Forget robins; Spring Training is the real start of the season

During the Passover Sedar, the hope and promise of “Next year in Jerusalem” is made. In my mind, that always went alongside with “Next year the Cubs in a pennant race”.

When I was in high school Wrigley Field opened its doors at 11:00am and bleacher tickets were $1.25. All the games were day games, so it was easy and accessible to attend. We’d get there early to watch batting practice. Ernie Banks would be over by the seats, talking with fans and signing autographs for kids until the batting coach would walk over and get him to come practice hitting. The bleachers were so close the field that we could play catch with the players. Office workers from the loop would take the El down and spend their lunch hour at the field.
oldcub

What makes baseball great is its deceptive simplicity. Games are an everyday occurrence, so there’s rarely any one that is of utmost importance. It’s the ongoing effort, the slow rise, or fall of a team over months that make for a good season. Everything about baseball is lower key. A great batter is someone with a 300 average. That means getting a hit 3 times for every 10 times at bat. Is there any other sport where failing 70% of the time is considered impressive? Homeruns are exciting, but the real heart of the game is the small moves. The way the outfield shifts for each batter. The way a shortstop can stoop to grab a ball, switch it to his throwing hand, turn, and throw it to first in a single, graceful move.


An outfielder jumping high and robbing the batter of a home run; a heads-up runner exploiting the pitcher’s brief second of inattention to steal a base. The pace of baseball is designed to match a warm summer day. There’s time to sip a cool beer, eat a brat and enjoy the weather.

The years slipped by, and the loveable Cubbies I rooted for as a child changed. Even their logo changed.
newcub

Those bleachers that were once filled with bleacher bums became the residence of preening yuppies. Ticket prices went up, not just for the Cubs, but for all teams. I’ve switched loyalties; I’m a Brewers fan now. The Cubs lost their appeal to me around the time those cheap bleacher seats starting becoming a mark of status for fans who were more interested in the perceived hipness of the venue than in the team or the game.

With the rise in ticket prices, the game had to change. More drama was added. The American League’s designated hitter rule allows older players with decayed defensive skills to stay in the game longer. The focus of the game switched to the big skills; home runs took precedent over hits and runs, and players reacted by doing everything, legal and not legal, to get bigger, stronger, more capable of hitting. The game has become more like football, more spectacle-like, despite the fact that it remains an every-day sport made up of mostly small plays. The majority of games are now played at night, which puts the fan’s focus solely on the field. The level of noise within the stadium has increased in the quest to make each batter, every play, seem epic. The memories I have of enjoying warm summer afternoons, watching a game and chatting, have disappeared. Games are fierce and loud and a never-ending display of lights and noise.


Even with $50 tickets, $8 beers, and the constant noise, I still love the game. Whenever possible I go. When my husband was alive, we planned summer trips around baseball, trying to fit as many major and minor league stadiums as possible into every vacation. Last year we went to spring training; it was great.

This time of year, with yet another snowstorm having just hit and temperatures in the low 30s I dream of spring, warm weather, sandals, and baseball. Maybe this year the Cubs will finally make it; or maybe it will be the Brewers. The season hasn’t started yet, so anything is possible. I can’t wait to watch.

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The blink of an eye, the crawl of a snail

It’s been 6 months since I became a widow. Much has changed in that time. The rhythm of my life is fundamentally different. I’ve become a single person, eating whatever I want for dinner, sleeping sprawled sideways across the bed, and watching all the trash TV I want. I’m a sadder person than I was 6 months ago; I don’t laugh nearly as much as I used to. There’s little hope in my life, and even fewer dreams.

It’s been 6 months since I became a widow. Much has stayed the same in that time. I’m still trying to make sense of what happened, to come up a narrative of our life that neatly ties off all the loose ends. I’m still shocked when I look at pictures from the last few years and wonder how things could unravel so quickly. There’s still an active presence of Rick in every room of the house, from our wedding picture in the living room to the books sitting on his side of the bed.

I want to move forward. In many ways I’m ready, anxious, aching to move. I plan little baby steps: getting rid of a box of books, clearing out a drawer in his dresser; and they seem huge, momentous events. I’m physically exhausted from the emotional strain of having taken a single bag of shoes and socks to goodwill. I imagine my life after I’ve slogged through all this. My memories will be good ones, strong, positive, and affirming. I will be serene and joyful, the kind of person you know has been through a lot, but is still positive and engaged in life.

I want to move backwards. I fantasize about going back in time to make the future, my now, better. The timeline for this changes; 2 years, 5 years, 10 years; I imagine different scenarios, a different Rick, a different me, a better life, no illness, no death. Regardless of what year I choose, the present is always the same; we’re both here, both happy, both alive.

What I can’t do, not yet, not after 180 days, is to accept where I am now. My present is filled with the hard, tough work of just making it through each day. Some days I crawl forward, other days I slip back. The overall direction is forward, but the progress is slow and painful and never, ever easy. Just now, I got a call; the granite for his headstone has arrived, and I need to drive out to approve it. That is an example of what my present is; deciding what pictures to keep and which to throw out; trying to get up the courage to move a shirt that’s been sitting at the top of the steps for 7 months; the awful power of deciding how much of a person’s life and legacy should be kept.

Daily Prompt: Ghosties and goblins and haunts, oh my!

It is the middle of the night.  I wake up.  I’m curled in bed lying next to Rick, spooned against his back.  It feels warm and comforting.  My arm is draped over his side, cradling his middle.  Suddenly, I remember that Rick died over a month ago, so this can’t be happening.  It occurs to me that this is a visitation, a ghost, one of the signs that everyone keeps asking me about and of which I haven’t had even one.  Stay cool, I think to myself.  Don’t let on that you’re awake; if you do then this will stop.  It feels so nice to have him back with me.  I lay there, enjoying the feel of having him next to me.  I can feel the solidity of his body, even the warmth that comes from it.  I notice he seems a bit leaner, more muscular; the effects of his illness are gone.

He gets out of bed, and starts walking to the bathroom.  I’m intrigued that a ghost needs to pee, but then I don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with spirits from the beyond.  Somehow, we’ve flipped sides and are now facing the bedroom wall that contains the door to the bathroom.  This will let me peek without it being obvious that I’m awake and aware of what is going on.

I open my eyes just a bit to look, and see that Rick is looking at me.  It doesn’t look like him; it is someone younger, leaner, but I figure that’s just the way it is; when you die, you get to go back to your healthiest state.  He’s smiling at me in a manner that doesn’t look friendly, but rather sinister.  Then I realize that the being leering at me has brown eyes; Rick’s were blue.  I realize that this isn’t he; but some malevolent spirit.  I see that the wall behind him has been scraped clear to form a picture of a skull.  It’s eerie and horrifying and I feel violated and deeply alone. At that point I wake up, with my heart pounding, feeling terrified.  I turn on the lights and TV; no more sleep that night.

I had this dream about 5 weeks after Rick died.  I’m not religious, and I don’t really believe in things like spirits and ghosts.  Two weeks after he passed away, I had to clean out the house where he had lived and worked for the 20 years before we met.  For a whole week I spent hours every day, alone, in that house, going through items and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of.  It occurred to me that if there was any chance of encountering his spirit, that would have been the place.  It never happened.  The week I had this dream I had gone grocery shopping.  Walking down the coffee & tea aisle, I saw the brand of tea he drank every morning and starting tearing up.  A few minutes later, after I’d gained most of my composure back, I ran into a couple we both knew.  They gave me their condolences and a big hug and asked how I was doing. One of them said “I bet you see Rick everywhere; I bet you’re having lots of moments when you know he’s sending you messages”.  I said no, not really and went on to finish my shopping; but that stuck with me.  Was I missing something?  Was it my fault for not being spiritual?  Was there some lack in me that prevented my seeing these “signs” that people talk about?

I don’t know the answer.  I still haven’t had any feelings or signs to make me stop and think; “yes, that was Rick”.  However, I have had more than a few nicer, calmer, happier dreams where we talk about what happened, and where I get to spend time with him, and I haven’t had any more nightmares.

It’s 8 degrees outside, so time for more movies

Impossible

I have mixed feelings on this one.  They did a great job recreating the event of that horrendous tsunami, but somehow I just couldn’t get sucked into the story.  It never gelled for me.  I think this may be me more than the movie, based on the reaction in the theater; but I felt a lot of distance in this movie.

Two odd things stood out for me.  The movie is based on the experiences of a real-life Spanish family.  Despite that fact, and that it’s a Spanish production, the movie family is played by all British actors.  The other thing that bothered me was that during the movie the father, who has just been reunited with his 2 youngest sons (both under 10) leaves them alone to go look for his wife and oldest son.  Huh?  Really?  What the hell – this was such an astoundingly bad parent move that it killed the movie for me.

Quartet

Find this movie and see it.  The story takes place in a large English manor house being used as a home for retired musicians.  The residents are busy practicing for a show, and annual event that raises money for the establishment and provides an outlet for talents of the wonderful residents.  We meet opera stars, chorus singers, music hall performers; musicians and conductors.  The story centers on the arrival of a new resident played by Maggie Smith, a retired singer with a tangled history.  She was briefly married to another resident who clearly still carries a torch for her after over 50 years.  They were 2 members of a quartet; all 4 members are now at the retirement home.

The story precedes exactly as you’d expect, but that’s a good thing.  It’s a real delight to see a movie that shows older people as complex human beings with actual lives, rather than as foils for other characters.  We care about the people; the woman slowly losing her self to dementia; the caste system of stars and supporting players still holding sway; the sweet rekindling of an old romance.  The music is the other delight of this movie.  I didn’t realize it until the credits, but all of the non-star roles were actual older singers and musicians.  Being neither British nor a fan of classical music and opera I didn’t recognize any of them, but a more cultured person most likely would.

Ted

Very disappointing.  I have a real soft spot for dumb, juvenile comedies.  Steve Martin’s “The Jerk” is on my top ten list of all time favorites, and “There’s Something about Mary” isn’t far behind, so I had big hopes for this one.

The movie has a great plot.  John Bennett , an unpopular young boy, gets a stuffed bear from Christmas and wishes it to life to become his best friend forever.  What’s clever about the plot, and distinguishes it from other similar stories of loners with magical friends, is that Ted’s special abilities are visible to everyone.  Unlike “Harvey”, the comedy is based on the bear’s interactions with the world, not on the John’s attempts to manage a relationship with a being that no one else sees.

Sadly, that is the one and only bit of cleverness in the movie.  In reality the movie is a tribute to the “man-boy” that grown up male who continues to live and act as though he were a 17 year old.  The 35 year old John Bennett spends his time smoking pot and hanging out with Ted, who spends his time chasing women and indulging in antics that only an adolescent boy would find amusing.  Somehow, John has managed to establish a long-term relationship with Lori, a smart, sexy and successful woman who actually wants to marry this over-grown boy approaching middle age.

The movie follows what happens when Lori  dumps John and he attempts to win her back.  By the end of the movie the two are back together and getting married, Ted has been miraculously reanimated by Lori, and John seems pretty much the same immature ass he was at the start of the movie, though maybe now up to 18 in his emotional age.

What made me like   “The Jerk”   and “There’s Something about Mary” is that these movies had rather sweet messages at their core; while draped in coarse humor, the actual goal of both movies was to show the essential decency of people, that we are all looking for love and kindness.  Ted has no such message, and there is nothing deft or clever hidden within it.

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Enjoyable, but not much more.  Really nothing much to say about this one; it’s a sort of “shadow” movie, one I know I’ll have trouble remembering in a month.  Despite stating it was based on fact, much of the movie seemed to feel fictional.  I checked this NPR source http://www.npr.org/2012/12/26/167537602/hyde-park-an-fdr-portrait-thats-more-fiction-than-fact which does a good job of vetting movies, and as I had thought there is very little fact in this one and a lot of fiction.

To my mind way too much of the portrayal of the main characters was done with a “nudge nudge, wink wink” manner, with the intent being to view these people not through the eyes of the narrator – a woman remembering events that took place when she was young and rather naïve – but through our, early 21st century, views.   The one thing in the movie that really worked was Laura Linney.  Her portrayal was magic; the rest of the movie was not.

Wrestling with grief

Grief is tough.  Every time I think I’ve got it licked, it comes back, a little different, but still there.  Last week feeling good, strong, and active; thinking ahead and making plans.  The house has been re-mortgaged and I’m planning to redo the kitchen.  I’ve made appointments with financial planners and have even started seeing a grief counselor.  Best of all, I’ve been able to start work  on the piles of things in the back room; over the weekend I made inroads and was able to separate a few boxes of things for Goodwill.   I felt strong, confident, and proud of what was happening.  What’s more, there wasn’t any guilt.  I even had a few good dreams where Rick and I talked about what had happened.

Then the roller coaster turned; the monster awoke; the tide shifted; and I was back.  Tuesday morning I had a medical procedure scheduled.  Without going into too much detail, it requires drinking a gallon of bad-tasting stuff and then several hours spent at home.  You get it, right?  The last time I had this done was when we had been dating a few months.  I remember he stayed with me the night before and took me to the hospital the following day.  That’s when I knew this was a serious relationship.  Monday night, going through this all by myself, I realized how alone I was.  Suddenly my big plans and moves forward seemed like pathetic steps being taken just to fill a void.  I was right back to feeling bad.

Grief is tough.  It is much harder than I ever realized.  Yesterday, sitting in a room waiting for my procedure to start, in the same hospital where he had spent his last month, looking at a wall painted the same color, with many of the same pieces of equipment, I had a flashback to August.  Suddenly I was back there, watching him get sicker and sicker, seeing the number of machines and tubes and equipment increase.  I started crying and couldn’t stop.  The intervening months dropped away, and it was as near and present as though it was still happening, but with the extra pang of knowing the outcome.

Those flashbacks happen without warning. Some days I am strong and proud and oh-so-wise, thinking how I can keep all the good memories, and focus on what’s positive and end up with an enlightened attitude of quiet grace and acceptance.  Then – boom! – something happens that sucker-punches me right back to feeling lonely, scared, angry or just plain hopeless.  It could be a TV show, or something I read, or finding a picture from a vacation, or just not feeling well and wishing there was someone there to care about me.

Grief is tough.  It’s a lonely, solitary trek.  When I first returned to work, 3 weeks after his death, everyone was so solicitous and looking after me.  Take time, I was told.  Don’t overstress yourself.  I’m still feeling upside down, but it’s as though it never happened.  I still feel overwhelmed so much of the time, but I can’t let on that I’m just not able to deal with things.  As far as everyone is concerned, Rick’s death is ancient history.  It’s done, all over, it’s time for me to move on.  I don’t feel like that.  It’s still palpably real to me, something that just happened.  I’m still trying to get used to being alone, to his being gone.  There are so few people I can talk to about it, either because they don’t get it or the conversation is too frightening.

I know I’m not the only one facing this; but all of us, despite being able to share some experiences, ultimately have to come to terms with our new lives, alone.  No one else but me can decide what the closure is that I need, how I will move forward, what the right way to get through this will be.

Grief is tough.  Harder than anything I’ve ever done.  I’m strong, I’m capable, but some days it feels like grief will win and I will lose.  It did yesterday.  It may tomorrow, but not today.

What do you call an electronic bookworm?

Let me introduce myself.  I was that bookworm kid who came home from every library trip with an arm full of books, and then was ready to go back a week later.  I spent weekends and summer vacations buried nose-deep in whatever book I was currently reading.  As an adult, I actually had my daughter tell me, more than once, that it was rude to read at the dinner table when someone else was present.  I’ve belonged to more book clubs than I can count, and I’ve never been able to pass by a bookstore without window shopping.

So, yeah, I like books.  When eReaders were first introduced, I was interested, but cautious.  A few years ago I made the leap and purchased a Kindle. It was a revelation.  I loved its portability.  Shortly after getting the Kindle I took a week’s vacation.  Instead of having to pack several books, worrying over their weight and size, considering what I’d do when I finished them, I took the Kindle.  It had all my books on it.  I loved that I no longer had to choose which of the several books I was currently reading when I left the house.  It was so much more comfortable for reading in bed, and I no longer had to grapple with holding large books.  Being far sighted, I could adjust the font size to make every book comfortable, and I noticed less eyestrain using the Kindle.

I was in love.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect.  The black and white reading surface, while easy on the eyes, also made illustrations useless.  Almost every book I read had some typos in it, making me wonder how carefully the process of transcribing books into the eReader format was being managed.  I felt that the price being charged for new books was unnecessarily high.  I worried that something as simple as a lack of power could eliminate my library.  Selecting books was difficult; I missed the enjoyment of wandering through a physical bookstore and picking up what looked interesting.  It’s harder to browse online.

My biggest issue was with the ownership of content.  I resented that my purchase of a book bought me nothing but the right to read a downloaded copy.  I didn’t “own” anything.  Amazon retained the right to update or delete the content I had purchased at any time.  Unlike public libraries that have always safeguarded checkout records from any governmental oversight, my reading list was now stored and accessible to anyone with a warrant.  I also resented the lack of transferability with “my” books.  When I finished a good book, I couldn’t loan it to someone unless I physically loaned them the Kindle device.

It’s been 3 years since I purchased that first Kindle.  I’ve upgraded to a Kindle Fire, which eliminated issues with viewing illustrations.  There are fewer problems with typos and errors in books.

I definitely prefer the format of an eReader to that of a standard book, so much so that I don’t enjoy reading the reading experience much when I do pick up a traditional paper book.  I do believe this is the future of books, but I want a few things to change:

  1. Allow real ownership.  There is no technical reason why, once purchased, an eBook cannot be owned by the purchaser and no longer subject to updates or deletes by the seller.
  2. Revise copyright law to manage distribution of eBooks by owners.  Back in the dark ages, each physical copy of a book was a single iteration of that book.  The purchaser could resell it or lend it, but they lost physical possession.  The proliferation of copiers challenged that, but it was handled by clarifying the law.  You can copy a single page of a book, but you can’t walk into a copy shop and have them make you a copy of that new Stephen King novel.  Do the same thing with eBooks; maybe the answer is that you can lend a single copy at a time.
  3. Create brick-and-mortar eBook stores.  I’d love to go to my favorite neighborhood bookstore and get a chance to peruse physical copies of books, make my choice, and then purchase the e-version.

With or without the adoption of my suggestions, eReaders are here to stay.  There are, and will be, other kids like me who can’t put books down and find themselves caught in another world story after story.  The format is meaningless; it’s the content that matters.

Daily Prompt: A genie has granted your wish to build your perfect space for reading and writing. What’s it like?

Have you ever see the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night”, directed by Richard Lester?  Filmed at the height of the Beatle’s first burst of stardom it purports to follow them on a typical day.

At one point early in the movie, they are shown entering their homes, which are adjoining row houses in Liverpool.  The joke is that while we see each lad using a key to open four separate doors, in actuality there are no walls between the row houses, and it’s really one large space.  Each Beatle’s space has been customized to match who they were (or, at least, the image of that Beatle as it was in 1964).

John’s house is a perfect mid-60s modern setup.  There’s a sunken living room pit that has a comfy looking couch running around all 4 edges.  Bookshelves are everywhere.  He grabs a book, starts reading while walking, and effortlessly falls back onto the couch where he continues to read.

That’s my ideal.  I love the idea of having a secured little nook that’s still open to everything else going on.   I don’t like being isolated and apart from the world.  Reading, alone, where I’m away from other people seems too quiet for me.  I want to be able to put down my book and see people.

Back when I was in college the era of coffee houses hadn’t yet started, which was too bad; I think my grades would have been better.  The coffee house environment is exactly what I look for when I’m reading.  I want a comfy place I can claim as mine, like a nice soft chair large enough to curl up and situated next to a fireplace.  That’s good.  Even better is if that little private zone is located in a place where other things are happening.

When I read I get totally and completely sucked into the book; I have no trouble concentrating with other things going on around me.  Periodically I need to come up for air and break free, and that’s where I want to be somewhere with people.  I may not be participating in the socializing going on around me, but I feel better being near it.

So, that’s my perfect space.  It’s got great lighting, really comfortable furniture, drinks and food within easy reach, and other people.