How Maya Rudolph Became the Master of Impressions

This beautiful piece in The New York Times Magazine last weekend about Maya Rudolph is one of the best things I've read in a while.

Reading and picturing this scene had me laughing out loud ... 
She was telling the story of the time she was bitten by a black-widow spider while getting a massage on a girls’ vacation that many comedy fans might commit real-life murder to attend, with her “Saturday Night Live” friends Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer and the writers Paula Pell and Emily Spivey. Rudolph was doing an impression of Gasteyer the moment Rudolph explained to her that she was possibly about to die.

Her Gasteyer was a 120 percent concentration: angular head movements; precise intentional blinks; a modulated operatic voice — classic Gasteyer, but swirled with the essential oils of her performance as a tightly wound 1990s Martha Stewart. Rudolph’s account of the fiasco was bursting with rollicking impressions — Poehler taking charge with peppy fortitude; Dratch trying to discreetly escape to a shower — but to print the transcript would be a disservice to Rudolph, because the transcript is simply not funny. The element that brings tears of laughter to your eyes is not the words themselves, but the curious, thrilling sensation of witnessing other people’s faces and voices emerge from Rudolph’s own.
And the reflection of her mother's death and childhood is heart-wrenching. I had no idea who her mother was until I read this, but I most definitely know “Lovin’ You.” After reading this, I pulled up the song and listened. My heart melted at the sound of Riperton singing “Maya, Maya, Maya” at the end of the track. 

I can hardly wait to give “Forever,” her new series with Fred Armisen a try. 


A night with Taylor Swift

So I took Phoebe to see Taylor Swift perform at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City last night.

Taylor Swift. One of the biggest pop stars on the planet. I'm still having trouble believing it.

Phoebe has pretty much grown up with her music playing around our house – since the days of the “Love Song” music video rolling on our TV, back when Kates and I spent our Saturday mornings watching the VH1 countdown and we couldn’t name a single show on the Disney Channel. Oh, how times have changed, but that’s another post.

We own all of her albums and it’s no wonder Phoebe has grown to admire her music so much. Taylor is as wholesome as pop stars come these days, and I can’t think of another one I’d rather have Phoebe admire.

Fast forward to a year ago when the news broke that Taylor was unleashing a tour to promote her new “Reputation” album and coming to Kansas City. I started talking with Kates about the idea of taking Phoebe. Somehow I got a pair of tickets for us last December – we decided Faye wasn’t old enough for a big-time concert and Kates was ok with not going – and we presented them to Phoebe for her birthday in the form of a printed Ticketmaster confirmation. She opened the envelope, read the paper and let out a happy scream as she flopped into the couch.

And I’m not gonna lie. I was pretty darn excited to see Miss Taylor myself.

After months of waiting, the day of the concert finally came. As everyone was waking up yesterday, I went across the hall to Phoebe’s room and jumped on her as she lay in it. “Today’s the big day!” I shouted as I shook her and rocked her bed excitedly.

It turned out to be a beautiful night for an outdoor concert with an overcast sky and temperatures in the high 60s – which was a relief, considering it’s been raining nearly non-stop for the last two weeks. The grass, which had been on life support since late June because we had barely seen a drop of rain since then, is now a lush green, and I’ve mowed our lawn more times in the last three weeks – three times – than I did all of the month of July and for most of August combined.

A preview from the local news ...

With the concert set to start at 7, we left the house a little after 4 in the afternoon. I offered to take Phoebe somewhere for dinner, and she picked the McAlister’s Deli in St. Joseph, which she loves. It was a good halfway stop between The ‘Ville and Kansas City.

We arrived at the stadium complex around 6:50 and joined the parade of vehicles moving into the parking lot. We could hear the opening act, Charli XCX, on the stage inside Arrowhead as we drove through the parking lot. Finally, we got parked and started our walk to the stadium.

The place was a madhouse. But in a good way. … Taylor announced to the crowd shortly after she took the stage that last night’s show broke the attendance record for a concert at Arrowhead Stadium, and the number published this morning had it at 58,611 – and considering Arrowhead is the largest venue in Kansas City, that could mean it was the biggest in Kansas City history, right? The crowd was loaded with young couples and parents with tweens in tow, which relieved any doubts I was having about whether bringing Phoebe to a Taylor Swift stadium concert was the right thing to do. It only got better from there. The crowd was excellent and I didn’t observe an ounce of rudeness the entire night. A breath of fresh air.

Phoebe was all smiles and barely containing her excitement as we walked the ramp up to our seats. We were in the upper deck in a corner of one of the end zones. Charli XCX was ending her set with “Fancy” as we got to our seats around 7:30, and – although I would have liked hearing “Boom Clap – I didn't mind that we missed her.

Around 7:45, the second act, Camila Cabello, took the stage. When we sat down, I couldn’t have told you what songs she was known for. When I asked her, Phoebe said she knew a couple of her songs and knew she was formerly with Fifth Harmony. … I was soon pleasantly surprised by how many of Cabello’s songs I did recognize. Wearing a Kansas City Chiefs jersey, she opened with “Never Be the Same,” which has been all over the radio this summer. Plus, she worked in “Bad Things,” a Machine Gun Kelly song on which she sings an altered chorus of Fastball’s “Out of my Head,” and she ended with “Havana,” another popular radio tune this summer. I also really liked “Inside Out.”

On the downside, Cabello appeared as nothing more than a speck on the stage from where we were seated. Huge arena and stadium shows have never been my thing and I much prefer the club and small theaters that most of my favorite bands tend to play. I like the intimacy of those environments and the feeling that you’re so close to the stage that you could shake the band members’ hands and you can really appreciate the musicianship playing out before your eyes. … Last night, our seats felt so far away that we had to rely heavily on the video screens, and I had doubts about whether Cabello was actually singing or going through the motions to a recorded track.

All of those thoughts were erased when Taylor took the stage.

During the intermission, Phoebe and I enjoyed watching the crowd and chatting about what we could expect during Taylor’s show. She was curious about the planning that goes into concerts in general and the stage construction, and I enjoyed explaining the production elements to her. After all, we’ve taken Phoebe to Summerfest a few times and some shows at the university, but she had never experienced a production even remotely close to the one we saw last night.

The main stage was shaped like an X with two huge panels at the back of it, each angled slightly toward the sides of the stadium and a giant skeleton of steel towers behind them. Red lights blinked at the top of the towers for extra effect. Adding to my own curiosity about the setup, two smaller stages were stationed at each corner of the end zone in front of us – which suggested additional performance space for Taylor, but I couldn’t figure out how she was going to get there if my suspicion was true

The time passed quickly. The sky darkened fast and at around 8:30, the stadium lights went out.

Suddenly the stage came alive with bright lights and thumping bass. The two huge panels slid apart at the center of the stage, and out came Taylor, eyeing up the crowd and busting out “… Ready for it?” the opening track from “Reputation.”

She performed all but one of the 15 tracks from “Reputation” and effortlessly weaved in her hits and fan favorites throughout her two-hour show in the form of medleys and mashups. Taylor and a collection of dancers paraded up and down the X all night long as the musicians rocked their instruments from the second story of the steel structure.

The show was everything I had hoped for and more – even when things on stage weren’t exactly perfect – with not a curse word uttered throughout. Early in the show, Taylor was pacing the stage and talking to the crowd when she realized her mic was cutting out. She immediately apologized to the crowd, recalling that it rained all week during the stage setup and that some of the equipment probably was affected. She played it cool, pausing to listen to crew members communicating the status through her ear piece and talking back to them as the crowd listened in. As the scene played out, I pictured in my mind dozens of crew members scurrying around backstage replacing cables, duct-taping attachments and working to fix the issue – which was resolved in minutes. … Later, while her band and dancers were taking a break and Taylor was on stage by herself to play a couple songs acoustically, she admitted she was battling a cold. A crew member stepped onto the stage to hand her a Kleenex and she asked for the crowd’s patience and forgiveness as she stepped away from the mic to blow her nose. … As the breeze was picking up toward the end of the show and she sat alone at a piano, it was easy to tell she was uncomfortably cold on the stage. But her professionalism shined, and her ability to power through it and deliver a top-notch performance for the grateful crowd was impressive.

And the wristbands. After passing through the gates, everyone was handed a clear Vivofit style wristband. We weren’t given any instructions but figured they had something to do with the show – and wow, did they ever. From the first moment of the show, they lit up and didn’t stop until the stage went dark at the end of the night, only adding to the amazing light effects throughout the show. They flashed to the beats of the songs. Sometimes they flashed bright white. Sometimes they were red. Sometimes they were multi-colored. Sometimes they blinked. Sometimes they illuminated like a wave spreading across the stadium bowl.

Every few minutes I’d sneak a look at Phoebe and I’m not sure she ever stopped smiling. She sang along to every. single. word. Several times, I leaned into her to ask the title of the song Taylor was singing, and she knew every time. How do you know all of this!? I thought. But I remember my mom asking me the same question when I was Phoebe’s age on the mornings that she drove me to school and I sang all the words to the songs that played on the car radio.

One of the high points of the night was a run of “Style,” “Love Song” and “You Belong to Me.” …

All night long, there were blasts of confetti and fog machines and no shortage of pyrotechnics. During “I Did Something Bad,” balls of flame shot from the stop of the stage, and we could literally feel the heat all the way from where we were sitting.

About a third of the way into the show, I got my answer about the smaller stages in the end zone when Taylor stepped onto a carriage that transported her over the crowd from the main stage to the smaller stage on the opposite corner of where we were sitting. It was a beautiful scene that fit the tone of the song and the stage transition perfectly.

Then an amazing dance party broke out. Watch …

The euphoria of “Shake It Off” felt like a finale – and yet we weren’t even halfway through the show. On the next two songs, the band when silent and the dancers disappeared as she performed “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and a fan favorite, “The Story of Us.” Just her on an acoustic guitar and a beautiful crowd sing-along. (Here's an up-close version)

She walked through the crowd to get to the other small stage, where she performed a few more songs, and then boarded a snake-shaped apparatus that shipped her back to the main stage while she sang “Bad Blood.”

Back on the X, she sang a raucous “Don’t Blame Me” that was accompanied by some mean guitar and more fireballs sprouting from the top of the stage; for me it was the most powerful performance of the night. Then, she was left alone at a piano where she played a medley of “Long Live” and “New Year’s Day.” … I love “New Year’s Day,” and her moving performance of it on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon remains unforgettable. I had chills going through my body as she performed it last night and would have been disappointed if she hadn’t. …

A couple songs later, the drum beats of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” began pounding through the stadium. The crowd sang it loud with her and we were treated to just enough of it before the band transitioned into “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” – perhaps my favorite track on the “Reputation” album.

What unfolded was a concert finale for the ages …

When the smoke from the fireworks cleared, the lights at the stadium turned on, and Phoebe and I stood back against our seats and caught our breaths. Even then, the show was still going as end credits rolled on the big screens behind the stage. The screens flashed photos and names of the musicians and dancers who were part of the show, mixed with outtakes of Taylor and her crew rehearsing in an empty Arrowhead Stadium. Phoebe and I just stood there, soaking it in and relishing the final minutes of a truly memorable night.

I’m just going to say it. Of all my concert days and nights, this was the best concert ever … Sorry, Fun. You’ve been overtaken. (Ironically, Fun member Jack Antonoff co-produced “Reputation,” so there's that.)

Here’s The Kansas City Star review ...
The massive crowd witnessed an extraordinary spectacle. The main stage resembled an offshore oil rig outfitted with massive video screens. Most songs were complemented by an array of gaudy visual embellishments.

Swift zipped across the stadium in a skeletal snake during “Bad Blood.” She was flanked by aerial acrobats when she reached the stage.

The lavish display included an arsenal of fireworks, a phalanx of dancers, gales of confetti, and balls of fire that warmed the audience on a cool evening. Free wristbands distributed to all attendees emitted synchronized blasts of color. …

Swift’s interactions with the audience were unfailingly gracious, but a drawback of a nearly otherwise flawless two-hour production was revealed as Swift rendered tender songs on piano shortly after admitting she was suffering from a cold.
(Update 9.19.2018: Here's a review from this week's St. Louis show.)

The setlist
1. “Ready for It?”
2. “I Did Something Bad”
3. “Gorgeous”
4. “Style” / “Love Story” / “You Belong With Me”
5. “Look What You Made Me Do”
6. “End Game”
7. “King of My Heart”
8. “Delicate”
9. “Shake It Off” (with Charli XCX and Camila Cabello)
10. “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” (acoustic)
11. “The Story of Us” (acoustic)
12. “Blank Space”
13. “Dress”
14. “Bad Blood” / “Should’ve Said No”
15. “Don’t Blame Me”
16. “Long Live” / “New Year’s Day” (solo piano)
17. “Getaway Car”
18. “Call It What You Want”
19. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” / “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”


Sunday reading

I'm lounging on the porch, listening to the Cubs game and reading the newspapers -- online -- while it rains on the other side of the screens. It is good.

Some good reads, all from The New York Times ...


Summerfest 2018, take 2

As disappointed as I was in the Summerfest lineup this year, I decided to take a gamble tonight. We had been settled in at Kates’ parents since Sunday night and I nearly decided to stay put, doubting it was worth the 2 ½ drive over to Milwaukee, essentially to hear two songs.

But Foster the People was playing, and I really wanted to hear two songs live and have the unmatched Summerfest experience. A night to myself, to be me.

So I went. I dropped my stuff at Orrin’s and Kelli’s house – which has become our de facto Airbnb when we visit the state each summer. I rolled into downtown around 6 p.m., found a parking garage and began my walk to the grounds.

With the lakefront fireworks set to launch at dark, a crowd was filling the grounds surrounding the art museum. It was a festive and gorgeous night downtown. But what night at Summerfest isn’t?

I took my time strolling through the grounds tonight, more so than usual, wanting to soak up the sights and sounds. As I told my mom the other night, I live for being in that atmosphere every summer.

There was a lot of great music coming from the side stages tonight. I caught a long-haired rocker at the Tiki Lounge doing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Better yet, I walked up to another stage where a classic rock cover band had a crowd of people dancing to a spot-on version of “Melt with You,” and they followed it with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” Further down, a male duo was wielding their guitars on a grunge-style original.

I passed through the marketplace. Gazed at the Ferris wheel. And grabbed a cheeseburger at one of my favorite Summerfest eating spots, Miss Katie’s Diner.

I settled in at the Miller Lite Oasis to hear Attica Riots last song, “Blood, Sunshine and Hysteria.” And I liked it.

Drax Project, a New Zealand outfit, came on at 8:30 and announced they were playing their first U.S. show. The crowd immediately jumped to their feet on the benches as the band opened with “Toto.”

The jazz-pop band’s hour-long set featured a mix of songs off their newly released EP and unreleased tracks, including “Hollywood.” They kept the atmosphere light and fun and were a perfect warmup for Foster the People. … I liked them, too, and have already downloaded their EP, along with a few Attica Riots tracks. Summerfest did me good tonight.

As if it was planned, Drax Project left the stage and Milwaukee’s lakefront fireworks began lighting up the sky behind us, providing an entertaining interlude while the stagehands went to work to set the stage for Foster the People.

Rarely off schedule at Summerfest, the clock struck 10 and the stage began filling with fog. It barely let up the rest of Foster the People’s set, a flashy showcase –literally – of punchy electronic rock.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
As white clouds enveloped and sometimes obscured Foster the People, I couldn’t help wondering about the indie-pop band’s smoke budget. Must be sizable. 

Not that it was needed. Foster the People has enough hits, including “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” to attract an overflow crowd at the Miller Lite Oasis Tuesday night. Plus a light show that competed with and sometimes complemented the fireworks over Lake Michigan.

Lead singer Mark Foster played guitar and keyboards and commanded the stage in a Hawaiian shirt while powering through “Helena Beat,” “Coming of Age” and “Don’t Stop.”
Commanding indeed.

But seriously. The sole reason I went to Summerfest tonight – although, once there, I found several other things to enjoy – was to hear “Pumped Up Kicks.” It was the song of the summer in 2011, and it felt like everyone in the crowd was there last night to hear it. It helped that “Sit Next to Me” is hot on the radio this summer – it might be my favorite song of this season – and I like “Don’t Stop,” too.

I played Foster’s three albums a couple weeks ago to re-familiarize myself with the band’s work, but still nothing about them excited me like the songs I named above. Tonight was one of the rare occasions I went to see a band perform without a broad admiration for their whole catalogue. Tonight was all about discovery and hoping to find a deeper appreciation.

It turned out to be the right decision. With a youthful crowd cheering them on, every song seemed to begin with a roar of synthesizers. Foster bounced and slid his feet across the stage at times like he was channeling James Brown. The flashing lights combined with the pumping electronic beats made it a full-fledged party. I couldn’t sing any of the songs word for word tonight, but it didn’t matter. I just listened let my eyes soak up the spectacle surrounding me.

One of the highlights included a romping cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

To close out the set, Mark Foster, who hadn’t spoken more than a few words to the crowd all night, offered up a rallying statement about the issues dividing our country – something I was expecting before “Pumped Up Kicks” – and then glided into a smooth-sounding “Sit Next to Me.”

The band had barely left the stage and the crowd started a fist-pumping chant of “Pumped Up Kicks” when Foster returned. They fired off “I Love My Friends” and then their signature hit – which the band seemed to play hastily as if they just wanted to please the crowd and get it over with.

The setlist:
  1. Houdini
  2. Are You What You Want to Be?
  3. Pay the Man
  4. Helena Beat
  5. Coming of Age
  6. Waste
  7. Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)
  8. Lotus Eater
  9. Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones cover)
  10. Pseudologia Fantastica
  11. A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon
  12. Doing It for the Money
  13. Loyal Like Sid & Nancy
  14. Sit Next To Me

  15. I Love My Friends
  16. Pumped Up Kicks


Summerfest 2018, take 1

So I saw James Taylor perform tonight. For the third time. ... Twelve years ago, I was dreaming of seeing him just once.

But when Summerfest began announcing its headliners last spring and my mom saw James Taylor was coming, she urged me to get tickets, mostly for Dad. James Taylor is one of his musical heroes and seeing him live was a bucket list item. I was skeptical of how my mom might do, though, with her MS in the loud and crowded environment of Summerfest, but she insisted she wanted to go with us. So I jumped on it the morning tickets went on sale and snagged us three bleacher seats at center stage. Kates, having seeing him with me two times, was comfortable staying back with the girls.

To my surprise and delight, Mom was all about getting the full Summerfest experience. While Kates and the girls went to Orrin’s for the day, we hung out at our hotel and then headed for the Summerfest grounds mid-afternoon.

With Dad driving and me navigating in the front passenger seat, getting through Milwaukee traffic was the toughest test of my mother’s delicate mind. She freaks out at the swerve or brake of any vehicle and raises her voice at my father any time he goes even one mile per hour over the speed limit. “Oh-my-gosh-geez-camoni” she shouted at one point of distress, leaning back and grabbing her seat as if we were riding a roller coaster. It was only that treacherous in her mind.

When she said during our drive that she needed a beer, I would have sworn she was being facetious. But she asked Dad and me to stop at the first Leinenkugel’s stand we came to inside the grounds and had Dad buy us a round of Summer Shandys. What a moment that was, and, wow, it tasted good.

I led them on a tour of the grounds, explaining how the landscape has changed in my 15 or so years of going to Summerfest and showing them some of my favorite spots. We stopped at a couple of the stages to get a taste of the culture - from the Ecuadorian band that plays somewhere on the grounds every summer to a bongo drum collective. Mom reflected on coming to Summerfest back in 1974 when it was mostly gravel and the stages were much smaller. Now it’s paved with state-of-the-art stages, and full-scale restaurants and dining areas, among other features, from one end of the grounds to the other.

Having walked the entire grounds and with the James Taylor show scheduled to begin at 7:30, we made our way to the amphitheater entrance. With Mom in her wheelchair, the guest services staff was accommodating at every turn, pointing us to our seats and providing a place for us to store her wheelchair during the show.

We had been sitting for a couple minutes when the crowd erupted, and we looked up to see Mr. Taylor walking on to the stage. He welcomed the crowd, assured us we were in for a great night and then introduced his opening act, the one and only Bonnie Raitt.

Admittedly, I’m probably under appreciative of her work. Growing up, if I wasn’t listening to oldies stations and classic rock with my dad, I was listening to light radio with my mom, and the latter is how I got to know Bonnie. “Something to Talk About” was a staple, as was “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” two songs I might put on a list of my 500 all-time favorites. I also remember how much I hated hearing “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” when it came out in 1994. By that time I was deep into my teenage years and had migrated to the top 40 radio stations more suited for my age, bit that song was so overplayed no matter what radio station I listened to that summer.

With all of those memories as a backdrop in my mind, she was an exciting act to see. While she stuck to a set filled mostly with bluesy covers that I didn’t recognize, her voice was still crisp and her command of the guitar appearing effortless.

About midway through her set, she pulled out “Something to Talk About” - which was every bit as great as I had hoped.

She followed it with “Nick of Time,” a song I’d forgotten about, and it sounded so good live.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Across 10 songs, she showed she was worth every accolade and then some, including a smoking blues-rock rendition of Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” (with Ivan Neville’s keys throwing a bit of gas on the flames).

And she dedicated a sparsely gorgeous cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” to women suffering around the world, including those “separated from their children right now,” an apparent reference to the immigration crisis. 

And before she wrapped up, she slapped on some lipstick as Taylor returned to the stage to jam along to John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” the friends huddling together, electric guitars in hand.
After an intermission and a complete set change that morphed into a colorful house, the stage soon came alive with a prolonged video retrospective of Taylor’s career through interview and concert footage, photos and TV appearances that included - a favorite from my childhood - his performance of Jellyman Kelly on “Sesame Street.”

Finally, Taylor appeared with his band and took centerstage on his iconic stool and began strumming “Carolina In My Mind.”

Similar to when Kates and I saw him a few years ago in Kansas City, the show seemed to begin quietly and took time to hit its stride. Mixed with the easy going melodies of “Walking Man” and “Handy Man,” he threw in lesser knowns “Sunny Skies” and “First of May.”

Part of the reason the first half the show seemed to drag could be attributed to the man sitting in front of us and his dingbat female companion, who proceeded to play games and scroll through social media feeds on her brightly lit phone the whole time Taylor was performing. And when she wasn’t doing something on her phone, she was stretching her back and moving in a way that blocked our views of the stage. Her father or much older boyfriend or whoever the guy was sitting next to her never raised a finger to stop her. It was the worst concert etiquette I’ve ever witnessed, and we were thankful to God when they got up halfway through the show and never returned.

Like the Kansas City show, Taylor and his band turned the energy level up when he hit “Mexico” and barely let up on the gas pedal the rest of the way, spinning hit after hit.

We marveled during the previous shows at Taylor’s storytelling ability and comic timing, too, and it was present tonight also. One story he told tonight that I didn’t recall from the other shows revolved around him playing “Something In the Way She Moves” for Paul McCartney and George Harrison when he auditioned for Apple Records. George liked it so much that he rewrote it himself, Taylor quipped.

And the multimedia production that provided the backdrop to Taylor and Co. throughout was a show of its own. Jumping off on the retrospective that opened the show, the screen alternated from close-ups of the band members to colorful scenes of Americana and beautiful landscapes to go with Taylor’s lyrics. Every time Taylor introduced a band member, a photo appeared of the musician performing as a child or early in their career. During “Sweet Baby James,” images rolled across the screen of the lyrics printed in a book, giving the audience the sense they were following along with a bedtime story.

While I enjoyed my personal favorites like “Mexico” and “Your Smiling Face,” Taylor’s performance of “Fire and Rain” felt especially poignant. It’s Dad’s favorite, and I could feel him flush with emotion as he listened to it.

The nostalgia and good vibes were really flowing by the time Taylor closed out his set. Bonnie Raitt joined him on stage for a rousing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”
That initially appeared as though it was going to be Taylor’s last song as the band bowed and waved to the standing crowd. But then Taylor appeared to call an audible, huddling with his band and waving a finger as if to say, “one more.” A camera shot on the big screens showed a woman wearing headphones in the audio booth and waving a finger back at Taylor in agreement. The result was Taylor leading a crowd sing-along of “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Finally, Bonnie Raitt rejoined James once more. I knew what was coming and they took their seats on a pair of stools to sing, “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

It had been a truly special and memorable night with my mom and dad. We left the grounds with smiling faces.

The setlist
  1. Carolina In My Mind
  2. Country Road
  3. Sunny Skies
  4. Walking Man
  5. First of May
  6. Handy Man
  7. Steamroller
  8. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
  9. Up On The Roof
  10. Mexico
  11. Something In the Way She Moves
  12. Sweet Baby James
  13. Fire and Rain
  14. Shed a Little Light
  15. Your Smiling Face
  16. Shower the People
  17. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)

  18. Johnny B. Goode
  19. You’ve Got a Friend
  20. You Can Close Your Eyes


The paper route

I caught this opinion piece by Peter Funt while I was sorting through emails and catching up on news this morning. His view is true and another sign of the sad state of the newspaper business.

I never saw a kitten thrown out of a van, and don’t recall anything so crazy when I had my paper route, but his stories brought back a lot of memories that I rarely think about anymore of my first job as a newspaper delivery boy, tossing our hometown newspaper in suburban Kansas City onto the driveways in my neighborhood. … Maybe it was my second job – I worked for a couple summers as a little league umpire, too, but which one came first, I no longer remember. Later, once I could drive and entered high school, I was a “courtesy clerk,” aka grocery sacker, at the local Price Chopper – which provided some crazier experiences, including a night that I witnessed a robbery while I was collecting carts outside the store – and then a tester, and whatever else my dad needed me to do, at the LCD factory where he worked.

I don’t remember exactly how I came to be a newspaper delivery boy. A newspaper ad, it must have been, that my mom saw and shared with me to gauge my interest. I thought it sounded good, I assume at that age, mostly because it meant extra spending money in my pocket for baseball cards and Slurpees from the 7-Eleven a few blocks from our house. It was the early ’90s, and I couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 years old.

I remember it was spring time – March or early April – when I took the job. I spent a few early mornings riding around with a woman who oversaw the newspaper delivery operation, learning my new route. Thinking about it now, in this day and age, it seems almost blasphemous to basically be picked up at 4 or 5 in the morning by a woman I’d never met and for her to drive me around for a couple hours in her beater of a car with no parental or company supervision. But the early ’90s still had a vestige of earlier decades when we were more trusting of people and kids were allowed to roam and explore our surroundings with the neighborhood kids and be gone for hours without Mom or Dad growing too concerned.

When it was time for me to do the route on my own, my mom drove me on most mornings until the weather warmed and I could go completely solo on my bike. By the summer, my parents and I had recruited my younger brother to help.

It was a daily newspaper. So every morning, one of my parents woke me up around 4 in the morning. We retrieved the stack of newspapers from our front step and then lugged them to the laundry room at the back of our house where we rolled them, placed them in rubber bands – we also placed them into orange plastic bags if it was a rainy day – and stacked them in my white canvas delivery bag. … Until that time, I don’t think I knew people got up and went to work so early.

Along with the stack of newspapers came a spreadsheet that showed all of the addresses on my route and the names of the subscribers. Every morning I had to review the list to look for new subscribers, or subscribers that had canceled and no longer required a stop at their address. I recall there were maybe 40, 45 addresses – it might have been much higher, now that I’m thinking about it – on the daily list, which covered our subdivision and two or three neighboring subdivisions, all located within one or two square miles.

The job for me didn’t last more than two or three months. By July I had moved on to other things. Because I was becoming a wise teenager and quickly realized – I think my parents did, too – the pennies I was being paid for each newspaper I delivered were not worth the stress of my parents rattling me out of bed every morning, carting me around on the days I couldn’t ride my bike and the amount of labor it took for a 13-year-old kid to get all of the papers neatly rolled and delivered by 7 a.m.

But some of the things I recall most clearly – and that make me happiest – about that time is the trust my parents put in me to do the job, to hold some responsibility and, above all, the care they took in helping me try it. Lord knows, they couldn’t have liked getting up so early those mornings either. … I remember, too, how good it made me feel on the occasions when one of the subscribers stepped outside as I rode up to the front step on my bicycle, complimented me on the job I was doing and handed me a dollar bill as a tip. It made me want to place the newspaper on that person’s doorstep just a little bit neater after that … I remember how fun it was to watch the progress of the sun rising as I neared the end of my route each morning … And I remember the fun my brother and I had on the days that he helped me, racing our bikes to see who could finish their half of the route faster and then wahoo-ing as we reconvened near the end of the route and raced up the winding road to our driveway.

Did it help shape my love for newspapers and influence me to embark on my newspaper journalism career? Maybe, but I believe that fate was sealed years earlier when I would eat breakfast with Dad before school and he’d share the sports pages of the Wisconsin State Journal with me. That’s a whole other story.


A pickle for the ages

I’ve missed watching Lorenzo Cain doing his thing for the Royals this season … Oh, but he’s been good for the Brewers.

With the Brewers and Cubs playing at Miller Park this week, my attention is on that series, and I turned on the game last night, just minutes after this happened

So great.

Afterward, LoCoin credited Rusty Kuntz and the Royals for the play. Because, of course, the Royals practiced it during the crazy, stealing, keep-the-line-moving fun that was 2014 and 2015.

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, the Royals were on the wrong side of a different rundown.

Both plays epitomize the Brewers’ and Royals’ seasons so far.


Summer nights

Our nights are busy these days with Phoebe and Faye, but I’m hardly complaining.

I rushed home from work tonight to find the girls on the living room floor and watching TV, Faye dressed and ready to go in her T-ball uniform, and Kates had made a tuna melt for me, waiting beautifully on a plate at my side of the dining table. I had just a few minutes to eat because we had to get Faye to her 5:30 game.

The T-ball game. Faye is always one of the smallest on the field in stature, but she’s also one of the mightiest. Tonight she had the privilege of playing in the pitcher’s circle on the defensive side. And at the start of every inning, she was the first one on the field and down in her crouch, ready to field the ball – even before the first batter had left the opposing dugout. … The same goes for her plate appearances. In the on-deck circle she’s as focused on her practice swings as any of the girls. Then she steps to the plate, waits patiently for Coach to place the ball on the tee, puts the ball into play and puts her head down to run to first base.

While every T-ball game offers a loaded hour of entertainment and teachable moments, tonight’s game included a first baseman who got pegged in the middle of the back when she wasn’t paying attention on a batted ball that the pitcher fielded and threw toward first base. But tonight’s best folly happened when one of Faye’s teammates took off from first base on a foul ball and didn’t hear our coaches trying to stop her until she was halfway between second and third base – and then the batter put the ball in play while the runner was crossing the pitcher’s circle on her way back to first base, which created further commotion as the coaches yelled for her to turn around and head for second base.

* * *

The postgame. Barely a T-ball game of Faye’s has ended this summer without Phoebe asking me on our walk back to the car if I’ll help her practice her softball skills – and of course I won’t turn her down. I’m thrilled she’s enjoying it so much. … So we took Kates and Faye home, grabbed the ball gear and headed back to the ball fields. We practiced her hitting and her pitching for a solid hour, and the improvement she’s showing from the first practice of the season this year is remarkable. We both wished we could have stayed longer – but at that point tonight’s blazing sun was starting to give me heat stroke and Phoebe’s arm was rapidly turning to Jell-O. I had trouble convincing her we needed to head home but she finally gave in.

It’s been pure joy – and a revelation – watching Phoebe learn and play softball this summer. After the ups and downs of coaching her machine pitch team last year, I wasn’t so sure she would stay interested in the game and regretted not starting her earlier with T-ball like Faye. This year, though, she’s embracing the game, and the smile on her face and positivity that radiates from her during every game is a marvel to me. I’m so proud.

Last night’s softball game had us driving 45 minutes east to the small town of King City – population 1,013 – for an 8 o’clock game, and it was a heartbreaker. Batting in the top of the first, our girls came out swinging like they usually have this summer, and Phoebe came up with the bases loaded. If my memory’s right, she worked the pitcher to a full count – and then she smacked a line drive back through the middle of the field. She cleared the bases and landed on second base because of an errant throw – her first hit of the season. The inning ended soon after with our girls up, 3-0. … But then they laid down in the bottom half of the inning and let the home team jump right back into the game, trailing 3-4 when the first inning ended. … No runs crossed in the second and third innings, and our girls finally got their bats going again in the fourth inning. Phoebe’s turn came up again with two outs, and she worked a full count. She barely got a piece of the 3-2 pitch to stay alive and then hit the next pitch on the ground to the shortstop, who made a good play on it and a throw that barely beat Phoebe at first base. The top of the fourth ended with our girls having retaken the lead, 5-4. … Ah, but the game’s not over until it’s over. Despite a strong performance by our third-string pitcher in that final ending – that included her snaring a line drive straight back at her glove – a series of hits and overthrows allowed the home team to win the game in the bottom of the inning, 5-6.

It was past 10 o’clock when we arrived home, and way past Phoebe’s bedtime for a school night. Kates graciously allowed her to sleep in this morning and check into summer school two hours late.

* * *

Now it’s me time. The Royals are playing a late game in Los Angeles tonight, giving Kates and I a chance to have the game on for the first time in weeks. She’s reading. I’m writing.

I read this Sam Mellinger column today. And I get it. Sam knows what he’s talking about.

I’ve accepted the fact that Eric Hosmer’s gone – and have taken to watching Padres games occasionally just to see him play.

I’m resigned to the fact that Mike Moustakas will not be a Royal when the trade deadline arrives.

But I shudder to think about the Royals dealing Salvador Perez

Or even Whit Merrifield, who’s quickly become one of this old second baseman’s favorites. Seriously, Royals second basemen have been pitiful since Frank Whitenot including Ben Zobrist, who I love watching, too, but he was a rental to help the Royals win a world championship. Call me crazy, but Whit reminds me of a Chicago Cubs second baseman who was a favorite of mine.


Play ball!

T-ball and softball season is in full swing now.

We’ve been at the ballfield nearly every Monday through Thursday night since mid-April. After last year’s experiment with Phoebe playing in the machine pitch softball league for the first time and me coaching her team, Phoebe advanced to a full-fledged girls softball league and I’m much more content as an assistant. Faye, meanwhile, is playing T-ball again and I’m helping coach her team again with my good friend, Tim. On some nights, I’ve picked up Faye from school and whisked her home for supper and then to the ballfield for practice – while Kates took care of picking up Phoebe and bringing her to practice a couple hours later. Then Kates took Faye home while I stayed to help with Phoebe’s practice.

Tonight was Faye’s first T-ball game. And the 4 and 5-year-olds keep it interesting for sure.
Game time was 5:30. Which means Kates was making a pit stop to grab supper for all of us at Sonic around 4:50 as I was breaking from my office to head for home. All of us arrived at home simultaneously around 5 and were immediately challenged with corralling Faye, who was more interested in sharing her latest kindergarten artwork with us than with eating her supper and getting ready for her game. Eventually, we succeeded and got her seated at the dining table. She ate her summer, dressed in her uniform, and we left the house at 5:26 … Good thing the sports complex is only a couple minutes from our house.

As Faye and I were walking up to one of the fields at 5:30, a pair of girls dashed in front of us toward the bathroom to change into their uniforms while the rest of the team was assembling in their dugout. Then a girl with a blue shirt joined our team – which has purple shirts – in the dugout. Tim thought she was one of ours and maybe she hadn’t gotten her uniform.

“Remind me of your name, honey,” Tim said.
The little girl was preoccupied with the other girls and wasn’t engaging with Tim.
“Where’s your mom sitting,” he asked, hoping he could get Mom to help.
“She’s over there,” the girl said, pointing across the field to the first base side.

All of us coaches looked to the first base side and suddenly noticed the team – dressed in blue shirts – warming up on the other side of the field. This girl had come to the wrong dugout. We all had a good laugh and directed her to where she belonged.

We finally got the girls organized and placed where they belonged. Tim rattled off a batting lineup and we began the game.

Faye batted first and slapped her ball off the team and up the middle of the diamond. She advanced to one base at a time as each successive batter took their turns hitting the ball from the tee and arrived at home base a short time later.

Faye did the same thing during her second at-bat. We got through two full innings before our hour time-limit was up. And by that time, we’d lost about a quarter of our team because they needed a bathroom break.

Tim handed out a bottle of Gatorade and a pack of baseball cards to each of the girls during a team huddle after the game. He hands out the baseball cards and tells the girls to study the pictures to help them learn how to hit, catch and throw.

Everyone walked away smiling.


Commercial break: Mine

Following up on my post last weekend, I caught another commercial that had me smiling tonight. And this one also involves a car.



Commercial breaks: Living to the Full

It's baseball season, and I'm loving my MLB.TV subscription and the ability to stream any game I want. Watching them on my projection screen every night in my den is pure heaven. ... and it's especially important these days, considering Mother Nature thinks it needs to be like January outside.

The commercials between innings on MLB.TV, however, are limited, which means I tend to see the same ones all the time. They go in cycles as the seasons change and advertisers swap out various products. Some are really good, and some are really bad - and get terribly annoying.

Right now, I gotta say, there's some I really enjoy ... including a sweet series of Phillips 66 commercials depicting a day in the life of a stay-at-home mom, a father and daughter during the course of a basketball season, and a car pool driver.

Watch the commercials below. ... Today, I noticed that, in each commercial, all three drivers are featured pumping gas at once at a Phillips 66 gas station. Look for them between the 10 and 15-secod marks in each 30-second spot. So cool!



Finally. Last night I got the kind of golden moment I had been waiting for during these Olympic games.

The U.S. women’s hockey team knocked off Canada and its 24-game-Olympic-win-and-four-consecutive-gold-medal streak. In dramatic fashion. At 2 a.m.

From the Associated Press
Twenty long years after taking gold when the sport debuted in 1998 at Nagano, the United States snapped Canada's streak of four straight Olympic golds Thursday with a 3-2 shootout victory. 
Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored in the sixth round of the shootout to start the Americans piling over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before huddling and hugging on the ice. 
Gigi Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored in the shootout. Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it up with a breakaway with 6:21 left in regulation . Hilary Knight also had a goal.
Maddie Rooney made 29 saves for the win against their archrival. The 20-year-old goalie stopped the last two Canadian shooters in the shootout in Brianne Jenner and then Meghan Agosta on her second attempt.
I mean, we really enjoyed watching the Shib-Sibs earlier this week. But their bronze medal performance was nothing compared to last night. ... I do love me some hockey, especially when the stakes are high. Heck, I'm willing to call it the most exciting sport on the planet.

With Kates and the girls in bed by 9 last night, I went to watch the game in my basement den and would have it no other way. Lying on my couch, I was jerking and shouting and punching air with every shot on goal, every cleared puck, every body contact. And when the U.S. scored I clapped so hard my hand hurt.

The U.S. was relentless in their attack – especially in overtime – that I kept feeling as though they were destined to win that game. The opposite outcome would have been utterly heartbreaking. Yet when Maddie Rooney blocked that final shot in the shootout, I almost didn’t know how to react. All I did was sit and smile.

With icy weather snarling our region this week, the public schools canceled today for the second time this week and Kates and the girls are sleeping in this morning. Kates returned to teaching for the first time yesterday after her two-week bout with her flu. But after having Presidents Day off on Monday and then no school Tuesday and today because of the weather, she’s getting some bonus time to recover.

Meanwhile, I’m reporting to work, wide-eyed and ready to go after just found hours of sleep and no days off this week.

I'm thinking I have a date with the girls this evening to watch NBC's replay of the hockey game.

Good read


Clear and calm

After all of the craziness of the last couple months, it’s been a strangely quiet, stress-free and productive weekend. We’ve watched the Olympics. We’ve enjoyed the outdoors. Participated in a math contest. Cheered on our home team. The girls have been in super-pretend and play mode and getting along swimmingly. And I’ve caught up on a ton of work.

Maybe putting so much on hold the last couple weeks as Kates battled the flu actually helped distract me to a point that cleared my mind enough to fuel this burst of energy and inspiration. I also might be channeling my mother, who – besides being a source of inspiration for my writing since I was 8 years old – seems to have experienced her own burst of energy lately and, despite the limits of her MS and recent foot surgery, has shared more stories and dispatched more emails to my brother and I in the last two months than she did in the last two years.

It also doesn't hurt that we're having spring-like weather this weekend. The snow is gone – for now –and the temperatures are in the 50s, allowing Kates and Faye to play in the backyard yesterday. Phoebe and I took a bike ride this afternoon.

* * *

We’re at the midway point of the Olympics, and the boredom is setting in. Maybe it’s the fact that the U.S. athletes have been seemingly overrated and underwhelming this year.

Which is largely NBC’s doing, leaving us at the mercy to watch the athletes and events they deem important during primetime. I’ve seen enough of the incredibly hyped Nathan Chen and slalom during the last week to last me the next four years, thank you very much.

I, too, fell for NBC’s dirty depiction on Friday night of Austria's Anna Veith winning the women's super-G – only to read the news Saturday morning that Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic won the event and think, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not the way I saw it last night.’ It seems like that’s happened more times during this Olympics than I can remember it happening any other time.

This from the Associated Press …
Instead of laughing off or owning up to making a wrong call the night before in the women's super-G, NBC's ski announcers seemed intent on justifying themselves Saturday night. In that Alpine race, little-known Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic stunned everyone by edging Austria's Anna Veith for the gold medal. Ledecka, ranked No. 43 in the world, was considered to have so little chance that NBC's Dan Hicks declared Veith the winner and NBC switched away as if the race was over. But it wasn't. Returning to the subject a night later, Bode Miller declared that "in everyone's opinion, the race was over. It was one of the most incredible upsets I've seen in any sport." Hicks noted that even Ledecka couldn't believe she had won. "Neither could we," he said. Under the circumstances, producers had made a reasonable call to move on to a compelling figure-skating competition. But it was still wrong for Hicks to have expressed certainty that the race was over, and the way he and Miller revisited it Saturday only served to annoy viewers who had missed the miracle on snow.
So last night, Kates and I tuned out and watched “Temple Grandin” so she could see the story that I've been raving about for herself.

* * *

Yesterday was the regional math contest, and Phoebe was one of the five kids in her grade who were selected to compete and represent her school. Kates and I couldn’t have been prouder of her when she came home with the letter notifying us of her selection a few weeks ago.

Although, Kates – who happens to be Phoebe’s math teacher this year – knew Phoebe had been selected. In fact, Kates annually coaches the team, so it was shaping up to be a special time for them to share that experience together.

Then, Kates got sick. Another teacher took over the practice sessions with the students in her absence. And a few days ago, realizing she wasn’t going to be well enough to accompany the kids to the contest, she asked the other teacher to take her place at the contest. Kates was crushed.

So, instead, I woke up early with Phoebe yesterday morning and drove her the 15 minutes down the road to the high school in the northeast corner of the county for the contest. Phoebe was nervous, and I was anxious for her. My heart sunk as we parked the car and Kates texted me to inform me that Phoebe had forgotten her calculator and No. 2 pencils on the kitchen table. A moment later, we met the fill-in coach in the parking lot. Without prompting, he told Phoebe he had extra calculators and pencils if she needed them. Phew.

Inside, I helped Phoebe check in and she went on her way with the rest of her team while I joined other parents to wait out the morning in the school gym. … I saw her again a couple hours later when they got a break and we went to the concession stand for a snack. Then, she found me around noon once the contest had finished. Some volunteers were serving up pizza and hot dogs in the lunchroom, so Phoebe and I took advantage of that.

Then we waited in the school gym for the judges to announce the scores. And we waited. And waited and waited. The schedule indicated the award winners would be announced between 1 and 1:30 p.m. By 2, there had been no indication an announcement was close nor any reason given for the delay, and the kids – and adults – were getting restless. Finally, a few minutes after 2, the contest coordinator appeared and announced that the judges were having trouble uploading the scores to their computer system. They didn’t know when the issue would be fixed, so the best course was to dismiss everyone and send the awards to the individual schools and students.

With little time to spare, Phoebe and I drove back to The ‘Ville and headed straight for the basketball arena to take in the ‘Cats final regular season home game. They were playing the Lions – the only team to beat them during last year’s championship run and the team that handed them their first of just two losses this season. Needless to say, going back to the days when I was a student on the campus, they’ve always been a team that’s given us trouble, and they’re a big rival on the basketball court.

We had a 49-game home win streak and a win yesterday would have guaranteed our fifth straight conference championship.

The game lived up to the hype, and it was a war. Our team got off to a good start and grabbed an early lead by several points, but the Lions clawed back. We found ourselves down by about 10 at halftime and got back into the game in the second half. Our star point guard, who’s been slowed by a foot injury this year, showed some glimmers of the national player of the year he was last year late the game – and even nailed a long three-pointer with a couple seconds left to get the ‘Cats within a point of the lead. But an errant in-bound pass on their ensuing offensive possession sealed it for the opponent and we lost a heartbreaker, 73-70.


Reince Priebus on Trump White House: 'Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50.'

I've been waiting to read anything from my old buddy Reince about his time in the White House, and today it appeared.
Former White House Chief of Staff and Kenosha native Reince Priebus provides some behind-the-scenes insights about his short but tumultuous time working for President Donald Trump in a new interview. 
“Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50,” Priebus tells author Chris Whipple.

Here's another account from The New York Times. I can hardly wait to read more. 

A day with Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin visited our campus today.

I don't need to write much here. You can read all about her and watch videos about her with the magic of Google.

Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of her until our lecture coordinator informed me last spring that the university had booked her for our lecture series. He tried to communicate to me then that it was a big deal, but I had no idea. … I started getting an idea in November when we announced the lecture to the public. We were flooded with ticket requests and I spent parts of my Thanksgiving break answering those requests. When tickets went on sale in early January, they sold out quickly. Nearly every day since, I’ve received a call or email from a community member desperate for a ticket and had the duty of informing them that no tickets were available.

Last night, in my cramming for her visit today, I began to fully realize what all the fuss was about as I stayed up into the early morning hours, watching “Temple Grandin,” an HBO biopic starring Claire Danes as Grandin. The story is extraordinary, and spending most of today with Dr. Grandin and observing her made Danes’ portrayal more remarkable.

I had the privilege of accompanying her on a tour of our university farm with agriculture students, having lunch with her and a small group of faculty and joining her on a tour of our campus elementary school, in between discussions with ag students and local educators. … During the tour of our elementary school, we passed through the library and a student worked at the front desk. When she looked up and spotted Temple, her jaw dropped and she mouthed to me and the lecture coordinator, “Big fan.” We waved her to join us and captured a photo of her standing with Temple.

Tonight she engrossed the sold-out audience at our performing arts center, sharing her story and insights about living with autism.

What a day.


Happy Valentine's Day.

Forget everything I wrote Sunday about Kates recovering from her bout with the flu.

She thought she was good to go Sunday night and returned to teaching on Monday. She even completed a full day. … But when she visited the doctor’s office after school on Monday afternoon, the doc said she wasn’t out of the woods yet and needed at least three more days of rest.

So I sprang back into overdrive Monday night, picking up the girls from school, getting them fed and taking them to their gymnastics classes.

Yesterday, Kates stayed home from school as the doctor ordered. I went to work – where four members of my 10-person staff were already sick at home, and a fifth went home by lunch time. “Dang, we’re going to have to fumigate the office,” one my colleagues said when I informed him of the fifth one to go on the disabled list.

By the time I arrived home with the girls – and Sonic, because Daddy doesn’t cook – Kates was feeling worse. She laid on the couch with us in the living room while we watched the Olympics – the pairs skating and Shaun White killing it on the snowboard. … But later, as she was heading to our bedroom to go to sleep, she was so light-headed and weak, she nearly fainted in the hallway. It was cause for concern for sure, and tears were shed because we're now on day nine of this. I immediately concluded I needed to stay home with her today, to make sure she was ok and got back to the doctor if she needed.

So today – Valentine’s Day – we woke. I got the girls to school and returned home for the day to nurse Kates. She regained some of her energy. And as far as returning to the doctor, she called in to the office and the nurse said she just needs to let the virus run its course. Great. … She stayed in bed all day while I worked from our kitchen table and refilled her water cup whenever she texted me with a request to do so.

During the noon hour, I headed out to run some errands. In all of the chaos around our house, Kates hadn’t done anything for the girls for Valentine’s Day. So I headed to Walmart to find a pair of cards for them and – per our Valentine’s Day tradition – a Bearcat shirt for each of them that pronounces their love for the team in a literal form. I succeeded, finding a shirt for Faye that has a green heart with the word Bearcats emblazoned inside the heart and a shirt for Phoebe that reads “Everyone loves a Northwest girl.”

Without Kates knowing, I also ordered a heart-shaped pizza from Pizza Hut and scheduled it for pickup around 5 when I would be picking up the girls from school.

Back home this afternoon, I continued working … and then news broke of another school shooting. This time in Florida. 17 dead. I was glued to the NBC coverage as the news unfolded from about 2:30 until I had to leave to get the girls. And The Onion is again running its now-infamous headline.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Sick of winter

Well, it’s been a week.

Kates had a professional development day Monday, so the girls didn’t have school and I stayed home with them. But she came home early that afternoon because she wasn’t feeling well. She promptly crawled into bed and wasn’t the same the rest of the week.

Without an official diagnosis, the only reasonable conclusion is she caught the flu. Besides feeling achy and lacking any energy whatsoever, she had a terrible cough and her nose was running off her face.

After missing school Tuesday and Wednesday, she tried to return to school on Thursday for a half day but regretted that and took another full day on Friday. Today, we chose to sleep in and skip church, and it’s only this morning that she’s showing signs of getting back to normal.

Fortunately, the rest of us have been spared. All of us got our flu shots last fall, but Kates still caught it. It’s been a scary flu season with dozens of children dying, and I’m grateful it wasn’t worse for us.

But it sure felt like I was running our house as a single parent this past week. I took the girls to school every morning except for Thursday, and I picked them up from school every night – enjoying their babbling and elementary school gossip from the backseat throughout the ride. I took them to Subway for lunch on Monday, to Sonic for supper on Tuesday and to Kentucky Fried Chicken for supper on Thursday – because Daddy doesn’t cook.

Our church hosts a community dinner on Wednesday nights before their youth activities – to which Kates usually takes the girls while I stay in my office and work, but I took them this week. The night’s meal was chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables, and it was delicious.

I also took both girls to their gymnastic classes on Monday night and Phoebe to her guitar lesson on Thursday. And in between I was trying to navigate my work week, doing whatever cleaning needed to be done around the house, making sure the girls were bathed and in bed at a decent time. And sleeping on the couch to avoid inheriting the bug from Kates.

It doesn't help, either, that the weather is frigid. Yesterday, the high temperature topped out around 10 degrees and we got another couple inches of snow.

Is it spring yet?


Let the games begin!

The Winter Olympics have arrived and I’m living it up this weekend in my sports den.

We ordered Chinese food for supper Friday and snuggled on the couch for the opening ceremonies, which were dazzling as usual. The chills started with the opening film, narrated by Sterling K. Brown.

And after everything in between, I teared up watching Yuna Kim skate so gracefully before accepting the torch from Chung Su-hyon of North Korea and Park Jong-ah of South Korea, who carried the torch up a mountainous staircase

And then there was all the politics that went with the opening ceremonies.
In an extraordinary show of unexpected unity, North and South Korea sat side by side Friday night under exploding fireworks that represented peace, not destruction, as the 2018 Winter Olympics opened on a Korean Peninsula riven by generations of anger, suspicion and bloodshed. 
The sister of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in — and appeared genuinely pleased — while they watched an elaborate show of light, sound and human performance. Minutes later came a moment stunning in its optics and its implications: the United States, represented by Vice President Mike Pence, sitting a row ahead of Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, and the North's nominal head of state, all watching the games begin — officials from two nations that many worry have been on the brink of nuclear conflict.

Today, it was Olympics, all day, from the time we got out of bed, until way past the girls’ usual bed time.

Two days ago, I hadn’t heard of them and I’m already rooting hard for husband-wife ice skaters Chris Alexa Knierim. And brother-sister ice skaters Maia and Alex Shibutani. And the McFarland, Wisconsin, curling team of Becca and Matt Hamilton. Thanks to NBC and their fine storytelling.

But the highlight of the night for me was watching Red Gerard’s gold medal run in men's slopestyle snowboarding and the drama of waiting to see whether his score would hold up.


Lost time

I got another reminder this weekend that life is a precious thing, never to be taken for granted.

It had been a nice weekend. After arriving home Friday from school and work, we ate supper, and the girls wanted to continue our “Cosby Show” marathon. We finally made it to the show’s eighth and final season. And we let the girls stay up later than normal, watching at least a half-dozen episodes past 10 o’clock – though Kates and I found ourselves dozing on our couches for most of them. … 

Then, after getting the girls to bed – and with some light-energy, thanks to our light napping – Kates and I retreated to the den to continue our “Outlander” marathon, which lasted until about 2 a.m. ... I have a love-hate relationship with the show because it's extremely gory and graphic – which is not at all my kind of entertainment – and I just want Claire to get off the island already. But the story-telling is compelling enough that it holds my interest, and it's something to do with Kates, who loves the novels.

Saturday morning, the girls had us up around 9. Eventually, I retreated to the den to work on projects and watch the Chiefs-Titans playoff game
The Chiefs are known for rolling through the regular season only to fail spectacularly in the playoffs. That didn’t change Saturday when Kansas City dropped a 22-21 heartbreaker to the Titans. 
The Chiefs have won just one playoff game since the 1994 season, and they haven’t won a single playoff game at home in that span. Saturday was the team’s fifth home playoff loss in a row, dropping the Chiefs’ postseason record to 2-6 all-time in Arrowhead Stadium.
That was something. The Chiefs looked so efficient and unstoppable during the first half, taking a 21-3 lead, that the analysts were talking Super Bowl – and I believed them. But there was another part of me that knew the Chiefs’ playoff history all too well and thought, They’re totally going to blow this lead. … Sure enough, they did.

Kates and I watched more “Outlander” Saturday night and headed to bed shortly after midnight. Little did I know, I’d be awake again within a couple hours …

*     *     *

A little after 2 a.m., I awoke thinking I’d just heard my phone ding with a text message. It took me a few moments to compose myself in my stupor and I turned over my phone look at the screen. A student had been reported dead. Assuming no foul play or natural causes, I sighed and tried to get a little more sleep, figuring our team would gather for a briefing when daylight broke.

Several minutes later, my phone rang and I knew then that it was going to be more serious. But I never could have expected the news I got when I answered the call. A car had crashed into one of the downtown bars. A student who was inside the bar was killed by the impact.

Our emergency team gathered at at 4 a.m. to begin sorting out the facts and crafting the communication to our campus. It’s never easy when a student dies, but this case was out of the ordinary. The worst case we’ve had to deal with in a few years.

The more we learned about the girl, the harder it was to swallow. She was 19 and one of our education majors. She was active in her sorority. She was well-liked by her classmates, instructors and supervisors. By all accounts, she was a driven, confident person with a beautiful soul. She was going to be successful teacher and impact a lot of lives along the way.

The young man who was behind the wheel of the vehicle that crashed into the bar and killed her was driving drunk. His blood alcohol level was far over the legal limit.

Once our tasks were complete for the time-being, I drove home, trying to comprehend the last few hours. Now I was awake and wouldn’t be returning to bed – at least for a while. So I pulled into the garage and slipped down to my den to work until the rest of the house awoke.

I lasted for about an hour and a half before I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open. When I stepped into our bedroom, I spotted Faye snuggled next to Kates, and Kates had her armed wrapped around Faye. They looked so content and peaceful. And innocent. My heart melted and I slipped into bed with them, grateful. And praying that Kates and I may never experience the horror of losing either of our girls too early.


A description of me

I took one of those personality quizzes on Facebook tonight, and this may be one of the most accurate descriptions yet of my life and my whirlwind of emotions these days ...
If anyone could make broken look beautiful, it is him. His strength is what keeps him going. He has a hurricane of chaos around him, but he is so damn passionate that he handles it. He loves life with all his heart and it loves him right back.