Sunday, September 24, 2017

Has it really been 20 years?

A group of smart, intelligent people who graduated 20 years ago. And me, I'm in there too.

Of all the people who have ever lived, I'm fortunate to be a member of a select club. There are only roughly 230 people who are can claim membership and we had a meeting of sorts last night. We don't meet often and we're not all always able to go, but it's always special to get together.

Ok, that is vastly overselling my 20-year high school reunion, but in a sense, it's true. There's only a little more than 200 people who can say they graduated in 1997 from the high school I went to. Some of us grew up here, going from kindergarten through high school here. Others moved here at some point during elementary, middle or even high school. We all had different hobbies, interests, cliques and clubs we were a part of. But at the end of the day, we all share the fact that for whatever else we've had in life, we all had she shared experience of finishing high school together.

The ubiquity of Facebook makes reunions a lot less mysterious than they used to be. Not only did I have a general idea of who all was coming, but I knew, more or less, what was going on with almost everyone there.

But social media is no substitute for actually getting together. Being able to hear the voices of the guy you played soccer with or finding out the pretty girl who sat behind you used to cheat off of your paper when she could. (I hope I got those answers right for both of us, Brandy. And I'm glad I could help.)

Then there's finding out what, exactly people are doing, not just where the live or where they work.

It's finding out the girl who you were on the Math Team with in elementary school now works in analytics for Delta. Or that one of the sweetest girls in school is a kindergarten teacher where she seems like a perfect fit.

It's being able to solve the mystery of what happened to that quiet, but really funny guy I sat next to in Biology my senior year and who seemed to have left no trace of himself online.  (He didn't make it, but someone at the reunion says he now lives in New York and works for Google. The fact that he works for Google and can't be found online makes me wonder if he knows something we don't.)

But it's also hanging out with the guy who lives three doors down and the guy who has a kid in my kid's class. It's doing more than just a polite hello to that classmate you see at the athletic fields as you're going to your kid's game and she's leaving her kid's game.

It's finding out one of your former classmates lives in the same town as your in-laws and hitting it off with her husband (though we both had a lot to drink at that point so it's quite possible he doesn't actually like me that much.)

And then there's running in to that girl who, every time she sees me she tells me how much she enjoys my blog and that I should write more. And she is just so sweet that I can't help but try to write more.

It's the random coincidence of talking to a guy whose mom was your wife's Pre-Cal teacher in college (and your wife confessing that she failed the class and him feeling bad about it.)

But more than anything, reunions are about nostalgia. Yeah, high school wasn't the greatest. I think even the people who really enjoyed it wouldn't necessarily go through it again.

But we all lived that experience together. We all freaked out about the tests and dealt with the stupid drama that comes with being 14 to 18 years old. We went to football games and parties and did whatever extracurricular activities we did that seemed important at the time. Whatever cliques existed 20 years ago have long since disappeared. It was just fun to talk, catch up, share stories and enjoy each other's company.

But then we all had to go our separate ways. For some of us it was just across town. Other's had flights to catch including one girl who had to get a flight back to Dallas before leaving tomorrow for London. I have no problem saying she's a better person than I am. Still others had to drive a few hours home where we'll go about our lives.

I realized as I was writing this that I kept writing "guys and girls" instead of  "men and women." That's the power of nostalgia. For everything that's happened in the 20 years since we graduated, my strongest memories of just about everyone there is from when we were kids. We were guys and girls, and in my mind's eye, we still are.

Now if I can just run in to the girl who always wants me to write, maybe I can actually write more regularly. 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

This blog post available for a limited time

So I was watching tv the other day and this commercial came on.



Now normally I pay no attention to commercials. In fact, the overwhelming majority of my television viewing is online, either with Netflix, Amazon or MLB.tv, or watching PBSKids with my son, so commercials are rarely seen in my house. (Good for most of the year, bad when asking my son what he wants for his birthday and/or Christmas and I get an "I don't know.")

But for some reason I watched this one and my first thought was "I must be hungry because that looks pretty good" and I'm generally opposed to eating at Subway not so much on principle, but because I don't find their food all that good.

My second thought, however, was less inspiring. The end of the ad said the sandwich was there for only a limited time. As I usually do, I had twitter open when I was watching and tweeted the following:




So yeah, a Subway commercial both made me want their product and also consider the brief existence we spend on earth. I not only wasted 30 of those seconds watching an advertisement for a restaurant whose food I don't even like, but now I'm contemplating my own mortality.

I'm only disappointed it wasn't an Arby's commercial as I generally enjoy the Nihilist Arby's parody twitter account.




Friday, August 25, 2017

A Modest Proposal for Bringing Everyone Together Over Confederate Monuments

My friend and former newspaper colleague Jake Hallman wrote a piece recently regarding the Confederate Monument in our hometown. In his article, he suggests that such a monument has no place sitting on the courthouse square due to the inability to place such a statue in context while sitting in such a place of prominence in the city.

While I'm certainly sympathetic to his argument, I would like to present my own modest proposal that will no doubt leave both sides of the debate pleased with the outcome.

The primary argument for keeping a moment to the Confederate solders who rebelled against the United States and fought to create their own, separate country, is that in keeping it, the monument teaches us our history.  Removing it would erase the history of this area, the argument goes. Clearly this is a powerful case as all the books written in the world have never touched on the war that nearly ununited the United States of America.

Our statues are truly the only way to preserve this history. Until such a time that books can be written and distributed widely to children and adults, perhaps in schools or some sort of public repository that would allow people to borrow a book on the topic of their choosing, free of charge, and return it after a designated period of time, the statues will remain our only source of learning about our history. So therefore, the statue should stay.

But as I mentioned, the war the Confederate solders fought in was not a scrimmage against themselves. They were fighting another army. In their minds, they were fighting another nation. Yet, oddly, that side of the story remains untold on our courthouse lawn. Our children are only learning half of the story and, as I mentioned, books are unavailable to present the other side.

We have seen that statues teach us our nation's history and as such, I would like to present my modest proposal to the citizens of Bulloch County and the Board of Commissioners. Standing next to the Confederate Solder on the courthouse lawn should be a statue of William Tecumseh Sherman, the General from the United States who marched his solders from Atlanta to Savannah, through Bulloch County, in a devastating military campaign. Sherman burned down the courthouse, a log building that doubled as a barn when court was not in session, before proceeding on to Savannah.

Erecting a statue to this United States General directly alongside that of the Confederate monument could not possibly draw objections from anyone. After all, what better place for such a statue than on our courthouse lawn, the epicenter of learning in our community, far ahead of Georgia Southern University. Those who want the Confederate monument to stay would be pleased and those who feel it's inappropriate to have it there would have their own monument they could take pride in.  And rather than being a nondescript union soldier, or even Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant, it would be of a Union general who was actually in Statesboro. Imagine the learning possibilities for young and old alike.

Those arguing that the Confederate monument teaches history will no doubt be thrilled that additional educational materials will be available right on our courthouse lawn. My fellow citizens, I urge you to show up to the next County Commission meeting and demand that the Confederate monument issue be addressed. Some among us may say to you, "WTF?" when presented with this humble idea. To them, I say, "No. W.T.S." He is the statue, the monument, that we need at this time to heal this divided country.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Steal my sunshine



That was cool.

Like, legit, a top-5 life experience.


I don't really have anything profound or insightful about today's eclipse. My son is eight and like a lot of kids, he's interested in outer space. He knew the moons of Mars and was able to tell the planetarium director their names when he as five (until then, I didn't know Mars had moons*)

So when I heard several months ago about today's eclipse, I pretty much knew I was going to go. I could have planned to stay in town where the moon was going to eclipse 96% of the sun, but.... but if I drove 100 miles, I could get in the path of totality and experience a total eclipse.

So we decided to go. Unfortunately, last week my wife learned she wasn't going to be able to go with us. Se's usually the planner of our events. All I knew was I wanted to see a total eclipse, but beyond that, I didn't know what places were holding events or anything. She'd mentioned South Carolina State University was hosting an event and I figured what better place to go see this than an institution of higher learning.

I picked up my son from school about 11:15 and we set out on the roughly two-hour trip. My son wasn't all that talkative at the beginning, but as we got closer and closer, he started talking more and more. The eclipse began at 1:08 local time and we pulled in the parking lot about 1:15. We got out and immediately put on our glasses and saw the first traces of the moon moving across the sun.

We walked over to the football stadium where all the festivities were happening. Along the way we saw people grilling out, others in lawn chairs and blankets. There were also lots of amateur astronomers with telescopes set up along the short walk. Once inside the stadium, we saw a balloon being lifted off to get above the clouds to collect data for scientists a lot smarter than I am.

After that, the SCSU marching band started playing and there was also a DJ there playing songs. It was a festive atmosphere with college kids, community members and people from all over the globe there. In addition to people from South Carolina and Georgia, there were people from Maryland, Washington, Jamaica and Germany all in little old Orangeburg, South Carolina for the eclipse.

So for about an hour my son and I sat there, looking up every now and again with our glasses to see the moon slowly move across the sun while we laughed at the college kids around us, enjoyed the music and waited. For the longest time, if you didn't know an eclipse was happening, you wouldn't have noticed anything different.

Finally, at around 2:20 you could tell something was starting to happen. It started to cool off a little and the sky started to get darker. There was someone (I assume an SCSU science professor) explaining things. The sky in the west started to get darker and through our glasses we could see the moon nearly completely in front of the sun.




As it inched its way across, we both left our glasses on, watching and anxiously waiting for what we were all there for. There was yelling and cheering and a palpable excitement as the moment neared.

Finally, at 2:43 p.m., the moon moved entirely across the sun and for two minutes. The cheering and screaming (of which I fully admit I was one) of excitement echoed throughout the stadium. We could take our protective glasses off and were able to see Venus and Jupiter as well as the corona around the sun. With 20 seconds remaining, we were told (ok, encouraged) to put our glasses back on so we didn't look in to the sun when the moon stopped totally blocking the sun.

And just like that, the sun's light started to come back. As soon as it did, the crowd cheered some more. Being there with so many other people made it a better experience. We stuck around for another 15 minutes or so, but my son was ready to go home and I couldn't blame him. We made it back in a little more than two hours.

I'd do a disservice if I didn't mention that SCSU did an outstanding job with the event. From the music to the information to providing eclipse glasses to those who needed them, it was a first-rate 


*The moons are Phobos and Demos.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Jesus Recycles

"Come on Jesus, get up. The crowd will be here soon."

"Bartholomew, it can't be time to get up yet. We had such a long night last night. I knew staying up by the fire telling stories was going to come back to bite us, but noooooo, you wanted to tell that stupid story about the goats again. No one finds that funny. When they write a book about us one day, you're going to get mentioned once or twice and never again."

"Hey now, everyone likes my goat story. But whatever, we have to get up. Have you even prepared a talk for the crowd today?"

"A new talk? Come on, you've got to be kidding me. Where are we today?"

"Come on, dude, how much did you drink last night? We're in Capernum. It's been a few months since we were here last, but rumor has it the crowd is going to be a big one. You're getting quite popular. And if they do write a book, do you think they'll include my awesome sense of humor?"

"Fine, fine. Ugggh. Give me a minute. Ok, what did I talk about when I was here last time? I don't want to repeat myself, even if there is that one guy always in the back wanting me to play the hits."

"You did the Bread of Life part last time you were here, so don't do that."

"Can I just use what I talked about in Tiberias last week? No one would notice, would they? I just really don't want to have to come up with something new today."

"Are you really going to recycle a sermon, Jesus?"

"No one will ever know. Come on Bart. Don't be that guy. I'm just not feeling it today."

"Jesus, dude. Come on. You're better than that."

"What if I'm not, Bart. What if I'm just tired and not in the mood to come up with something new and insightful today and I just tell them the same thing I told the crowds last week. No one would know."

"Come on Jesus. You're not seriously considering this. I thought you were better than this."

"Bart, you try coming up with something new and meaningful every day. It's exhausting. Maybe just this once, we let it slide and recycle. If they haven't heard it before, it's new to them."

"Fine, Jesus, you're in charge. I just hope they don't mention this in whatever book they write."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Horrible bosses?

My boss is awesome, which is not only true, but a good way to garner bonus points for my annual evaluation.  (Unfortunately for me, was just completed. Someone remind me to repost this next year.)

I'm giving the flexibility to do my job the best way I see fit and as long as I get my work done and do it well, she's cool giving me the freedom to spend too much time on Twitter or write blog posts when things are slower than usual. She's even ok with me watching baseball at work, which isn't the actual reason I asked for dual monitors for my office but it doesn't hurt.

So now that I've said all that, it's nice to know this is an option should things ever get really bad.

Court says it's OK to call boss 'nasty mother******' during union battle

Just remember, you actually have to be trying to form a union before you try this.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Changes

In college, ESPN seemed ubiquitous. I would watch SportsCenter for hours, even though it was the same episdoe rerun all morning. It didn't matter. That was the only way to get highlights and if I wanted to see a play again, I had to wait until that highlight came up in the next hour. ESPN was essentially the only way to see highlights, so I watched it all the time.

But times change. I get highlights on my phone mere minutes after they happen now. If Kris Bryant hits a home run or Addison Russel makes a great defensive play, I can be at my son's baseball game and still see the play and even show it to him on the way home. And it's not just official league sites. I can spend the evening watching a baseball game and see highlights of the hockey and basketball playoffs show up on twitter timeline. The idea of waiting for highlights is something my son will never understand.

ESPN has tried to change with the times. It still shows SportsCenter, but it's become more focused on personalities and analysis and less on highlights, which makes sense. But apparently it's not enough.

Today anywhere between 70 and 100 people are losing their job at the Worldwide Leader in Sports. From early indications, it looks like a lot of reporters are being let go. This is disheartening, not only for the people losing their jobs, but for people who appreciate sports news. While it's fun to mock a company that gave itself such a title, but the truth is ESPN does a lot of great reporting on a number of issues. Cutting those reporters means there's fewer people digging in to the issues affecting sports (and make no mistake, sports issues affect you even if you don't like sports.)

It really sucks for the people who lost their jobs. Hopefully they're able to find something else. I can't take joy in people, even people I don't like, losing their livelihoods. It also sucks for those who want to know what's going on.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's only a game



My son had a baseball game last night. He and his teammates are all seven and eight years old and from what I can tell, just want to be out there having fun and playing the game. Sure, they want to win the game, but they all seem to realize it's not the end of the world if they don't.

Some of the parents, on the other hand, seem to think this one game on a Monday night is the key to future success and need everything to be perfect. So when, late in the game, the umpire missed a call, these sports parents went a little crazy.

Here's the scene. The umpire (incorrectly) called a ball foul that should have been a fair ball. The call resulted in the kid having to try to hit again and the runners moving back to where they started. This blown call apparently merited scorn and loud, extended complaining from a few fans.

One dad (maybe a granddad, I wasn't paying close attention) took this affront to the rules of the game especially hard. After yelling at the umpire for blowing the call, he told the kid batting to "hit it hard back up the middle" where the umpire was standing since he had to put the balls in to the pitching machine. This adult wanted a kid to injure an umpire because he missed a call in an eight and under baseball game.

I didn't say anything to him or even talk to my son after the game about it. Maybe I should have. It's just interesting to me that adults not playing the game take it far more seriously than the kids actually playing it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Death and Friendship

My wife had a good friend pass away recently.

I realize that's a terrible way to start a story,but in this case, this is where the story begins.

Her friend had cancer for years and in February, things took a turn for the worse. My wife became one of her primary caretakers, spending days and nights in the hospital. When weather forced our camping trip to end a day early, it turned out to be a blessing as it enabled my wife to be by her friend's side as she passed away.

But that's the beginning of our story.

About a week later I was getting the mail as I usually do and there was what looked like a card addressed to my wife from a friend of ours from church. It wasn't addressed to me and I didn't really think much of it.

When my wife got home I mentioned she'd gotten something in the mail and went back to doing whatever it was I was doing. A few seconds later, I hear "Awww, Kathy is so sweet."

Intrigued, I got up to see what it was.

It turned out that my wife had received a sympathy card for the loss of her friend.

I spoke with Kathy a few days later after church, telling her how much it meant to my wife and to me that she took the time to send a sympathy card. And that's when she told me something that I'm ashamed to admit I'd never thought of before.

Whenever someone dies, the family gets all the concern and the cards and everything, she said, but it can be really difficult for friends too and they don't get the same kind of love and support. She went on to say she didn't know my wife's friend, but understood how hard it was for her and wanted to let her know she was thinking about her.

Of course the family needs love and care when one of their family members dies. And I've always tried to be supportive and sympathetic whenever anyone I know loses a family member. But I've overlooked the friends that are grieving in their own, often intense way.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Game Time

The question was meant as a compliment, even though I wasn't quite sure at first.

"Where do you FIND these games?" my friend asked midway through our second game of the night.


She'd been enjoying them, but for a second I thought maybe I'd been visiting some deep, dark corner of the internet (which is the short answer to where I found those games) that I wasn't supposed to be frequenting. I certainly won't claim to have an extensive collection of board games, but over the past four years I've gotten more and more into the "German-style" board games. For those unfamiliar, these games typically don't have dice and you're not moving around a board in some kind of journey like in Monopoly or Life, or as one game reviewer wrote, "roll the dice, move the mice."

Instead, the games require a little more thinking and planning, and frankly, they're a lot more fun than the board games from my childhood. (Sorry mom, I know you did the best you could.)

Oddly, my newfound fascination with board games didn't start sitting around a table being introduced to a game by friends. Instead, it came about do to two things that 10-year old me couldn't conceive of - twitter and apps.

The short story (and I'll keep it short since I do want to give brief reviews of some of the games I enjoy) is that one of the baseball writers I follow on Twitter is really big in to board games. Big in that he has a ranking of his top 100 board games. It also helps that his daughter is one year older than my son, so I have a pretty good idea about my son's ability to play the game if she can play it. Anyway, he tweeted about 4 years ago about a game called "Ticket to Ride" and the app for that game being given away for free. Well, I figured, if it's free, why not give it a try?

So I downloaded it and stated playing and it became addictive. If I had a spare 10 minutes, I'd play a quick game. Soon my son, who was four at the time, would curl up in my lap to watch me play. I didn't know how much of the game he got, but after a few months, he asked if he could play. So he'd sit in my lap and I'd watch him play and while he may not have had the strategy completely down, he had the concept down.

So we got the game for Christmas and after teaching my wife, she loved it. And from there, we've started using that baseball writer's board game list as our guide to which games to get. After Christmas (when we got a few more games) we wrote the names down on slips of paper and every night after dinner, our son draws out the name of the game we're playing that night.

Below is not a ranking of the games we have and they're in no particular order, but in case you were wondering what games we play at the house, here's a brief synopsis of our favorites.

Ticket to Ride: The game that started it all for us. The basic concept is that you are a railroad baron claiming train routes from city to city in the United States and Canada. You draw destination cards in which you get points for connecting the two cities on the card, but lose those points if you fail to connect them. Each route is different and requires a certain number of matching colored cards (I believe there are six colors) to connect the cities. It's really a wonderful game in its simplicity. The only drawback to this game (and it's been corrected in later versions) is that it's possible to get fortunate in drawing some really long destinations (17 points or more) while your opponent may keep drawing seven, eight or nine point destination cards. But that's just a minor quibble.

For 2-5 players. 45 minutes to an hour to play.

Ticket to Ride: Europe (and India and Asia and Switzerland as well as expansions for the United States and Europe maps): Same basic concept as the original, only with different maps and slight rules variations that make a familiar game feel different enough that you're not playing the same game. Ticket to Ride Europe is a standalone game, but if you get any of the other editions you will need to have either Europe or the original to be able to play (as those two come with the plastic trains you need to play the game as well as the deck of colored cards.) Of these, I enjoy Europe the most just for it's geography and different strategies that seem equally likely to result in a win. The two expansions are just more destination cards to add variety, but they add to the complexity and fun of the game.

For 2-5 players (Switzerland is 2-3 players) 45 minutes to an hour to play.

Splendor: A game with a simple concept but multiple ways to try to win, the basic premise is you are a jewel merchant in 14th century Russia, and you use your wealth to buy mines, and then craftsmen and finally take your jewels to the cities all while earning prestige points. The premise of the game actually has very little to do with the game play, but it's fun nonetheless. You have to balance buying the lower (or sometimes no) value cards versus going for the big point cards. There's several strategies and there is an element of luck as to which cards are available to buy when your turn comes around. It's easy enough to learn. We played it at work the week before Thanksgiving and halfway through her first game, a coworker pulled out her phone to order it for her husband for Christmas.

For 2-4 players, 20-30 minutes to play once you know what you're doing.

Dominion: Like most games, the object here is to get the most points. Only in Dominion, a deck-building game in which you constantly reshuffle your cards, you make the decision as to when to buy the limited number of point cards or to acquire other cards that may give you more money to buy higher point cards. You start with seven coins and three victory cards and then can buy cards each turn that do things from allow you play additional cards, have more money to spend that turn and so forth. the game comes with 25 different sets of cards, but you only play with 10 at a time, meaning there's a multitude of combinations for a seemingly endless array of options. There are also roughly 2,392,271 expansions available. I've yet to play any (we actually got the first version because that's the one my son played and liked, but we're hoping to get others as the year goes on).

For 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes to play.

Carcassonne: My favorite game, even though I lose to my wife regularly. I love the concept of the game, which is that you draw tiles and then play on tiles that have already been played to create the board as you go. Carcassonne, for those who don't know, (and really, I feel dumb even typing this like you don't know) is a fortified French town linking trade routes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It's been inhabited since the Neolithic Period and was a key location for the Romans and later the Visigoths. For our purposes, you are trying to strategically place your tiles to either complete roads, cities or Cloister and playing your people-shaped tokens, called Meeples, as you play in the roles of Knight, Thief, Monk or Farmer. The random draw of the tiles makes every game different and, like Dominion, there are a multitude of expansions available. The version we own (and that I've seen for sale in places like Books-A-Million) comes with the River expansion, which is helpful for getting people comfortable with playing the tiles.

For 2-5 players, 30ish minutes to play. 

Forbidden Island: A cooperative game in which all players either win or lose as you try to capture sacred relics left behind by an ancient civilization. The only problem is the island was designed to sink into the ocean if anyone ever landed on it. (It's right there in the title of the game, the island is forbidden.) You and your team have to collect treasure cards, shore up the sinking island and locate the treasures. Then you all have to get off the island before it sinks. Each character has different special abilities that help you (though some are more useful than others) and the island is arranged differently every time, so much like the other games I've mentioned, no two games are alike, which adds to their re-playability. In case you're thinking this one is a little complicated, my eight-year old played and taught it to his friends with no help from his parents.


For 2-4 players, 30 minutes to win, less time if the Island wins.