Take me out the ballgame

It seems that at last, Opening Day for Major League Baseball has arrived. After the Reds’ premature exit from the playoffs last September, a disappointing fall when the local pseudo-professional National League Football team put on an impressive display of underachievement and spectacular failure, and a long cold winter, I’m thrilled to have finally reached the start of the 2011 campaign for our boys of summer.

You might think that my excitement is based on the team’s unexpected success last year, and you’d partially right. If you’re from Cincinnati, after last season you’d have to be either largely catatonic or wholly devoid of any love for baseball whatsoever – a.k.a., a communist – not to be looking forward to making another run at the NL Central championship this year. Still, it seems to me that even though I’ve been a fan of the Cincinnati Reds most of my life, for the past few years I’ve been taking the whole thing quite a bit more seriously.

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly why that is, but part of me thinks that it’s because I’m getting older. It’s like when a guy turns 35, he officially gets his Middle Aged Man consolation prize from the Bob Barker.

“Tell him what he’s taking home, Rod.”

“You got it, Bob. Our new 35 year-old tonight will be getting the complete Middle Aged Guy package. That includes a free, lifetime supply of Male Pattern Baldness, an explosion of disgusting hair growth everywhere BUT the top of the head, a Brand. New. Unavoidable Belly Paunch!, the inability to stay awake through a complete television show, a deeper appreciation for Major League Baseball, arguably the longest, slowest, and least cardiac-stressing major sport available today, plus, the perfect garden hose for those long hours spent working on the lawn. A lucky few contestants will also receive the need to pee every 10 minutes or the urge to sit with a group of gentlemen around a campfire with guitars while singing about erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals.”

OK, maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Still, I definitely care more about baseball now than ever before in my life.

Of course, since I live in greater Cincinnati, home of the world’s first professional baseball team, Opening Day means something special. Around here, the day is an extra holiday wedged onto the calendar between St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Admittedly, we’ll use just about any excuse we can to tap a keg and do some partying, but that’s neither here nor there. Yep, the whole place will be going nuts for the annual Opening Day parade and celebration.

Well, most of it, anyway. Not me; I’ll be at work.

Missing out on the Opening Day festivities this year is really a bit of a disappointment. Every year I think to myself, next year, buddy, next year you’ll do the parade and Fountain Square and the game and the whole bit. And each year…I don’t. My employer largely frowns on playing hooky to see baseball games, so I kind of feel like that kid that has to watch all his friends have great birthdays but never gets to have one of his own. No, either his Mom just refuses to allow merriment of any kind, or he had the misfortune of being born into a family that belongs to one of those no-day-is-any-different-from-any-other-day kind of religious sects where fun on a special occasion is apparently a guaranteed way to ignite the rage of a grumpy, vengeful God. Sure, the kid really, really wants to ask mom for a birthday cake, but he knows she’s just going to say, “Oh, sure, yeah, we’ll have some birthday cake and you can have a great big piece of that cake and then you can burn in the Lake of Fire for all eternity while your skin is flayed by flaming crows and your bones are crushed to powder daily and how’s that Damnation Cake taste now, little Jimmy!?”

Nobody wants to have to hear the Damnation Cake lecture again.

So I guess, next year, yeah, next year is the year I’ll finally do the whole Opening Day shebang.

Regardless, even missing the parade and partying, I’m thrilled that baseball season is finally here again. Hooray for spring!

It’s just in time to break out my perfect garden hose.

Pud’n

PS: Go Reds!

The sky is falling, the sky is falling…or is it?

So, as it turns out, I occasionally have some opinions, thoughts, and considerations on the world of craft brewing. Well, in case you didn’t hear, Anheuser-Busch Inbev, the multinational conglomerate that provides us such thoroughly undesirable beer-like beverages as Bud Light, Bud Select 55, and Natural Light Ice, reached an agreement to purchase Goose Island, a well-respected craft brewery from Chicago. While I’m not exactly running around screaming that the sky is falling, I did have a few thoughts on the matter. Do I consider this deal the beginning of the legitimization of the craft beer industry or personal favorite selling out to The Man? Read my latest post on Hoperatives.com to find out.

Pud’n

Oh, the Mini-Me I know!

Man, it feels like it’s been weeks since I wrote a new post. Friday wasn’t really that long ago. Then again, that was two whole rounds of NCAA tournament and a bunch of bonus Final Four euphoria before now, so I suppose I understand why it seems so distant. You can all relax, though, I haven’t abandoned you.

I do feel compelled to tack on a comment about the awesomeness of Friday. On top of all the other stuff I said was great, UK beat OSU in a jaw-clenching, white-knuckled finish, and I managed to brew a batch of my favorite homebrew. That’s clearly good day type stuff.

Considering I hadn’t done any brewing in almost five years, I expected to be happy as long as I didn’t end up repainting the kitchen afterward. It turns out I well exceeded my own expectations, at least with the brewing phase. All the right ingredients went in on time, nothing got ruined, and I didn’t even make that big a mess. Now we just need to hope the fermentation and bottling phases go as smoothly.

And yes, of course I’ll share it when it’s done. As long as it doesn’t end up tasting like drain cleaner.

What’s it doing right now? Well, this:

I know it doesn’t look like much now. But just you wait.

After Friday, the weekend was jammed full of action. The Puddinette is occasionally shocked to find that when I have the mindset to Get Things Done, well, things get done. This weekend, I put down new grass seed, created a couple of patches of mulch around the swing set, got the oil changed on the Family Swagger Wagon, and hung a ceiling fan, complete with new reinforcement bar.

Yes, that’s right, sometimes I am The Man. It’s a shame, though, that my poor wife doesn’t quite understand yet that all my Household Points have now been spent and will need to accumulate again before additional projects can be undertaken. Oh well, she’ll figure it out next weekend when I spend Saturday afternoon alternately watching baseball on TV, picking at my fingernails, and napping.

Oh, there was one additional thing that needed doing over the weekend. We found out Friday that it’s Mini-Me’s turn to be Star Student of the Week in his class. Basically that means that this week is all about sharing some details from his life. For instance, today he made an “All About Me” poster and took in a bunch of his cool stuff for show and tell.

On top of that, the parents are supposed to write something up about their child to read in class. Clearly, this was not task we were going to approach half-way. After some discussion, the Puddinette suggested I do a Seussism for the assignment, and me being me, I nearly fell over myself agreeing with the idea. So, after taking time to select the appropriate Dr. Seuss reference piece, we came up with this, inspired by “Oh, the Places You’ll Go“.

Oh, the Mini-Me* We Know!

Three cheers for Mini-Me,
the Star Student this week.
A special First Grader, he is clearly unique.

So many qualities make him just great.
Just one? Well, for instance, he loves to ice skate.

He likes to play Legos, and to build things for fun.
He never gives up until the building is done.

At other play times, oh, the things he pretends,
such imagination he uses with friends.

He often wants Skyline, I bet you didn’t know.
He likes Chinese too; with chopsticks he’s pro!

But breads large and small, he loves more than all.

He loves scary shows; Scooby Doo makes him smile.
His hair and sharp hats let you know he’s got style.

So helpful at home, always offering a hand.
What else can I say? He’s an awesome little man.

Oh, the Mini-Me we know!

He’s always so happy!
He brings everyone cheer!
He makes us all smile, just being right here.

I think maybe that’s not the worst piece I’ve ever written. I hope he thinks so too.

Pud’n

*The version we sent to school included his actual name, of course

Crazy talk and Awesomeness

You know what’s the best part about being me? I’m pretty sure it’s that I’m bat$h!t crazy. That’s not only because little green people follow me everywhere I go or because I see a 12-foot tall cauliflower blue rabbit all year round. But I got that going for me, which is nice.

What really has me thinking I’m nuts is the extreme shift in my mood the past few days. On Wednesday, I spent most of the day giving Eeyore a run for his money to prove who was the Grumpier Gus. It seems he’s got me cold on sullen sustainability, though. Here we are just 36 or so hours later, and I’m hopped up like a kid about to go to his first Monster Truck Jam* with dad.

What’s the difference, then?

Well, admittedly, the four shots of espresso over ice I had this morning probably didn’t hurt. I had a chocolate muffin too – those things bring good cheer like an elf with pointy shoes and a red and green jumpsuit. But that’s not the whole story. The thing is, some days are just Made Of Awesome™, and today is one of them. My coffee this morning was just the right bitterness to make me gleeful (obviously, I didn’t stop at the Starbucks of Questionable Result), I had a supremely tasty lunch at a really cool place that just does grilled cheese and tomato soup (in like 7000 varieties), we got an invite to the in-laws for dinner, there’s a UK tournament game on tonight, and I’m going to homebrew this evening for the first time in something like four years.

I also got to play with and work on integration for a really cool new super secret toy that demonstrates exactly how we live in The Future. That never hurts.

Admittedly, the homebrewing has me more pumped than anything else. In fact, I’m so excited that even though I spent roughly an hour scrubbing a 6 gallon glass carboy with what is effectively an oversized pipe cleaner last night, I didn’t mind in the least. In case you’re not familiar with my (lack of) interest in cleaning things, let me just say that back in my bachelor days, my apartment got cleaned only slight more frequently than the Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs, and only because my brother usually got out the Pledge.

Brewing, however, demands absolute cleanliness unless you want your effort rewarded with something that tastes like the underside of a toad. And my glass fermentation vessel was, um, well, horrifyingly unclean. Unfortunately, it didn’t get washed out the last time it was used**, which means that a dry ring of vaguely mud-like brownish yeast-crud clung fiercely to the inside of the thing like a cat trying to avoid a bath. Seriously, if you’ve never made beer and don’t know what the Ring of Yeasty Doom looks like, well, let me say that it ranks just below putting your hands in the cold bowls of “eyeballs” and “intestines” at a Halloween party for grossness factor. So, I had a huge glass jar with a mere 1-inch opening that looked like it had been used in a science class dissection project and then left to molder.

Have you ever tried to clean something that can hold six gallons of fluid but only has a 1 inch throat? It’s like building one of those ship-in-a-bottle things but in reverse. Nonetheless, after an hour of applying elbow-grease to some hardcore scrubbing through a little tiny hole, my fermenter was nigh spotless. And tonight, once my coffee wears off and my in-laws graciously feed me and my family, I’m going to fill it with malty, hoppy wort and begin counting down the days until I can pop the top on a beer of my own making.

See…some days truly are just Made of Awesome™.

Pud’n

*Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY! Seriously, though, why are they always on Sunday?

** Lest the Puddinette think I’m a disgusting pig that doesn’t clean my toys when I’m through with them, I will point out that I wasn’t the one who last used it and left it goo-ridden.

Why we do it

I was in kind of a mood yesterday. I wasn’t rocking the full-blown mopiness or anything; it’s not like I felt the need to lock myself into a room, put on black eyeliner and spend all night listening to the collected works of The Cure. I was just a little blah.

Now, I know I’ve said this before, but it still surprises me when I catch a mood because I never used to get that way back when I was primarily a nerd. But now that I’m a part-time creative type that writes words and stuff and has come to appreciate that perhaps sunlight isn’t the root of all evil, well, when the weather turns nice, I sort of want to be freed from my daily responsibilities.

Seriously, life was much simpler when I was all up into maintaining my own Linux server and crimping my own CAT-5 Ethernet patch cables just because I could.

Anyway, it was nice out yesterday and I was pining to have class outside, if you know what I mean. As it turns out, though, when you write software for a living, there’s really not much opportunity to spend the afternoon under a tree. Something you undecided college kids might want to consider. Looks like that Arts program your mother isn’t a huge fan of because she thinks it means you’ll be living under a bridge (or worse, in her basement for the next decade) does have some advantages.

Unfortunately, by the time I left work, an overall sense of blasé had firmly taken root. So with a cloud of moderate grumpiness hanging over me, I went through the motions at dinner, helped the kids with their homework, and cheerlessly saw to the standard Tuesday night routine. Before I knew what happened, as is usually the case on weeknights, I realized it was time to put The Attitude in his pajamas and get the nighttime cycle going. I looked at where he was playing with his cars and his trains on the family room floor and said, “Time to put your jammies on.”

He stopped what he was doing and looked back at me. He then stood up, smiled widely, said, “Noooo, Daddy, silly,” and took off across the room, eventually jumping onto the couch while giggling uncontrollably.

This is clearly the better of the two potential results for when it’s jammie time. Occasionally, he will instead demonstrate exactly how he earned his nickname by throwing himself on the floor and engaging in a two year-old toddler fit of epic proportions. So, yes, a little bit of coyness and a game of chase is definitely the preferred option.

I intercepted him at the couch, which is our custom, and he laughed and laughed as I picked him up.

I might have even given him a tickle or two for good measure.

As I carried him upstairs to let him pick his PJs for the night (doggies, spacesips, THOMAS!), I realized that my cloud of grumpiness had almost instantaneously disappeared. And that’s when it struck me: THIS is why we do it.

Being a parent is hard; truly harder than anyone ever warned you about. And the Puddinette and I are finding that each year it seems to get even harder, not easier. Sometimes I wonder how I’m going to make it through the next two decades without locking someone in a tower, completely going The ‘burbs on my neighbors, or being reduced to a mumbling shell of myself, clinging desperately to a lime green balloon named “Francisco” for comfort.

But then I’ll hear something like that laughter, the innocent, unrestrained, full-body giggling of a toddler. There are no sounds I can think of exactly like it, and I can’t imagine there’s a way to mimic or duplicate it. It immediately brightened to my day, obliterated my gloomy mood.

If there is a Heaven, that’s the sounds I expect it to be filled with.

That said, though, I’m not suggesting it’s a panacea. Dr. Puddin’s Toddler Laughter Tonic is not necessarily the cure that’s gonna fix what ails ya. What I can promise is that life is not always simple, and rarely goes exactly the way we want. Sometimes every last one of us needs a little something to lighten the load and remind us why we put up the fight every day. In order to survive that fight, you need to recognize the things that fix you when you’re broken, and surround yourself with whatever that turns out to be.

For me, it’s hearing The Attitude’s laugh, my eight year-old saying “I love you, Dad” just before bed, when he thinks no one else is paying attention, or a dozen other simple things.

What is it for you? Figure it out and keep it in your life.

Otherwise, you’re looking at a long-term relationship with “Francisco”.

Pud’n

With shows like these, who needs Skinemax?

The Puddinette brightened my day this morning with something that took me by surprise even after 10 years of marriage – a reference to soft core…um…adult entertainment. No, she’s not out of town charging up an expense account with hotel pay-per-view movies. She was apparently following her usual Sunday evening routine last night and watching the “Real Housewives of Grover’s Corners” (or wherever they’re stalking the latest batch of celebrity wannabes), when one of the fame-seekers in question apparently got a bubble-bath visit from her boyfriend. I’ll let you use your imagination for the rest. If that’s not your strong suit, I suppose there’s always Hulu.

My wife assured me that all the unmentionable bits seemed to remain covered at all times, thank goodness, lest we have to deal with a 6-month FCC witch hunt that would no doubt bring the phrase “bubble-bath malfunction” into common use. Regardless of the lack of visible naughty bits, though, I’m assured that based on the, uh…motion of the ocean…little doubt remains as to what the Stepfords were up to in the tub.

Now, I’m probably one of the least prudish people you’re likely to ever meet. I don’t really care what this particular couple gets up to in the privacy of their excessively ornate master bathroom, especially as they appear, by all rights, to be consenting adults violating no laws in Orange County, Lilliput or wherever they actually live. So, as far as I’m concerned, good for them, way to go Old Boy, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more. However, I’m guessing that this was probably not the first time a couple from one of the thousand variations of “Real Housewives” got, um, horizontal, during filming. Why then, did this particular event up in the final cut?

The only thing I can figure is that the tub-thumpers in question are perhaps a little more narcissistic than your average “Real Housewives” contestant, or maybe have a tendency toward exhibitionism and no real shame to speak of. It’s probably some of all that plus a few helpings of imprudence and bad judgment as well.

Also, I can’t imagine that the show’s producers had anything to do with it.

So why does this bother me? I don’t know; I guess it shouldn’t. Someone’s entertained somewhere, right? Truth be told, though, that’s probably what irks me about it the most. “Real Housewives”, “Jersey Shore”, “The Bachelor”, etc, etc, all seem to pander to the least common denominator and we’re lapping it up like a kitten with a bowl of cream. But it’s not cream, everyone knows it, and there’s not a television executive anywhere that isn’t trying to figure out how it get in on the low class action.

Of course, I could argue that the real problem is that there are too many TV executives because there are simply more networks and thus more shows than the world really needs. But that’s going to have to wait for Part II of Puddin’s TV Manifesto.

Then again, if you were smart, you might call b*llsh!t on tonight’s little soap-box rant about the debasement of American culture and counter that my real problem in all this is that when I was an adolescent, you had to work to get access to stuff your mom didn’t want you to see. In my day, catching some inappropriate content on television meant engineering an overnight with that friend who had all the cable movie networks and parents that were soundly asleep by 10 pm. If all the planets aligned and you got really lucky, a Shannon Tweed flick would be on Cinemax at midnight.

Nowadays, though, you can apparently score some skin by accident on Bravo on a Sunday night.

Ironically, Shannon Tweed can be seen these days, fully clothed, on Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels on A&E.

My thirteen year-old self would be incredulous.

And would undoubtedly DVR every “Real Housewives” episode for the next six months, at least.

Pud’n

Bracketology

Every March, I swear I’m not going to do it again. This year, I tell myself, this year will be the one where I finally break the cycle of wasting time and perfectly good five and/or ten dollar bills on a set of picks for the NCAA tournament. Inevitably, though, no matter what I tell myself, a friend, hockey team member, coworker, or Bracketology Anonymous meeting acquaintance will send out an email inviting me sign up and fill out a bracket for fun and fabulous prizes. Sooner rather than later, I’ll find myself staring at the Southeast Region and trying to decide if Kansas might get upset by the Poor Brothers of the Blind in the opening round.

Why even fight it, right? Everyone does a bracket or six. It’s human nature and one of the grand rituals of spring. Not joining in the reindeer games would be an affront to Dick Vitale and college student/athletes everywhere! Except well…

Look, basketball just isn’t my game. Sure, as a resident of the Bluegrass State (which is actually a Commonwealth, but that’s another post), I’m obligated to cheer for/expect UK to be cutting down nets in the first week of April while a montage plays to “One Shining Moment”. Never let it be said I didn’t do my duty as a KY resident. However, with that said, I’ve watched as much NCAA basketball this season as I’ve watched of the Xtreme English Ladies’ Badmitten League (XELB). That is to say, of course, not a whole lot.

Actually, that badmitten thing sounds kind of cool. Who wouldn’t want to watch a bunch of chicks from the UK with pink mohawks smash a shuttlecock in each others’ faces? Too bad I made it up.

Anyway, the point here is that I don’t really catch much college basketball. It’s not that I dislike it, per se, it’s just that, well, while a game of hoops is considered the most accessible sport to most American kids (of any background), it’s just not the game for me. I’m too short to work under the basket and too…um…stout to move quickly, can’t jump worth a damn, and have such exceptional ball-handling skills that I might as well hand the ball to a player from the other team rather than waste energy dribbling.

You know how most kids dream of being the one with the ball at the last second, making that dramatic jumper that takes the lead as the buzzer goes off or sinking one from the line to seal a big win? Yeah, that wasn’t me. In fact, the only elementary school basketball team I ever played on was winless except for the week when I had my appendix removed and was home on the couch. As a result, then, while most people who watch a college basketball are subconsciously thinking about a familiar game they know and love, I’m usual thinking about nachos or how much it would suck to be the guy wiping up the sweaty spots on the floor.

So, then, was this the year I finally broke the cycle?

Of course not. My fingers twitched from the moment I received the customary invitation email until I finally clicked the “Join Now” link, 2.3 seconds later. However, this year, I decided to stack the odds in my favor; I made my picks with the help of the Puddinpop. The kid’s been wrapped up in college basketball and Cyclones hockey since the last play of the Super Bowl. I’m pretty sure he could tell me Fairhaven State’s conference record from memory and how many of their games were decided by two basket or more.

Of course, the Puddinette’s tiny alma mater knocked out one of my Final Four teams on the first day.

So, go Morehead State Eagles, I guess.

One of these days, I’ll learn my lesson.

Pud’n

Just make sure you have a trip buddy

I’m bouncing a bit like a Tigger today, for a couple of very different reasons. First, I believe I’ve finally hit the top of the mountain when it comes to my novel-in-progress. If you look to right, you’ll see that the ever-so-slowly accumulating word count for Famine has finally crested 50,000 words. Of course, that’s about as arbitrary an accomplishment as it comes, seeing as how the thing’s not done and I can’t really tell you how long it will finally end up. Still, since I’m expecting it to fall into the 90-100k word range, at this point I believe I can safely claim to be half way there.

*pauses for cheering and confetti*

*waits*

*throws confetti on self*

Well, fine, so maybe it’s not exactly a toast-worthy event, but it’s a big deal for me. So, I’m going to be bouncy about it for a day.

That said, the real reason I’m feeling a little springier than usual is because it’s March 16th, and we all know what that means, right? Indeed, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. Now, before anyone asks, no, I won’t be quaffing any green beers. Frankly, I have a pretty intense aversion to that kind of thing. I will, however, be doing some celebrating upon the morrow.

Admittedly, I’m not significantly Irish. I think I’m something like a quarter Scotch-Irish, altogether. To me, though, that means there’s enough Celtic ancestry mingled in there somewhere to proceed as planned. And even if that wasn’t the case, I’d still make sure to leave the house with shamrocks on my mind. In fact, I’m tempted to say that St Patrick’s Day comes close to eclipsing my other favorite holiday, Halloween.

Now, I realize that many of you are thinking, “Well, sure; it’s like, The Beer Holiday, so of course it’s your thing.” But, really, that’s not the point. I don’t honestly need a reason to celebrate good beer. Having good beer is reason enough. No, there’s definitely something more to this St. Patrick’s Day business than just a pleasant pint of Guinness.

I think it’s actually about field trips.

As children, we all participated in a field trip or three a year, including visits to the zoo, the science museum, the antique village, what have you. Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, field trip days were right up there with the Christmas and Valentine’s Days parties. The daily routine was broken, you got to see and do cool stuff, usually everyone got a cookie and some fruit punch, and it didn’t, as a rule, matter much if you got too loud, as long as you didn’t scream about Tommy Turnip-pants (which as a put-down, made a little more sense in first grade than it does at the moment). Field Trip days were always something new and different, low-on-stress, and free of homework.

As an adult, though, I find that precious few field trips are penciled-in on my calendar. In fact, as soon as you graduate from college, somebody shackles you to a desk before you realize what’s going on. They also give you a regular pay check, though, and after three years of thinking of Ramen and Pop-Tarts as the apex of haute cuisine, you kind of like it. After that, well, it’s easy to get caught up in all the Shiny! New! Things! a modern life requires, which means that by the time you come to understand that you’ve been duped, you’re strapped to The Man with chains that would make Jacob Marley’s seem positively gossamer.

Sometimes you need to break those chains, along with the everyday rules, and go off on a field trip. St. Patrick’s Day, as it turns out, offers the perfect excuse to do exactly that. I firmly believe that every fun-loving adult, with or without a few drops of Irish blood, should grab a trip-buddy and spend an afternoon watching the animals in their natural habit while calmly enjoying some Irish heritage as the rest of the world follows the rules.

Half a day of vacation is a small price to pay for that kind of entertainment.

Besides, if you try to go on actual field trips as an adult, well, let’s just say that the middle-aged guy by himself at the petting zoo tends to attract the attention of police.

Pud’n