Thursday, August 15, 2019

Bears Vs. Raccoons

I love my community message board. While most posts simply ask for advice on contractors or contain neighborhood news, you get posts like this:

On July 31 at 5AM, a resident of the [neighborhood] observed three medium size bears crossing the street between [street A] and [street B]. Just wanted to get the word out so everyone is aware. Thank you.

This is some pretty significant news. Of course, it didn't have nearly the impact it could have since there were no pictures included. Now the fun part...the comments!

Woo, so we are having a Zoo around [here] Dear’s Foxes, now Bears

We have lots of Dear's around the neighborhood like "Dear Abby," "Dear John" (the TV show starring Judd Hirsch, not the movie with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried) and "Dear Evan Hansen."

Was it reported so it would be publicized in the mainstream media?

Wait, this community message board is not mainstream media? Is this FAKE NEWS?

And my favorite:

Are we sure it wasn't racoons? I know they aren't the same size but it's 5 am in the morning and we've had a lot of racoons lately due to people not properly disposing of trash.

I think you would notice the different between three bears and three raccoons.

It really was a missed opportunity that no one commented that the bears were simply walking in the woods while their porridge cooled. Meanwhile some little girl was about to sit on their chairs, try their porridge, and sleep in their beds.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Trip To Loudoun United's New Stadium

Back in December, I wrote a blog post about Loudoun United, a new soccer team in the United Soccer League. For those of you not familiar with Loudoun United but may know baseball, Loudoun United is somewhat like a AAA team for the MLS team DC United with common ownership and some players playing on both teams. The point of the December post was to share Loudoun United's 2019 schedule and also as a sort of application to become the team's official blogger. My idea was to write about the team on my blog as well as on my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages and share things that people wouldn't normally see or at least with a different viewpoint from the team's perspective. For example, I proposed writing several posts where I would get to take pictures of the stadium as it was being built and completed and possibly get to interview a few players.

I hoped that the team would appreciate the extra (free!) exposure, and in exchange, give me some tickets to take my family to a few games. Despite some correspondence with the team, nothing ever came of this. I would see pictures from Loudoun United's social media account from various events like the debut of the team's jerseys and the stadium ribbon-cutting ceremony only after the events occurred. I was never invited to any of these functions. While I understand the team not wanting to partner up with a blogger who they don't know, I feel like my social media helped (and could have helped more) promote the team at no cost at all to them.

Last Friday, Loudoun United hosted its first home game at the just-built Segra Field. Continuing my amazing lucky streak this summer, I won two tickets to the game against the Charlotte Independence. I have now won tickets to see Dave Matthews Band, DC United, Loudoun United, George Mason men's basketball, and entry for 10 to an area piano bar all in the last few months. And yes, I played the lottery once recently but lost $1 on a scratch-off ticket. Anyway, since The Moose didn't do a good job listening last week and was talking back more than an eight year-old should, I took 5 year-old Pedro Tulo with me. He promptly fell asleep about five minutes into our 35 minute ride to the stadium, not including the time it took to park.

Speaking of parking, according to WTOP, "two of three parking lots within a few hundred feet of the stadium [were] ready for Friday's game, with the capacity of holding approximately 500 cars." I think those lots filled up quickly. I was directed to park by the youth fields down the hill from the stadium, where I passed at least one sign that said "No Segra Field Parking." I don't want to say that they weren't prepared for the amount of cars for the first game, but there's plenty of room for improvement in getting people in and out of the venue.

I took a few pictures of the stadium on the way in. It's nice. I would probably compare it to a good high school football stadium. I don't know if that's a compliment or not. The field looks great, though it's a turf field, so I hope Loudoun United plans on converting it to a grass field next season. The seats also look nice, though we sat in the "Supporters Section" which are your standard bleacher seats with no backs. Everything else is somewhat piecemeal. There are no permanent structures with the merchandise in a tent, the box office in what appeared to be a trailer, and food and drinks available in tents or at food trucks. I didn't buy food during the game, but it didn't look like you could get food quickly.

A beer man (or woman) going through the stands selling beer and/or water may have alleviated this. My biggest complaint is that you weren't allowed to bring in an unopened bottle of water despite it being August in Northern Virginia meaning temperatures in the 80s even as the sun started going down. In case you’re wondering, DC United, the Washington Nationals, and the Jiffy Lube Live concert venue all permit unopened water bottles. And these were the bathrooms:

Oh, the team also has a horse.

If you want to feel old and feel like maybe you haven’t accomplished much in your life as a teenager and into you’re 20s, Loudoun United games are the place for you. These are the ages of some of the Loudoun United players who played in Friday night’s game.

Moses Nyeman - 15
Jacob Greene - 16
Griffin Yow - 16 (He signed a contract at 15 and played a few games for DC United)
Nelson Martinez - 18
Christain Sorto - 19
Connor Presley & Orlando Sinclair - 21

These kids, and yes they are kids, are getting paid to play soccer before some of them can even vote!

Going to games with Pedro Tulo is always an adventure. While The Moose never wants to miss anything and will sit for hours watching a game, Pedro Tulo gets restless. He bounced back and forth between sitting (or standing) on the bleachers and sitting on my lap in the first half. Then, as the second half was about to start, two kids sat next to us holding beach balls. Despite the second half starting, Pedro Tulo wanted his own beach ball immediately. So we walked from our seats at one end, past the food trucks (and the still long lines at the food trucks) to the other side of the stadium to the Visit Loudoun table where they gave any beach balls, stickers, and more, including a Loudoun County wine map which Pedro Tulo insisted on getting even though the Visit Loudoun staff member said it was adults. (Pedro Tulo liked the map in it, and he can be very charming.) The Visit Loudoun person also told me about the Dulles Summer of Love Music Festival on August 17th featuring Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root and his new band, Uprooted and tried to explain who Rusted Root was. I graduated from a Pittsburgh-area high school in the mid-90s. I know Rusted Root. The father of one of the band members officiated my wedding. I know Rusted Root. (I didn’t say any of this out loud.)

On our way back to the bleachers, I thought that maybe we could sit in one of the regular seats for a better view and better for my back. There were no ushers, so we easily could have done this, but Pedro Tulo wanted to go back to the bleachers. Ugh. One of my favorite things to do when I was younger was get cheap seats for Pittsburgh Pirates games at Three Rivers Stadium and then move down to the nice seats on the third or first base lines in the 5th or 6th inning. I need to teach this to Pedro Tulo.

Back in the bleachers, we sat closer to the Screaming Eagles group. Pedro Tulo enjoyed the drumming and especially the cheers of “Loudoun United.” He constantly screamed this phrase, and for once, his screaming at a public venue was completely appropriate!

After the game, several players came over to the Supporters Section and slapped hands with the fans. At that point, we moved from the bleachers toward the exit but were able to stand by the edge of the field. Then, much to the security guard's dismay, Pedro Tulo ran on to the field and gave high-fives to Elvis Amoh and Griffin Yow. The security guard decided not to stop him because Pedro Tulo ran right back and was being charming again.

It again took longer than it should have to get out of the venue, but we made it, and I expect that this process will improve for future games. My final verdict is that I enjoyed going to the game. It was good, entertaining soccer with a lot of goals scored in a back-and-forth game. The game ended 3-3 with Charlotte taking 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads before Loudoun United responded. Definitely a great environment to take your kids. As for Segra Field, the scoreboard went out several times in the second half, and from the Supporters Section, you couldn't hear the announcer share who scored or received a yellow card. The parking situation needs improvement, though I expect that there won't be 5,000 people at the next game as was the announced attendance for this game.

It also appears that my hope of being Loudoun United's official blogger is over. With that written, I can easily be bribed with tickets to write future posts about the team! :)

Please check out this Washington Post article and post-match facts from Loudoun United for more information about the game. This video has all of the highlights too.

The first picture is from Loudoun United. The rest are by me.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

15th Anniversary

My wife and I celebrated our 15th anniversary by taking a 24-hour overnight trip. This was the first time we were both away from our kids in 8 years, back when we only had one child (who was only about five months) to attend an out-of-town wedding. I hope that those of you with kids who have family nearby feel fortunate to have loved ones be able to watch them.

The plan was to stay at a resort not too far from home. Before we could check in, though, we went to lunch. Outside of going to the Leesburg Corner Outlets, I had never spent any time in Leesburg since I moved to Northern Virginia in 2001. The downtown area is pretty cool with a bunch of restaurants and shops. They also have my dream restaurant, Bites Wine & Grilled Cheese Bar, a grilled cheese place that also serves alcohol (if you couldn't figure this out by the name). We need more of these!

I love independent bookstores. Powell’s in Portland is amazing, and one of my favorite places to go to when I lived in Columbus was Book Loft. Leesburg also has a cool bookstore called Books and Other Found Things I have no idea how staff can find any individual book, but I purchased a book called "The Daddy Book" for my kids. Okay, it was for me, but to read to my kids. They also had some unique hard-cover books such as "Brave New World" and an autographed copy of "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller. I have no idea what the going rate for this would be, so $475 could be reasonable or even a bargain. (I did not buy this book).

Other than exploring historic Leesburg, we spent most of the time exploring the resort (they don’t like it when you try to walk on the golf cart path or try to crash a wedding) and doing a lot of eating. We went to a really good place for dinner, and I already wrote about them tremendous brunch at the resort.

While we were away, I tried to avoid reality as much as I could, knowing that it would be there when we got home. Still, just by having my phone on and flipping around to different TV stations, you couldn't miss coverage and news about mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I shared my thoughts on mass shootings after the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, and, as expected, nothing has changed. It really would be nice if something did.

I don't want to end this post on a sad note, so I'll include some pictures of the trip below. I also kind of wonder if my wife would have still married me if she knew I would write a blog during nearly the entirety of our marriage!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019


I have an entire blog post drafted about my 15th wedding anniversary, but I realized that one part of it was important enough that it deserves its own post.

In all of the years that I’ve written Sean’s Ramblings, I don’t believe that I ever mentioned how breakfast/brunch is one of the world’s greatest inventions. We stayed at a resort for one night for our anniversary (the first time we've been away from our kids in 8 years!), and they had an amazing brunch buffet that included the following:

- An omelet station

- Bagels and lox

- Fresh fruit, but not just your regular cantaloupe and honey dew that’s at any buffet, but also cherries and cut-up peaches and plums.

- French toast

- Deviled eggs

- Oatmeal. Oatmeal doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s amazing with brown sugar and fresh fruit mixed in.

- Breakfast potatoes

- Yogurt parfait

- Muffins

- Bacon

- Sausage

- Waffles

I cannot confirm or deny that I ate nearly everything available! (I can confirm that it was delicious.)

I'm fine with having cereal with milk accompanied by a glass of orange juice most mornings, but when I win the lottery, I'm having this type of brunch as often as possible.

We now return to your originally scheduled programming, already in progress.

The photo above is by graceht and is not from where I ate brunch.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Found In My Basement: Roberto Clemente's Player Evaluations

A good friend of my in-laws is a huge Pittsburgh Pirates fan. He even got to be the Pirates alumni manager for a day at a Spring Training game about a decade ago where Terry Francona (the Phillies manager at the time) ribbed him since they were from neighboring towns in Butler County. He once mailed me an envelope filled with various Pittsburgh Pirates information such as scorecards and old articles that I just found earlier this week while going through boxes which haven't left the back of the closet in years. He also included a copy of these player evaluations of Roberto Clemente as a teenager.

Pretty cool!

Please click here to check out more Found In My Basement posts.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Concert Setlists (The Dave Matthews Band Anomaly)

The 2019 Sean’s Summer Concert Series appears to have ended. While I’ll probably see some local kids concerts like Rocknoceros and local adult concerts like Herr Metal, I doubt that I’ll see another national touring artist this summer. (Unless MGM National Harbor wants to start selling Aerosmith tickets at a reasonable price!) Over the last two months, I saw Sammy Hagar and the Circle (with opener Night Ranger), Smash Mouth at Celebrate Fairfax, Dave Matthews Band, and then Hootie and the Blowfish and Barenaked Ladies over the weekend. (There may be a separate blog post about this concert in the near future.) All of these shows got me thinking. At every concert, you expect to hear your favorite songs by these artists. From the list above, you know and expect that Sammy Hagar would play "I Can’t Drive 55" and some songs when he was with Van Halen, Smash Mouth would play "All Star" and "I’m a Believer," Hootie and the Blowfish would play "Hold My Hand" and "Only Wanna Be With You," and Barenaked Ladies would play "One Week" and "If I Had A Million Dollars." If you didn’t see these bands play these songs, you would probably be upset since these songs are arguably these artists biggest hits. It’s also why I was disappointed seeing Counting Crows nearly a decade ago as the group played some slow, boring version of "Mr. Jones." On one hand, I get it. These bands have to be tired of playing the same song nearly the same way at every single performance. On the other hand, bands have to know that fans want to hear them play these hits.

This brings me to Dave Matthews Band. They truly are an anomaly here. Despite having huge success with nearly all of their albums going to #1, the band never really had major success based on singles. Their most well-known song is probably "Ants Marching," but I'm not sure if even a handful of songs made the top 40 of Billboard's pop charts. Maybe this “lack of success” gives the band the freedom to play what they want at every show. For example, the first time I heard of the band was from the song “What Would You Say” when I saw the video on MTV in 1994 or so. In the five times I saw them perform, they only played this song once.

Take any major band/artist and have them play a 2.5 hour set. Would you be disappointed if you didn’t hear some of their most popular songs? The answer is probably yes. Let's take some of the biggest performers with deep catalogs who are currently on tour. Billy Joel has played 13 shows in 2019 and played "Piano Man," "Allentown," "We Didn't Start the Fire," and 12 other songs at every one of these shows. Paul McCartney, who probably has the deepest catalog of anyone, has also played the same group of songs such as "Live and Let Die" and "A Hard Day's Night" at every show. Now there is some variety about each set list, but if you’re seeing Billy Joel or Paul McCartney this year, it seems like you’re definitely going to hear certain songs (like he ones I just mentioned) at every concert on this tour.

Back to Dave Matthews Band, they have played 51 shows in 2019 as of the date I wrote this blog post. The song they have played the most is called "Do You Remember" (played at 36 shows) which I do not remember. It’s one of the songs from their 2018 album. They have played over 100 different songs at their 51 concerts. That’s really impressive. And my guess is that their fans have been satisfied when the show ends.

Is there any other current musician/group who does this and can pull this off?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Dave Matthews Band Field Trip

I’ve been on an amazing run lately. I mentioned that I won DC United tickets and tickets to the first home game for George Mason’s men’s basketball team for the 2019-2020 season. I also won passes for 10 at a piano bar in the DC Metro area. Last week, I had the radio on in the background when they mentioned that they were giving away tickets to see Dave Matthews Band (DMB). I called the number once, and it was busy, and called again, and had this conversation:

DJ: Hi. Who’s this?

Me: Sean

DJ: Where are you calling from today, Sean?

Me: Arlington

DJ: And what are you doing right now?

Me: Working

DJ: Well, hopefully you’re in somewhere air conditioned and staying out of the heat. You won two tickets to see Dave Matthews Band at Jiffy Lube Live. (Or something like this.)

Me: Nice

It was riveting radio. So after seeing DMB four times in the late 90s and early 2000s in Pittsburgh, San Diego, Darien Lake (between Rochester and Buffalo) and in Bristow, Virginia when the venue was still called Nissan Pavilion and before I had a blog, I was going to I see the band again for the first time in at least 15 years. This is the story of the concert:

My brother wanted some food before we got to the venue, and I figured that I could use a pre-concert desert, so we saw a sign for Sheetz at an I-66 exit and stopped there. While I realized too late that I should I purchased a milkshake, I was pleased with this selection:

I don’t think I’ve had Zingers since high school!

Let me vent for a second. Jiffy Lube is a fairly standard outdoor concert venue. There’s a covered area with seats in front and a giant uncovered lawn in the back. I had no idea where I was sitting after I won the tickets. The radio station didn’t know and neither did the venue. They both said to try will call at the day of the show since that’s when the radio station delivers the tickets. When I called will call, they said that they couldn’t give this information over the phone, only in person with an ID. This really isn’t practical. For seats, I just bring myself. For the lawn, you need a blanket and/or chairs. They suggested bringing chairs and then take them back to the car if I had seats. On a normal day, this is inconvenient. On this day, it was 100 degrees for the show with an excessive heat watch and a heat index of 110. I hoped that the station would give away actual seats, so I left the chairs in the car and walked at least a half mile from the lot to the front gate. After getting to will call and opening the envelope, I learned that I won...lawn seats. I was not turning around, especially after I accidentally left the blanket in the car. We were going to sit on the grass and/or stand! Anyway, I feel like it shouldn’t be too much to ask for the radio station to know where the seats they are giving away are located.

Minutes before I left for the concert (well before stopping at Sheetz) I found a 1999 DMB concert T-shirt that I haven’t worn in at least a decade in the back of my closet. My brother wore an orange Netherlands soccer jersey that he got in 2001. Together, our shirts were 38 years old which was older than the majority of the crowd!

Just thought I would mention that there was a lot of marijuana, vaping, and tattoos on the lawn. I have no point here, just wanted to state this for the record.

Maybe 30-45 minutes into the concert, I looked to the west and noticed that the sky was getting really dark. A few minutes later, Dave Matthews announced that they were temporarily stopping the show because a thunderstorm was coming through. Apparently, this was the third consecutive DMB show where this happened. Someone from the venue got on the microphone and said that the people in the covered seats could stay, but that the people in the lawn should go to their cars to seek shelter. Stupid radio station! We quickly went to paved walkway directly behind the seats and were joined by dozens of other friends. If it rained, we were probably going to stay dry. Probably. Meanwhile, some people decided to just stay on the lawn. That seemed like a dumb decision to stay on a giant lawn at the highest point in the area for a potential thunderstorm. Of course, that didn’t stop vendors from selling beer and water.

After maybe 20 minutes, the storm cleared or at least missed Jiffy Lube completely, and the show resumed.

Overall, the crowd was cool. You sort of expect that for a DMB crowd. There were a couple of guys behind us after the rain delay that we’re jerks though. At least one guy dropped his finished beer can on the ground, and of course it rolled against my back. Fortunately, it was empty. Not sure if is was the same guys, but Dave Matthews briefly addressed the crowd and said this:

"It's easy to hate, it's hard to love. We gotta find another way to talk to each other without guns and bombs because it's bull****."

Nothing controversial here, yet the guy behind us basically said shut up and play. This wasn’t Bono doing a diatribe like he was addressing Congress. Dave barely said much during the show. The guys moved a little later.

Near the end of the show, a different guy near me yelled for them to play Two Step. I thought this was a somewhat absurd request since (besides the fact that the band could never hear him) DMB has a deep catalog and don’t seem to have songs that they “must” play. (For example, I saw Smash Mouth at Celebrate Fairfax last month. People would be upset if they didn’t play All Star.) A few songs later, they closed with Two Step. Got me wondering if that’s a song they play regularly and often end the show on. Therefore, I contacted my friends and super DMB fans, Sista K and Paul. They have gone to (I believe) over 50 DMB shows. They also watched the concert via livestream and provided excellent nuggets about the show, set list, etc.

Regarding Two Step, they told me that the Jiffy Lube show was the 7th time they've played it out of 29 shows this tour. 5 of those times have been in the encore. I guess the guy near me just got really lucky that DMB played the song. Or they heard the guy yelling his request!

They also told me that Dave does the setlist each night before the show and looks at what he's played in the past few years at the venue. It seems like Dave uses analytics here. I’m guessing Smash Mouth doesn’t do this!

Personally, I was happy to hear Ants Marching and Jimi Thing. The Back In Black/Staying Alive/Fly Like an Eagle medley was a nice touch.

I think I’m not going to wait another 15 or so years again to see DMB again. I’m also going to know where I’m sitting before I go next time!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Video: Bad Guy

I'm late to the Billie Eilish party. She's arguably the biggest name in music right now with everyone from Dave Grohl to Julia Roberts to Queens Of The Stoneage frontman Josh Homme to Tyler, the Creator among her fans. I really don't know many her songs (yet) other than Bad Guy which is currently one of the top songs in the country. There's also a remix with Justin Bieber. This version (without Bieber) is much better.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Interview With Joe Toscano of The Donut Bag

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to lately is The Donut Bag by Joe Toscano. While I asked him to describe the podcast below, the short description from its Twitter page is that The Donut Bag is "A podcast about Pittsburgh sports & other stuff." I thought I would ask Joe about how he started the podcast, his relationship with Chris Carter (not that Chris Carter unless it's the Chris Carter you're thinking of), and more.

My first question is how did you decide to do a podcast, how did you get started, and did you have type of media experience or did you just grab a microphone and begin? (Yes, I guess this should be first questions.)

I decided to do a podcast because I had too much to say and being a loudmouth on Twitter wasn’t enough :)
In early 2018, a couple podcasts were nice enough to have me on and I had so much fun that I thought about doing one of my own. But I was so shy and had no idea how to even start something like that so nothing happened. I thought I needed a cohost so I asked a few friends if they wanted to do a podcast with me and they turned it down. That ended up being a huge blessing because it gave the freedom to do whatever I wanted :)
So in July 2018 I decided it was now or never. Steelers training camp was starting and I wanted to do a lot of Steelers coverage so I decided to start the podcast. I never had any media experience other than a little writing but I did have a technical background so that helped. I tried to register with Apple Podcasts but they need an episode to get registered. Then I discovered I needed a host so I signed up with podbean. I was able to get out that first episode, get registered on all of the podcast platforms and the rest is history :)

Did you have an idea when you started of what you wanted the podcast to be?

Yes, and it turned out to be nothing like that :) I listen to a lot of podcasts and one of my favorites is This Week In Tech. Each episode is 2 hours and features a host and 3 experts talking about tech. So I thought I’d do the same thing but with sports and pop culture. I did a couple episodes like that but it was hard finding ‘experts’ to commit to 2 hours so I had regular fans talking. Then I tried to live up to the ‘donut bag’ aspect by having 3 or 4 different segments on one episode. That didn’t work because people complained it was too long. So now I put out a number of episodes a week that are 30-60 minutes long and each episode focuses on one subject.

Going off this question, I’m impressed by how prolific you are in putting out multiple episodes each week. How do you decide on the theme of each episode?

Some of it is planned ahead of time and some of it just happens :) During football season, I have a structure of doing a show previewing the upcoming week’s game then a show reviewing the games. For baseball and hockey, I try to do an episode a week. But then things come up, like the Le’Veon Bell situation or the Antonio Brown trade where I feel the need to do an episode ASAP. The Antonio Brown trade was funny because I found out about it on 6am one Sunday morning and saw that frequent guest Mark Hagelauer was online and I messaged him that we should do a podcast now. He said ‘huh? Dude it’s 6am!’ But we did one anyway :)
And sometimes things just come up, like when it was the 30th anniversary of Seinfeld so I decided to do an episode about it!

While I’m a little late in discovering your podcast, my favorite reoccurring podcast guest is Chris Carter of DK Pittsburgh Sports because of his knowledge of the Steelers and the rapport between the two of you. I feel like I’m going to go into Chris Farley mode here interviewing Paul McCartney on SNL, but that was awesome.

Thanks! Chris is awesome and we always meet in person to record. I usually talk to people over the phone or Skype but talking to someone in person is a whole different dynamic.

Is there a dream guest that you would like to have?

There’s so many :) I want to talk to athletes, current and former. I want to do episodes with Pittsburgh media personalities but I’m too shy to ask them :)

What has surprised you about doing the podcast?

That anyone would want to talk to me :) But I’ve had so many guests on and it’s been so much fun meeting new people. Also, since I’m a one man operation, I had to do a better job of getting organized. I’d be sitting at home and someone would message me that they’re ready to record and I’d forget that we agreed weeks ago to talk :)

What should we expect to see (well, hear) in The Donut Bag future?

I don’t know! :) Maybe less episodes. Some weeks I put out 5 or 6 episodes a week and that’s a bit much :) Being a one man operation gives me the freedom to do what I want, and sometimes things just come up so we’ll see what happens :)

Do you have a favorite podcast episode?

I don't really have a favorite podcast episode - they're all like my children :)

Oh, what is the song that’s played at the end of each podcast?

It’s a song called ‘restaurant at the end of the universe’ by a band called Gumband. (This is the band's website.) They usually do rock covers (and are REALLY good!) but this was one of their originals.

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to answer my questions. He really likes smiley faces! :)

I highly recommend checking out his podcast, particularly if you're a Pittsburgh sports fan. Even if you're not, skip those episodes and listen to those about The Office, Seinfeld, and more. You can also follow Joe on Twitter.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Best Books For Every Age

The Washington Post recently put together a really cool feature where they highlighted the best books to read at every age, from 1 to 100. I thought it would be fun to share the list and see how many of these books I have read (in bold). I also included a few of my own thoughts here and there. Please leave your number and any thoughts about the books and list in the comments section below.

Age 1
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle

Age 2
“Llama Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney

Age 3
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak

Age 4
“Charlie Parker Played Be Bop” by Chris Raschka

Age 5
“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein

Age 6
“Ramona the Pest” by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

Age 7
“The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson

Age 8
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

Age 9
“Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume

Age 10
“Smile” by Raina Telgemeier

Age 11
“Ghost” by Jason Reynolds
Sean's note: I saw this movie with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. Not sure it it's appropriate for an 11 year old though.

Age 12
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor

Age 13
“I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai

Age 14
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
Aaron Brame's favorite book!

Age 15
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

Age 16
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Age 17
“Once Upon a River” by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Age 18
“A Gate at the Stairs” by Lorrie Moore

Age 19
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Age 20
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz

Age 21
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

Age 22
“Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville

Age 23
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Age 24
“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Age 25
“I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith

Age 26
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Age 27
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

Age 28
“Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde

Age 29
“In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan

Age 30
“The Joy of Sex” by Alex Comfort

Age 31
“Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child
Does seeing Julie and Julia count?

Age 32
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
Partial credit since I've read "Of Mice & Men.

Age 33
“Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story” by Paul Monette

Age 34
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

Age 35
“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Age 36
“Life Among the Savages” by Shirley Jackson

Age 37
“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

Age 38
“The Sportswriter” by Richard Ford

Age 39
“What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty

Age 40
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Age 41
“Rabbit, Run” by John Updike

Age 42
“The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud

Age 43
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

Age 44
“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Age 45
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple

Age 46
“Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

Age 47
“Stretching” by Bob Anderson

Age 48
“Bossypants” by Tina Fey
It's nice to see another book that I've read on the list again! Unfortunately, this may be the last one.

Age 49
“Walden” by Henry David Thoreau

Age 50
“Fifty Shades of Grey” by EL James

I just felt like adding a picture at the half-way mark.

Age 51
“Who Do You Think You Are?” by Alice Munro

Age 52
“Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami

Age 53
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman
Not to be confused with "A Man Called Ovi" about the Washington Capitals player.

Age 54
“The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker

Age 55
“Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

Age 56
“When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chödrön

Age 57
“Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Age 58
“The Plague of Doves” by Louise Erdrich

Age 59
“Dynamic Aging” by Katy Bowman

Age 60
“The Five Years Before You Retire” by Emily Guy Birken
Seems like I should probably read this when I'm 70.

Age 61
“Fear of Dying” by Erica Jong

Age 62
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson

Age 63
“Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf

Age 64
“Old in Art School” by Nell Painter
With this last name, you sort of have to write a book about art.

Age 65
“65 Things to Do When You Retire” edited by Mark Evan Chimsky
Again, I'll need the book of 75 Things to Do When You Retire.

Age 66
The “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon

Age 67
“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes
I think I've read this, but I'm not 100% sure.

Age 68
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

Age 69
“I Remember Nothing” by Nora Ephron

Age 70
“Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier” by Peter Spiers

Age 71
“Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie
He was fantastic in Bridget Jones's Diary.

Age 72
“Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez

Age 73
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson” four volumes, by Robert Caro

Age 74
“Paris in the Present Tense” by Mark Helprin

Age 75
“The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss
The working title was You Can't Hurry Love.

Age 76
“Women Rowing North” by Mary Pipher

Age 77
“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson

Age 78
“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White

Age 79
“The Coming of Age” by Simone de Beauvoir

Age 80
“Coming Into Eighty: Poems” by May Sarton

Age 81
“Devotions” by Mary Oliver

Age 82
“The Summer of a Dormouse” by John Mortimer

Age 83
All the thrillers and mysteries
I think The Post mailed this one in. All the thrillers and mysteries? Here's the description from the story:

If you haven’t yet acquainted yourself with Easy Rawlins, Mrs. Pollifax, Maisie Dobbs, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Commissario Guido Brunetti, invite them over. They’re great company.

Age 84
“The Last Unknowns” Deep, Elegant, Profound Unanswered Questions About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life edited by John Brockman

Age 85
“Ravelstein” by Saul Bellow

Age 86
“Old Filth” by Jane Gardam

Age 87
“King Lear” by William Shakespeare

Age 88
“Nearing Ninety: And Other Comedies of Late Life” by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Laura Gibson

Age 89
“A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing 90” by Donald Hall

Age 90
“Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God” by Joe Coomer

Age 91
“Selected Poems: 1988-2013” by Seamus Heaney

Age 92
“Nothing to be Frightened Of” by Julian Barnes

Age 93
“Sapiens” by Yuval Harari

Age 94
“This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” by Ashton Applewhite

Age 95
The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante

Age 96
“Somewhere Towards the End” by Diana Athill

Age 97
“My Own Two Feet” by Beverly Cleary

Age 98
“Life Is So Good” by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman

Age 99
“Little Boy” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Age 100
“Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author” by Herman Wouk

I'm pretty good in the books before you reach the age of 10. After that...not so much. Overall, my total number is 11.5 since I can't remember whether or not I read Don Quixote.

Just for fun, take a look at the top 100 list of books Entertainment Weekly put out a few years ago and see how this list compares.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Fight With United States Soccer

I’ve been a certified soccer referee since 1990. That’s a long time! Back in high school, this was the perfect job. I made pretty good money, and I only worked weekends which allowed me to participate in school activities and (to my parents’ approval) not have to worry about balancing homework with a job during the week. I didn’t ref much during college though I always managed to work a big tournament when I got home for the summer. (Hi Edinboro University!) I took several years off after college, during graduate school (where I already had three jobs), and in my early professional career.

With my wife busy with work and graduate school, I had some extra time and decided to get back into being a soccer referee. I got recertified and got connected with an outstanding youth association in Northern Virginia, who truly supports their referees. I got paid to exercise! I’ve continued to work as a ref since then doing games for kids as young as 8 up to adult league games. I’ve had to cut back my time working as a ref significantly with three kids, particularly since I was an assistant coach for two teams this spring. Even in the rare instance when I planned on working some games last month, I had to cancel one set of games since my middle son had to go to the emergency room in what turned out to be two broken bones in his left arm. I felt awful for retuning the games only an hour before I was to be at the field, but my kid+emergency room took priority. It was the only time I ever had to cancel games and the referee assigner was extremely supportive. This is a really long introduction to my recent correspondence with the United States Soccer Federation ("USSF").

Here we go:

Dear USSF,

My name is Sean, and I've been a certified referee for approximately 25 years. I've enjoyed working as a referee since I was a teenager and now also coach my kids' teams. The reason that I'm writing is because referee fees go up every year, yet, it seems like referees get less and less for these fees. Specifically, we used to receive a paper copy of The Laws of the Game annually, and we haven't received a copy in years. While I understand that the Laws expanded greatly over the last few years, I still like having a handy reference at the field or after the game instead of trying to find something in a PDF format on my phone. Basically, I'm writing to see how I can get a free paper copy of The Laws. I find it completely unreasonable that our fees go up each year, and if we want a paper copy of The Laws, we need to pay for it.

Thank you,

The reply:

Hi Sean,

Unfortunately, we cannot distribute a free copy of the IFAB Laws of the Game. You can access them with the pdf attached or through the free app “Laws of the Game” in the app store.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

My turn:

Thank you for your quick response. I guess my question is why are you unable to distribute copies of the Laws to referees? It seems like this should be a part of the fees we pay for recertification each year.

I sent a second similar message to USSF 9 days later after not receiving a response. After the second message, I received this reply:

Hi Sean,

Although we appreciate your desire to always have a physical copy handy, it no longer makes sense to distribute over a 100,000 physical copies for free when it can just be accessed online.

We understand where you are coming from, but hope you can respect our rationale with this.

My turn again:

Dear U.S. Soccer Referee Program,

Thanks again for your response. While I understand that it's probably cost prohibitive to print a physical copy for all refs every year, it seems like it could be done once and then (like we do now) we get a printed few pages of only the changes from one year to the next. I guess my main question is this. If it doesn't make sense to print physical copies, why are referee fees going up each year? Where are our fees going? Is there somewhere online (or even a printed copy!) where referees can see the budget specifically for referees?

I sent a second message to USSF after not getting a response for a week, and it appears that I'm not going to get a response to this one.

Look, I know this is a somewhat trivial fight. It really isn’t that big a deal that the Laws of the Game are only available online. I’m just a little old-fashioned. I’d much rather read a physical book than to try to read one on my phone or tablet. I even have a blog and few people have blogs anymore! I just prefer having a physical copy of the Laws. I'm also not happy that fees go up each year, and we were just required to purchase new uniforms since (I believe) a new company now makes the shirts and USSF didn't want refs to wear the logo for the old company on the uniforms. All of this and I want BBQ Fritos back! Well, at least I’m comforted in knowing that my referee fees are going to the US women’s national team which will receive an equal amount of money for winning the World Cup as the men’s team would have received for winning the World Cup.

Wait, what?

Monday, July 08, 2019

Loudoun United Update

The United States women's national team won its fourth World Cup title on Sunday thanks to an impressive 2-0 victory over The Netherlands. So I'm sure that you're thinking, Sean, why are you writing a blog post about Loudoun United, a team in the USL Championship league, only a day after we should be celebrating Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, and soon-to-be superstar Rose Lavelle? That's a good question, proving again how smart you are. I guess the best reason is that soccer is the top story in the United States today, and I'm here to reaffirm my commitment as Loudoun United's (still not) official team blogger.

In mid-May, Richie Williams, the first head coach in Loudoun United's history, left to join the New England Revolution staff after coaching only 9 games. This was only several months after "Dane Murphy, D.C. technical director who was hired in the fall and oversaw Loudoun’s roster, departed before the season started to pursue a high-ranking job in England." Ryan Martin, who became the director of D.C. United's academy in January 2017, was hired as Loudoun United's second coach in team history.

So even though the team only started playing a few months ago, Loudoun United is already on its second head coach and second technical director. I would hope that the team doesn't already have a second (still not) official team blogger too. I'm not here to make any demands or anything. All I'm asking for is a tour of the stadium, which is scheduled to open in August, prior to its opening where I can take pictures of the field, stands and concession areas and share this with all of you. Then, just a few tickets to the first ever home game. I've already written several blog posts about the team and promoted them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. That's the least I can do as the (still not) official team blogger. Let's make the (still not) official blogger title, official, Loudoun United. Let's build on the success of the women's national team to help grow the game. Help me, help you!

Photos by Alex Grimm/Getty Images and Loudoun United.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

DC United Field Trip

One of my favorite topics to write about on Sean’s Ramblings has been attending live sports events and concerts. From Max Scherzer’s no-hitter (and nearly perfect game) to Fleetwood Mac and Paul McCartney shows to my hockey road trips, it’s fun to look back at events I’ve attended over the years.

Last week, I received an email from DC United informing me that I won two tickets to its game against Toronto FC. I won these tickets from their booth at Celebrate Fairfax, proving again that I made a fantastic decision to take my two older kids to the festival despite a little rain. With eight year old The Moose set to go to a friend’s birthday party, I decided to take five year old Pedro Tulo with me. I knew that this would bring some challenges, but that he would also enjoy going. Unlike The Moose who could (and has) sit in his seat at a live sporting event for hours, Pedro Tulo needs to move around. Plus, I figured that an 8:00 PM kickoff would not be ideal for him. I was right.

Let’s get to DC United for a second. The team started in 1995 when Major League Soccer formed and has been the second most successful team in league history, winning 4 MLS titles. Granted, most of those titles occurred in the 90s, but they still count. I attended a few games over the years at crumbling RFK Stadium, but this was my first time at Audi Field which opened last summer. Let's just say WOW!

I’ve been to soccer specific stadiums in Columbus, Ohio and New Jersey, but Audi Field just blows them away. The stadium in Portland is the only one I’ve been to that rivals this, but I only saw a portion of the stadium in Portland as it wasn't open to the public. (If the Portland Timbers or Portland Thorns want to fly me and my family out on an all-expenses paid trip to Portland to get a full comparison between the two, please contact my agent. Of course I don’t have an agent, so just contact me. Maybe fellow Pittsburgh native Meghan Klingenberg can hook me up!) I don’t think there’s a bad seat in house at Audi Field. As you can probably tell from some of the pictures above, we were in the southern end of the stadium right above the corner flag.

Props to the Kind people for giving out free bars outside the stadium! Props to Audi Field staff for letting people bring the free bars into the stadium!

After having the Kind bars and about 10 minutes into the game, Pedro Tulo decided he wanted something else to eat. There were some good options including food like pupusas and arepas that you usually don't see at concession stands. Naturally, Pedro Tulo requested pizza. Since he had pizza for dinner about 2 hours earlier, I said no. He decided on popcorn. Then, as soon as we got in line, he wanted a soft pretzel instead. Despite all of the appetizing food including options curated by famed chef José Andrés, the soft pretzel was below average and that's being generous. Before the end of the half, Pedro Tulo decided to launch a small piece of the pretzel several rows in front of us. I scolded him and made sure not to make eye contact with anyone in front of us. The last thing I wanted to hear during my first trip to Audi Field was, “Sir, please come with us.”

Of course, we missed Toronto scoring a goal during our time getting food as well as Wayne Rooney having an amazing opportunity to score but pushing the shot just high and wide.

DC United watered the field at halftime. I've never seen this before. Is this normal?

There is no parking at the stadium. The team encourages you to take Metro or drive and park using the SpotHero app. While I would normally take Metro (which is still a good 1/2 mile walk from the stadium), I knew this wouldn’t be a good option for Pedro Tulo because it would be crowded and probably an hour-long Metro ride starting around 10:00 PM. Besides it being so late, the bigger issue was that Pedro Tulo was still in a temporary cast from breaking two bones in his left arm recently. I didn't want to take a chance of him possibly re-injuring his arm by getting bumped on a crowded Metro train.

At the 58th minute (9:25 PM), Pedro Tulo turned to me and said that he was tired and wanted to go home. While I felt safe around the stadium, there are always people asking for money outside any sporting events, so I didn’t particularly want to walk the 1/2 mile or so back to the car by ourselves. Over the next 20-25 minutes, we walked towards the stadium entrance/exit with stops at the restroom and clubhouse store where he really wanted to buy a Christmas tree ornament, the perfect souvenir from a late June game. (I didn’t buy one.)

I've decided there should be a rule in sports. If you have naming rights to a stadium, then you also need to give away your product to the fans. In this case, one person should win an Audi at each game. Seems reasonable to me!

Wayne Rooney didn’t score a goal from 70 yards away like he did in preceding DC United game. Doesn't something like this happen in every soccer match?

I can say, though, that I saw Rooney play in person and was at a game where he scored a goal. Granted, I didn't see the goal, but we heard the roar of the crowd from about two blocks away from the stadium and a second one about a minute later. (It turned out that the first roar was for a VAR call awarding DC United a penalty kick. The second roar was for Rooney converting said kick.) Here's proof that I saw Rooney on the field via this somewhat blurry photo.

I did not, however, see Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore play for Toronto as they are away playing for the US national team at the Gold Cup.

The best name on DC United is clearly Frederic Brillant. Guinness even had an entire advertising campaign a few years ago in his honor.

I find it very cool that many soccer teams have sections for its most passionate supporters. I don't know if it's the team's supporter club Barra Brava or Screaming Eagles or both, but the people in the section on the opposite side from where I sat stood, chanted, and waved flags the entire match.

Who do these Toronto fans think they are taking pictures of themselves? Actually, they are Toronto fans thinking about celebrating an early Canada Day during halftime. That's who they think they are!

Finally, here are highlights from the game and recaps from DC United and The Washington Post

Looking forward to going to another DC United game at Audi Field soon. Maybe for an afternoon game!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pittsburgh Vacation

We took a family trip to Pittsburgh recently, and I thought I would share some pictures of the trip which included stops at the Children’s Museum, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and PNC Park for a Pirates game. Enjoy!

I have family that live on Mount Washington, and I went into their home for the first time during this trip. If I lived here, I don’t think I’d ever leave. The view is just spectacular.

I know that I’ve shared memories of this place before, but I love going to The O. This is a medium order of fries!

We took the kids to the Phipps, and this was the first time I’d been there in over a decade. It’s so beautiful. There was a Vincent van Gogh exhibit, and the Phipps staff deserve major credit for creating a scavenger hunt booklet where kids need to find replicas of van Gogh paintings. The Moose (8) and Pedro Tulo (5) were all about completing the hunt. They also had a special project where kids could dig and make and take a plant. The picture above is Pedro Tulo before he got dirt all over the place (including on his cast). Not pictured is Luigi (1 & 1/2) falling causing a bump on his forehead and a cut above his lip.

These are from the Children's Museum. On Thursday, he ate through four strawberries, but he was still hungry.

I was really hoping to have llama AND iguana during this trip, but sadly this place in The Strip District was out of iguana.

One of my favorite things to do in life is attend a Pirates game. As an added bonus, it was fireworks night!

Until next time, Pittsburgh!