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Making Peace and “Accepting”

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About two months ago, I got a panicked call from my father’s partner in Florida. A cough he’d had for a few months finally forced him to go to the doctor, where tests revealed a large mass in his lung. Cancer. He’ll be 83 this August.

Back at home in North Carolina, further testing put him at a borderline Stage 3A/3B, which means it’s treatable, but just barely, and the long term prognosis is generally not good at all.

A month and a half into his treatments, they had to go in and remove fluid from his lungs and this revealed pleural effusion, which is untreatable. They’ve given him 4-6 months.

It’s a hard thing going from an expectation of having a couple of years, to just a few months. No one is prepared for it. Not him, not me. We’re all sort of lost right now.

Being 3.5 hours away makes it difficult to say the least. You want to be with them, even if you know it’s going to be awkward as hell just sitting around staring at each other. He’s very weak already, so “doing” anything is mostly out of the question. And you want to constantly check on them, but when you hardly ever talked to begin with, calling now is just awkward.

His partner is old herself and frankly, not coping well mentally. Over the past 10 years they’ve been together, her “northern ways” have alienated pretty much everyone in the family. I have done my best to ignore her antics, and the fact that, because he’s taking care of her every need, he’s only come to my house once. Once–in the last 10 years.

Since his terminal diagnosis, I’ve been up to her house a couple of times. Neither times has been pleasant, as I’d already evoked, “You’re not his wife” on the phone once in frustration, and been subsequently hung up on.

Despite being his only real kin from a “nuclear family” standpoint, she has insisted on being his sole caregiver, even (in my opinion) having the audacity to insist she be listed first on his Advanced Directive.

But, in the spirit of “it’s about him” and “not about us,” I let that too pass.

Almost…

I was visiting my father a couple of months ago, going over his “vast holdings” (and I say that sarcastically). It came up that, he owned a pad in an RV park in Florida. It is right next to the one she owns, upon which her $250K RV sits all year. During the conversation, it came up that my father was going to sell her his lot. Great. I had no issue with that. And then she said, “Well, I think he should give it to me. All these years I’ve paid for the house he lives in, and the vacations and I’ve never asked him for nothing.”

I probably should have taken a breath before speaking, but I’m me, so instead, I said, “Wait, you got upset at me for saying you weren’t his wife, but now you want to treat him like someone you just met on the street and say that he owes you for him living with you and literally driving you everywhere, and taking care of everything for the last ten years? If you were married, you wouldn’t be saying this. So which is it?”

I left; time passed.

I got a call from the manager at the RV park, saying he’d gotten an email from my father’s “girlfriend” that said he was “giving” her the property. I immediately called my father who said that was untrue.

Now, to clarify, at one point, she was worth several million dollars. I doubt even she knows her net worth at this point, but it’s at least north of $2M and probably more. So why she was insisting my father give her anything, riled me.

At any rate, I went back up again a few weeks back because, SURPRISE!, my father didn’t have a Will. He apparently thought that he could just tell someone what he wanted and it would magically happen. And despite repeated attempts, he would NOT do anything legally himself. So, I went up with a prepared Will, and had a Notary coming by the house. It was all planned out.

It took about 30 minutes for the fit to hit the shan. Long story short, I completely shattered “her” world and told her what I thought of her.

I’ve since been asked not to come back, as has the only other member of the family who might help them.

I’m not looking for sympathy here. In fact, if there’s anything I hope people take from stories like this, it is this: Don’t wait. Don’t wait until you are sick to do all the legal things you should do to make your passing easy on those who love you. If you wait, anything they do to help you prepare, is going to be viewed by you (the dying one) as materialistic and greedy. As a parent, you should already have your loved ones’ best at heart. They shouldn’t have to make sure you have a Will, and make sure you have an Advanced Directive. Be an adult and do these things BEFORE you’re too sick to care.

I won’t be going back to her house unless it’s to clean out his things, either while he’s still alive, or after he passes. And if it’s the latter, I suspect I’ll have to get the Sheriff involved, but that’s fine.

When your parents get old (and you do too) you realize they are just people. They aren’t perfect; they have problems just like everyone else. And they have made, and will continue to make, bad decisions. Some, more damaging than others.

I love my dad. Really, he’s the only “original family” I have left that I care about. Nothing that happens between now and 4-6 months from now will change that. It’s just a shame we can’t spend time together.

 

 

 

 

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An Open Letter to Youth Sports Organizers Everywhere

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My kids are now 14, 11 and 8. And they all have played, and continue to, sports in our town’s youth programs. With the exception of my daughter’s soccer, all of the other sports are coached by parents–usually dads, with a mom every now and then.

The first season or two when my oldest son played, it became clear that some of the parents didn’t have sports backgrounds, or were just in it so that their own kid didn’t get stuck playing defense all the time, or didn’t get stuck in the outfield where no balls every dared.

So I have coached my share of sports: soccer, flag football, baseball, and basketball. And I’ve coached “Rec,” which means that everyone who comes out, plays, even if they have zero athletic ability or interest. And I have coached, “Select,” which is better, because you actually get to draft a good better team.

But every season, as the tryouts or drafts draw near, our local Rec organizers send out pitiful email about needing coaches and they make sure to remind us that without more volunteer coaches, teams will be large and kids won’t get much playtime. For those of us with kids who are actually good, the thought of having to play with kids who are not, but who also get equally mandatory play time, is just defeating.

So, more often than not, I find myself volunteering to coach (again). A couple of years ago I coached basketball and I swore, “Never again.” But, this past winter the call for coaches came down and once again I found myself volunteering. It went, as expected.

We played 5×5. I had 8 kids on my team. There was a draft, but it was a draft of all the kids who came out. So, your first pick was usually your own kid, since most of us coaches had kids who were good players, and so they were ranked high and therefore our “First Round Draft Pick.”

It quickly went downhill from there. By the time you’re on the 4th round, you’re having to pick from kids you had ranked at tryouts as piddling at best and your only goal was to get someone who could at least take instruction and had some little bit of athletic ability.

I ended up with:

  • My son (first round), who is fast and a decent shooter, though when he’s rushed, his shooting percentage goes out the window.
  • Another good player (second round), who was big and aggressive, but as the year progressed, he just wouldn’t shoot.
  • An athletic and quick kid from my son’s football team. By this time in the draft the choices were slim and I had to pick kids I didn’t know who “might” be good, or kids I did know who I at least knew were coachable. As it turns out, this pick was good on “D” but only made two baskets all season
  • One other kid (4th round) who was very athletic, but who missed the first two weeks of practice due to LaCross. And then missed several more practices and a couple of games. He was a non-factor.
  • One surprise pick up (5th round) who ended up being my overall 3rd best player. He wasn’t a shooter, but he was hell on defense!
  • My 6th-8th picks were “hat picks,” meaning, by this time in the draft, no one wanted to “pick” anyone, so we literally put their names in hats and you got what you got. Unsurprisingly, they were not good players. One of mine was always late, spilled his water on the floor during games almost weekly, and asked me ridiculous questions, almost nonstop.

We had a decent year. We started out 4-0 and then just sort of unraveled ending up I think either right at 500, or slightly below it. I had two kids who could shoot and that was it. It’s hard to win that way. But it is what it is.

I was so frustrated by the end of the season that I drafted an email to the league, which I never sent. I’ve been pretty vocal in the past and I paused before sending this to make sure I wasn’t just being petty; and then I just never sent it.

In retrospect, I don’t think it’s petty. But, I also don’t think they care. That said, if you’re in a position of running a youth sport in your community, and you rely on volunteer coaches; this is something you should read:

Dear [league organizer],

Not knowing what opportunity we will have to provide feedback in the post-season, I would like to offer some thoughts based on this season.

To start, 8 kids is too many. Most of mine showed up for every game, so I had three kids on the bench most of the time. It’s especially too many when some teams get 2 hat picks—3 really if you consider the final round of actual coach picks, a hat pick, which it pretty much is. This means that at any given time, I have at least one kid on the court who literally has no idea what he’s doing and usually another kid who rarely comes to practices. That means I have two kids on the court at all times that have no clue what’s going on.  Forget about trying to run a play.

Maybe not all coaches had this issue, but I had a kid with obvious behavioral problems that I was constantly having to deal with both on the court and on the bench, but he came to every game. Couple the above with the playtime restrictions and how complicated it is to sanction kids who don’t show up for practices, but show up for games, and you really make it not fun for coaches.

Now I know the argument here is that it’s Rec ball and it’s supposed to be fun and non-competitive and open to everyone. But the reality is that you’ve got some really good players out there and coaches—like myself—who put in a minimum of 8 hours a week prepping for practices and games and playing them. These players, their parents, and us coaches take it seriously, and we all should. Anything worth doing, is worth doing well. But it’s a disservice to all parties when coaches are forced to play kids who never show up for practices, alongside—and at nearly equal playing times—kids who want to be out there and who have put in the work. The process for documenting and dealing with these kinds of issues are ridiculously onerous and frankly, it puts the coaches in a horrible place with parents, rather than the league taking up the issue and dealing with it.

I’ve coached every sport my kids have played in Roswell: soccer, football, basketball and baseball. Every year the Rec sends out messages pleading for coaches and every year, moms and dads step up. But it feels like the love goes right out the door the moment you get your team. I’ve sent requests for things this year that went unanswered for weeks. On top of that, we had tournament brackets released at the last minute (I know you were waiting on some older kids’ games to finish, but our age group was done on Monday, and we didn’t get the standings until Thursday, the day of the tournament) with seemingly no respect for the fact that in addition to coaching, most of us have full time jobs, plus other kids playing sports, etc.

Once the season starts, it’s parents first and coaches last—one of the league’s members even said that in the coaches’ meeting. And I’m sorry, but that’s wrong. Without the parents who step up, there would be no teams, plain and simple.”

There. I said it. Time to move on.

Building a Backyard Batting Cage

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A couple of months ago, my oldest casually mentioned in a Thank You letter to his grandpa, that he was saving up for a “batting cage,” (wait…wha?) and that the money they sent him for his birthday was going to that.

Now, I’m certain he made that up, having neither had that conversation with his mom or I, and having no idea how much room they take up or how expensive they are. But before I knew it, I had in my grubby little hands, a check from said grandpa. A very generous check to be sure, but not near enough to buy a pre-built batting cage large enough for two Big Leaguers.

And thus did my adventure to build a backyard batting cage begin. Like all great adventures, it began with painstaking research into batting cage. Should I buy a kit with everything you see here necessary to build a cage, or should I buy the pieces a la cart? There are pros and cons to both and I’ll outline them here:

A Kit Cage:
Pros:

  • It’s all there
  • Yeah, that’s pretty much the main benefit and it’s a biggie.

Cons:

  • Unless you can afford to spend upwards of $2,500, you’re going to get something sub-par. To keep costs down, most manufacturers give you a lower quality net since generally speaking the frame poles have to be of such and such quality .

DIY Cage:
Pros:

  • Less expensive probably by at least a 1/3
  • Yeah, that’s pretty much the main benefit and it’s a biggie (see what I did there?)

Cons:

  • Good luck finding one vendor who sells everything at the lowest price. What you’ll find is that one vendor sells the net cheaper, but their connectors are more expensive, etc.
  • You will need to find, purchase and transport the frame poles yourself. Yes, your local DIY megamart may have them, but I’m in Atlanta and the closest HD or Lowe’s that had them was about an hour away.

Being frugal and trying to stretch the funds from grandpa, I spent days finding all of the things necessary to build a batting cage. Some of it I got off Amazon.com, but most of it was just random suppliers both online and locally. Here’s a list of everything you’re going to need and you’ll see that it’s much more than just a net and poles. I’ve included links to the products I purchased and as of right now, they are the cheapest, for the same quality, that I could find (and I’m not getting paid for this…hint hint…)

  • A quality net. Many online vendors sell a #21 weight net with their cages, which is probably fine if you’re not sure your kid will play ball more than a couple of years. If you have a real player, you’ll want to upgrade to at least #36
  • Galvanized frame poles. Some people use PVC pipes, but I think you really need galvanized “Top Rail” fence poles, either in 1 3/8 or 1 5/8 inch. A 45′ net made of #36 material is only about 60lbs, so you don’t need a super duty frame. I found my poles at a local fence supply company at about $4 cheaper per pole than the DIY megamart. Course…I had a truck to transport them home so that saved some $$.
  • Frame connectors. Here’s where you need to be careful. Many vendors sell these in “kits” based on the size of your cage, but what some don’t consider is how your frame is designed. For instance, I bought a kit designed for 40-45′ cages (mine is 45′). But they assumed I was building my frame using 15′ poles, so I only needed “x” number of 4-way connectors. But not so! I can’t transport 15′ poles in my truck, so i bought 10.5′ poles, which necessitated two additional 4-way connectors (which I’m still waiting on!). You also need 3-way connectors for the frames on each end.
  • Don’t forget about “anchors” because you don’t want your nice, new net blowing away. There are several ways you can go about this. You can pour concrete footings and stick your poles in there, but that’s really permanent. Optionally, you can purchase tie downs and that clamp to your frame bolts. You can also purchase anchors that you nail into the ground and then stick your poles into.
  • A tensioning kit that includes wire to string up along your frame to keep your net from sagging.

OK, so you have a net and frame, so you’re done right? Nope. You also still need:

  • A home plate so you can reference where to pitch to
  • An L-Screen to protect yourself from  your 14-year old when he’s hitting balls back at you in a 10×10 foot tunnel
  • A backstop so that you don’t put holes in your net from plunking junk pitches at the batter
  • You’ll probably want to put down some kind of ricochet dampening mulch to keep balls from popping back up and killing you.

All told, I’m in for probably $600 more than expected and after more than a month after I started down this path, the cage still isn’t built. But, once it’s up, it’s up and we won’t have to drag out to the local park and hope no one is in the cage.

If you’re looking to build a backyard batting cage, I hope this helps.

batting cage diagram

The Unrealized Hope of the Millennial Generation

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I’m no spring chicken anymore. I mean, I’m not a youngster, but in the workplace, I have almost 25 years under my  belt. Those of us who have been working for that long have seen changes come and go in corporate America–mostly go–but few changes have seemed as optimistic as the promise of “A New Way of Life” as demanded by today’s up and coming Millennials.

What a disappointment that’s been.

I saw an article today on LinkedIn praising the work ethic of the millennial and the first thing that came to mind was, “Well that sort of flies in the face of their demands now doesn’t it?”

For the last few years we’ve heard all about how millennials won’t be slaves to the workplace like boomers and GenXers and how they will demand flexibility and a new breed of “benefits.”

I must confess, I’ve yet to see anything change. In fact, I’m working MORE hours now, for a slower rate of return on my earnings, than I have at any point in the last 25 years (minus my days in the military).

Maybe I’m working for the wrong companies. Truth be told, a healthy number of the “young” people who have started working where I work, spend less than a year there. So maybe I need to join the Clampetts in California and try and get work with some cool, socially conscious startup–if they’ll have me.

Or maybe it’s like the old saying about being a liberal until you get older…and millennials are finally starting to realize that nothing is free, not even that hybrid car they’re so fond of, nor are all of those hip restaurants tucked away in the corner of some cozy NY City alley.

I had high hopes for this up and coming generation and their Brave New World of flexibility and high income, but once again, it looks like success will come from good old plodding, boring, hard work.

Movie Review – “A Very Murray Christmas”

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About this time each year, or maybe a few weeks earlier, I start watching my old favorite Christmas movies; Christmas Vacation, The Ref, and A Christmas Story, to name a few. But, I’m always on the lookout for new ones, and I couldn’t help but notice the promos for Bill Murray’s new Christmas special – “A Very Murray Christmas.”

Now, who doesn’t like Bill Murray? Certainly not I, so when it came out on Netflix on Dec. 4th, I promptly pulled it up and started streaming.

Now I don’t mean for this to be a movie critique, but it kinda is so I’ll just lay it out there.

The movie starts out, seemingly, that Murray has been planning a huge NY Christmas special, only to be upstaged by a major winter storm that prevents pretty much everyone from coming. Left with a dark, empty stage, being televised to untold millions live, Murray tries to kick off the show, but just can’t pull together enough umph to make it work. And here’s but one of the places where you have to suspend your disbelief, or at the very least, try and overlook one of the HUGE plot holes–because apparently, the major network running his live show, has no issues with him just walking off the stage in a childish fit of “this sucks,” and then picking it back up again 20 minutes later. I guess we’re to believe they ran commercials for 20 minutes (it could happen).

In a fit of despair, Murray begins wandering around the hotel and finds Chris Rock and manages to coerce Rock to join him onstage, only to have the power go out and Rock disappear. One of Murray’s producers declares that this “act of God” nullifies the contract requirement for her to be there and she, and others, walk off the set and leave Murray and Co. alone in the dark in a random NY hotel.

So far, so-so good.

Thus begins a halfway decent tour of the hotel running into various B-list stars, some of whom have really decent singing voices, and the middle of the movie is at least interesting, if still a bit weird (These B-list actors aren’t playing themselves in the movie…or are they…one is never quite sure).

But then, Murray passes out and the rest of the movie is a Murray Fantasy(land) of fake snow, candy canes and…Mylie Cyrus in a skimpy Mrs. Clause outfit belting out Christmas carols while showing off her dozen or so arm and side-breast tatts.

I’ve nothing agains tatts, or even Mylie Cyrus for that matter, but was that really the best talent Murray could drum up for his Christmas special?

Needless to say, it was not Murray’s best  efforts, even if you look at it through the lens of “Well, Bill Murray is known for doing wacky things.”

I guess I’ll stick with with the classics next year.

When did charity get so expensive?

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Clarks
I remember when I was growing up, that my parents had a “Christmas Club Account,” which they referenced around this time each year; usually in the context of being thankful they had it to help offset the costs of all the gift-getting.

I’ve always been pretty money-conscious, so I have my own Christmas account and though it always seems to burn up pretty quickly once I start shopping in earnest, there’s always a bit left that I try and use to help someone out during the holiday season.

You may be familiar with Clark Howard–the nationally known radio and television personality known for his frugality. He’s based here in Atlanta and each year he goes from Walmart to Walmart broadcasting on-air, to promote his “Clark’s Kids” holiday charity drive. It’s promoted as your typical “come choose a child to help this Christmas” toy drive.

I’ve tried to get over to the Walmart he’s broadcasting at for a couple of years now, but this year was the first time I’ve really been able to get there. So yesterday, I got the boys out of school early and we headed over to Walmart in hopes of teaching them a bit about “giving” and maybe help a couple of children have a better Christmas.

We arrived at Walmart and sure enough, there’s the local radio broadcast truck outside so at least I knew that we were at the right place at the right time. We headed in and just generally aimed for the balloons near the ceiling cuz, it’s Walmart and it’s pretty big. Arriving at the charity drive, we’re directed a long table filled with sheets of paper, each containing the details of a particular child: name, age, race, and then a list of three items he or she had selected for Christmas.

I encouraged my boys to each look through and select a sheet of someone they wanted to “help” and while they did that, I began to just peruse the sheets. As I did, I noticed a couple of things:

  • The lists were very similar. For instance a “VTech” game thing was a common theme. I asked if the kids were given a list of items to choose from and was told “Yes.”
  • There were some pricey items on the list. I saw a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, bicycles, and other large-ticket items

My own boys came back to me with their lists and on them I saw:

For the 4 year old my youngest son selected:

  • a double-sided whiteboard easel
  • a balance bicycle
  • a little-tykes basketball thing

For the 9 year old my oldest son selected:

  • a Simon game
  • electric scooter (and if you bought a scooter, you were supposed to also buy a helmet)
  • a basketball hoop you mount to your door inside

Let me say here that my expectation was to spend about $50 on each child,  so I asked one of the volunteers how “this” worked; did I just buy a couple of things on the list? She replied that the idea is for you to buy everything on the child’s list, but if you didn’t, it would go back in the pile in hopes someone else would finish it up. No guilt there right?

Now, I won’t bore you with the next 45 minutes we spent walking around, unsuccessfully trying to find the exact items on the list, many of which I was told Walmart didn’t even carry, or me looking at the price of an electric scooter and saying, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. My own kids don’t have an electric scooter.” But we did end up getting (similar gifts since we could find an exact match for most things) all but the most expensive item on each child’s list (they didn’t have the balance bike) and it still came out to $145 total.

I’m happy to have been able to help of course, but the onsite expectation didn’t match the promoted expectation. And who thought this through? If a kid did get a smartphone from someone, who is going to pay for the cell phone plan? Is a balance bicycle really the best use of $60 when they’re likely going to outgrow it in a matter of months? I don’t know…it just felt a bit “thrown together” and I didn’t feel like I was really “helping” someone.

Being a charity run by the Clark Howard foundation, I’m more than a little surprised. For someone so bent on saving money and making every dollar count, this toy drive certainly didn’t live up to what I’ve come to expect from Clark.

Next year I’ll find someone, or an organization, a bit more “need” driven and a lot less “wish” driven.

 

Magic Elves – Season 5 Day 2

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Somewhere between Thanksgiving, and the next day, something magical happens each year in our home. Our “Magic Elves” appear. Santa sends them along on a magical slipstream of wind and snowflakes, to join our family for another season of merriment and mischief.

This is the fifth year.

The fifth.

That means we’ve had to come up with more than 100 clever and unique “things” for the elves to do each night. This is challenging, made moreso by the fact that, unlike the “Elf on the Shelf” our elves are completely soft, so they don’t stay in a pose. You can’t bend their arms and have them stay there. They can’t stand on their own. They literally are, like a sock.

But despite these challenges, we persevere. I’ll try and post some of this year’s exploits here for your enjoyment.

Here’s last night’s. As you can see, the elves created cutouts of minions and stuck their faces and appendages in them. Overall, it was cute, but I’m not sure the kids quite got what was going on here. All they saw was the minion toys and everyone drinking syrup. But hey, cross another one off the list. Only 23 more ideas to come up with.

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