Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sean's Ramblings 2020 Year In Review

This is my 16th(!) annual year in review where I take the first few lines of the first entry of each month to create a random and (hopefully) interesting summary of 2020. This is different than my best of and worst of post from a few days ago. Well, let's see how this turns out:

January: Happy New Year everyone! I hope that your 2020 is off to a good start.

February: I hate not writing. I've written Sean's Ramblings for over 15 years now, and I get in the pattern of writing a new post every few days. It bothers me that it's been two weeks since my last post. So today, I'm going to share the primary reason why I've had this break. My kids!

March: I like my neighborhood. It's a community of about 1,800 condos, townhouses, and single-family homes in Northern Virginia built around an 18-hold golf course. The fact that I can say that I live on (or across the street from) a golf course sounds much more fancy than it is.

April: Even before we've been staying at home, but especially since we're here 24/7, I've played a fun game around the house called "Turning Off Lights in Rooms Where There Are No People." I have the high score!

May: I've listened to the Ya Jagoff! podcast since its inception several years ago. For me, it's a fun way to stay connected to my hometown of Pittsburgh and to hear about some of the fun activities and events happening and people of the 'Burgh.

June: On Saturday night, I turned on the TV expecting to watch a movie or show. Instead, I watched coverage of protests occurring throughout the country.

July: In June of 2019 DJ Bonics became possibly the first DJ to perform the national anthem. The former Pittsburgher and Wiz Khalifa DJ (and University of Pittsburgh graduate) lives in Minneapolis now and performed this at a Minnesota Twins game. 

August: Although I'm not the target audience, I checked out a recent online blogging event organized by BlogHer. What stood out for me the most from the various speakers was that your blog should personify yourself, and more importantly, you should create your own niche.

September: Three deaths occurred over the last few days that impacted me and many, many, many others. The first was the passing of actor Chadwick Boseman at only 43 years old from colon cancer.

October: I have read many, many books to my kids over the last decade. There are ones that I enjoy reading like pretty much anything by Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle. 

November: So you may have heard that there are national elections on Tuesday. It's the biggest Presidential election in our lifetime. Well, at least until 2024. While there are numerous polls available for just about every local, state, and national race, I decided to ask an esteemed group of panelists for their thoughts and predictions on a variety of topics.

December: I've thought about writing this post for several months now. I even started a draft in early October, but I never got around to finishing it. I just want to write a blog post about my life, and I guess this is it.

Well, that's my year in review of Sean's Ramblings.You can click here to see my year in review since 2005. Here's to a much better 2021!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

I Blame Peppa Pig

Over the weekend, Cardi B posted a tweet threatening Peppa Pig. The tweet is not suitable for work, but this Yahoo story cleans it up. Basically, Cardi B blamed Peppa Pig for her daughter jumping in muddy puddles (like they do in every single episode) and ruining her boots. I completely agree with Cardi B here. This was my three year old Luigi a few weeks ago after the snow turned to rain. 

My older two boys had enough of the cold after about 20 minutes and went inside. Luigi could have stayed outside all day, and I actually had to carry him inside after more than an hour since it was getting dark. He had a meltdown since he wanted to stay outside longer. 

Peppa Pig is responsible for this! Damn you, Peppa Pig! And please tell George to stop crying ALL THE TIME!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Sean's Best and Worst of 2020

I should preface this post by mentioning that this is primarily about pop culture items. I mean 2020 has been a pretty lousy year overall, so this is more of a fun look at the last 12 months.

Best Television Show: Better Call Saul

I watched a good amount of TV this year. I finally got caught up on This Is Us, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Watchman. The Good Place concluded in 2020, and I enjoyed The Queen's Gambit and Fargo as well as The Last Dance documentary. (Schitt's Creek and The Boys are still on my list of shows that I want to see.) Even with all of these great shows that I just mentioned, Better Call Saul tops my list. The writing and the acting are just so good. I mean, two of the storylines from the show's fifth season were about a guy not wanting to sell his land/home and another about a construction project by a German engineer and his team. While I know that I'm understating this, on paper, this doesn't seem very exciting. It really is captivating and thrilling though.

Best Movie: Knives Out

I didn't see many "grown up" movies, but I enjoyed two 2020 movies geared for kids in Onward and Soul. Even though the film came out late in 2019, my favorite movie of the year was Knives Out. What a fun and funny film. It's a murder mystery with a family of dislikable characters but it really is fun watching Daniel Craig try to figure things out as the lead detective. 

Worst Movie: Tully

This is another movie from a few years ago that I just saw in 2020. It's not a bad movie, and there are certainly parts that I liked, but it falls into the worst movie category only because I didn't see very many films in 2020. Like Charlize Theron and her family in the film, we also have three kids so part of this film really hits close to home. What bothered me the most is how useless the father (played by Ron Livingston) is, especially when there's a major reveal that I won't spoil here. 

Best Song: Blinding Lights by The Weeknd

My rule is that the best song must be featured in a blog post at some point during the year. While I really like Midnight Sky by Miley Cyrus (who once had the worst song of the year) and strongly considered it, Blinding Lights by The Weeknd is a banger. It's the jam. It's the cat's meow. Am I using these words correctly? We'll just go with this. It's a really good and catchy song. By the way, congrats to The Weeknd for getting best song of the year twice now even though Starboy doesn't seem quite as good as it was four years ago.

Worst Song: ily by Surf Mesa featuring Emilee

You know the chorus to Frankie Valli's 1967 hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You." It's a fantastic song with a memorable chorus. Well, how about playing just the chorus over and over and over again with some type of layering? I can listen and like the first 20-30 seconds of the song, but after that, I'm switching the channel. 

Best Book: The first three books of the Harry Potter series

I do pretty much all of my reading during my commute to work. Since I've been working from home since the pandemic started, I've read exactly zero books for myself. While I read some books in January and February, I can't remember what they were. Because of this, the best books I read in 2020 were the first three Harry Potter books to The Moose (my 9 year old son). It's been a nice bonding experience reading them to him.

I'll add that I just bought two books that I'm really excited to read: The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh and The Cold Millions by Jess Walter. I wouldn't be surprised if one of these books is on the 2021 best of blog post.

Best Sports Moment of 2020: Manuel Margot Catch

This was a tough call. As a Pittsburgh sports fan, the Penguins exited the hockey playoffs much earlier than expected (more on that below) and the Pirates were lousy. The Steelers started the season 11-0 but lost three consecutive games and looked terrible in the process before rebounding after being down by 17 points on Sunday. So while there were championships with fans and then championships without fans in 2020, this catch by Manuel Margot of the Tampa Bay Rays in game one of the American League Championship Series is the play of the year to me. So cool, and seeing this live, I really thought he might have fallen into an abyss. 

Worst Sports Moment: The Pittsburgh Penguins

While I didn't expect the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup, I did expect them to defeat the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadians in the first round playoff series. The playoffs generally only have 8 teams per conference. Montreal wouldn't have even been close to reaching the playoffs in a typical year. Such a terrible series. 

Best Blog Post: Songs of 2000 & 2020s Predictions

This was an odd year for Sean's Ramblings. As I looked through my posts from this year, I was a lot more "serious" than usual. Lots of "heavy" posts about the pandemic, the state of the country, and my family including a post about my dad passing away. So while I don't know if these were the "best" posts, my posts about the songs of 2000 and predictions for the 20s decade were the most fun and more in line with my "typical" blog posts. Don't mind me as I continue to put words in quotes!

Worst Blog Post: Kangaroos Wanted

I wrote an entire blog post about someone looking for kangaroos for a kids' birthday party.

Best Musical: Hamilton

Have you heard about this show? It's about the guy on the $10 bill and was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda who was in one Brooklyn Nine Nine episode and one How I Met Your Mother episode. I never saw this live and for the most part avoided the music because I first wanted to hear and see it on stage. Well, I still haven't seen the show live, but I watched the film version of the show which was actually three performances of the show from June 2016. It lived up to the hype!

Best Podcast: Ya Jagoff!, Owls Americast, The Tony Kornheiser Show, and The Poscast

I don't listen to podcasts as much as I did when I was commuting to work, but I rarely miss episodes of these podcasts. I like listening to John and Rachael to hear about all the cool things going on in Pittsburgh on Ya Jagoff! Owls Americast is my connection with Sheffield Wednesday. The Tony Kornheiser Show gives me a sense of big sports stories (with some really good guests) along with various rants of Tony's life. And The Poscast is based around baseball but always makes me laugh. All of these podcasts gave me some normalcy in definitely abnormal times.

Best Blog: Josh's World

This might be the third or fourth time Josh's World has won this. I like Josh's take on things. Nothing against Josh, but I also need to expand the number of blogs I read. I tend to read the same sites, and there are fewer and fewer individual blogs each year.  

Please feel free to share some of your own best of and worst of 2020 in the comments section below.

If you're curious, you can see how some of my best of and worst of picks from the past few years hold up, please click here.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Pickles at Chanukah 2020 Wrap Up

Today is Christmas Eve and Chanukah ended a week ago, so naturally now is the perfect time to write about the pickles of Chanukah tradition. While I wrote about how this tradition started last month, I thought I would provide an update about how the tradition grew this year. It made Houston's "Jewish Herald-Voice," "The New Mexico Jewish Link," Ya Jagoff!, and the "Fairfax County Times." Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon and Parkway Jewish Center just outside Pittsburgh published stories about this in their newsletters, and Ithaca College Hillel included a pickling kit as part of a special Hanukkah box for students. Plus, Congregation Rodef Shalom in Denver let me speak to share pickle facts and how the tradition started. 

Since Festivus was yesterday, I should probably air some grievances here about how I received no response from dozens of other newspapers and websites when a simple no thank you would have been sufficient. However, this is a positive post. I hope that more publications publish stories about this tradition next year. 

I think the key to helping this tradition grow is to tie local pickle companies into this. This entire thing started at a pickle taste test event, so why not include trying different types of pickles during Chanukah? For example, Bridge City Brinery in Pittsburgh, Number 1 Sons and Fresh Crunch Pickles in Northern Virginia, and Matt's Dirty Pickles in Midlothian, VA (but also selling pickles through Virginia) were all supportive of pickles for Chanukah. Please support these and other pickle companies. The Portland Pickles minor league baseball team also did a lot of Chanukah-related activities.

So consider this the last post related to pickles and Chanukah for 2020. Will there be more posts about this in 2021? Maybe. Will I continue to update the Pickles at Chanukah Facebook page? Definitely! And please continue to eat pickles all year round!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Muppet Night Football

Last night's Monday Night Football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals was branded as "Muppet Night Football" with pre-game appearances by Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and others. Unfortunately, except for showing Animal playing drums a few times going into commercial breaks and a quick bit with Statler and Waldorf during halftime and another after the game, ESPN didn't utilize the Muppets nearly enough.

Here are just a few ways that ESPN and the NFL could have incorporated members of the Muppets into the game:

* A halftime performance by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.

* Sideline interviews by Gonzo.

* Walter could have played QB for the Steelers in the first half. Ben Roethlisberger was 7 for 16 for 19 yards with an interception and a fumble lost. Walter couldn't have been much worse!

* A cooking segment with The Swedish Chef and "Big Snack" Casey Hampton.

Sam the Eagle being a part of the national anthem.

* Multiple shots of Scooter in the control room yelling at Steve Levy.  

* The Steelers using Bobo the Bear as a fullback on every short yardage situation.

* Statler and Waldorf skewering the current state of the Steelers.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Happy Hanukkah 2020

I've written an annual Happy Hanukkah post for many years now with various videos of Hanukkah songs and messages. This year may be the strongest group of videos since I started this nearly a decade ago.

You know how there is regularly a "Song of the Summer?" Well, the first video, "Puppy for Hanukkah" by Daveed Diggs, is the song of Hanukkah 2020. 

The Foo Fighters, or more specifically Dave Grohl and producer Greg Kurstin, are doing the extremely cool Hanukkah Sessions featuring a song by a Jewish artist every night of Hanukkah. This is their version of "Hotline Bling" by Drake.

If I'm doing a post with Hanukkah songs, you know that The Maccabeats will be in it. This year, they take on BTS' "Dynamite."

Meanwhile' The Maccabeats' fierce rival, Six13, did a medley of Ariana Grande songs. 

But Shir Soul looks like they are here to compete with the a cappella groups. 

I've written a lot about the new tradition of eating and tasting pickles during Hanukkah. With the stage name Kosha Dillz, Rami Matan should be the spokesperson for spreading the word about this.

Speaking of pickles, My Jewish Mommy Life made a latkes bar complete with pickles!

And just for fun, let's here from the Israel Philharmonic.

Finally, South Paw, the Chicago White Sox mascot, is here to wish Griffin a Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

My Health Report

I recently went to the doctor for my annual physical. A few days after the appointment, the office posted lab results and the doctor's comments on a patient portal. This is what my doctor wrote:


Several thoughts about this. FIRST, WHY ALL CAPS? THIS ISN'T TWITTER!

There's probably a good lesson here that I should not send any direct messages.

While my sugar is 87, what is my watermelon sugar?

I thought my doctor and I had a good relationship, so it's a little rude that he wrote F/U in the summary.

Overall, this report seems good. My LYM% and LYM# are low and my GRAN% is high whatever all of this means. My LDL cholesterol number is high too. However, the doctor didn't seem at all concerned about this. 

As the weather has gotten colder over the last few weeks, I'm becoming less and less active. Even sloth-like. Therefore, I was a little surprised that my weight stayed pretty much the same. Actually, my weight is up 0.022 pounds from last year. That's right, not 2 pounds or even .2 pounds, but 0.02 pounds. The difference might be that I wore a heavier shirt on the scale this year!

The doctor seemed tired. It's clearly been a tough year for him because of COVID. 

Oh, thinking about Chadwick Boseman's passing, I asked whether I needed a colonoscopy. Traditionally, this isn't done until you are 50, but there have been some reports suggesting that this should be done at 45. I'm 45. He said that as long as the blood labs came back well (which they did), I should wait to do this until around 47.5 (to "split the difference") and definitely after COVID ends.

So that's my health report. Tune in soon for my annual Hanukkah post, and please check out and like the Pickles at Chanukah Facebook page. You'll be surprised to see how this tradition is growing! 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Friday Video: Coffee For Your Head

I remember in the late 90s, Green Day had a song that was everywhere. It was played during graduation ceremonies and at the series finale of more than one TV shows. Most people know the song as "Time of Your Life," but the actual title is "Good Riddance" (with time of your life in parenthesis).

Today's video is "Death Bed (Coffee For Your Head)" by Powfu featuring Beabadoobee. The chorus to this song is so catchy. My kids even sing along to it. And it's just like the Green Day song. It's slow and the chorus sounds like a feel good song. Coffee for your head sounds nice. Just ignore the Death Bed title!

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

My Life At Home

I've thought about writing this post for several months now. I even started a draft in early October, but I never got around to finishing it. I just want to write a blog post about my life, and I guess this is it. Before I really get started, I know that I'm fortunate. My family has been healthy, and my wife and I are both employed. There are millions of others in our country that aren't as fortunate. Even though my office has been closed since March, I'm grateful that I'm able to work from home and that my organization is completely supportive of my crazy schedule.

And let's get to that schedule. My kids are in 4th grade, 1st grade, and preschool. They are all home 24/7. The older two boys have school Monday through Friday, and I need to make sure they are doing what they're supposed to be doing. They each click on multiple links during the day for various teachers and classes. I spend much of my day ensuring that they are focused on their learning, listening to their teachers, and completing their assignments. In the case of The Moose (the 4th grader), I find this to be particularly challenging. He's old enough where if he were in school, he would do his work in the classroom and submit it directly to his teacher. I would never see it. While I want him to make mistakes and learn from them without me reviewing his assignments, I also want to make sure his work is complete and that he didn't rush through it. It's a balance that we haven't adequately achieved. On top of all this I've become the IT support for the kids. And in charge of recess. And occasionally the cafeteria staff member.

Meanwhile I joked back in September just after the school year started that Luigi (the preschooler) would just fend for himself. He has all kinds of toys and games that he plays with, and I put him on the screen if I have a meeting or really need to get something done uninterrupted. I try to avoid giving him too much screen time during the day. There are plenty of times when I'm doing work, and he'll come up to me and say "Play me Daddy." While he's missing the word with, the point is clear. He wants me to play with him, and it's hard to say no to that. We probably should start him with potty training more than we do. The problem is that I just don't have time to take him to the bathroom every 15-20 minutes or so. I don't push it especially since he's not interested in potty training yet.

Based on what you just read, you can probably tell that I'm not getting nearly the amount of work done than I would if I was at my office without kids. Of course, I'm not commuting two hours a day either, so that helps. Still, I always feel like I'm behind. Because of this, I find that I do work most nights after the kids go to sleep. I often fall asleep on the couch doing work and wake up to do a little more work. I send emails out after midnight, though I've discovered the delay delivery option, so it looks like I send them out at a reasonable time. I also find that I try to get work done on weekends. I definitely don't get enough sleep.

I probably need a break, but what does that really look like? It's not like I'm going to go to the movie theater or take a road trip to see a Steelers game. A day off is just me with the family like every other day. That's probably why I have taken exactly one day off of work since March. And that day was for Yom Kippur. Actually, I would likely spend a day off taking Luigi to and from the bathroom all day.

So what do I do for down time? My friends and I still try to do trivia every few weeks. A group of friends from college have started having Zoom calls every month which has been a really nice way to reconnect. I also continue to do a minyan every day in memory of my dad. While it's nice to have some normalcy in this routine, there are definitely days where this seems like an obligation.

I'm not trying to be negative in this post. This is simply my life. I know that I'll look back once this pandemic ends and appreciate all of the time I'm spending with my kids. In the middle of this though, there are times when I could use a  break particularly since they are not at all independent right now. Maybe it would be worthwhile to talk to someone professionally about all of this, but I don't know if it's necessary. I also don't want to spend money for myself on a therapist. Instead, I try to blog while I can, and I've watched some really good TV shows lately. In addition, I'm enjoying trying to spread the tradition of eating and tasting pickles during Chanukah. (Please like my Pickles at Chanukah Facebook page!) I guess that's my release.