Thursday, April 15, 2021

2021 Best of The 'Burgh

Voting is currently underway in Pittsburgh Magazine's annual Best of the 'Burgh. As I mentioned last month, I want to sincerely thank my friends and family for nominating me in the Local Writer category. I'm a finalist up against an impressive group of nominees in Damon Young, Gene Collier, Merecedes J. Williams, Natalie Bencivenga, and Tony Norman. All of these individuals have better credentials than me and get paid to share their opinions. If you've read this blog at all, you can tell that no one is paying to hear from me. 

Before I go any further, I should probably address something fairly important for this contest. I'm not a local writer. I mean, I'm a local writer for where I live, but that place isn't Pittsburgh or Western Pennsylvania. With that written, I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Before the pandemic, I tried to get back at least once a year to visit family and friends and to expose my kids to Pittsburgh. I regularly write about Pittsburgh in posts including our family vacation, the closing of one of my favorite restaurants, The O, and predictions for the Pirates this season. My guess is that at least 1,000 of my over 3,000 blog posts here reference Pittsburgh. Historically, more people in Western Pennsylvania read my blog than from anyone else. I am also a proud member of the Pittsburgh Bloggers group on Facebook, and the majority of the people I follow on Twitter have Pittsburgh ties. In addition, I regularly visit blogs and websites devoted to Pittsburgh and listen to Pittsburgh podcasts. Basically, I believe that I have the credentials of a local writer except that I don't have a phone number with a 412 area code.

So this is the part of the post where I should encourage you to vote for me. If you'd like to, please do. However, any of the other nominees are deserving (and probably more deserving), so I'm not going to start a "None of the Above" campaign.

Voting concludes on Saturday, April 17th at 11:59 PM. The local writer category is under "Personalities." And thanks for checking out my third blog post in my 30 in 30ish challenge.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

30 In 30ish

Nearly my entire life consists of being a parent to my three boys and working (with the occasional sleep thrown in there). Yes, it’s been like this since the pandemic started, but it seems even more prevalent lately. So I decided that I needed some sort of motivation to do something for myself. While I wish that this would be a vacation, exercising, or even finishing a book, the fatherhood and work responsibilities aren't going away, and the pandemic is still happening. Therefore, I settled on writing 30 blog posts in 30ish days. 

The goal is to write a post every day for 30 straight days or at least close to it. I also want to have a big finish around my birthday with a post focused on the anniversary of one of the greatest adventures of my life. In case you're wondering, I'm counting yesterday's blog post about raccoons in my neighborhood and remembering all the time I spent in computer labs as a college student as the first post. Maybe not the best starter, but it counts!

So consider this day 2 and enjoy the next 28ish days or so!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Raccoon Adventures

I love my community message board. Sure, it seems like many of the posts consist of neighbors complaining about people not cleaning up after their dogs, but there are some hidden gems on occasion. Recently, a neighbor shared this lovely story.

Hello neighbors, I just saw an emaciated raccoon slowly walking around looking lethargic and confused. I called the police and they came out. The officer couldn’t find it. It was seen across the street from REDACTED. The officer said if you see it again, to call the police again. He said it may have distemper, as they have been getting a lot of similar reports.

Before I go further, since this is my blog, I thought I would share my raccoon story. During my freshman year of college, I returned to my residence hall by myself very late one night (or very early in the morning) from an amazing party. And by amazing party, I mean from finishing a paper in the computer lab. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term “computer lab,” in the 1990s, not everyone had their own computers. If you were lucky, you might have a friend or roommate who had a computer and would let you borrow it. Oh, and by borrow it, I mean that you would sit in that person's room at their desk since people only had heavy desktop computers back then. If you weren't lucky, you would go to one of the computer labs on campus and sit in a room full of people and computers for hours, or worse, wait for someone to finish using a computer and then sit in a room full of people and computers for hours.

Anyway, when I completed the paper, printed it in the computer lab, and saved it on disc (email was a thing back then, but email attachments were not), I walked back to my room. Just before reaching my residence hall, a raccoon popped out of the dumpster at probably around 4:00 AM and simply stared at me as if to say, "I'm eating here. Don't bother me, or suffer the consequences." Since I probably looked lethargic and confused myself, I turned around and walked in an entirely different direction to get back to my room.

Now back to your regularly scheduled neighborhood message board already in progress. 

The first reply: I too saw a very small sickly looking raccoon in [our neighborhood] last week.  I called the police and my husband and I followed it without getting too close until the officer arrived.  He put it down immediately.   Thank you for calling and trying to get help for the animal.  I’m keeping my eyes open. 

By "put it down," the person means, picked up the raccoon and rocked it to sleep for bedtime, right? Like, putting a child down for a nap.

Next reply: I called Animal Control last week but they weren’t open.  I then called the non-emergency number for the police.  They said they dispatch for animal control.  When the officer arrived he said he was “acting animal control.”

Who knew that acting animal control is one of the job titles and duties for police officers.

Final reply: My neighbor said that sometimes patrol officers cover for animal control officers.  In his encounter the police also implied they would put the animal down as well. Wonder how they make that call.

I never really thought of this before, but I assume that the officer is actually shooting the raccoon, right? Are there other ways of putting it down? I understand if it's a rabid raccoon that could be dangerous, but I'm not sure I want to hear (or see) police shooting a raccoon in a populated neighborhood.

Of course, maybe people were just confused between raccoons and bears again. Or they saw a fox instead and decided to publish a video of it on a blog instead of sharing it with the message board!

Monday, April 05, 2021

Old Spice?

When driving last week, the song "Dreams" by The Cranberries came on the radio. My 10 year old (The Moose) asked me to change the station because he hates when we listen to old songs. (The actual quote was "I hate when you listen to old songs.") A few months ago, I wrote that we started dancing to Just Dance songs on YouTube for exercise on cold and rainy days. I recently played "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls, and The Moose again criticized it for being an old song. He then asked if the members of the Spice Girls are still alive. After I replied yes, he asked how old are they? In their 70s?

To be fair to The Moose, both Dreams and Wannabe are about 25 years old. That is old to him. Plus, he really doesn't comprehend the age of songs or anything else. In his mind, the Spice Girls, Rolling Stones, and even Mozart could all be contemporaries. 

Still, I have failed as a parent in teaching The Moose and my other kids about music. I rarely play music in the house. I don't use Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Tidal, or any other streaming services. I never had an iPod, and I don't have any songs on my phone. This might be surprising, but I have never downloaded any music either. Sure, I bought tapes and CDs in the past, but I don't think I've bought a new CD since The Moose was born. So much of the music The Moose listens to is from the radio when he's in the car. Therefore, he knows your Dua Lipas and Harry Styleses (Stylesi?), but I don't think he's very familiar with Prince or Tom Petty or The Beatles or really anyone from before 2010. 

This is the part of the blog post where I ask for advice. How do I get The Moose and his brothers to appreciate and listen to more music other than what's currently playing on pop radio? 

Photo by Getty Images.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

2021 Pittsburgh Pirates Predictions

With the 2021 baseball season starting today, I asked people to share their predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While I’ve done similar predictions posts over the years about the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, the 2020 elections, and even the entire 2020s decade, this might be my favorite group of participants yet. Let’s begin with the introductions:

* Bob Pompeani - Longtime KDKA sports director and sports anchor

* Rich - Host of the Why, Bloody Valentine? podcast

* Josh - Creator of one of my favorite blogs, Josh’s World

* Brian - Founder of the now defunct Raise the Jolly Roger blog

* Jim - Founder of the now defunct North Side Notch blog.

* Dillon T. Pickle - The mascot and heart of the Portland Pickles baseball team (I really want to buy some Pickles gear.)

* Matt Gajtka - A jack of all trades in the Pittsburgh sports community including on Pittsburgh Sports Live and Pittsburgh Golf Now.

* Aaron Brame - Among his many accomplishments, Aaron wrote this really cool baseball poem.

* The Moose - My now 10 year old son. Please excuse his writing as he’s only in 4th grade.

And now to the predictions.

1. Most Pirates fans and many baseball fans are excited about 3rd baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes. How do you think he'll do this year? (Feel free to give predicted statistics.)

Bob: Hayes will have solid start but I believe the opposition pitcher will make adjustments to him in time...but still he is the bright spot on this franchise....281 16 HR 81 RBI

Rich: Great! Based on his performance last year and this Spring he could have a Rookie of the Year type season, if the rest of the offense doesn't completely tank. But honestly,  they might tank.

Josh: I think Ke'Bryan has a great year. I would say between .280-.300 average, 15-20 HRs...but I think he ends up finishing second for the ROY. Someone will emerge with a bigger year. And yes, I realize in my prediction post, I picked him to win the award. I like to hedge my bets.

Brian: There is no reason not to be extremely high on Hayes - he has the prospect pedigree, he was phenomenal after being called up in 2020, and has looked great again this spring. I do want to pump the brakes just a little bit, but that's not really because of anything he's done - it's just that the hype (ROY favorite, undisputed star of the team 24 games into his career) is going to be difficult to live up to for just about anyone. The numbers have to come down from the crazy production he put up last September - I'll be happy if he's able to stabilize as an above average hitter for a full season. Something like ~15 homers with an OPS north of .800 , maybe a .280 AVG or so would be a reasonable expectation. 

Jim: Count me as one of the fans expecting big things. As far as traditional statistics go, I think he could hit .280 with 20 HR. If we want to get more advanced, I think the glove will greatly help him and we’re looking at a 5 WAR season. 

Dillon: Ke'Bryan is not going to hit .376 again, but he will still rake. .300/350/450 sounds right 

Matt: I love Hayes' raw tools. He hit the ball so darn hard last year and his defense is off the charts for a youngster, especially. I think he gets a little more lift on those liners this year and hits 25 homers with a .350ish OBP.

Aaron: A dependable third baseman who can hit in the two spot? Yes, I am excited about this. Let’s make 2021 be the year of Ke’Bryan Hayes. May he become my favorite new Pirate and give a reason for me to tune in.

The Moose: I think he will be really good for the Pirates because he was so good last year at the end of the season.

2. What pitcher will have the most wins for the Pirates this season?

Bob: Most wins for the Pirates will be Chad Kuhl..  11

Rich: Kuhl? Who knows? I fear the Pirates won't hit enough to put their starters in a position to win many games and whoever the sixth starter/bullpen guy (Cahill?) might pick up enough wins between starting and relief to contest for the lead.

Josh: The Pirates pitchers are not good. I am guessing the team leader has nine wins and in all honesty, I would not be shocked if it ended up being a relief pitcher. I guess I will take Mitch Keller, but I would not count out someone like Michael Feliz or Chris Stratton. 

Brian:  Ugh, what a tough and sad question. Chad Kuhl is probably the best bet to get the most opportunities at the moment, so I'll choose him. 

Jim: So I think it’ll be a reliever. I’ll go with Chris Stratton. 

Dillon: Mitch Keller will get the most wins. 

Matt: When you're talking pitcher wins, you're pretty much talking about volume of innings. But there's no reliable vet on this pitching staff, and Steven Brault is out at least a  month, so ... I suppose I'll go with Chad Kuhl here. I remain a fan of his potential.

Aaron: I thought sabermetrics killed questions about win totals for pitchers. Or maybe not. I’m quite out of touch, so much so that none of the names on the current rotation ring a bell for me. 

The Moose: Chad Kuhl

3. Who will have a break-out year or at least surprise you (in a good way) in 2021?

Bob: Breakout season for Pirates will be Anthony Alford

Rich: Gregory Polanco! I don't know if it's my natural inclination to be a contrarian or the fact that I bought his jersey as a Rookie or that I truly believe it but I feel like he's going to turn it around. He's legitimately playing for his career this season, so hopefully that adds some motivation.

Josh: This is weird, but I think Gregory Polanco has a breakout year. If he can stay healthy and can get off to a hot start, then he should find himself a new home before the trade deadline. 

Brian: People are so down on Gregory Polanco, and (mostly) deservedly so. I get it. But we all know the potential that's in there, and now that things have been pointing in the wrong direction for a while, and you know it's at least possible he can play a lot better, that makes for a good breakout or surprise pick, right? His big (by Pirates' standards) contract can be bought out after this year, so if he wants to continue being overpaid or put himself in a position to be even a mildly attractive free agent, he needs to perform this year, and that can also help fuel surprise seasons sometimes. 

Jim: Tough question. I don’t know if it constitutes a “break-out” label, but I think Polanco can top his 2018 campaign. 

Dillon: Steven Wright will have a great year. His ERA flip flops from horrible to amazing every year he pitches, and considering he last pitched in 2019 to an 8.53 ERA, you can only expect greatness when the pendulum swings back. 

Matt: Bryan Reynolds will bounce back in a big way. I think he's too talented to be what we saw last season for any kind of significant period of time. Honorable mention to Kevin Newman, who made some swing adjustments and looks strong at the plate in spring.

Aaron: Your question prompted some googling, during which I discovered a rookie center fielder named Dustin Fowler who seems to have just made the squad recently. Yesterday, in fact. So let’s pull for this to be the year of the prospects and hope for both Hayes and Fowler to blow up. 

The Moose: Probably Ke’Bryan Hayes because he is so fast and so physical with the ball he can hit, steal bases so fast and good at saving singles. (Sean’s note: We need to work on grammar.) 


4. What is manager Derek Shelton thinking in this picture?

Bob: Shelton is thinking, where can I get more power in my lineup?

Rich: Pineapple on pizza. Obviously.

Josh: "Is it too late to go back to Minnesota?"

Brian: Haha, how about “What have I gotten myself into??”

Jim: This is the worst job I’ve had since I was in that Speed Hitter commercial. 

Dillon: "Will Bob Nutting be mad if we only get a 2nd round pick this year?"

Matt: "How many losing seasons do I get before my bosses get restless and I have to step on the gas pedal?"

Aaron: “This is fine.”

The Moose: About all the teams he has been on.

5. The Pirates have the #1 pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft in June. Who do you think they will pick: Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, or someone else?

Bob: It's a nice problem to have....I prefer Leiter but I believe they will take Rocker...either will give them a bona fide top of rotation guy....the question is when?  How soon?

Rich: It doesn't appear that you can go wrong with either one. I want them to pick Leiter because I think his last name will give endless wordplay opportunities for all of the unlicensed merchandise producers. I think they'll take Rocker though because of his size.

Josh: They should take Rocker. They would be crazy not to take Rocker. They will anger fans if they do not take Rocker. I can see the case for Jack Leiter, but I just think Kumar Rocker is the more complete, more MLB ready pitcher. 

Brian: Smart money is probably still on Rocker - bigger, probably more durable, and been #1 on the board for a while. But Leiter has been absolutely insane lately and to my very untrained eye (that also has barely actually seen either one pitch), he is starting to feel like the "safer" pick . I saw one Vanderbilt fan comment "Rocker COULD win a Cy Young, but Leiter WILL be an 8-time all-star. Obviously that is just one person's assessment (and more of a wild guess) but I can't get that thought out of my head, and if it's me with that choice I take Leiter. But if the draft was tomorrow, I would be thrilled with either and would not complain either way.

Jim: I think they take Kumar Rocker. His overall presence on the mound and excellent stuff makes him look like the prototypical ace you want on your staff. There’s still a lot of time for stuff to develop, though, so we’ll see!

Dillon: Kumar Rocker. He has all the hype

Matt: I'll go with Kumar Rocker since he has the longer successful track record in Division I ball. Disclaimer: I'm not a scout.

Aaron: They got the #1 pick? Sweet. Is that because they won 19 games last year? It’s probably because they only won 19 games last year isn’t it? But both those dudes sound like studs; I hope it works out! 

The Moose: Kumar Rocker

6. The Pirates traded many of its bigger name players during the offseason. What player or players will be traded before the end of the 2021 season?

Bob: Adam Frazier is the most likely to be traded...versatile, defender who can also be a good top of lineup on base guy....If he gets off to a good start, he should bring back more in a deal...  They can only hope Polanco gets off to a good start and somebody would be interested....but in any event, the Pirates will have to pick up a large portion of salary

Rich: Polanco if possible. Richard Rodriguez. Chad Kuhl will go if he performs well too.

Josh: I think they trade as much as they can if teams offer anything. This is a rebuild, so almost none of these guys will be here when they turn the corner. The only players to not trade are Hayes and probably Keller. Other than that, if someone makes an offer, they should take it. 

Brian: Well if my Polanco breakout pick comes true, he's probably out of here. But the other clear pick is Adam Frazier. I honestly have no idea how he wasn't traded during the offseason firesale, but if he can even somewhat carry his hot spring into the season, that will turn out to be a wise choice. 

Jim: I think there are a lot of good candidates: Trevor Cahill, Richard Rodriguez, Adam Frazier, and Gregory Polanco all seem to be pretty good guesses. 

Dillon: Say goodbye to Tyler Anderson, Adam Frazier, and Richard Rodriguez.

Matt: Now that it turns out Todd Frazier is sticking around -- which I like, since he always seemed fun to watch when he was tearing up the Pirates -- I think I'll go with him. Like you say, there's not much left on the ol' Pirates ship to deal.

Aaron: Josh Bell’s departure to the Nationals bummed me out, but then again the 2020 season was just a baseball shipwreck in a global quagmire. My wife and I got to see Bell in spring training in 2017, before he’d played much in the bigs, and I was hoping that he’d be around for years with the club, and that I could tell the story to my kids. Yeah, your mom and I saw that dude play when he was just starting out. But he’s gone, gone.

I don’t know if it will be a trade, but Polanco will be gone soon too. The Pirates aren’t going to pay him $12.5 million next year to lead the team in strikeouts. (They might.)

The Moose:  Adam Frazier 


7. Finally, what do you think the Pirates record will be, and what place will they finish in the National League central division?

Bob: Pirates will be 62-100 but that would be made more palatable IF they can develop a core beyond Hayes…

Rich: 69 -93, Fourth in the division.

Josh: 67-95. I do not think they lose 100 games. They will be bad though, and they will definitely finish last in the division. Most likely they finish in the bottom five of MLB. 

Brian: The last over-under I saw is 58.5. I have seen many people call that way too low - but let me remind these people that this team played at a 51-win pace, and the roster got worse, not better. I love the direction they have taken and the commitment to acquiring prospects, but this year is still going to be extremely ugly. There are a few things to be optimistic about - Hayes, potential bounce-backs from a couple of guys (Reynolds/Newman in particular), I really like Anthony Alford, and am excited to hopefully see some of these new young guys get some run .... plus, I do *somewhat* buy that last year was just so bad that they have to be a *little* better....but a little better still means 100 losses. 62-100.

Jim: This team is bad. 54-108, 5th place. 

Dillon: The Pirates will win a generous 66 games, good for last place. Next year! 

Matt: I think they'll go 65-97 and finish DFL (dead-freaking last) in the National League Central.

Aaron: My first real memory of watching a Pirates game was also my first visit to a bar. I was six, and we were visiting Pittsburgh, and my dad took us to a dark dive to meet the owner. They’d grown up together. There was a small television in the corner of the room broadcasting a day game from Three Rivers Stadium, and I watched a few innings. At the time the game was still new to me, and I wondered about things like why batters choked up high on the bat or why the ump would roll a clean baseball toward the mound after a final put-out. When I’d see a player bounce a liner off the right field wall and then slide safely into second I would say to myself, “That was a double.” I remember the Pirates’ white jerseys and their shiny yellow helmets. I recognized Jim Bibby’s name from a pennant my brother had hanging on his wall. Jim Bibby was the first Pirate to let me down. 

The Pirates are going to lose 95 games this year and end up in the cellar. Garrit Cole is going to win the Cy Young for the Yankees, and we’ll watch him in the playoffs and think bitter thoughts. Let’s go Bucs!

The Moose: They will probably do a little bit better. I will say 87- 75 and 2nd place.

So who will get the most predictions correct? I guess we'll find out in October. Please feel free to leave your own predictions in the comments section below.

In case you're wondering, I decided not to participate because I felt like I was taking other people's predictions. Besides, I'm kicking myself for not having any questions related to the Cole Tucker-Vanessa Hudgens relationship. What a missed opportunity! 

Ke'Bryan Hayes photo by Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images. The Tucker-Hudgens photo is from Vanessa's Instagram. (Vanessa and I are on a first name basis!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

One Year With A Car

People have remembered the one year “anniversary” of the pandemic and the start of things shutting down in many ways. Maybe by counting the number of days kids have been in (or out of) school. Perhaps by the last time you attended a live sporting event or concert. For me, there are two ways that I count the time. The first is my dad passing away. The second is getting a new car.

Back in 2017, I got in an accident, and the insurance company determined that it made more sense to send me a check rather than put money into repairing a 14 year old car. With a third child on the way, we decided to lease a Honda Odyssey. The car was what we needed, but we also didn’t want to spend the amount it would have cost to purchase the vehicle. Fast forward to March 2020. The lease was ending, and I definitely didn’t feel comfortable visiting multiple dealerships to search for a new car. Plus, not knowing what the future would hold, leasing again seemed like a good option for us. So after contacting dealerships online and by phone, we settled on another Honda Odyssey at a location near us. I did a quick test drive, filled out the paperwork (which was not as quick), exchanged the Hondas, and brought home a new car.

(This is a stock photo. Our car hasn't been close to an ocean.)

One year later, we have about 2,300 miles on it. As a comparison, my dad and I drove more than that in one week going from Pittsburgh to San Diego for my job after college. Several months ago, I calculated the amount of money we have paid for the car between the down payment and the monthly payments per mile driven. Even without including insurance payments and getting gas, this was not a fun exercise.

The silver lining to all of us this is there is little chance that we'll exceed the 36,000 miles on the three-year lease!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Search For Cat Food

Ziggy eats Meow Mix's Seafood Favorites wet food each morning and has had this since he was a kitten. I should probably mention that Meow Mix is not sponsoring this post or this blog. If the fine folks at Meow Mix would like to be a sponsor or send me free food or even coupons, hi! Anyway, I used to buy a 12-pack at Target, but they stopped selling it several years ago. If I only need to get a box or two, I buy Ziggy's food at Wegmans for $5.99, but Walmart sells it for less, so I've ordered online through them in the last few years. With Ziggy low on his food, I went to Walmart's website only to discover that it wasn't available for shipping. Instead, I could drive to the store about 30 minutes away to buy the only three boxes in stock. Pass.

I looked on Amazon, but the price was $7.99 a box. Hard pass. 

Thanks to an online search, I found that Kroger seemed like the best option. Sure, the nearest Kroger is hundreds of miles away, but they deliver. Who knew? I registered for an account and was all set to buy through them, but I could only buy a maximum of four boxes. Sure, four boxes is fine for Ziggy but not enough to qualify for free shipping. Goodbye Kroger. See you when I visit Columbus, Ohio in fall 2022.

Finally, I discovered and settled on Chewy. Did you know that Chewy's mission is to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere? Now you know. By the way, I cannot spell convenient without using spell check. While I should probably mention that Chewy is not sponsoring this post or this blog, if the fine folks at Chewy would like to be a sponsor or send me free food or even coupons, hi! Anyway, there is free shipping on orders over $49, so I bought 9 boxes at $5.76. Ziggy is going to be set for months! Oh, for all of the time I spent searching for food, I saved a whopping $2.07. And I got to write a blog post about this entire experience, so the savings and value are priceless!

It's blog posts like this one that make Damon Young, Gene Collier, Merecedes J. Williams, Natalie Bencivenga, and Tony Norman feel comfortable knowing that I have no chance and no reason to win Pittsburgh Magazine's Best of the 'Burgh!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Random Ramblings: March 2021

* While I'm happy that more and more people are getting vaccines, I'll admit that I'm getting a little jealous of seeing people my age and younger getting vaccinated. I realize that I'm in decent health without any underlying medical conditions, and I don't work in a medical profession or any other job that would qualify as an essential worker, but I'd still like to get vaccinated sooner rather than later. I'm hoping for May or June.

* With Passover coming up, a catering company offered all types of meals and side dishes. When I saw that they have a Kosher for Passover brisket meal serving 6 for $40, I jumped at it thinking it was an incredible deal. About a week after submitting the order, the catering company contacted me after noticing that I only ordered 1 meal when the minimum order was 6. That $40 was actually $40 per person, which makes complete sense now. After learning that I would need to spend $240 for this meal, with little chance that my kids would eat much of this (and the fact that it's $240!), I revised the order and went off the a la carte menu.

* Although I have not worked as a soccer referee since November 2019, I continue to receive constant emails looking for refs to work games. I'm planning on taking the spring season off (see the not vaccinated thing above), so it might be nearly two years between working games. I think that I'm a pretty good ref, but I'm definitely going to need to brush up on the laws of the game when I return. Starting with some lower-level kids games might be a good way to start too rather than working adult games. 

* My 4th grader and 1st grader recently returned to school two days a week. With only my 3 year old at home on these days, I thought that I might be able to get a lot more work done. That has not happened. Apparently, he likes the one-on-one attention that he's rarely had over the last year.

* Once again, I'm happy that I didn't put any money on the NCAA Tournament. I fill out brackets for fun, but learned years ago that I'm just throwing away money in any pay polls. While I completed several brackets, I had Illinois getting to the championship or winning in most of them and also had Ohio State going far. I chose poorly.

* Finally, thanks to my family and friends for nominating me for Pittsburgh Magazine's 2021 Best of The 'Burgh in the local writer category. I'm a finalist up against these accomplished individuals: 

Damon Young, author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (which is a finalist for the Thurber House for American Humor) and co-founder and editor in chief of VerySmartBrothas.

Gene Collier - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist who I read growing up. He's also received a few Pulitzer Prize nominations.

Merecedes J. Williams - She's the owner and operator of Movie Scene Queen and writes for the New Pittsburgh Courier 

Natalie Bencivenga - Syndicated advice columnist who is also a Public Relations Strategist for Savvy Pittsburgh

Tony Norman - Award-winning columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

You're certainly welcome to vote for me, but this is truly a case where it's an honor being nominated. While I enjoy writing this blog, I'm clearly a distant sixth in this group.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hooray For The Stimulus

We received our stimulus payment yesterday. It was a St. Patrick's Day miracle! While we haven't figured out what to do with all of the money yet, I'm leaning towards flying to Vegas, hitting the clubs, and getting bottle service. Either that or paying off debt and putting money into the kids' college funds. It's a close call. 

I'm not an economist, but I'm going to try to play one on the internet today. The front page of Sunday's Washington Post featured this article titled "What used cars tell us about the risk of too much inflation hitting the economy." The authors Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam describe the demand for used cars and how prices increased significantly last year. Of course, the article is about more than used cars. This is the third paragraph of the story:

What's happened at places like Deal Depot and other dealers shows why some top economists and Wall Street investors are concerned that the $1.9 trillion stimulus President Biden signed into law last week could spur a risky cycle of rising prices across the whole economy.

I'm not old enough to remember the high inflation that occurred in the US during the late 1970s, but for some people 50 and over, this is a real concern. However, let's take a step back. The last year has been really difficult for a lot of people. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics information, the unemployment rate is 6.2%. While this seems pretty good, especially since this rate was more than double nearly 12 months ago, in February 2021, 13.3 million people reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic. In addition, food insecurity is still impacting way too many people. Just doing a quick news search, I found articles published in the last week about food insecurity up 38% in Monroe County, NY (where Rochester is located), the Maryland Food Bank distributing 61 million pounds of food over the last year compared to 32 million pounds the year before, and the Missoula, Montana food bank serving 20% more individuals than the previous year. So let's hold your horses on the inflation talk. (Yes, I wrote hold your horses!) 

Many people receiving this stimulus really need it for things like food, rent, and clothing. And yes, some people may use the stimulus money on used cars because they don't have reliable transportation or don't want to put the money into repairs for their current vehicles. I'm guessing that a lot of people who purchase used cars will utilize them to get to and from work.  

I'm curious what these top economists and Wall Street investors cited in the paragraph quoted above thought about the tax cuts during the Trump administration. Were they concerned about rising prices? Or did they think that trickle-down economics would help those who need the stimulus money the most now (even though it never does)?

Overall, I'm not worried about inflation. Yes, gas prices are going up, but it seems to me that this has a lot to do with increased demand as people are driving more and Texas being out of commission for part of February. Besides, my stimulus money will more than pay for the cost of a few more fill-ups at the gas station. Plus, I feel even better about the stimulus thanks to Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. He celebrated its passage by tweeting "Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief. This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll." I mean, sure he voted against it, but even he sees it as a good thing. 

Photo by Tony Tran.

Monday, March 15, 2021

My Life in Pictures: March 2021

My first grader (Pedro Tulo) returned to in-person school for the first time in exactly a year last week. Half the class goes to school two days a week while the other half are on the computer, and then they switch for the other two days. Teachers deserve so much credit for teaching kids in person and online at the same time. The Moose goes back to fourth grade for two days this week. Meanwhile, I'm still juggling being home with the kids, including the continued attempt to get Luigi potty trained, and working from home. With everything going on, I thought I would share some pictures from the last few weeks.

If you're looking for a DJ for a special event after the pandemic ends, Ziggy is available!

With some warmer weather, we returned to our hiking spot that we discovered last summer. A tree on the ground just looks cool.

My wife bought a water bottle to help track how much water she drinks each day. It's supposed to be motivating, but I'm just annoyed and appalled by the grammar. Were instead of we're! Your instead of you're! Vamonos is spelled wrong too. Did no one check this?

C'mon person in my neighborhood. I'm glad that you cleaned up after your dog, but it's poor form to leave the bag on the ground.

I have read exactly zero books (I'm not including books I read to my kids) since the pandemic started last March. I decided that this had to change. Two authors that I like published new books, so I bought them from an independent bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. Feel free to start singing "Uptown Funk." Anyway, I started "The Big Door Prize," and even though it's taken me 3-4 weeks to read 70 pages, it's nice to read for myself again.

Finally, Luigi has discovered that he can take pictures with my phone. Here are some highlights:

Monday, March 01, 2021

Potty Training

I feel like I'm spending much of my time in the bathroom these days. No, I'm not bringing back any TMI Thursday posts about bathroom stories from my younger days. This is about potty training three year old Luigi. I searched through my archives to see if I wrote about potty training my older boys. This blog is over 16 years old now, so of course I did! In December 2014, I shared my frustration that The Moose (then 3 and a half) continued to have accidents many days. It looked like we started earlier with Pedro Tulo who was still two when we went into full potty training mode with him (though he had some setbacks after Luigi was born).

What helped during potty training for them was that we and they had the support and encouragement of their preschool teachers. There may have even been some peer pressure from their classmates. Nearly as important is that we weren't the ones reminding the boys to use the bathroom (or cleaning up the accidents) from about 7:30-4:30 each weekday. 

So here's the story of Luigi. He's nearly three and a half and has been home with us for almost a year now. He's had no interest in using the toilet, but we haven't pushed him on it either, primarily since we don't (or didn't) have time to take him. During the week, I try to make sure that The Moose and Pedro Tulo are doing what they need to do for school all while making sure that Luigi is content and attempting to do my own job. There are certainly times when I just hand Luigi the iPad and let him watch Peppa Pig or whatever else he finds on YouTube. However, over Presidents Day weekend, which was only two weeks ago, but seems like months ago, we decided that it was time. We put Luigi in Sesame Street underwear and took him to the bathroom every 15-20 minutes or so. Initially, there were mixed results where some days went fine and others did not. There were definitely some accidents especially in the #2 variety. 

Just over two weeks later, I can share that he's doing pretty well. I don't think he's had an accident in 4 or 5 days now. Yes, I know that I'm totally jinxing things, and he'll have an accident immediately after this post is published. The problem is that he doesn't tell us when he needs to go. We just place him on the toilet and either he goes or doesn't. This repeats every 20-60 minutes or so. (We've learned that we need to take him more depending on how much he drinks. I know that this sounds obvious, but there's definitely a science to this.)

What's amazing is that I've completely blocked out potty training The Moose and Pedro Tulo. I have little recollection of this process with them at all! Meanwhile, I find that either Luigi is incapable of taking his pants off and going on the toilet himself or (more likely) he just lets us take care of this. This kid is so spoiled. He's also getting rewarded nicely, especially during the first few days, with M&Ms, Skittles, and even stuffed animals for successfully using the bathroom. 

Even though I've been with Luigi nearly 24/7 over the last 12 months, this has been additional bonding time and seemingly rare 1-on-1 time. He's really a really funny kid. For example, he'll intentionally press the wrong button on Busy Noisy School, probably his favorite book while sitting on the toilet, just for laughs.

With that written, I really hope that he can just walk to the bathroom and take care of business on his own soon. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

NHL Outdoor Game Ideas

The NHL played two outdoor games over the weekend at Lake Tahoe. While the league has held outdoor games in stadiums for over a decade now, these games were unique in that there were essentially no fans. The league put a hockey rink right next to Lake Tahoe with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. It was absolutely beautiful. I mean, sure the Saturday game ended up being delayed after the first period due to the sun melting the ice, but I think the NHL should consider playing games in unique locations in the future, even without fans.

Here are some ideas the NHL should consider. 

+ Since I'm from Pittsburgh, Point State Park was the first place I thought of when I came up with the idea for this post. Every television broadcast from Pittsburgh always shows the confluence where the Allegheny River and Monongahela meet to form  the Ohio River. Now you can have a game right there!

+ Central Park in New York City. I asked my friend and hockey road trip partner Christian his thoughts on this question, and he suggested other places in New York, which sound even cooler. "The rink could go in Battery Park which is all the way downtown. View of the WTC as well as the Statue of Liberty. 

Oh, and on that note. Do the game on Governors Island. There’s a massive field in the middle. Would have a great view of the Verrazano bridge, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan. And best, it’s on an island. The NHL could easily control the people who are on the island. In fact, I bet a lot of cities have islands that have great views. That could be kind of epic."

+ My first thought of having a game in the Bay Area was on the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure, that would seriously mess up traffic for days, but think of the views! However, after Christian's island idea, the clear answer is Alcatraz. (This video is not suitable for work, but go to 2:07 of the video to avoid the R-rated language and get to the money line.)

+ Play the game on an actual lake. Since Lake Tahoe isn't frozen, pick one that actually is for a January or February game. Lake Placid.* Lake Michigan. Lake Erie. Great Bear Lake. Any of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. Just find one that works.

+ Convert a Maid of the Mist boat at Niagara Falls into a hockey rink. Amazing views plus you get the bonus of seeing a game played on a moving surface (the boat will be on the water, not docked!) and you get the mist from the falls creating poor visibility for the goalies.

+ The National Mall in Washington. I see two options here. One is building a rink between the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol, and the other is on the reflecting pool itself. For the second option, immediately after the national anthem, have Robin Wright come on the ice and yell Forrest.

+ The Grand Canyon. There must be a valley with enough space to put a rink. 

+ Under The Gateway Arch in St. Louis. 

+ Outside the CN Tower in Toronto or the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago.

+ Long Pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia. If this is the first place hockey was played, play an NHL game here!

+ Next to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. And by next to, I mean play the game on Mount Lee for the first ever game played at a significant angle!

+ Yellowstone National Park. Build the rink with the Old Faithful geyser in the middle. Who wouldn't want to see Tom Wilson get shot up into the air in the second period?

I could probably keep going, but if you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.

* Although this post is about outdoor games, why hasn't the NHL had an indoor game in Lake Placid? There is no place more famous for hockey in the United States than Lake Placid. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Thierry Henry In a Pirates Hat?

ESPN UK posted a video of CF Montreal manager Thierry Henry mic'd up during a match. There are rumors that Henry, who I saw play when he was on the NewYork Red Bulls, will be the next manager of Bournemouth, a British Championship club that was relegated from the Premier League last season.

The point of this post is from the title. Is Thierry Henry wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates hat during the match?

I don't know of any connection between Henry and the Pirates though perhaps it's an homage to Roberto Clemente who played minor league baseball in Montreal. Maybe. Go Bucs!