Another Trip Completed

Around The Sun

I just completed another trip around the sun. Here are some things I learned or reaffirmed in my 38th year.

  • Before judging, think carefully.
  • Some things, no matter how much you poke, pry, and study them, just can’t be explained.
  • Field mice are a challenging adversary.
  • Don’t give up hope. If you ever do, get help in restoring it…fast.
  • Vulnerability is a tough pill to swallow, but it can be renewing.
  • Few things invigorate the soul as much as a fresh blast of ocean air.
  • New paths are hard to blaze…for you and those who love you.
  • Only ask for a friend’s opinion if you’re ready to hear it.
  • Running in humid weather only gets harder as you get older.
  • If you have caring family and friends, count yourself blessed.
  • Take pride in the small things.
  • Explore and learn.
  • As a society, we pay some of the  most important professions the least amount of money.
  • Poison ivy still sucks.

 

Photo courtesy of AndiH.

Onward Gentle Man

Grampie

Thomas Champagne
December 23, 1916 – December 2, 2010

So long has passed since my last post on Grin & Grumble. I have returned to the blog, albeit with a heavy heart and unsure of exactly what to write.

Regretfully, a sad event has brought me back. My grandfather passed away on Thursday evening.

Grampie, as most of his grandchildren called him, was a gentle soul who put his love for family above all else. He worked seven days a week during World War II, welding together the great ships of the era. He built his own house and there, with his beloved wife, raised four healthy and happy children. A talented welder, he worked at a local company in his hometown for the majority of his career.

Those are the facts, the things about Grampie that are easy to describe. Harder still to articulate are the personality characteristics that made my grandfather a great man. Perhaps I struggle because the words are unfamiliar–I’ve never known anyone like Grampie.

Quick to smile, his grin could make even the most ornery person shed a frown. Grampie loved to laugh and I remember many times at the dinner table when he’d be tickled by a comment, bellow a “hah!”, and slap his knee as he chuckled. He enjoyed his family and loved to talk for hours around that table.

Grampie was vibrant with his mirth and so too with his language. He’d sling PG-rated curses every few sentences not to be profane, but to emphatically make his point. As a child–and frankly as an adult–I always thought this habit was incredibly amusing. I’ve never known anyone to swear so much and simultaneously be so likable.

Good memories abound. Eating big breakfasts that he had prepared. His habit, when discussing something serious, of looking you in the eye, asking “Do you know what I’m saying?”, and sometimes even reaching out and touching your arm to connect physically as well as intellectually. Him teaching me how to carve a turkey. Trips with him and Nana to the beach. The profound look of happiness on his face when surrounded by his wife and family. His one beer a day. His utter devotion to my Nana. The earnestness with which he spoke. His hesitation to judge and his eagerness to accept.

My grandfather gave great love to his family and we returned it in kind. Grampie gave so much to my Nana throughout her life. His three daughters clearly observed his selfless acts. Over the last years, they were a generous team and helped Grampie age in the manner he wanted. He had handed down his gift of generosity and his daughters accepted it graciously.

Last night I was listening to music as I tried to fall asleep. A song came on by Guy Clark called “Stuff That Works.” I had never heard it before, but I listened carefully to the lyrics. They told of appreciating the quality things in life.

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel

My grandfather was made of that stuff. The stuff that holds up. The stuff that’s real. The stuff you feel. He was genuine. He will be missed but his presence will always be felt by those who loved him.

Rest easy, Grampie. You have earned it.

Pitcher vs. Cather: Part 2

CatcherPerhaps it is by necessity that the catcher’s personality is quite often the polar opposite of the pitcher’s—after all they are at opposite ends of a flying mass of leather and stitching. It stands to reason that they think and behave differently.

The major league catcher is often a burly individual with a broad chest and muscular legs. It’s a case of form following function since, in essence, the catcher is the backstop. Nothing should get by him. Catchers are talented athletes, but they’re rarely the standout stars that pitchers are. One might argue, however, that a catcher’s talent is more diversified than that of the pitcher or any other position.

If we break down the catcher’s physical responsibilities we see a complicated list of duties. Of course there’s the continual crouching, but let’s chock that up to endurance more than athleticism. There’s, well, catching. Imagine a 90-mile-an-hour ball hurdling toward you. You have 60 feet to track the ball down, position yourself, and make a smooth grab. Or, perhaps it’s a curve ball that, by definition, bends as it reaches the batter. It’s meant to fool the batter, but the catcher must still make the catch. So there’s catching. Closely related is blocking. A well-taught catcher knows not to try to catch a ball in the dirt. Instead, he positions his upper body in front of the runaway pitch and blocks it from passing by. Everything must stay in front. Throwing. A catcher must have a strong arm to nail would-be base stealers and his delivery must be quick. And then there are the miscellaneous tasks such as grabbing deceptively arcing fly balls, physically blocking home plate when a runner is inbound, and laying down a tag. The physical demands make for an impressive list.

Still, physical prowess is arguably second to what goes on inside the catcher’s head. The catcher studies opposing batters, memorizing their strengths and weaknesses. He nonchalantly checks the batting stance, hoping to ascertain a competitive advantage that he can relay to the pitcher. If the game is played right, the catcher tells the pitcher what pitch to throw. (Lately, it seems that often the pitch is signaled in by a coach—but only the catcher, in the middle of the action, truly knows what pitch should be thrown. ) The pitcher must know the umpire who stands behind him. Does he call low or high strikes? Is he being stingy with the breaking ball? And, since we’re discussing understanding others, the catcher must understand the hurler. Does the current pitcher have his good stuff tonight? Is he in a good mood? How will he react if a call doesn’t go his way? Part negotiator, part psychologist, the catcher plays a constant, multifaceted game of chess.

As much as the pitcher is the center of attention, the catcher is in the shadows. Any discussion of catching should include mention of Roger Angell’s poetic description of the position in Season Ticket. Angell writes:

Most of all, the catcher is invisible. He does more things and (except for the batter) more difficult things than anyone else on the field, yet our eyes and our full attention rest upon him only at the moment when he must stand alone, upright and unmoving, on the third-base side of home and prepare to deal simultaneously with the urgently flung or relayed incoming peg and the onthundering base runner—to handle the one with delicate precision and then, at once, the other violently and stubbornly, at whatever risk to himself.

Catchers are the solid, often quiet, leaders of the team. If they’re doing their job well, they are indeed almost invisible. They tend to put team before self, collective success above individual accomplishment, doing higher than talking. A happy catcher is one who doesn’t seek the limelight because the limelight, right or wrong, is sixty feet away.

Pitchers and catchers…we need them both, on the field and in life. Which are you?

Photo courtesy of SeeMidTN.com

Pitcher vs. Catcher: Part I

pitcherBaseball clichés pervade the American conversation. “You struck out there!” “He hit a homerun with that one!” “Three strikes and you’re out!” Such expressions convey meaning and context because so many of us know the fundamentals of baseball.

Still, there’s one major part of baseball that is all but ignored by society. And, it’s more than a cliché. It’s a relationship. An indicator of personality style. Maybe even a commentary on equitable human interaction. It’s the convergent, continuous back and forth of the pitcher and catcher.

The pitcher and catcher story is analogous to so many everyday situations, so many personal interactions.

My questions to you: Who is the better person? Who is more valuable? Which, if either, are you?

The pitcher and catcher behave very differently in life as they do in baseball. And, come high school age, they are nearly never the same person—that is a pitcher is never also a catcher and a catcher is never also a pitcher. Their skill sets, and personalities, are almost always mutually exclusive.

First, let’s take the pitcher. He (or she) is the center of attention and controls the flow of the game from atop a raised mound. At his best, he is a dependable leader, chock full of confidence and talent. At his worst, he is an enfant terrible—a highly-strung, self-centered mouthpiece who complains incessantly when things don’t exactly his way.

Watch a few innings of baseball, at any level beyond Babe Ruth League, and you’ll see what I mean. A talented, composed pitcher on his game is nearly unstoppable. His fast ball is a rocket, his breaking ball kisses the strike zone for just an instant before dropping, and his change-up seems to take three minutes to reach the plate. When a ball is hit, he moves quickly off the mound to make a play. He has the mental wherewithal to backup third base on play from the outfield. He is focused and determined.

Then, perhaps it’s a different pitcher or the same pitcher on a different day. The same cameras focus on him. This time, though, every strike he throws is getting hit. He’s yelling at the umpire about balls that he thinks should have been called strikes. He’s “accidentally” plunking batters. He’s squawking at the shortstop for not making a tough play. Viewers can easily read his lips as he heads to the dugout, head down, and voices his frustration while throwing his glove against the painted cinder block wall.

The pitcher is an island. Or, rather, he thinks himself an island. He’s not one to share his success with teammates, nor is he one to shirk all responsibility. Encouraged by the media and fans alike, he considers himself the center of the world. The great catch made by the centerfielder to close out the sixth inning isn’t mentioned in his post-game press conference. Instead, he “felt good today.” The dinger he gave up in the eighth? A bad pitch because his elbow was hurting.

The pitcher prototype. Do you know “pitchers” in regular life?

Photo courtesy of kla4067.

New Year’s Down Maine

Two Lights State ParkHappy New Year to all you Grin and Grumble readers! I hope that 2010 is a happy and prosperous one for you all.

We kicked off the new year in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Reluctant to leave our charge at home, we went to a pet-friendly hotel called Inn By The Sea. Dempsey was beside himself–he had fine accommodations, a smile from virtually all strangers he met, the ocean, and our attention. We, the humans, had a good time too. It was pretty neat to be able to pull up a chair to the fireplace, watch the wintry weather, and enjoy a drink with the dog at your feet.

Again, Happy New Year!

You can see more pictures here.

Summer’s Done

Summer sure is done. It’s practically the eve of December and it’s a safe bet the warm weather won’t return.

This past summer was another strange one. No boat in the water. Limited time on the ocean. A lot of work completed on the house.

We had some fun, though. Dempsey had the most fun, I think. Check out the video. It’s a minute, 46 seconds long.

Thanks to the band Twentyeight for their great tune “One Summer Day” that I found on musicalley.com.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Summer Reading

There are few things more relaxing than a good book. Here’s an overview of my summer reading.

Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit, by Eric Haney. You may have heard of the television show “The Unit.” The show is based on this book. The author, a former Delta Force operator, spends a lot of time talking about the selection process for Delta and the rigorous challenges that are part of that training. It’s amazing. A bit too much time is spent on the training, though. I’d prefer to have read more about actual missions. Still, a good read. We’re fortunate to have the men of Delta on our side. This is definitely a guy’s book.

Vow of Vengeance, by Danny T. Ferguson. I like to read about places where I’ve traveled. My favorite genre is the novel, so I’m happy to give up a little veracity about a locale for the sake of a good story. We went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this summer and I read this book while on the beach. It’s set in Virginia and North Carolina. It’s a mystery/thriller, my favorite sub-genre, and the plot is both creative and implausible. The author seems at times to be trying to write like the great Carl Hiaasen, but he falls short. The plot is nearly as wild as some of Hiaasen’s, but Ferguson smacks the reader with a very serious plot consequence that doesn’t mix with the zaniness found throughout most of the book.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, by Max Tucker. I may have detoured away from novels with this one, but this was wilder than most novels. A collection of true stories, this book was hysterical and revolting. I’ve never read anything like it. In a sentence, it’s about how an intelligent guy gets drunk continuously and has sex with various women. This book will entertain you, but it’s not for the prude among us. Check it out.

The Keeper’s Son, by Homer Hickham. I didn’t get this novel about the Outer Banks in time for our trip, but it was fun to read. This story takes place in the early days of World War II and deals with two sides of the war, questions of honesty and deception, the quaintness of small-town living, some romance, and the topic of duty. It’s full of submarines and Coast Guard. If you like either, you’ll like this. Again, probably a guy’s book.

What did you read this summer? Any recommendations?

Get to know Kate Redgate

kate_redgateExcluding the monthly wedding receptions I’ve attended lately, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard live music. I’m not sure the reason for the long hiatus, but it ended with a recent concert by Kate Redgate at the Firehouse Center in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

In all honesty, I didn’t know anything about Kate or her music. I simply wanted to hear live music and I had a sense she’d be good. Sometimes men can have solid intuition too.

I should note now that I’m no music critic. I’ve loved listening to music most of my life, but I’ll probably use the wrong terms. Bridge, chorus (no, I know that one!), riff, melody–I should have listened in eighth grade music rather than passing notes to the girls. Forgive my ignorance. Correct it if you’d like!

Kate’s music is folk-rock artistry with a dash of blues and some serious “New Country” undertones. Backed by a talented five-piece band, Kate filled the theatre with her deep, rich voice and broad smile. The strength of her voice might only be surpassed by her soulful lyrics. Comparisons to the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde or Sheryl Crow wouldn’t be far off the mark.

Donning cowboy boots, jeans, and a big, shiny belt buckle, Kate might have looked a little out of place in the New England seaside city. But, as it turns out, she had earned those boots. In between songs, she spoke of growing up along the Mississippi River and later moving to Montana, where she sat with friends drinking whiskey. The boots and buckle were earned.

Kate has done some living and her songs benefit from her life experience. She wrote all the songs (co-wrote one track) on her album titled “Nothing Tragic” and the lyrics evoke topics ranging from heartbreak to legacies to second chances. The lyrics are thoughtful without being self-indulgent. They’re real.

“Nothing Tragic” doesn’t have one throwaway song. Personal favorites include the emotive “Last to Know,” the up-tempo “Into The Blues,” and the powerful lyrics of “Bitterroot Valley Goodbye.”

Do yourself a favor and check out Kate Redgate. Her web site is still being built, but you can listen to a few songs at her MySpace page. To purchase a copy of “Nothing Tragic,” e-mail Kate directly at kredgate at gmail.com and she’ll mail you a signed CD. In a month, the album also will be available on iTunes and other online outlets.

This is good music–even if I don’t know how to properly describe it. Enjoy it.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Page, JC Page Photography.

Biker Bunk

cycle2Cyclists are strange. An old family friend, when referring to these people, used to mockingly ask, “When did you start having to wear tight shorts to ride a bike?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for people exercising and I don’t care what they wear. I exercise quite a bit and it’s actually when I’m running that I get particularly irritated with cyclists, or as I prefer, bikers. And it’s not about their obvious love for spandex, though many would do well to recognize that the 80s are long been behind them. Rather, it’s about attitude.

When I run, I almost always run against traffic. A biker, or a pack of bikers, rides with traffic. When we’re going opposite ways, we’re on the same side of the road.

I suppose that I’m a fool to think that in unfriendly New England, bikers, passing in close proximity to me, would say hello. Sure, I say hello, but from their crotch-killing perches, the bikers just stare at me as though I’m from a different world. No, I don’t expect people in cars to slow, roll the windows down, and holler a warm greeting, but these are people like me, people out to get exercise in the fresh air. Isn’t there some essence of camaraderie?

As soon as I spot the bikers, I can usually predict the likelihood of an ignored greeting. The more spandex, the more aerodynamic the helmet, the less likely a hello will be returned. If they’re wearing a jersey with a cycling club logo on it, it’s more likely I’ll get an intelligent reply from one of the cows I often pass than from the fashionable biker.

But, I’m used to the snubs. What really pisses me off is when they won’t move over. You know, you’ve seen them. These are the people that ride two or three across, taking up half the street. Yet, when a runner is coming the other way, they hug the side of the road with enthusiasm. Numerous times I’ve been running, had a greeting fall on deaf ears, and then been forced off the asphalt by a two-wheeled twit. They act like they’re entitled to all of the road. I imagine them saying, “Oh, little runner, you keep on running, but we’re fancy and we have fancy bikes, so jump off the road when we ride by.” And, not wanting to collide, I do.

Entitlement. They think the road is theirs alone. But, where are they when the mercury drops, when the snow flies? Their trusty rides can’t handle the conditions like my simple feet do. Even when it only rains, their ranks thin dramatically.  They must be afraid of that muddy spray that would shoot off their rear wheels and give their spandex shirts unwelcome, racing stripes.

When you think about it, these brazen bikers, when they do venture out, wouldn’t do so well if I weren’t as accommodating. If I didn’t get off the road, they’d probably hit me. Sure, they’d have speed on their side and my right shoulder would feel it when the handlebars hit it. But, I would have a lower center of gravity working for me. After the collision, they’d be launched off their saddles to have head, elbows, knees, and fingers be quickly introduced to the road. I like my chances better.

Are there any cyclists out there who can explain your collective behavior? Are there any runners who have been run off the street?

Photo courtesy of Philms.

Peaceful Sleep

nana

Ann Champagne
July 1, 1919 – April 2, 2009

Early this morning my grandmother passed away. She was Mama to her own children, Nana to her grandchildren.

She was tough. Not tough in demeanor, but rather in her will to survive. She was a breast cancer survivor, had had by-pass surgery, and was diabetic, among other things.

The last several years were hard on her. Heart, legs, and most sadly, brain, started protesting sincerely. Dementia lapped higher and higher on the shoreline of her mind. Still, her expressive personality shown through in moments of lucidity. When I last saw her a few days ago, she looked at my mother and said, “I’ve been through the mill.” Indeed she had.

My Nana’s final years were trying. No doubt, parts of her earlier years were difficult too. I’d like to think that, despite those cloudy times, the sun shown down on her most days as her smile radiated warmth and emotion. I hope her final memories were of sun-filled days when cares were few and laughs were many.

As for my memories of my Nana, my mind winds back to when I was a young boy. My Nana and Grampie would go to Crane’s Beach with my mom, sister, and me. Almost every moment at the beach was fun, but when my Nana and Grampie joined us, joyful nuances would appear. The shade from an umbrella would always be ready for a tired child. Tiny fruit juices with foil tops would be chilled in a steel, green Coleman cooler. In the late afternoon, we’d leave Crane’s and drive down Argilla Road. On each ride, my Nana would tell me about the three bears and how they lived in a particular house on that road. I think they lived near the ice cream stand that we’d inevitably stop at to placate our sweet tooths, my Nana’s the sweetest of them all. My memories.

May my Nana rest well.

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