Thursday, October 16, 2014

We're Back in the World Series, Baby!

The last time the Kansas City Royals made it to the World Series I was ten years old. I was lucky enough to attend Game 7 in 1985 and I'll never forget it. But I'm thirty nine now. So it's been awhile. And while I'm not pretending to be a rabid baseball, or even sports fan, I'm a Royals fan by birth. As the stakes kept increasing with each game this year, all I could think of was how excited and giddy my grandfather would have been to watch his boys in blue finally succeed. I'm actually really excited too. I wrote this post a few years ago for a Blogher article and it just seems completely perfect to re-post again today, the day after our Royals, my home town team, clinched their spot in the World Series after a four game sweep. My town is covered in joyous blue today, (even the celebratory donuts I brought to work are blue!) and I know my grandparents would have been the loudest, most jubilant fans if they were here to enjoy it! So this one's for you, Grandma and Pa-Dad!

Grandma rocking the cat eye sunglasses at the Royals game in the 1970's.

I'm not a fan of the sports. I never have been. I don't know why exactly. Maybe it was my first memory of organized sports, playing on a soccer team as a seven or eight year old. I remember we lost every single game. As a team we got one goal, maybe two, and I remember standing around a lot wearing smelly shin guards and short shorts. One season and this book worm was done. Or maybe it was attending one too many soccer or baseball or football games for my younger brother, the little jock.

Those shorts came up to my armpits.

This post was going to be entirely about how I'm not a sports fan, I don't watch, I have a reputation for reading Vanity Fair back issues while everyone else curses at the TV as the Chiefs inevitably choke. But then I realized something. I have spent most of my life in Kansas City and our town is lucky enough to have both a major league baseball team and an NFL team. I didn't attend my first Chiefs game until just a couple of years ago, but I pretty much grew up at Royals Stadium. Now Kauffman Stadium.

My grandparents had season tickets to the Royals for a very long time, most of my childhood I think. They had four seats about twenty rows back along the third base line. They brought my brother and me all the time for weekend games. All the time. We would spend the night at their house, sometimes the whole weekend, swim in their pool, eat Kraft macaroni and cheese with hot dogs for dinner and our choice of Grapenuts or crullers for breakfast the next day (crullers are basically French toast dipped in cinnamon and sugar instead of butter and syrup, kid heaven.) We'd swim and play card games with my grandmother until we were exhausted, sunburned and pruney fingered. After dinner we'd get in our pajamas, (I was always giddy to borrow one of my grandma's pretty, shiny, colorful nightgowns,) and we would end the night by jumping on their king-sized bed which was decked out in the most beautiful patchwork velvet bedspread. We'd climb in bed between them and watch Benny Hill on their tiny TV, we would laugh along with my grandfather, though I never understood why the old chubby guy chasing young girls was funny, we would fall asleep and they would gently wake us up and send us off to our own beds. Because we needed a good night's sleep for the best part of the weekend coming up, the Royals game.

My grandparents lived just a few minutes from the stadium and for the longest time I actually thought they owned it. It was right by their house and they were there constantly, they knew everyone and had multiple signed baseballs from the team, an enormous range of Royals clothing and paraphernalia, including my grandmother's light up Royals earrings, oh yes, you read that right. All of these things together, in my seven year old head, meant that they must own the stadium. Seemed logical at the time. Game day we arrived at the stadium, ran ahead of our grandparents straight to our seats, and before sitting and eating our weight in cotton candy and nachos, we would scurry right down to the edge of field and look at all the players warming up. Sometimes we'd get signatures for my brother's baseball or laugh at the antics of the San Diego Chicken. And then it was game time.

I always half paid attention. My grandfather made sure we watched, at least some of the time. He did a thorough and diligent job explaining the rules and detailing the strengths and weaknesses of all the players. This was in the Royals heyday of the 1980's: Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Frank White, George Brett (he was my favorite and we once ran into him at a local restaurant, he was very gracious, I had a bit of a crush on him.) We even got to attend Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. I remember the chaos and glee as the fans rushed the field when we won.

A 98 degree July day at the K with the family.

But the games weren't about the actual baseball for me. It was about spending time with my grandparents. It was about hanging out with my little brother and collecting those plastic batting helmet sundae cups for him. It was about running full tilt up the twisty ramp to the upper levels and back down again so fast it made us dizzy. It was about feeling like I had a second home, not just at my grandparent's house but at their stadium. And maybe that's what sports are really about. People feeling a connection to a place, a stadium, a team of athletes with daunting impressive talent, that second home where all of your friends and family are, oh, and the beer. So while I may not be a sports fan, I will always love the Royals and that stadium, no matter what it's called now. To me it will always be Herb and Mary's, Grandma and Pa-Dad's. And now I can't wait to pass down these same experiences with our kiddo.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'm the Worst and the Best

Things I'm the Worst at right now:

Taking criticism without getting defensive
Doing my hair in any style but straight and down
Applying liquid eyeliner without redoing it three times, maybe four
Not cleaning the house if people are coming over
Sticking with one book and not trying three others before I land and finish one
Sharing the remote
Not over analyzing everything, everything
Letting the dishes sit over night
Delayed gratification
Not comparing myself to other people
Being completely spontaneous 
Making large changes outside of my routine without agonizing over them
Eating all the veggies I buy and plan to cook before they go bad
Not laughing without a bit of a snort 
Doing things I'm not good at until I get better at them

(After 30 minutes of practice, I'm slightly better at the liquid liner.)

Things I'm the Best at right now:

Making quick decisions without regrets
Listening to you, closely
Making the bed everyday
Wearing brooches and scarves
Picking books for other people
Putting myself in your shoes, though not literally because I'm guessing my feet are bigger than yours
Baking things you'll want to eat seconds of
Reading more than one book at a time
Managing multiple deadlines and projects and people personalities
Dog walks through leaves
Knowing a wide range of historical slut shaming terminology
Assuming the worst in any serious situation 
Crying while watching anything vaguely emotional
Eating all kinds of interesting things, even eel
Singing along to every song I love with loud joy, and totally off key
Loving you
Saying no
Appreciating your tiny lovely quirks
Buying lip gloss that's always too pink and never quite red enough

How about you? What are you terrible at today? What are you the queen or king of doing well?

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday 5: James Dean, Jesus and Han Solo

It's Friday. The weekend is upon us. And since I'm trying to get back into this regular blogging gig, I thought I would cheat a little today and visit the Friday 5 site for some writing inspiration. They always post an interesting set of questions on a theme each Friday. So today's theme is: Rebellion. After answering these five questions, I realized, well hell, I'm not much of rebel. Never have been. But I am in my heart. Han Solo, James Dean, Jesus. Rebels are the best.

In what ways have you rebelled against your upbringing?

I'm not sure. I don't think my parents had any kind of clear philosophy in raising us. They are both so different from each other and once they got divorced it was like being raised in two very different and separate families. So which one was I rebelling against? Neither really. I mean, I made some choices neither would have liked. But I work hard. I'm happily married. I'm independent and assertive. I still live in my home town, because once I moved away I realized how great it actually was. I think these are all things that my parents wanted for me, because they make me happy. They didn't raise us in their images or as a way to live through us, so I don't feel like I've had to rebel much. I'm sure they would answer this question differently.  At most my tiny rebellions include:

  • I don't attend church regularly like we did as kids. I guess I consider myself Methodist still, but I can't remember the last time I attended church except for Christmas and christenings.
  • I do have a couple of tattoos, and I know they both hate that. 
  • I curse a lot. 
  • And if I even say the word "masturbation" in front of my mom, she loses her cool. So I mention that often, because it's still fun at 39 to make your mom lose her cool. Ok, I'm a rebel.

In what ways have you rebelled against your schooling?

I don't really think that I have in a traditional sense. Other than not following the typical four years of college, then job or grad school plan that most of my friends have followed. I struggled with serious depression off and on while I was in college, so school was really challenging for me. I finished and graduated, but it wasn't on a traditional timeline and I was disappointed in myself because of that. I still am sometimes. But because of it, I didn't have a perfectly clear plan or a formal structure to rebel against. My parents never told me I had to grow up and be a doctor or a lawyer. They let me figure it out. And they paid for my therapy, bonus points to the parents. 

I've always loved writing, reading, helping people, teaching. Early on in college I thought I wanted to be a journalist or college level English professor. Through a volunteering job, I fell in love with social work, but ultimately my degree and certifications aren't in either subject. Now as a development director for nonprofits, I think my schooling and work experience and long time passions and even my past depression and struggles have all combined to fit my career choice quite perfectly. And the depression has been under control for over a decade. So what do I have to rebel against? Nothing. I kind of figured out my own path and made it work, even with some serious missteps of my own making during college. I give my parents credit for helping me figure things out and giving me the space and support so I could figure things out in my own time.

In what ways have you rebelled against American culture?

What does that even mean? Is there an American culture? Aren't we too spread out and diverse and "insert melting pot/salad bowl metaphor here" to say we have one culture? Don't we all get to influence our own culture or find our own niche and community? But let's pretend that the culture that The Today Show or Oprah or Bill O'Reilly wants to sell me is the universal American cultural truth. In that case, I don't really like sports. I'm not religious. I've never watched much NASCAR or pro-wrestling. I'd give up TV before I'd give up books. But I do love apple pie, hot dogs, fireworks, wide open prairies, freedom, Bruce Springsteen, Boulevard beer and driving my car down a long stretch of deserted road. 

Is it possible to rebel against yourself?

Maybe against your best self, your ideal self, the self that creates unattainable New Year's resolutions. I rebel against my best intentions entirely too often. I need to make a resolution about that. Or read another Life Hacker article.

What’s your favorite song about rebellion?

For singing along, Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire. For yelling along and punching the air with my rebellious fist, Oh Bondage Up Yours by X-ray Spex.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

30 Second Book Reviews: A Dangerous Tower of Nightstand Books

Even though adoption stuff and work and travel and friends and family have consumed most of my time this year, I'm still reading up a storm. Less that previous years granted, but I'm sure next year, once we have a kiddo, my time for reading will shrink up even more. I'm ok with that. I think I'll just be reading different things too. And the Roald Dahl and the Harry Potter and the Box Car Children and the Captain Underpants books will all deserve equal review time here. But for now, let's stick with the adult stuff. Mostly adult stuff. 

I've been reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction, a lot of Stephen King again for some reason, and plenty of audiobooks on my commute and various road trips. I have slightly different standards for audiobooks than I do for books I read traditionally. I like more plot and less character development, fewer characters, more action in my audio and the beauty of the language isn't quite as important to me in audio. I don't know why that is. It just is. If I really want to savor a book, I want to pick it up, hold it in my hands and read it with my own eyes. So let's dive into the reviews for everything I've read since June. I've noted books that I've listened to rather than read, just so you know my bias. Totally biased.

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman- Audiobook - Let's just jump in with the audiobook bias, I love a good mystery audiobook. This was that book. It was good. Not amazing. Good. A little long, a few too many characters, but enjoyable.

Live from New York:An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Allen Miller- This book was funny and strange and fascinating created from interviews with all of the key SNL people on stage and behind the scenes from the 1970's to today. If you love SNL like I do, through its ups and downs, this is a must read. Plus you'll feel like you're trying cocaine without actually having to do so.

Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory Keck - I'm reading this one again right now. It's going to be really helpful. This parenting thing seems like it might be hard. 

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King - Turns out, I don't really like sci-fi. It's one of the few genres I just can't seem to get into. This was a lot of weird aliens and strange goings on set in Maine naturally, not my favorite King novel but not the worst thing I've ever read. Much like sex or pizza, King is always pretty good even when he's not amazing.

All Three Gillian Flynn Books for the second time Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, Dark Place - Audiobooks - I made Joe listen to these with me on various road trips. I love them all.

The Ivory Grin by Ross McDonald- Noir noir noir. Dark, sinister, perfectly set in the 1950's. I wanted to sip a scotch, hire a PI to investigate my husband and wear a pencil skirt while reading this sucker.

Wine to Water by Doc Hendley- A passionate and lively memoir about a bartender who finds his mission in life by bringing clean water to some of the most dangerous places in the world. Pretty inspiring while still pointing out all of the mistakes people make when running nonprofits. Good intentions don't negate the need for some planning, structure, and business acumen.

The Drowing Room by Elizabeth Black -Audiobook- This one was odd. I stopped about half way through because I realized I didn't care about any of the characters. That's my valid excuse. I use it often. Life is too short to bother with books you don't want to really dive into.

Adopting the Hurt Child by Gregory Keck - Again, I've read this one twice.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison -Audiobook - Like buying a "PRADA" bag on the streets of New York, this book wants you to think it's Gone Girl, but the stitching and quality of the fabric give it away immediately as a cheap imitator. I still listened to the whole thing though. I wanted to find out what happened!

The Eternal Nazi by Nicholas Kulish and Souad Mekhennet - I've had an ongoing, strong interest in WWII and the Holocaust since I was in high school. This was another example of bringing that time period to life, with the story of Nazi hunters on a quest to find Nazis even in the 2000's. 

Snowblind by Christopher Golden - Fine. It was fine. It was chilly and weird and fine. Parts of it were legitimately creepy but descriptions of little ice monsters dancing on snow just made me giggle and drink some hot cocoa.

We Were Liars by E Lockhard- Audiobook - Nope. Not a fan. I guessed the twist early on because I'm not 12. And I don't have the stomach for poor little rich kid youth fiction anymore. If I was 12 I would love this one though.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter - What a gut punch of a book. As we get ready to adopt an older child through the foster care system, this book tore me up, inspired and educated me about what this process is like from the perspective of a child about to be adopted, to go through years of foster placements, to be ripped away from your biological parents, and to finally get your forever home. It's going to be so challenging for all of us, but isn't that the truth for anything deeply valuable in our lives? Thank you, Ashley, for sharing your story.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King -A solid Stephen King novel. Strong characters that I found myself rooting for throughout, a macabre and disturbed villain I couldn't turn away from, and a story line that kept propelling me forward into certain chaos and potential doom. And while it lacked a true mystery or any typical King horror, it was a well paced, sometimes funny, always engaging book.

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman - Audiobook - Again, a perfect audiobook mystery. A woman is kidnapped as a teenager and must face the kidnapper years later. I wasn't sure where this book was going to end up but I liked that.

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore - As usual, a ridiculous, funny, strange hybrid of a novel, mixing Shakespeare and fantasy and satire into one romp of a book. I love Christoper Moore and want to meet him someday.

The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis -A mystery series wrapped up in the intrigue, history and rich setting of Ancient Rome. I'm hooked and with 20 books so far in the series, let's see how many I can read. Falco is funny, dastardly and such a rounded full character, I don't know if I want to slap him or kiss him.

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda - No wonder Dennis Lehane loved this novel. It's from the same school, the gritty dark streets, storyline and the magic of the words just flows together into this cast of characters and themes you can't turn away from, I loved it too. My motto, always take Dennis Lehane's book recommendations.

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. - Audiobook- This is the totally true story of a multi-millionairess recluse who locked herself away with her dolls and her cartoons in her mansions in New York and then in a private hospital room for decades. It's bizarre and almost too strange to believe. I loved it. She was incredibly generous and incredibly unique.

So that's it! Right now I'm listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a book I read a few years ago, but I heard such great reviews of the multi-cast audiobook, that I thought I'd read/listen to it again. It really is a modern classic. The gods of the book are currently meeting up at The House on the Rock, one of the most bizarre places I've ever been in real life, and it's been delightful to read Gaiman's descriptions of the place. That place completely deserves a prime spot in a bizarre epic fantasy novel like American Gods. I'm also reading a real paper copy of Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When we visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis in July, I loved visiting the exhibits about Lewis and Clark, so I thought I'd learn more, since I only have a high school American History understanding of the whole exploration. Ambrose has an elegant narrative style that makes the dry history seem less so. I'm liking it so far. 

So what are you reading as summer disappears into fall, my friends?