Tuesday, July 29, 2014

the chronicles of prydain

a couple of weeks ago, after encouraging jackson to read it, i was inspired to read a series i had read before in my early teen years, and i am so pleased that i did.

i had read lloyd alexander's "prydain chronicles" some 25 years ago, but had forgotten a great many of the details of the story that make this such a rich literary adventure.  reading it again, here in my late 30's, was just as rewarding as i remember it being when i was a teenager, if not more so.

the series consists of five books, admittedly aimed at younger readers, (but literature aimed at younger readers in the 1960's feels a bit more advanced than much of what is aimed at 13-year olds today), which tell the story of a young man who lives and operates under the undistinguished title of "assistant pig keeper."  this lowly position is held by a boy named Taran, who wants more than anything to be a hero.  eventually, the adventures of his life afford him the opportunity to become just that, but he learns along the way that being a hero is not exactly what he thought it would be.  in this, then, it becomes a series of stories about identity, and discovering who we are based on our decisions and our actions, rather than our titles and our heritage.

but i'm making it sound too boring.  it is pure fantasy, with terrifying villains and honorable heroes.  it's got battles and escapes and spells and trolls and dwarves and a pig that can give prophecies.  it is a wonderful story of companions, Taran, with eilowyn (a girl about his age), fflewddur fflam (a traveling bard with a magical harp which breaks a string every time f.f. "colors" the truth a bit), and gurgi (a loyal beast of unknown species).  it is full of adventure and loss, victory and sorrow, and, in the end, a wonderfully exhilarating climax, followed by the real coming-of-age of a true hero.

the story is generally based on the lore of wales, with all sorts of welsh spellings and the geography of such a land, but lloyd alexander took the colors of those ancient tales and used them to paint his own picture, one with a strong moral character which wonderfully never becomes didactic or heavy-handed in its morality.

i would highly recommend these books (two of them are newberry award winners [and the first two were merged into one of the most disappointing disney films of all time, called "the black cauldron"]) to young readers, and maybe even to not-so-young readers like myself who would enjoy not only a fun, fantastical adventure, but would also like a reminder about what it means to truly be yourself.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

back to camp

it's time.

time for the steelers to hit the practice fields in the hot summer sun.  time for the sounds of pads hitting pads, coaches shouting instructions, and whistles piercing the campus air at st. vincent's.  it's time for the steelers to go back to camp and try to fix what ended up as an 8-8 mess last year.

and it is time for me to enter my yearly promised land of sports-fandom.  i get 3+ months of baseball and football together, and it is the best quarter of a year that a baseball/football guy could ask for.

so please excuse me if i revel in this for a bit, with a gigantic smile on my face.

Friday, July 25, 2014

happy birthday, Quinton!

our little baby, our round little man who has thinned out and become quite the little comedian, turns three years old today.  born just before midnight on the 25th of july, to the sweet sounds of grieg's "peer gynt," he was instantly loved and adored, not just by shannon and i, but by his older brothers, too.  it is stunning to think that it's been three years already, but the calendar swears its not lying about it, so we are making a batman cake and blowing out the candles and singing robustly to our young and hilarious little man.  we love you, Quinton, and are so proud of you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

chase's big day

see this guy?  his name is chase headley.  chase had a very interesting day yesterday.  let me tell you about it.

chase started the day in chicago as the third baseman for the san diego padres.  they were in the windy city for a series against the cubs.  at some point during the morning, however, it was announced that he had been traded to the new york yankees.  i can't even imagine what all must go through your head as a ball player who has just been told that you will now be playing with a whole different group of men, and you will now call a different city (on the other side of the country) "home" for the next 3 months.  but whatever goes through Chase's mind, it had to go through pretty quickly, because while i'm sure he wanted to talk to his wife and other family, he quickly had to make sure he was boarding a plane in chicago that was bound for new york city.  somehow, amidst saying goodbye to his teammates, and gathering his belongings, he did just that.

meanwhile, in the bronx, the yankees are playing there regularly scheduled game against the texas rangers.  at some point during the 2nd inning, Chase arrives at the stadium in time to put on his brand new uniform and walk out of the tunnel into the dugout, where he then began the (almost certainly) awkward process of saying hello to all of his new teammates ("hi, i'm Chase...and you are Derek Jeter!").

this kind of thing happens fairly regularly in baseball, so it isn't anything that hasn't been done before.  but Chase's big day wasn't over yet.  neither the yankees nor the rangers could score, so the game was 0-0 as it moved into the later innings.  at one point in the 8th inning, the yankees called upon their brand new third baseman to come into the game as a pinch hitter and try to get something going.  he struck out.

but the game remained scoreless.  it went into the 10th.  still scoreless.  then, in the 11th, Chase came up to the plate again.  and this time he.....grounded out to first base.

but, have no fear.  Chase's moment still hadn't arrived.  he came up to bat again, this time in the bottom of the 12th inning with the bases loaded and two outs.  surely this was his fairy tale moment, right?  nope.  he grounded out to second.

then, in the top of the 13th, with the score tied 0-0, the rangers hit a go-ahead home run.  after not being able to score the entire game, the yankees somehow found a way to tie it up in the bottom half of the inning, so the game continued into the 14th inning, tied 1-1.

the rangers couldn't score in the top of the 14th, and the yankees started the bottom half of the inning with an out, a double and a short single, which put runners on 1st and 3rd with one out for you-know-who, Chase Headley.  and this time, Chase's big day finally came to a full crescendo.

he singled to left field.  ballgame over.  yankees win.  THHHHHHEEEEE YANKEES WIN!

so, he started the day as a padre in chicago, and finished it as the celebrated hero of a yankees walk-off victory in the bronx.  what a day.

and i got to witness it all, into the wee hours of the morning, listening to the yankees radio broadcasters.  amazing.

and people say baseball is boring.  ha!

Monday, July 21, 2014

jackson plays "home on the range"

Jackson provided the special music at church on sunday, playing the not-so-churchy "home on the range."  perhaps if you change the words to "where the deer and the antelope "pray," it would be a bit more churchy.  in any case, he did a great job. check it out!

Friday, July 18, 2014

(a tiny bit) more magic for muggles

attention potterheads:  in case you missed it, j.k. rowling has written a (very) short little vignette as a tasty update on the harry potter stories. it appeared on her pottermore website under "the daily prophet" section, and is written as if that nosy, nebbing reporter, rita skeeter, was reporting on some potter "gossip" at the quidditch world cup. rita writes about harry and ginny, ron and hermione, now in their mid-thirties, with children of their own, taking some time off to get away with some friends (neville longbottom, luna lovegood, etc.) to catch a big quidditch match. the piece offers some tasty morsels and updates on what has happened to the crew since we last said goodbye (tearfully, in my case) to them, and also, at least for about 150 seconds, makes you feel like you are back in rowling's amazing world of magic. finally, the final paragraph of the pice COULD be construed as a hint that there is more harry potter material down the road. one can only hope (or cast a wishing charm of some sort).  

note: to read the piece on pottermore.com, i think you have to register (it's free).  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

nothing but respect

respect.  that's what the captain of the yankees has earned over his career.  just take a quick glance at the message boards across baseball this year, and you'll constantly read things like this (actually quoted from a video of jeter):  "i  *$^%# hate the yankees, but i got nothin but respect for the captain."

nothing but respect.

he seems to have had his relationship problems off the field, but some of the reporting of that seems to be as largely exaggerated as is the human tendency to tear down those who are successful.  he generally stays out of the tabloids, and certainly out of the limelight in new york city, other than when it comes to playing baseball, which is what he has always wanted to do.  since his proclamation as a 4th-grader that he would someday play shortstop for the new york yankees, he has been a driven man, full of focus and determination.  sure he has natural skill, but i don't think anyone would ever argue that he is the most naturally gifted athlete to ever play his position.  but he does have grit and a crazy work ethic and a fierce competitive drive.  and something else, too, which is my major reason for admiring and celebrating him: class.

derek jeter plays the game well.  he plays it with heart.  he plays it with sportsmanship.  he never rips into his teammates (even when he's had plenty of good reasons to do so over the years), at least not in the public eye.  he doesn't taunt.  he doesn't turn his play into a sideshow, (ala puig from the dodgers, just to name one of several), and doesn't make everything all about him.  jeter just lets his play do the talking.

and his play has said plenty.  5 world series championships.  world series mvp.  all star game mvp.  3,000 hits.  over .300 lifetime average.  that jump throw.  that shovel toss against the a's.  that leap into the stands against the red sox.  that home run in november.  and he never throws the bat or points a finger or glares into an opposing dugout.  he just plays, and enjoys playing, and tries to do everything he can to play to the best of his ability and to do anything he can to help his team win.  strange that this seems a novel concept in the contemporary sports arena, but it is.

so, to you, derek jeter, as you play in your final all star game, i tip my cap to you in respect.