Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ninja Warrior

Have you every watched the show "American Ninja Warrior?" Or, better yet: the original Ninja Warrior show from earlier this century (...still feels weird to type that...) from Japan, which was frequently played on the now-defunct G4 channel? They make this crazy, crazy obstacle course, that takes near-superhuman strength and stamina to complete, and run a whole bunch of people through it. After four stages (the last of which is a direct vertical rope climb), any "survivors" who complete the courses are crowned the American Ninja Warrior and win a jillion dollars or something. The Wife and I used to watch the show whenever it was on, and I rediscovered it this spring. The Boy, in particular, was entirely captivated.

This was a BIG DEAL, by the by. The Boy has not, historically, been a particularly attentive athlete. Little Bear is an athlete and hyper-competitive: find a group of people with a ball of some sort, and he'll be right in the middle. Doesn't matter how old or young the group is, he's there. The Baby is still little, but he trends towards the social: he likes being around people, and he will do what he needs to do to find friends and play with them.

The Boy has not been motivated to be particularly active, particularly since he discovered books and discovered that his doting parents will allow him to read any thing at any time, just about. When we would go to the playground, he would bring a book with him and sit on a bench or sit on the merry go-round or sit on a swing and read patiently until it was time to go home.

That changed immediately upon discovering American Ninja Warrior. This show captured his imagination like nothing athletic has before. He began to pester us to build an American Ninja Warrior obstacle or two in our backyard (which is nowhere near big enough for something like that, not to mention that nothing in my history would indicate that I could safely build that). He trained himself on the playground: from barely being able to hold himself up on the monkey bars, he was able to make it forwards and backwards across the monkey bars. It was astonishing: I've never really seen Motivated The Boy like this!

We signed him up for a gymnastic class at the end of the summer, something he has been enthusiastic about. He loves his "Gemini Tough Guy" shirt and wears it frequently; the name of the studio is Gemini Gymnastics and Dance. He began to hear a pattern from the American Ninja Warrior guys on the television: they all did gymnastics in high school and/or college. I've been able to get out there for a parent observation once, and I watched him do a pretty decent straight-arm cartwheel and walk a few steps on his hands, two things that I have never done.

On Monday, we went to the Flight Trampoline Park in Bridgeville, PA, because they have an American Ninja Warrior course, in addition to the other cool trampoline stuff (trampolines, obviously; dodge ball on trampolines; a laser-dodging course; and a cool little tiny kid area). They had four "courses" of three obstacles each, which includes Ninja Warrior "favorites" like the swinging steps, and the narrow finger grip ledges, and the trapezes, and such. We found a Groupon of reasonable price, and Daddy got to be a hero for a day. The humbling thing for all of us was how difficult those obstacles were - and they were small versions of the television show. I know that I have terrible grip strength, so I wasn't going to be good at them. I still tried, and I have the strained abs and sore legs of someone who doesn't quite know when to quit. The boys did somewhat better (they weigh a third as much) but still struggled.

The downfall part of the day was that I entirely spaced on The Boy's gymnastics class for the week. Sigh. But, it was still an awfully fun day, and I'm still proud of The Boy for pushing himself as fast and as far as he did.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Good Burn

Yesterday, I had off from work. The Wife was in Boston for a rehearsal of her new chorus (well, new to her - more on that at a different time), and I was home with the boys. This was a turnabout of previous years, when I would be away with my chorus (usually in Cleveland or Toledo) while she was home; but, I digress. The Boy and I were the only two ones who were awake, and we began to discuss what we would do for the day. I debated about taking them to the movies, so we reviewed what was playing at the local cinema. The only things that were particularly kid appropriate (because I wasn't exactly going to leave The Baby in the car) were Rogue One (which we've already seen), the new Harry Potter movie (we haven't seen enough Harry Potter to appreciate this one), and Monster Trucks.

Monster Trucks just looks awful. I said as much to The Boy. His response: "You know, Dad, a movie doesn't have to come from a comic book to be good." Apply ointment to the burned area.

But, it makes sense. My media consumption time has been extremely limited lately: television, movies, video games, and books all take time to consume. I get home from work around 5:45 on a given night, and the boys are usually in bed at 8:30. I'm in bed not too long after - 10:00 on a normal night, a little earlier whenever possible. So, if I want to do things with the family, that leaves a very narrow window. If it's a night with an activity, that makes it even harder - and most nights have an activity, like violin and cello lessons, or group class, or Hebrew school, or baseball games (spring / summer / fall), or basketball (winter), or gymnastics (The Boy, during the school year). Then, factor in basic housework and dishes and homework and writing in a blog and organizing some pictures and reading for my class.... it gets harder and harder to find a little "me" time for media consumption.

All of that is to say, I get to go to the movies more rarely than I would prefer. So, I tend to choose movies that most closely parallel my interests. This past year, I went to the movies nine times: to see Deadpool, Florence Foster Jenkins, Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman (twice), Suicide Squad, Dr Strange, and Rogue One (twice). One of these things is not like the other. I've watched other movies; but those other movies, I tend to watch at home. When I get to watch TV, it's usually in the mornings when I exercise. These days, I'm watching Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Lucifer, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Walking Dead.... and most of my reading, outside of the class I'm taking, tends to be of comic book form.

Here's what really floors me: The Boy, in one sentence, dissected my television and movie habits from the past several years. That's an astonishing observation from somebody who doesn't seem to notice much outside of himself. And, it was a witty observation that happened in a truly off-the-cuff fashion. Well played, Boy. Well played.


We did go to the Flight Trampoline Park in Bridgeville, PA, which has an American Ninja Warrior course inside of it. More on that later, but it was an awful lot of fun.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Turning the Corner

I'm finally turning the corner, physically and emotionally, on 2016 and preparing for the future.

It's been a rough six weeks. Basically, around Thanksgiving, I began to have my normal annual entertainment: persistent coughing, a little bit of wheezing, and a tremendous amount of physical discomfort. This is every year, although December 2015 was a remarkably easy one. This year, though, they were changing 30-plus year old carpets in my office. Best part: they were doing it one cubicle area at a time, which meant that every day, a new round of dust, dirt, and mold were flung into the air for me to enjoy. So, my usual annual issues were exacerbated immensely by my work environment, in which I usually spend 9 hours per day or so.

Long and boring story short, the cough got worse, which included wracking physical pains because of 24-hours of nonstop coughing; lack of sleep; lack of appetite. I was in bed, straight, from 12/27 through 1/3, only getting up to do a little bit of work at home for the bank. New Year's was spent in bed - I knocked myself out with a sleeping pill around 10. The Wife and the boys had a slumber party downstairs. The Boy and The Wife made it through midnight; the other two didn't. I went to the ER the next day and given an ineffective breathing treatment and some cough medicine (which was also ineffective). I went to my PCP the next day, who said the magic words: beats me, we're doing everything we know to do, let's see what happens in a few days.

So, when I went back to the breathing doctor, I did hear some nice words. It's the weirdest cough, because my lungs are essentially clear (when listened through the stethoscope), and the chest x-ray is always clear. The breathing function test is essentially normal. Heck, once the wracking pain went away, I knew that I could jump on the treadmill and run three or four miles without issues (...albeit coughing the entire time). He's decided that we're not going to treat this like asthma, but he's going to try to figure out the underlying cause of the cough.

I have an appointment at the Voice Center in a week and a half for a scope & check up. He thinks that it might be laryngospasms, which can trigger the airway irritation (which he said he could see) and cough. It also explains why the albuterol breathing medicine is entirely ineffective, and why cough medicine isn't effective, either. I'm hopeful about this, because maaaaaaaaybe this could also explain some of the singing issues that I've had for the last fifteen years or so. For whatever reason, when my voice hits a middle C or above, it entirely locks up - regardless of how much vocal instruction I've had, regardless of how much practice I'm doing, regardless of the amount and quality of air I use. That would be nice, if we could discover that the same underlying cause. Two birds, one stone, and an enormous quality of life improvement. My pessimistic nature says no way it's that easy, that I get to enjoy a nose/vocal fold scope to find out that everything is entirely normal and the cause of my persistent cough is a medical mystery.

However, over the past week or so, things are finally starting to subside. I'm eating normally, and I'm sleeping relatively normally. I'm coming off the steroids (best part: doctor thinks that the steroids aren't really helping, so I'm destroying my liver for no real reason) at the end of this week. I'm fortunate, in that my manager has been incredibly compassionate and accommodating - he certainly didn't have to, and I thank G-d for it. The members of our team have also been great and patient with me. I enjoy the people with whom I work - the biggest thing that's kept me at the bank is the people in my department.

I'm incredibly thankful for my wife, who has cared for me, patiently and lovingly, for the past month and a half. She's been truly amazing all the way through this ordeal, staying by my side and ministering to me at any and all hours of the day and night. I know that friends have had spouses who have not been as patient and kind; but The Wife truly understands and exemplifies " sickness and in health." I hit the lottery when I met her - one in a billion, without a doubt.

My New Year's resolutions include more writing this year. One would think that I have the time to do it these days, without a musical ensemble to call my own. It was an eventful end of year, with Little Bear playing two years up in kid-pitch baseball, and the boys starting at a new school, and The Boy taking up trombone (...and excelling beyond anybody's expectations), and me playing saxophone with The Wife's orchestra, and The Baby learning to read and playing his violin well (...and throwing really, really hard with his left arm, also a huge plus), and The Wife's new chorus, and some early spring cleaning, and my father turning 81 (and what that means), and decorating my house for the holidays, and my pending religious changes..... there's a bunch of things that are happening, waaaay more than seasonal blog updates so that Google doesn't think I disappeared.

I did just register "," so that's a thing that happened.

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone