Friday, March 28, 2014

Reading Glasses

It has finally happened.

We swear as teenagers that we’ll never be like our parents.

We scoff at the suggestion that we will ever, in a million years, act like our mothers.

We laugh in the face of anyone who implies we might, in any small way, mirror our own parent’s peculiarities.

Then, as life continues this slow journey along the curves, hills, and bumps of her highway, we find ourselves understanding, small things at first, then larger after we start paying taxes, a mortgage, or have children. We can’t help it. Life forces us to be more like our parents.

I know this. It makes sense. The things I say to my children reflect my own upbringing and I accept that. Actually, as I get older, I embrace it. I figure if I can be half as good a parent as my grandparents then I’ll have something to hang my hat on.

I don’t mind the comments out of my mouth that are starting to sound more like my grandparents. Honestly, I don’t. It’s all part of being a grownup and I get that. I’ve fought those things I don’t like, such as gray hair or surrendering to the idea that one needs to look or act old once they hit 40 (my grandmother’s hair was a dull gray before she even hit 40, shudder!).

No, it’s not sounding like my Grandmother that annoys me. Really, none of it affected me until this week. That’s a lie. MOST of it didn’t bother me until this weekend.

As I sit here typing, finally able to see the screen in bright and amazing clarity, I realize I’ve hit rock bottom (yes, I'm being dramatic).

I had to buy my first pair of reading glasses.

I was DOING IT. And it disgusted me.

I was holding the bottle of Ibuprofin out in front of me, under a light, trying desperately to read the dosage directions for kids under 12. In that moment I knew. I knew because I was making that screwed up, squinty eyed face that makes you look old. I knew because I was moving the bottle back and forth under the light in order to get the best angle, nodding my head up and down. Looking old.

I can’t escape the physical toll age takes on us. None of us can. And it pisses me off.

What pisses me off even more is that I like the reading glasses. They work. I feel like I have a new lease on reading. And adding insult to injury is this. I like the reading glasses more than I hate how they make me look, which is to say: middle aged.

I’m doing those “things” that our parents do. I’m making sure I know where they are. I’m sitting them down on top of the book I’m reading. I’m double checking my purse before walking out the door to make sure I have them in case I need them…because I really do need them. I’m telling the kids “hold on a minute, I need my glasses” before reading something from school. And it’s only been a week!

This isn’t the same as needing prescription eye glasses. No. Even young children need glasses.

Reading glasses are all about age.

I need some time to adjust, to accept that the eyes are only one part of my body that will start to “act up” (for want of a better term….breakdown is far too painful to say). Making this purchase was a huge concession.

As I go through the process, I’m creating a list of “damn glads” in order to help ease the pain. I invite you to join me in copying and pasting these on your bathroom mirror when you purchase YOUR first pair of reading glasses.

1. Be damn glad you aren’t wearing bifocals yet.

2. Be damn glad you live in an era where coloring hair is accepted and emphatically encouraged.

3. Be damn glad you live in an era where working out doesn’t include leg warmers and getting physical; and that you live during a time when women are encouraged to exercise.

4. Be damn glad you live in a time when science has taught us a few things about keeping arthritis and osteoporosis at bay (and wrinkles while we’re at it).

5. If you don’t have any hereditary diseases that are already making your life hell then be damn glad you don’t.

6. Be damn glad reading glasses are available, in cool styles, so that you can pretend like you WANT to wear them cuz they make you look smart.

7. Number 7 is something I keep on every list, every day, because in the end it is most important: Be damn glad you weren’t born in a third world country, where topics such as this blog are frivolous.

I’m still pissed. But blind pissed is far worse than seeing pissed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bracket Breakdown in a Nutshell

It’s not all over....but, let's be honest, it really is. At least for me.

KU bowed out early in the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Now that I’ve had a few days to mourn the end of my favorite season it’s time to go back and look at bracketology 101.

I typically do pretty well with my brackets. There are some tried and true “tells” that I use when making my picks but this year I added something else to the mix: astrology.

My sister-in-law’s aunt Julie, a professional astrologist with oodles of training, worked with me on the “Billion Dollar Bracket” in order to try and combine astrology with basketball stats in order to pick a perfect bracket. We learned a few things in the process.

I won’t share all of the secrets because Julie is going to continue researching her side of the equation, but suffice it to say half of our missed picks were with matchups that we lacked the necessary team information. I give us a pass on these.

There were other picks made because of astrology that ended up being amazingly correct. For instance, we picked Tennessee to win the play in game without batting an eye; and to win their next game as well. On the other hand, we picked Texas to go very far based solely upon their chart. In that particular case, I would never have picked Texas to make it past the second game (I wouldn’t have picked them to win the first game, to be honest; they rarely play well in the tournament). It didn't matter, though, because we were trying something new and different. Something none of the other 15 million contestants were doing.

Astrology led us to pick Providence and George Washington to win their first games. Wrong. But how wrong? Providence played a very close game, leaving us wondering if the astrological readings WERE accurate in that Providence would have a great tournament. By definition, MAKING the tournament and playing so well in the first game is a success for that program. By the same token, it also led us to pick Dayton and Harvard, which were the right choices.

When I look back at the basketball aspects I typically use I found that even without astrology I still would have picked Dayton and Harvard but not G. Washington or Providence.

As for KU? Julie clearly said from the beginning that KU “has nothing” in their chart that would lead her to believe we would make it past the second game. In fact, and this is intriguing, when we reviewed the personal astrological charts of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, she said they would both be flat during the late portion of March. Furthermore, there were specific “tells” in Embiid’s chart indicating some sort of physical problem. This was long before his injury but I remember looking at her and saying “he’s going to get hurt, isn’t he?” Her response was “it leans that way”. Of note is the fact that we didn't look at very many individual players other than KU, mostly because of time constraints.

Now, when we look at the specific factors non-astrologically related that I typically use every year there were additional discrepancies.

I research these particular factors, not always in the same order:

1) Season opponents and the scoring margin between top RPI teams, even if a team loses.

2) Overall scoring margins; close games against tough opponents will lead to me to lean towards a team in the tourney

3) Number of potential NBA draft picks playing on a team

4) Veteran tournament coaches

5) Number of upperclassmen on a team

6) Higher scoring teams

7) Road wins

Here’s an example: Dayton beat Gonzaga early in the season. They lost to Baylor but only by one point. They beat UMass, SLU and George Washington all LATE in the season. Those three teams are in the tournament, hence a lean towards Dayton possibly pulling an upset in the opening round.

Harvard is another good example. They lost to Cincinnati, which has a potential late 2nd round NBA pick on their team in Kirpatrick, early in the season but it was on the road and they only lost by five points. The majority of their conference wins were on the road and they won by a margin of roughly ten points or more in many of those wins. Over half of the Harvard team is composed of Juniors/Seniors and they only have three freshman on the roster. None of these players will be in the NBA.

This is a simple example, but it works over half the time.

This year has been crazy.

Syracuse, with Tyler Enis and Jerami Grant (both potential first round NBA draft picks), is out. So is KU, with the potential 1st & 2nd overall picks and a sure-fire Hall of Fame coach at the helm.

Duke, with another potential 1-3 NBA pick in Jabari Parker and one of the greatest college coaches ever is also out after the first weekend. OSU, with Marcus Smart, out. Indiana has a potential top ten NBA pick and they didn’t even make the tournament.

UCLA, on the other hand, has two potential first round NBA picks on their roster and they are playing in the Sweet Sixteen next weekend. Michigan State, with Gary Harris and Adreian Payne as potential first round drafts and a veteran tournament coach, are also still alive in the tournament. Roy Williams, with only three freshman on the entire roster, is out; John Calipari, who boasts nine freshman four of whom could go pro in the first round, is still in. Wichita State returned almost an entire Final Four team and rolled through this season, undefeated. As a one seed this year, they are done. As a nine seed last year, they were in the Final Four. I personally thought they'd make it to the Championship game based upon the typical factors I look at (Early is a projected #13 draft pick as of today). I'm still shaking my head.

Simply put, I tried this year to set aside any bias and look strictly at statistics. I paid to join “”, which is a candy store for stat wonks. There were studies on defensive and offensive efficiency ratings, coaching records, bracket matchups compared to previous year bracket matchups….and on and on and on. You name it and there is a statistical study that has been done.

So what does all of this mean???? NOTHING. Okay, I take that back. A few things tend to hold true in the end. Nothing higher than an eight seed has ever won the tournament.

The lowest seed to ever make the Elite Eight was Missouri in 2002 as an eleven seed.

Only three ten seeds have ever made the Final Four.

Only seven ten seeds have ever made the Elite Eight and only one nine seed (Wichita State last year) has ever made the Final Four.

An eight seed has only played in the Championship game twice and only won it all once. Let me repeat this: an eight seed has only won the tournament ONCE and nothing lower has ever even played in the Championship Game.

After the dust settles following the first round, the cream does start to rise to the top. The seeds tend to start playing out more clearly. This isn’t the frustrating part of the tournament. It is figuring out the first weekend’s games.

What, in the end, does all of this mean???? For me personally, it’s more of a challenge. My picks this year left me believing that regular season wins are important to study. Looking at the history of teams that traditionally don’t do well in the tournament is also important (see Texas and some of the other Big 12 teams).

In addition, the influx of talented Freshman starters seems to only be a partial factor in success and mid-majors with upper class leadership have an edge when it comes to the stress and pressure of the NCAA tournament. Pay attention, though, with regard to the mid-majors. Veteran leadership makes a difference in the opening weekends; history shows that during the second weekend the seeds play out.

I’m not discounting the astrological factor either; rather, I think it will require far more detailed research on individual players on each team in order to get a better read on how they will do in the tournament. KU showed me this: everything we saw within individual charts outlined clearly a second game loss. Julie didn’t even bat a single lash at this.

In the end, let’s just call it like it is. A total and complete crap shoot.

My advice? Keep picking one seeds to beat 16 seeds. That seems to be clear. Keep picking nine seeds and higher to make it to the Elite Eight. That seems to be clear.

Everything else? Pick a color, mascot, favorite player, or just close your eyes and point to a team on the bracket. You will probably do better than we did this year.

But don’t count us out yet. Julie and I have a year to perfect our strategies. Let’s just hope Warren Buffet likes a good bracket contest again.

And that he has a good underwriter.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Love Affair with Music and Boxing


Brad messes with the radio as we begin running laps. A Disney princess song briefly pops up, compliments of his three daughters. “Oops” he grins at us, mischievously.


I can feel my butt start to jiggle (eh, hum, one of the reasons I am here) and my heart is starting to beat a little faster.

“Bear crawl!”

I like this one; shorter legs make it easier, I think? But I’m feeling tired already and we’ve only been at it for less than fifteen minutes.

“Gloves on and grab a bag!”

As I put on my gloves and pick a bag with no one around me the first strains of Boston start to play. I like it when he plays songs from high school and early college.

“Jab cross!”

And as I hit, I sing the lyrics in my mind.

“I looked out this morning, and the sun was gone….turned on some music to start my day.”

“Jab cross , jab cross hook!”

The music flows over me, and I find myself singing the words between inhaling, between the hits.

“Then lose myself in a familiar song. I closed my eyes, and I slipped away.”

“Jab cross, hook, cross, jab jab!”

This feels good. And as I punch, and breathe, and sing quietly, a rhythm sets in.

“So many people have come and gone. Their faces fade as the years go by. Yet I still recall as I wander on. As clear as the sun in the summer sky.”

“Upper cut, upper cut!”

And I remember. Riding in the back of a hot black Iroc Z-28, Boston blaring over the speakers, a packed car filled with college kids. The music was never better.

“I like this Brad! Brings back fun memories!” The rest of the group laughs between punches.

“More than a feeling...when I hear that old song they used to play. And I begin dreamin’…”

As we move through the workout, the music makes me happy. My arms get tired the longer we punch. The interval squat jumps, jumping jacks and mountain climbers are making me sweat, muscles quiver, but the music keeps playing and my mind wanders, wondering what memories the next tune up will bring back.

Strains of Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil” begin to play.

“Jab cross, slip, jab cross jab!”

Kemper Arena, 1984, David Lee Roth’s flowing hair and wildly flamboyant sword and scarf routine…I remember. Man, what a great concert for a 15 year old from White City.

Breathe, slip, breathe, jab.

“I live my life like there’s no tomorrow…and all I’ve got I had to steal…least I don’t need to beg or borrow…yes, I’m living at a pace that kills.”

The mix of remembering to breathe, getting the combination of hits correct, trying to get my feet in the right rhythm as well, and the beat of the music…the lyrics…the memories are all combining to make this a happy place for me.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t naturally enjoy exercising. This is different. I’ve found something that speaks to me.

But the music makes it. The music brings it all together. Without the music, well, I’d be listening to the pounding of my heart, my panting. That would make me tired. That would make me want to stop.

The music makes me want to keep going.

No way, I whisper to myself, Eddie Money? Seriously? But it works. It really works.

“Waited so long…waited so long….waited so long….waited so long. I’m gonna take you on a trip so far from here…I’ve got two tickets in my pocket, now baby we gonna disappear.”

My mind wanders to the Geico commercials and how ridiculous he seems these days. But not then…and this song is rocking right now.

“Power hits!”

As I pound, thinking about how good the right hook feels, what sounds like Power Station comes on; at least I think it’s Power Station. My mind is slipping as I get older. It doesn’t matter, the beat is still working.

I don’t look at the clock when the melodies are taking me back. That’s a new thing for me as well. To be more interested in the next song, the next set of punches…well, that’s all courtesy of the music and a great instructor.

“Grab a mat!”

We are winding down. Ab work isn’t as hard for me as, say, arm weights, and the final planks always leave me feeling proud, pleased that I showed up.

It doesn’t matter if I came yesterday. It doesn’t matter if I come tomorrow. What matters is that I did it today. Right now. This moment. It is enough.

Love it or hate it, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is a rite of passage for my generation, and as I hear the familiar electric guitar play those opening strains I find myself chuckling softly. My husband would have a fit if he was here.

As it pounds over the speakers, and as my muscles start to scream while holding the final plank, the keyboards are an escape. I focus on them, imagine my hands on the piano, and during those moments of redirection I can draw upon a little more in the tank, just a bit more reserve, because now I don’t want to put a knee down. I don’t want to break the line.

Small victories compared to so many. Big victories compared to others. It doesn’t matter.

The music allows it to be my victory. I wrote this as a reminder to make sure I DO come back.

“It was long ago and it was far away and it was so much better than it is today…it never felt so good it never felt so right….”

Yep. I’ll be back. After I “sleep on it, baby, baby….”

You know the rest.