Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#SBRLLR: First Taste of Glory (Part 4)

How different was Fallbrook from our previous home in New Bern, North Carolina?  
As spring approached, I saw the differences spelled out first hand on the front page of our local newspaper’s sports section.  The local high school beat writer ran a full half-page preview of the coming high school swim season, with a note about each of Fallbrook’s returning stars.  The last column started with the sentence, “Perhaps the fastest Warrior on this year’s team is freshman Dan Head…”
They were actually hyping my season, and it was insane.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Stupid Movie Reviews: Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets

Welcome to Stupid Movie Reviews!  This is a new, uh, maybe bi-weekly segment on the blog.  This week, we’re looking at a rather enjoyable stupid movie,Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crunch: On Competition & the Value of Short Term Goals

I went skiing with my buddy Brian a few weeks ago.  Despite losing a day at Mount Snow to comically extensive airline delays, we wound up having a great time out at Okemo once we finally got out there.  We put in something like fifteen runs over the course of maybe five hours plus lunch.  It was enough that we staggered off the mountain at the end of it, exhausted but happy.  About the only thing that kept me awake on the drive home was Brian’s minute-by-minute updates on Army’s lacrosse game against perennial powerhouse Syracuse.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#SBRLLR: First Taste of Glory (Part 3)

I found myself sitting on the windswept bench of some close-packed aluminum bleachers a month or so after school began, watching my father take command of First Reconnaissance Battalion.  His men were formed up in companies in front of a forlorn Quonset hut outpost called Camp Tallega, which sat lost in the sun drenched high-desert hinterlands of Camp Pendleton’s immense beachside training ranges.  Dad had written a speech on notecards for the event, but when he got up to give it in front of his new Marines, he went through a mere card or two before putting his notes away and speaking extemporaneously.  He looked ill at ease to my eyes, particularly when trying to speak from notes, but he was also grimly determined to be the man, the commander, that his Marines needed him to be.  He was discomfited to be around guys who saw themselves more as a special operations unit than as traditional infantrymen, a change in mindset typified in my father’s eyes by the fact that Recon Marines said “Hooyah!” rather than the more traditional “Ooorah!” that characterized the rifle companies he’d been with prior to that point in his career.  I had no idea what his prepared remarks were intended to say, but off the cuff, he acknowledged that the language barrier was only the beginning of the things that he needed to learn to be the best commander that he possibly could be.  He also promised that the Marines in front of him could count on learning a few things from him as well.
His men stood silently in formation, looking uniformly lean, mean, and competent as Hell.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Six Things on a Saturday: Trying to Get Caught Up

I’ve had a busy week.  Did a lot happen while I was gone?
I actually have the day off!  Yay!!!

Friday, March 9, 2018

#SBRLLR: First Taste of Glory (Part 2)

I was a few weeks into the process of becoming “myself” in the pool in Vista when I arrived on the pool deck at Fallbrook for the first time for water polo tryouts.  I’d found a home on the Vista Swim Team, but now I had to find a way to fit in at my school.

Friday, March 2, 2018

5 Things on a Friday: Return to Chaos

Happy Founder’s Day!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Summer Reading List, 2018

Sketch in My Notebook
Though we’ve done book and TV reviews since this blog’s inception, the Summer Reading List Project didn’t formally get its start until 2016.  That first List was very successful, both in the sense that my friends enjoyed participating and because I myself found a bunch of books that I quite enjoyed reading.  I’ve done a few additional Lists in the months since, but none of those have informed my actual summer reading in the same way.  Mostly, they’re just been lists of related books that I put together as part of the Project’s archives.
This year, however, I’m actually looking for something to read.  Like you, I have my favorites.  But it seems like a lot of my favorite authors aren’t publishing right now, and here we are.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#SBRLLR: First Taste of Glory (Part 1)

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
― Thomas Paine
My mother drove me out to my first practice with the Vista Swim Team one afternoon a few weeks before I was set to start my freshman year of high school.  I stepped through a gateway cut into a twelve-foot chain-link fence and onto the deck of an unassuming six-lane public pool.  I felt as though I’d been transported into a bygone era of swimming lore.  The facility itself was ancient.  The pool area was a solid mass of flat yellow concrete, stretching maybe fifteen feet out from the pool’s lip, which overhung an eight-inch trench-like competition gutter, also cast from concrete.  I’d seen competition gutters previously, but only at collegiate competition facilities, which typically boasted newer pools, electronic timing systems, and gleaming sidewalls cast from shiny aluminum.  By contrast, Vista’s pool had the oldest competition-style gutters I’d ever seen and the only ones made from concrete.  Kids had been swimming for time in Vista for decades, and even back in the day, those kids had possessed the right swimming technology, probably since before East Carolina University had even had a swim team.

Friday, February 23, 2018

5 Things on a Friday: You Really Should Be Following Me on Twitter

Facebook instituted a new News Feed algorithm recently, and I hate it.  Ostensibly intended to cut down on the site’s 3rd party media manipulation and endless political arguments, what’s happened instead is that I’m now seeing the same posts over and over again.  Stuff that I would have glossed over in months past is now literally inescapable.  If anything, I’ve actually muted more people in the last month than I had in the previous twelve.
Usually just for 30 days, mind you.  I use the “Take a break from this poster” option because I still like my friends.  I just don’t need to read their political thoughts on repeat.  
Meanwhile, the algorithm’s effect on me has been to cut this blog’s traffic in half.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

#SBRLLR: Tennessee to California (Part 3)

To eyes that had grown used to the flatly forested lowlands of Coastal Carolina, Southern California was an infinitely varied series of high desert steppes, rolling hills, and zooming concrete superhighways.  Where Carolina had been uniformly green and rural, Southern California was all rocky browns and tans, distinctly urban, and interspersed at irregular intervals with tiny patches of spindly trees and tumbleweeds.  As we drove north from San Diego Airport, the hills grew slowly greener and more forested, until at last we arrived in Fallbrook, a brilliantly green oasis in the desert of San Diego County and the self-proclaimed Avocado Capital of the World.  
This would be our new home.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Army Football Preview: First Look at 2018 (Part 2)

We mentioned last week that a slow start could potentially make it tough for Army to earn a post-season bowl berth in 2018.  That’s true.  First, because the team has two FCS games again this year, and only one of those potential wins will count towards bowl eligibility.  Second, because bowl invitations typically go out before the Army-Navy Game.  As a result, Army will need at least five FBS wins heading into the Navy game plus at least one FCS win in order to make it into the postseason.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

More Pics from Ski Butternut

Both girls have school play practice starting soon, and anyway, winter looks like it is rapidly coming to a close here in Coastal Connecticut.  That's not exactly upsetting -- winters in New England can be brutal -- but it does mean that our family's winter ski season is almost over. 

After years of barely getting out on the slopes, we've skied a lot this season.  As Sally put it, "Skiing is really the only good way to get through these winters."  That is especially true in December and January, when the days are so short and dark that we sometimes barely see the sun.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Crunch: Managing Weight Gain

I got into the gym a few months ago mostly because I needed a break from the pool.  I like swimming, and I will probably always feel more graceful in the water than I do on land, but it can be a grind.  Even if you’re swimming just two to three times per week, it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting trying to stay focused.  It’s not like there’s a lot of scenery.  You’ve got the little black line and whatever songs you can play back in your head.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#SBRLLR: Tennessee to California (Part 2)

My grandparents lived in a beautiful red brick ranch-style house on the south end of a small town called Tullahoma, Tennessee.  Though my mother had been born in nearby Shelbyville, it was this house in Tullahoma that had provided me with whatever sense of normalcy I knew growing up.  I’d spent summers there, fishing with my grandfather in his little aluminum fishing boat or just hanging around, especially before I started swimming seriously.  I treasured those times because they gave me a place to that I understand as “home”.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Army Football Preview: First Look at 2018 (Part 1)

Groundhog Day has passed, and so has National Signing Day.  And though Lacrosse season has only just started, I know there are at least a few of you out there who can’t wait for Army Football to open their 2018 campaign.  The good news is that the Black Knights look to have a pretty impressive class headed to the storied banks of the Hudson River this summer.  The bad news is that we have more than six months to go before we see the team back on the field for games that actually matter.
What’s next for Army Football?

Friday, February 9, 2018

5 Things on a Friday: A Tough Week

Happy Friday, folks.
It’s a somber Friday for me and a lot of my friends.  We lost a classmate this week, apparently from complications arising from the flu, and that is not an easy thing.  I didn’t know Jimmy particularly well, and it feels like a real shame because he was obviously a great guy.  Many, many of the memorials from those close to him have mentioned his ready sense of humor and easy smile.  Those things can be rare commodities in the daily grind at West Point, and sometimes, they are the only things that help you stay sane.  Guys like that are often the most important people in your class.  The guys who can make you laugh amidst all that stress, those are the guys that you never forget.
Jimmy was a former Army Football defensive back, a doting father, and a successful grad in everyday life.  He was clearly in excellent physical condition as well, so his passing will have hit his family completely out of nowhere.  I hate that.  I feel it like a physical blow.  His family noted in their announcement that he had chosen to be an organ donor, so someone else will live because of Jimmy.  That is cold comfort, but it speaks to the man’s character.
Well done, Jimmy.  Be thou at peace.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

#SBRLLR: Tennessee to California (Part 1)

“This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island. From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me.”
― Woody Guthrie
My father came home one night in the middle of eighth grade just as we were sitting down to dinner.  He was still wearing his uniform—along with one of the largest smiles I’d ever seen.
“What?” my mother asked.
I looked up expectantly.
“I got orders today,” Dad said proudly.  “We’re going back to San Diego!”

Monday, February 5, 2018

Mount Southington Ski Area

Mount Southington is one of our local ski areas, located just off I-84 about nine miles east of the town of Waterbury.  That puts it just forty-five minutes from our house, making it ideal for short day-trips when there’s snow, and the kids don’t have school.  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Update: Book, TV, & Movie Review Archives

I spent yesterday's commute archiving the blog's various book and movie reviews.  This included an update to the Summer Reading List Project and even a couple of new inclusions into the Worth Reading list, all of which is now archived under the blog's catchall Sketches tab.

Holy shit!  I've done a lot of reviews on this blog.

Friday, February 2, 2018

5 Things on a Friday: SotU and Other Stories

Apologies up front.  I’ve been trying to do less politics on the blog, but with the State of the Union, that didn’t happen this week.  Worse, a lot of the best analysis has come out of the Opinion pages, so…  
Well, you will no doubt deride this week's piece as #FakeNews from a “triggered libtard.”  That’s fine.  I’ve been called worse.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

#SBRLLR: The Devilfish & the Value of Delusion (Part 6)

Through hard work and an effort of will, I continued to improve.  When I swam with the Devilfish, I competed hard against Brian and the other kids.  When I swam on my own, I pushed myself constantly, keeping my goals clear in my mind.  I tried to make every workout count, and I dropped time consistently in my best events.  I turned thirteen towards the end of seventh grade, and shortly thereafter, I made my first “A” time—in the 100 Butterfly.  This was made more impressive because I made that first cut time in my new, older age group, 13-14 year olds.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ski Butternut

Ski Butternut is a small, family friendly ski area located in the Berkshire Mountain town of Great Barrington, MA.  The mountain is affordable and relatively close to Coastal Connecticut, and we’ve spent a lot of time there as a result since last season’s triumphant return to the slopes.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The XFL is Coming Back. Where to Put Its Teams?

The XFL is coming back, and I for one am delighted.  This world has long needed a minor league of professional football, there’s plenty of room for it in the spring and early summer sports seasons, and Vince McMahon and company got very close to getting the brand off the ground the first time they tried this, way back in 2001.  This despite lots and lots of issuesmost of which have been well-documented.  This second go-round looks about as well-funded as the first attempt and seems far better-conceived.  With all the cable and Internet sports networks out there nowadays, and with all of them just aching for football content, the XFL appears to fill a void in the national consciousness that is in dire need of filling.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Swim: 3800 Aerobic Pace

Did a long slow endurance set yesterday, and didn't much feel like I had my best stuff.  But swimming tired is an important learned skill, so instead of cutting my workout short or lengthening the intervals, I just pushed through, trying to keep the effort long but moderately paced.

It felt very much like the back-half of a long slow distance run of the kind where it's a struggle just to keep your head up and your feet moving.  But that was kind of the point.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Crunch: Hitting Our First Milestone

I was on the train home from work last Thursday night when my daughter texted me.
Thursday's texts
This was something of a milestone.  It was the first time that Hannah had ever pushed me to go to the gym.  After weeks of my pushing her, it seemed that we’d finally started a self-sustaining reaction.  She wanted to be there.  She actually wanted to get stronger.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

#SBRLLR: The Devilfish & the Value of Delusion (Part 5)

The problem wasn’t just that some of New Bern’s small-town Cool Kids refused to accept a stranger from another state.  They weren’t trying to be mean.  I’d simply carried too much of my former life with me when we moved, and I couldn’t bring myself to let it go.  I couldn’t bring myself to be the kind of kid who would’ve fit in within New Bern’s closely held values systems and unique social norms.  Not down in my soul.  This created a gap that no amount of Cool Kid clothes and confident swagger could ever hope to bridge, new girlfriend or no.  I was still faking it, and the kids who most owned the identity of the town itself could smell that from a mile away.
So I kept swimming.  
In my mind, this was how I saw myself.  This was how my life made sense.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Army Lacrosse Preview: An Entry-Level Look at the 2018 Season

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I am not anyone’s idea of an expert regarding lacrosse.  
My kids and I started watching Army Lax in 2016.  Army Sports comp’ed us a pair of tickets to that year’s Army-Navy game when we re-upped our Football season tickets, and although the Black Knights lost a close contest in overtime that year, we still had a blast at the game.  We watched Army Lax a few more times that season—whenever the team showed up CBS Sports—and we watched most of the 2017 season via PatriotLeague.TV, CBS Sports, and/or Twitter, depending on who was broadcasting the game.  We were in the stands once again for Army’s heroic come-from-behind overtime victory over Notre Dame last year as well, and now here we are, eagerly awaiting the new season in 2018.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

#SBRLLR: The Devilfish & the Value of Delusion (Part 4)

Swimming by oneself is hardly ideal, but in some ways, it helped me.  Coach Pete would give me stacks of workouts written longhand on yellow legal paper.  I took these back to the country club and spent the next few days working through them.  I swam every day, usually for ninety minutes, putting in something like 3500 yards per workout.  Pete had a tendency to put me through fifties and hundreds of stroke work when I was on my own, perhaps intentionally pushing my focus towards butterfly.  At the Devilfish pool, by comparison, we did longer freestyle sets at a more controlled, aerobic pace6.  This was brilliant design philosophy.  Pete gave me aerobically challenging sets to do on my own, but they were sets that would keep the mind of a twelve-year-old boy engaged and occupied as he swam by himself.  It was rare that I saw anyone when I swam at the country club, so I needed the push that those workouts provided.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Workout Notes: 3700 Yards Swim & Chest / Shoulder Lift

Got in the pool twice last week.  Saturday's workout went about 3600.  The pool was warm again -- about 83 degrees -- which always creates some challenges.  I decided to do some aerobic work and try to close it up with just a bit of speed.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

4 Corner Billiards, Bridgeport, CT

With our kids headed to Rockin' Jump for a couple of hours with our church youth group last night, Sally and I decided to shoot some pool.  A quick search turned up 4 Corner Billiards in downtown Bridgeport as pretty much the only pool hall within easy driving distance of our house.  We decided to check the place out and make a date of it.

Rack 'em up!

Friday, January 12, 2018

5 Things on a Friday: The Case of the Roll-Up Television

Happy Friday, everyone.
The good news is that the ludicrously frigid cold that has enveloped the Northeast for the past month of so seems finally to have passed.  The bad news is that it is supposed to rain all damn day today, potentially ruining what otherwise would have been a truly excellent ski weekend in the Berkshires.
Will we, or won't we?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

NFL Playoff Preview: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

This weekend marks the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, and as you might expect, there are a couple of compelling matchups on offer.  I think both Jags at Steelers and Saints at Eagles offer the road teams a better than average chance to advance.  But if there’s one matchup that’s mostly flown under the radar, it’s Titans at Patriots.
No one gives Tennessee a chance.
As a long time Titans fan, I’m wondering… is this fair, or should we just go ahead and crown the Patriots right now?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#SBRLLR: The Devilfish & the Value of Delusion (Part 3)

New Bern didn’t have a swim team.  Kids water-skied or swam in the local rivers, and we weren’t far from the Outer Banks and the beach, but that was it.  The local country club had a competition-sized pool, thank God, but it didn’t have a club team—or even lane lines.  The pool itself went mostly unused.  It existed as a decoration, to make the club members feel good about the club because it had a pool.  A bigger-sized town might have had a team, but we weren’t close to any big towns.  The best, closest available option turned out to be Camp Lejeune's age group team, the Devilfish5, located some forty-five minutes away by car.
Mom and I drove out to practice one night after school.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Weekend Workout Notes: 4000 Yards Swimming + Weight Room Work

Publishing this weekend's workout schedule in case you're looking for some inspiration, either in the pool or in the weight room.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Saturday News & Notes: Tinkering with the Layout & Archives

I've finally fixed the links on the sides of the blog.  While I was at it, I added a link to the Rival Angels' "Halloween Special" that I wrote for my friend Alan Evans a couple of years ago and added an archives and a "word cloud" to help you navigate the blog's various archived topics.

My very brief stint writing for Rival Angels.
In case you ever wanted to know how I'd do as a
pro-wrestling promoter. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Crunch: New Year’s Resolutionaries

Hannah and I went to the gym together this week—for the first time in a very long time.  I’ve been trying to get her to go with me for the past several months now, and I’m glad that she finally agreed.  Spoiler alert: my eldest could use a little more exercise.  She does gymnastics once per week, and she does basic calisthenic conditioning a little more often, but her routine is not quite a lifestyle.  It’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s not necessarily enough to ensure her long term health, nor is she consistently building the habits that will make her a lifelong athlete as an adult.  Her timing was extremely fortuitous.  Crunch has been running a deal for high schoolers ($100 for a year with student ID), and this month in particular, the sign-up fee is just $1—not just for high schoolers, but for everyone.
That is awesome.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

#SBRLLR: The Devilfish & the Value of Delusion (Part 2)

I got a brief reprieve two weeks later.  We headed back to Northern Virginia for the NVSL All-Star meet, and I got to see all my old friends for a single, glorious weekend.  It was wonderful, but we all knew that it couldn’t last.