickers. Back then the town was poor, and many locals, including my stepfather, were fishermen. (And many of the fishermen and their dirt poor families whiled away the time listening to Southern rock and getting stoned, but that's another story.)

For my 6th birthday, I got a bike for a present, a little kid's BMX (redline squareback, I believe). My stepfather, who generally took little interest in me, patiently taught me to ride it, giving me balance support and encouragement, and running alongside me. As I got familiar with it, I was able to pick up speed, and the gyroscopic (centrifugal? centripetal?) force of the wheels was a better stabilizer than my stepfather, so he began to let go, and I was riding fine... until I noticed he had let go.

Noticing that I was on my own was the source of my first few falls. I wasn't prepared for the psychological stress of it. Doing something this dangerous and complicated myself? Preposterous! I barked alarmed complaints out of fear and anxiety, demanding to know why he let go, as I wobbled, overcorrected, and fell. But soon my confidence and experience outweighed my fears, and I managed to regain my balance after I wobbled, and eventually to ride smoothly, as all kids do. By the next week, I was riding with the neighborhood boys around the 1/4 mile dirt circle behind our trailer park, and by the end of the summer I was a daredevil, the youngest in the group of kids I hung with, but jumping over our makeshift cinder block/plywood ramp with as much gusto as the rest of them. In the end, I was the first brave enough to jump the ramp when it was set ridiculously too steep, landing hard but not crashing, inspiring my peers to overcome their fear of getting hurt by replacing it with a greater fear of looking chicken. The little kid did it, why can't you? Bok bok baaawk!

Switching gears -- and if you can manage abstract thought, you'll see where I'm going before I write the punchline -- my first marriage was a complete trainwreck. I've managed for years to not speak ill of my ex-wife in this blog, and I don't intend to now, but the fact is our marriage was a travesty. I felt unvalued and unloved, and looked on other men with suspicion. I developed frown lines, acid reflux, slowly became fat, and closed myself off from my family and friends in an attempt to appease her and gain her love again. She, in turn, thought I was treating our marriage as a job, doing things because I had to, not out of love or affection. She viewed me as having no interest in the world, preferring to sit at home and download nudie-gifs rather than going out to listen to music or just be with people, and treating real-world issues like a flowchart, binary thinking robot that I was.

So, that was a mess. We broke up hating each other, and only after years of separation did our respective wounds heal enough for us to work together amicably for the sake of Stacey. Again, the point here is not to blame or complain, or drag my dirty laundry out for daytime talkshow-esque public scrutiny and commentary, but rather to provide some back story for what comes next.

What comes next? Liberty, who is, by my best reckoning, the perfect woman. Young, alive, nonconformist. Beautiful. Well-read, intelligent, funny. Open to any wild suggestion, believing that I can take care of her, and trusting that I will. I've written about her here a few times, you can guess how I feel about her. Read all the entries from last September until now to get the gist of my feelings for her. They run deep.

Without hyperbole, and not to try to butter her up when she stumbles across this later (as far as I can tell, she doesn't frequent my blogs), and not because she is the relationship I am currently in, but because I have reflected on this privately, and found it to be an irrefutable truth: Liberty has made me happier that any person ever has. She has inspired me to be a man who is strong, asking me to lead. She has made me feel like my presence was valued, showing me smiles and attention whenever we were together. Her love and affection made me into a better man.

And now, we've been married and living together for a few months, and regular life has injected itself. We've seen each other sick, had busy schedules that left us both tired at night (if you're under 18, try not to contemplate what that means), and we've passed each other in the halls without stopping for a quick snuggle. A few times I found myself reading more into that than was there:

"Oh Jesus! She hates me now. I'm latching on to an empty heart, following her around like a lost puppy, what the hell did I do wrong!? No! Don't take this away from me! It was perfect! Have all the years of drinking from aluminum cans catch up to me and give me Alzheimers, have the next soccer game I play cripple me, have the bad wiring in my house short and start a fire that burns it down, have my boss determine that I cost too much and lay me off. But not her. Don't take her love from me, it's the thing that means the most to me."

And like the little boy who fell off his bike because he noticed no one was holding him up, I choked. I barked a confused, accusatory complaint. "Dude, there's nothing wrong, settle," was the response. The love was still there, and still is, and is stronger even than I thought it was. Think of this: Imagine a girl with a young kid who is barely scraping by, whose car falls apart during your courtship, whose cell phone gets cancelled, who struggles every day to get out of bed in time for school or work. She lets you seduce her, moves in with you, lets you be the support that gives her a car and a phone, asks you to stay with her sick kid when she can't miss an exam or when no one else can open at her store. And then she gets comfortable around you, and doesn't spend every waking moment trying to secure her status by exploiting her body. What could that mean?

It means, naturally, that she trusts me. She knows I don't want her to be a doting sycophant out of fear. Her position in our house feels safe to her, and she knows how to claw her way back from the brink of collapse, if need be, but she keeps coming home to me. She keeps inviting me to be with her family and friends, and she trusts me enough not to play a servile role, but to be herself.

What an amazing complement!

The affection? Still there. After a few days of cooling off after I lost my head, we naturally found ourselves in each other's arms. And I can feel the man she turned me into asserting himself, confident in his own position, and his character. I'm back, better than I was, and I don't need the constant whispers of "you are good and I want to be with you" to know that it's true.

Thank you, Liberty, you are amazing, and I have never loved a woman more. And I will be as daring a husband as I was a cyclist, confident and relaxed, with faith in our marriage strong enough to look cocky.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sweet, Sweet Perl

Behold my latest off-the-cuff answer to a problem of the day:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use strict;

my %lines;
my $all_lines;
my $line_num = 0;

$all_lines .= $_ while <DATA>;
$lines{$_} = 1 for split /\s+/,$all_lines;

while (<>) {
s/^/#/ if $lines{$line_num};
print $_;

169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176
314 315 316 317
320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327 328

Feel free to skip down to "Frank Muller" below if reading me geeking out isn't your bag. To save you the tedium of the complete history of what I was coding, I'll skip to the punchline: Thanks to the Sarbanes/Oxley act, brought about thanks to the assholes at Enron and MCI/Worldcom, I had a problem where I have to say how I want large changes made to a security access file 7 days from now, when I will be making daily small changes to the same file between now and then. This was granting emergency access to a service to people who really needed it, and undoing a larger set of access grants 7 days hence.

The solution? Identify line numbers in the access file to be commented out, and put all new daily changes to the file at the bottom, below all the lines to be commented. The script I came up with, pretty much off the cuff, shows the expressiveness of the Perl language. The line:

$all_lines .= $_ while <DATA>;

..iterates through all the text after __DATA__, an inline file handle, concatenating the text of each line to the string $all_lines. The line:

$lines{$_} = 1 for split /\s+/,$all_lines;

..splits the string $all_lines into a list of numbers separated by one or more whitespace characters (\s+), which means that a space and a line feed are both fine. For each item in that list, a hash element is added with a key of the number, and a value of 1.

The line:

s/^/#/ if $lines{$line_num}; the coup de grâce of the program. If the line number I'm currently on exists in the %lines hash, replace the first position of the line with a # sign (this "comments out" the line, making the security program ignore it). So in three small, but syntactically complex, lines, I've grabbed a list of lines to comment out, thrown it into a hash, and commented out lines in the config file whose line numbers appear in the hash.

Sweet, sweet Perl. Anyway, on to other stuff.

Frank Muller dead! I couldn't believe it! He apparently just died a couple weeks ago, after suffering for years after a motorcycle accident. This man, more than any other, kept my brain working in a time where I could have easily slipped into working minimum wage jobs my whole adult life. With my active brain, I slowly clawed my way to a good financial position, and now I get to live in a house I own, drive an SUV, and wear dress shirts every day... neener, neener, neener.

Frank Muller was an actor turned audiobook reader. When I spent 4 years flipping pizza, he was with me in my car several hours a night on deliveries, reading Moby Dick, Interview with the Vampire, Different Seasons (Stephen King's short stories under a psuedonym), 1984, and other books. I so enjoyed his voice and style of reading that I stopped looking for books I thought I would enjoy, and began looking for books read by him - a few were stinkers, but there were some pearls in there too that I never would have found if he hadn't been the reader.

After I exhausted most of Frank's work, I found other good readers, like Scott Brick, who did fantastic readings of Dune, Fahrenheit 451, Ender's Game, and a lot of Asimov. To this day I still hit the library a couple times a month looking for audiobooks to listen to on the ride to work, and I always pick up a couple before going on vacation for the car ride down.

And it all started with Frank, the fuel to keep my brain working when I needed it most. Thanks, Frank. I'll miss you.


My wife and I went for a mini-honeymoon over to Philadelphia for 3 days to check out some museums, included the Mutter museum of medical oddities (which fits our collective morbid sense of humor), and stopped into the wierd cultlike store IKEA to pick up some furniture and light fixtures.

I've got some pictures I took in the Philadelphia Museum of Art that I'll put up eventually as a Picasa album. Good stuff.

IKEA is interesting. They have an upstairs with apartments set up to show how you can design rooms using their furniture and art. Beside everything there are row and slot numbers for the pick-up area downstairs. Through the whole process, the staff leave you alone to go explore. I've heard some of the girls at work talk about how cool it is, and I think I'm going to have to agree.

Philly itself is a city I wouldn't want to settle down in. Too angry, too compact, too much hood. They have some good restaurants, though, and several theatres. Liberty and I went to see Les Miserables at a small theatre downtown, and it was a good production. Good place to visit, if you're good at ignoring the chaff.


My local over 30 team, the Raiderz, are 5-1-1 right now! We just had our 5th win Sunday, where my buddy Hemant from work contributed enough to keep us in the game when we were struggling. We were short subs, and all of us were pretty spent after the game. I think we probably would have lost if Hemant hadn't shown up and played as hard as he did.

My own performance was alright. I spent most of the game chasing down a guy with more endurance than me. Late in the game he finally got a good drive around me, I pushed him out to the corner, and he just snuck in a pass before I could block it, and the guy he passed it to scored. That put us up 5-3 in the 4th quarter, and we somehow came back and scored again before the end of the game making the final score 6-3. Lots of fun.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday is the Columbus corporate challenge soccer tournament, where AEP is entered as 1 of 8 teams. I'm scheduled to play fullback on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday if we are in the top bracket, followed by my normal league game Sunday. I'm a little anxious about the whole ordeal. I'll have fun coming out and playing for AEP, where most people only know me as a code monkey, but I think playing 4 days in a row might just kill me.

Only one way to find out.


Stacey's away at horseback riding camp for the week, and will come back Friday evening, exhausted, sore, and hungry. I wrote her a pair of letters that should reach her before she leaves, saying what dads say to their girls - that I'm thinking about you, miss you, and hope you're out following your bliss. Her summer is a series of camps, and a few weeks with family out of state, with the punchline being the giant birthday party right before school starts. The party that I haven't even started planning for yet.


Still the best wife a man could ask for.

She's starting new classes this quarter, including Arabic! That gives me the chance to piggyback, trying my hand at deciphering a new alphabet and learning syntax rules of a non-romance language. woot!

I've met some of Liberty's extended family recently, at her grandfather's funeral. They all seemed to like me well enough, and most of them were smart and entertaining. Liberty's grandmother is in town until tonight, so Liberty and I went over to the house she's staying at with some other family for a goodbye dinner. It was simple and relaxed, little Scout played and was chatty with everyone, and I ended up orchestrating a family snapshot with Scout and Liberty slyly placed dead center.

I feel comfortable around her family. They don't seem to be demanding or judgmental, and I feel accepted when I'm around them.

Liberty has just installed some hair extensions to make her hair look long. It seemed like an odd choice to me, but I went with it, and I ended up enjoying putting them in for her. She couldn't put them in very well in the back of her head (since it requires visual feedback and some complex exchanges between hands), so I helped her put in about maybe 20 or 30 locks. I liked both getting to handle her hair for an extended time, and the playing with a new gadget aspect.


With the warmer weather, Liberty and I are enjoying taking Scout to parks in the afternoon. She's learning how to climb through the big-toys, getting brave on the larger slides, and talking to some of the other kids a little. The budding of social and physical intelligence is a wonderful thing to watch. This year should bring a lot of that for her, and I think I've most of the way recruited a part-time playmate from next door, little Marissa, who is 5 now.

Our personal relationship also got a lot better over the last couple of months. I passed from tolerated to accepted shortly before her mom and I got married, and now I feel like she enjoys having me around, doesn't ask me to leave so she an mom can play in private, and on rare occasions says that she loves me. Nice to hear, but 3 year olds are fickle, so I'm not basing my self worth on it just yet.

All is well.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Things are going well. My work still likes me, Liberty and I are still in love with each other, Scout and Stacey are both happy and healthy, and my mom is up visiting for a week. Liberty is slowly helping me repair my wardrobe, which still contains lots of 2x and 3x shirts from when I was fat, and I am approximately back in running shape. Stacey's extra-curriculars are coming to an end - her orchestra concert was last week, her soccer tournament ended over the weekend, and the dance recital is upcoming.

During Stacey's soccer season, she developed some good skills at goalie, and her footwork and field reading are on par with about half of the team. She played goalie for about 2/3 of the games, and played with my philosophy of coming out from the goal and challenging players as they approached before they could get good shots off. For the whole season she was only scored on once. She also made improvements on offense, scoring the winning goal as forward in the second half of the same game she got scored on as goalie. She'll be a great player, and her confidence and ball handling has improved.

On the other hand, the atmosphere of kids' sports sometimes sickens me. Parents shout angrily from the sidelines, yell at referees, referees yell at coaches, coaches yell at the girls and each other. This season, the girls started getting pushy on the field, no doubt at the encouragement of parents and coaches. Not every game is bad, but in most games you can see clearly the lack of right-mindedness of everyone involved in the game. Stacey is still a clean player, and was mortified when, after a girl pushed her during a game, she flailed to regain her balance and flattened the girl with an elbow to the chest. Stacey, at 11, is 5'6" and strong, but not violent, and will make sure a downed player gets back up instead of press the advantage for points in a game.

That's my girl, strong, smart, compassionate, and the best goalkeeper on the team. But she isn't a superstar, and she isn't accepted, for whatever reason, with the popular girls on the team, and was also marginalized by the coaches during the tournament. She did not get to play goalie, which I assume is from her perceived lack of aggression - don't put the nice kid in a key position, and her good plays during the championship game went unheralded by the team and coaches, and her mistakes criticized by both.

The head coach's daughter was a roughly equivalent player to Stacey. She had the same temperament, non-aggressiveness, and nervousness under pressure. She had the same intelligence, reading the play and being in the right spot on defense, but occasionally being passed by confident, fast opponents. When she made a mistake, you could see the girls attempt to censor themselves so as not to disparage the coach's kid, and the coaches were quick with applause and "that's OK, keep trying, doing good." When the team stars made mistakes, the girls were quick to shout similar encouragement. When Stacey and similarly skilled players made mistakes, the disparagement was uncensored. I think this is in the nature of kids and their pack orders.

The end result of all this nonsense was that Stacey's team won the championship of their division, and each player got trophies of a large chested tween wearing baggy soccer clothes and a confused expression. To try to make the moment more memorable, the coaches tried to say personal anecdotes about each player. They were familiar with the star players' life stories, what was going through their heads the first time they saw them play, etc., and for the players who weren't as accomplished and flashy, they got variations on "tries real hard" and "always plays where I tell her to." Despite her improvement during the year and being the keeper with the best record, Stacey's trophy was accompanied by a "tries real hard" and a botched anecdote about her game-winning shot earlier in the season that included "I saw a foot, but not a face, and then Stacey getting patted on the back, so I assume she made the shot." bad delivery. However, coach, if you stumble across this some time in the future, no hard feelings, congratulations, and it was great to see your daughter make the season ending final goal. She deserves that memory with all the hard work she did this season.

So the question is, how is it that I don't hate any of these people, or have animosity towards them? They are the Buddha standing before me, helping to free me from attachments. Also, I have already volunteered with the U-12 coordinator to coach a team next year, and have signed up for an F-license class. I won't coach to vindicate wrongs against Stacey, and I do intend to win as many games as I can, but I want to see a team in this league coached the way Henry Bell, one of the WASA directors who sub-coached Stacey's team a few seasons ago, would coach it - games should be fun, and you should see if you can win without hurting anyone. Also, if each player is unique and contributes, you should be able to say something positive and meaningful about each of them equally.

For example, here's what I would have said about another marginalized player, Kristen, who received an "always plays where I tell her to" speech. Kristen was a little heavy, discouraged for most of the season, not quite in the top-tier social circle, but determined and skilled mentally, and her good defense helped keep us in the game many times throughout the season:

"Kristen is now the best fullback in the league, bar none. She recovered from an injury to be a valuable contributor, learned to control her temper, and learned how to read body language very well. Many of you probably saw her make some key blocks in the championship game to help keep us in the running when our faster players had started to wear themselves out. Without her contributions, we may not be getting these trophies now. Thanks, Kristen, we really needed you."

How hard is that? Her work merited at least that much effort -- and she's not even my kid. In fact, Stacey and she fought a little bit last season.

What would I have said about Stacey?

"Stacey is the goalie with the best record on this team. One goal allowed all season. (pause for applause) She aggressively leaves the comfort zone of the net, and risks injury to charge up and grab balls before the opponent's forward can set up for a shot. She shocked some of the teams we faced with her bold plays, and made them a little more timid, which helped us win games. In other positions, she steadfastly refused to push to get a ball, preferring to play with her feet instead of her hands. The opposing team was not the enemy; in fact, she had many cheery conversations with girls on other teams as time allowed, and was quick to check on their players who were injured or knocked down. This empathy with players on other teams did not cost us a point all season, and helped other girls feel good about playing in this league. You are a moral example to the rest of us, and we were sure as hell glad to have you on the team."

I love you, kid, you're still the best.

Changing gears, I am also on a soccer league. It is a co-ed, over 30 league, and there are some pretty good teams out there. Yesterday we played a very good team, and it looked for a while like we were going to get a whoopin', but my team and I came together after the first quarter and really turned things around. It was loads of fun. Loads of pain today as I start to recover, but loads of fun then.

In the first quarter, one of the first few plays of the game had an opponent forward run by me faster than I could keep up, and go in for an easy goal. I was shocked, as were the two people in front of me he zipped by, and our goalie who missed the block. I took my figurative car out of first gear after that, found myself quickly running out of breath, and had two collisions with a large player on the other team. He scolded me after the second hit, I assured him it was unintentional, we high-fived each other, and play continued.

At that moment, something happened in me. I think I went into combat mode. I had the physical discomfort of being winded and having been jarred a couple times, the emotional impact of being down 2 to nothing early in the game, and then the perceived threat of the other player who told me, in veiled terms but nonetheless clearly, that I had better not run into him again. I got calm, my breathing slowed, and I felt energized. I saw the field better, saw where people were going to pass, saw who was winded, who was trying to fake me out, and who would be surprised if I charged them. I started making plays and stopped being clumsy.

By the end of the half, we were tied at 2. I stayed in the entire second quarter and most of the third, and then took a break. During my break, we went up 3-2. I came back in to finish the game, and immediately snuck up on a fast player and stole the ball from him, drove it up field (very uncommon for me), passed it to a forward, who took it in for a goal. My first assist.

We won 4-2, and several of us were shaky and overheated after the game. I'm as sore as I've ever been after a game, and elated at my team and my own personal performance. Plus, my wife was in attendance, and got to see me being cool. Shwing.