Monday, September 5, 2016

My Douglas Adams Birthday

This past Saturday, I celebrated my Douglas Adams birthday. Douglas Adams is an English author, and my favorite of his works are the books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series: first a BBC radio play, then a novel, and it's been made a couple of times into a movie. One of the major plot points is that a super computer, named Deep Thought, discovered that the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything was 42. The remainder of the series was an attempt to find out what The Question was. (Spoiler warning: the planet Earth was manufactured as an even bigger, organic supercomputer to figure out the question. The closest it got was, "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?") 

So, I turned 42 this year, and it's been a year of questing to figure out what The Question is. Who am I? What am I doing here? What should I be doing with my time? You can call it a midlife crisis; that wouldn't be too far-fetched. Google defines a mid-life crisis as "an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age." That's 42, isn't it? Granted, I'm not going to do anything THAT stupid - I can't afford a cute little sports car, and the other traditional trappings of midlife crisis are just not appealing to me. 

But, I have been questioning the direction of my life. I've doubled down on making time to spend with my family: I left directing Greater Harmony Chorus after a five-year run full of joy and song and great friends. I couldn't rectify, at this point in my life, missing baseball games and violin recitals and such. I was even missing just sitting around and reading books or playing video games with my kids. The Boy's hitting 3rd grade and getting much, much closer to the age where he doesn't really want to spend time willingly with his father. The Baby, who's entering Kindergarten in the fall, is reaching the age where he's independent enough to want to see and to do his own things with me. 

This past season, I really enjoyed playing the role of coach and teacher for Little Bear's and The Baby's baseball teams. I truly enjoy working with kids, and something like baseball allows for a lot of hands-on, individual instruction. There's so much to the game - besides the continual improvement of catching, fielding, hitting, and baserunning techniques, there are position-specific issues to handle. You have to learn who your position backs up, which bases you cover, what happens in multiple specific in-game situations (for instance, man on second, 0 or 1 out(s), ball grounded to the third baseman. You don't have a force play at 3rd, but you don't want to blindly let the runner take 3rd base. So, you have to look at the runner standing on second; if he's running, then tag him out and just hold the ball. If he's staying put, then throw to first and run to third base to receive a throw back, if the runner decides to break for the bag. That's not a natural thought process, but one that has to be practiced and reinforced, because it happens all the time.) After the spring rec baseball season, I was one of the assistant coaches for the 7 & under tournament team, and we had an absolute blast. The other coaches and I had a lot of fun with these kids. We just kept getting together to play ball after the spring season ended, because we were in the habit and because we liked being around each other. It was nice - one of us send an email, "Hey, my kid and I are going to the field to play on Sunday afternoon. Anyone want to come?" ....and five or six kids would show up. After two or three of these, we just scheduled time every week for 2 or 3 45-60 minute practices. The head coach organized our practices, and I enjoyed being an assistant and just doing what I was told. It's good to be the king; in my situation, it was awesome to be a knight instead of the king. Much easier to do what I'm told rather than make the decisions, you know? 

Last year, most of the team was "baseball 5" - meaning playing very young for the league. This year, after a year of experience and a year of growing, they were much, much better. We won 3 games in the tournament season, including reaching the semi-finals of our final tournament. That was 3 more games than we won last year, and it was just amazing. I can honestly say that those games, for me as a father and a coach, were far more intense than any professional game I've ever seen. Those kids were into it, having fun, and playing as hard as they could. Our final win, the other team had the bases loaded, with the winning run on first base and one out; two sterling defensive plays ended the game with a victory for our team. Due to a lack of players for one game, we even had to dress The Baby - who had turned 5 literally 7 days before - in catcher's gear to play! He did a good job, including an RBI groudout, and the other team game him the MVP game ball. 

Little Bear played a couple of games with the 8 & under crowd, which was wonderful for him. He's a special kid (not that the others aren't), and we're honored that they stuck him in right field and let him play. In the last 8 & under game of the season, he made a brilliant fielding play: cleanly fielded a hard ground ball to right field and threw a fast strike to the second baseman, who tagged out an aggressive baserunner trying to stretch it into a double. I think that that was his favorite moment of the baseball season - well, that or an RBI double he crushed in an 8 & under win early in the season. 

But, I digress. Back to my midlife crisis. 

Just as important: my creative juices are just drained. I have been fighting significant fatigue issues for more than a year now, and I'm starting to figure out that it was related to creative burnout. I've spent a lot of time and energy thinking about, studying, and teaching voice and singing and barbershop. To a large extent, I've done nothing but barbershop with my free time since about 2003. That's a long time. I love the society, and I love the hobby, and (most importantly) I love the people that are involved in it; but I'm in desperate need of a break from barbershop. Frankly, it's not just directing barbershop; sitting in a performing group of any kind, at this time, is triggering flight responses in me. I feel like I need to take some time, step back from the artistic world, and let my battery recharge. I know that it's only a temporary thing, and I know that I'm going to want to create and to express myself soon. But, for the moment, I want to concentrate on being Daddy to three wonderful boys and number one fan to my wonderfully talented wife. 

And, I'm not entirely sure what I want to do. I don't know that I want to get back into what I have been doing for the last several years. I certainly can't keep singing without getting some real help with my voice. I've backtracked over the last couple of years, embarrassingly so. Do I change artistic direction? It's been literal years since I've picked up my saxophone, and part of me itches to play again. The only problem is, saxophone isn't a satisfying instrument to play by yourself. You need something - a concert band, or a big band, or a quartet. Something. Clarinet is easy - no community band in the country will turn away someone with a master's degree who is quite content to play 2nd or 3rd clarinet in band. But, there are always a million saxophone players ready to play in a concert band. Jazz bands are even worse, because for every concert-band trained saxophonist, there are 4-5 "jazz guys" for every slot. Plus, my improvisation still sucks. I can improvise, just not well. 

Riding on that, I guess that I really just want to do something WELL again. I'm tired of trying to sing and not making the time to practice. I'm tired of thinking about playing an instrument without emotionally preparing myself for daily practice time. Whatever I do eventually decide to do - and, for all I know, it might be writing, or home improvement, or whatever I do to get my creative fix - I fully intend to dive in, head-first. That means, time spent every day; lessons if applicable. I'm not going to be a B- singer; I'm going to take lessons and practice daily. I want to show the boys that creativity takes work, and fun, and failure, and persistence, and consistency. 

At this time, I'm not in a rush. I'm going to wait it out, let my reservoir refill, and enjoy my time spent with my family. My boys are engaging and fun. My wife's musical and artistic career is a beautiful sight to behold, and I treasure being a part of it. I'll get there. Uncharacteristically, I'm prepared to be patient.


Update, 3 weeks later: Feeling better, starting to get the itch again and actively discuss options. Doing a Jewish life class on Thursday nights for this school year, which might wind up being my thing for the indefinite future - particularly considering that I'm assistant coaching / volunteering with Little Bear's and The Baby's baseball teams. LB has done a great job with kid pitch so far, for the record. More later.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Shabbat Silence

Saturday's mornings are my new mornings of rest, since my weekday scheduled has adjusted and I'm not out late Tuesday nights anymore. I exercise Sunday through Friday, and I sleep later on Saturday (today until almost 6:50!) and spend the morning curle up with a cup of coffee and something to read.

This morning, I'm sitting in the hammock on my front porch, with my superhero coffee cup from universal studios and enjoying the heavy morning air. The neighborhood is silent right now, except for the birds and the crickets and a little bit of puttering about by the people around me: a garbage can being brought inside from yesterday, some lawn chairs being scrapped across the patio into the shade, and a woman taking her dog for a walk on the trail at the end of our block.

The Boy and Little Bear are dried as The Flash and Ultron, restively, as we are going to the comic convention in Monroeville this morning. I'm taking another fifteen minutes, though, to relax and mentally prepare myself for the day.

Peaceful Saturday; shabbat shalom. I can get behind this concept.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Highs and Lows

When I got home from work, The Wife left to pick up The Boy from his choir practice. I was getting dressed (transitioning from work clothes to real person clothes), and Little Bear was tormenting The Baby. He was chasing the little one around, saying "Nom! Nom! Nom" This alternated between making the baby laugh hysterically and cry with frustration.

"Little Bear, please stop tormenting your baby brother."

In a rare moment of true honesty, he said, "Why? It's fun!"


Today, The Boy found out that one of the other choirs in the organization is singing at the new Pittsburgh Holocaust Memorial. This lead into a discussion about what The Holocaust was.

How does one explain the true evil it takes to massacre millions and millions of people? How does one talk to an innocent child, who is just starting to comprehend the whole "death" thing and the huge part it's played in his life already, and explain the sheer numbers of people? Just as bad: explaining the huge numbers who were massacred for the "crime" of being Jewish?

I know there are people around the world who are living massacres not dissimilar. I just hope the next generation is smart enough to avoid it.


Today, we broke out the new whiffle ball pitching machine that I picked up with bonus points at work. It's pretty cool, but it pitches fast. The boys will need a couple of weeks to get used to it. Little Bear was most frustrated, but he's also the most focused. The look on his face when he's playing... that boy is a competitor.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Wet Stuff

So, the kids were staying with a friend this afternoon while The Wife was at a quartet thing, and around 4:30 she let me know that they were coming home from the playground. It was a beautiful, warm day: 83 degrees at that point in the afternoon.

The next text message, paraphrasing somewhat: "the Boy is running naked through my backyard." Fortunately, this was the same friend. It would be awkward from a different friend. This was followed by her letting me know that the boys were playing with water in the backyard.

I'm glad he's smart enough to take his hearing aids and glasses and stash them somewhere safe first. He does a good job with that. The boys know they're not going to get in trouble for being wet, like, 85 percent of the time, as long as they're smart about it. Take your shoes and socks off if safe. No electronics. If Dad has a phone outside of a Lifeproof case, he's off-limits.

Got them home, damp, without issue. Took the long way and made them run. Little Bear was whiny and complainy all through the run but, to his credit, made it through the end of the run. He's a tough kid. With his big brother? He'll have to be.


Today I was flipping through the new Photos program on our iMac while The Boy was practicing, and there was a project there: a slideshow of pictures from our Make-A-Wish trip. He and I both sat there, looking at the pictures and crying. Poor kid gets his overly emotional personality from me.

But man. What a week. May be the best week of my life.


Little Bear has started taking showers in the morning. So has The Boy. The Boy knows how to start the water. Little Bear doesn't but does know how to turn the water off. Seems like a problem that will solve itself, no?

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pitt Baseball

Today, I took the three boys to see the University of Pittsburgh Panthers play the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in baseball in Oakland. It was a youth group outing, and it was a wonderful afternoon.

The day started out slowly. I've been suffering from some back issues for the past week, and I woke up and decided against my normal Sunday morning workout (for the second week in a row). We had breakfast at home, then I dropped Things 1&2 at Sunday school. Since they had left sweatshirts at home, we retraced our steps before heading to be JCC to play as per usual.

From the JCC, we went back to Rodef for a pizza lunch, which was Papa John's. While I feel strongly about their stance on Obamacare, I felt more strongly about my need to eat today. So much for consistency in my political beliefs. Shrug.

The stadium turned out to be in the complex that I have driven past for the last few years on my way home from work. I've just never been inside! It's a beautiful Fieldturf field and an attractive stadium. Little Bear sat with me for an inning, and I did a decent combo of play by play and color analysis to teach him a bit of the game.

The day was absolutely beautiful: sunny and low 70's, about as perfect as it gets. I did remember the sunscreen, although I was not strict about reapplying often enough, which is okay. The boys say with me for a bit, then sat with friends, then sat with other friends, then took the little foam baseballs they got and threw them at a big concrete wall outside the grandstand.

They had a great deal, $2 for a hot dog and a drink. All the kids got drinks but didn't really want the hot dog - and it was cheaper to get the special than just a drink. There were a lot of extra hot dogs that we dads endeavored to finish. I'm happy to say that we mostly succeeded.

The game was a good game: 8-4 final, I think, but Pitt definitely won. At the end of the game, the kids lined up and ran around the bases, which the boys enjoyed so much they did it twice. The Baby waited in line as long as he could, then dashed out to the pitcher's mound to climb on top and look around. He then wandered around second base for a little while before sauntering over to me, standing in the third base coach's box to take pictures. Whatever. They were really chill about it and treated him with bemusement and amusement rather than annoyance, which I appreciated.

Then, the players sat at a big table and signed autographs for the kids, which was pretty cool. The players, as a large group, were friendly and engaging (easier after a good win, I imagine), and they were all kind to my little boys. I was coaching them to say thank you to all of the players and to say "good game today!" And "good luck for the rest of the season!" So, I think that helped a bit.

It was a good, and tiring, day.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Good Day

Today might have been my best day in a couple of weeks.

The second Seder, last night, went quite well. It was a much smaller group: an illness derailed one family, and one of our guests had a time miscommunication where he thought everything was starting at 8 instead of 6. Whatevs. He still got fed, which was the important bit. But, ironically, because there were less people, things wound up less structured and more spread out. So, we didn't get back home until around 11, which is very late for my small people.

I was asleep about a half hour after them, which was before The Wife finished up and came home.

This morning I slept until about 6:15 and was woken by snoring little boys. I lolly gagged in bed, enjoying little snuggles, before coming downstairs and having a brilliant cup of coffee in an entirely silent house. There are few feelings better than a good cuppa and the morning news in a quiet house.

I did my normal Sunday workout with the boys hanging out and playing iPad. Little Bear, for his afikomen present, requested some extra levels unlocked for his favorite game, Mr. Crab. We had breakfast after exercise, and we lazed around the house until The Wife and The Baby got out of bed around 9. We facetimed with Grandpa for a while.

Little Bear and I had an epic duel which I won. He took a little while to get over it, and once he was ready to listen, I told him a couple of moves that he should have taken which might have won him the duel. I mean, so much of dueling card games comes down to luck (drawing the start of your powerful combinations before your opponent does), but you have to know how to use the cards. He's struggling with that, but he's learning quickly. Too quickly, as he wiped out a couple of good gambits I started earlier in the game.

We jogged our mile for the Steel City Kids Marathon around the neighborhood: it was a 60-something degree day. The Boy wasn't happy about our running route but finished strong regardless.

Once we got back home, they packed and left for Washington, DC. Aunt W got tickets for the boys to participate in the White House egg roll tomorrow morning. I hopped into bed and slept for an hour to celebrate.

When I got up, I read for a while before getting to work paying the monthly bills and finishing the state and local tax forms. I treated myself to a nice dinner at Applebee's tonight before settling down in front of the baseball game. I'll watch until I'm bored - probably about three or four innings, considering I have other things to do before bed.

The Cubs look good this year. Not as good as the Cardinals or the Bucs, but good.

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