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Posts from the ‘Sports’ Category

Just because they are awesome: MTN-Qhubeka

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MTN-Qhubeka’s distinctive yellow bikes. (Photo credit: acme59)

We got our son his first bike when he was two. It was a Strider balance bike, a tiny little thing with two wheels and no pedals. It let him get a running start, lift up his feet, and start coasting, fully balanced by momentum, no training wheels needed. I remember taking him out on the Strider on the boardwalk in Long Beach, Long Island. It was winter and all you could see of him as he whizzed past was his big blue coat and flame-streaked helmet. “Is that baby riding a two-wheeler?” Power-walkers scooting by turned their heads.

I have never liked riding bikes myself. I didn’t have the necessary freedom to roam in my neighborhood as a kid; a block or two in every direction there was a major road, Sunrise Highway or Long Beach Road, so I could only ride round and round the block, on the sidewalk, as my grandmother watched nervously from the window. Maybe it was because of these limits I still find the action of cycling difficult;  how do you just let go, let momentum keep you upright on two skinny wheels? How do you find the faith to travel at high speeds without touching the ground?

Nevertheless, I have come to love professional cycling over the years. At first, I found TV broadcasts of the Tour de France soothing, watching the bright colors of the peloton, brazen, jostling, and blazing past staggering mountain slopes, small towns, ancient cobbles, all the way to the Champs Elysees. But the more I watched to see the scenery, the more I got to understand, and enjoy, the sport. Because cyclists have to have complete confidence in themselves, and in their teammates, to get up on two wheels and just go, holding absolutely nothing back.

There is too much to admire in cycling to dismiss it because of its demons, whom I will let lie. For instance: have you ever heard of the professional team MTN-Qhubeka? You should. If you’ve read this far into a post about cycling, you probably have.

MTN-Qhubeka is the first African team to compete at the highest level of cycling, and on Saint Patrick’s Day, they were on the start line of Milan-Sanremo, one of the monument races of the sport, along with all of the European powerhouse teams. Just being at the race was a triumph. And then, they won. Their sprinter and captain, Gerald Ciolek, beat out the world’s best in a thrilling sprint finish. Behind him was a team that was a mix of European veterans and African newcomers, like Songezo Jim (read his blog about racing Milan-Sanremo here).

Songezo Jim @ Milan-Sanremo

Songezo Jim @ Milan-Sanremo (Photo credit: Glory Cycles)

Cycling is not much of a priority on American sports networks, like fishing and cheerleading are. So I found a way to watch Milan-Sanremo online, standing at my computer on the kitchen counter while my kids ran around and my husband, who actually does ride a bike, finished a well-deserved shamrock shake.

Milan-Sanremo is called “La Primavera,” the spring race, and careens over mountains and valleys from Milan to Sanremo on the Italian Riviera, and usually finishes with a blistering dash to the finish, with the sport’s top sprinters playing a game of cat and mouse until that final burst of speed makes one of them the winner. It is a dramatic enough race even on the brightest, green-and-pinkest Italian early spring day.

But while Boston was relatively spring-like that Sunday, the Italian Riviera was being pelted with snow and ice, prompting officials to cancel a mountain climb in the middle of the route and send the ice-covered racers further along the course by bus, like that lady who ran the New York Marathon years ago by subway.

It was pretty nuts, to put it plainly. Dozens of racers, including veterans and stars of the sport, dropped out midway, unable to or not willing to tolerate the intensely harsh conditions. Those who stayed in could barely grip their handlebars, or see through the frozen air that came at them along the way, and struggled to keep upright on the whitening, slickening roads.

But in a way, and I can say this because I watched, hot coffee in hand, from thousands of miles away, as problematic as it was, it was a race represented to me what’s pure about cycling: it’s you, and the elements, come as they may. It’s toughness above all. Any winner would have been deserving of heaps of praise and admiration. But it was extra sweet that the win went to a team that is trying to make it on the world stage, representing a corner of the world where cycling is not quite so in the blood, as it is in the chilly north of Europe.

The Qhubeka in MTN-Qhubeka is a foundation, that provides children across Africa with bicycles in return for service to their communities. According to their website, they have handed over more than 40,000 bikes since they started in 2004. And I know I usually write about whiny toddlers, temper tantrums, and the everyday guff of motherhood in the USA, but I just had to write, that I think this is an amazing thing. These bicycles mean freedom, they mean education, they mean independence. And by winning, and racing, and moving forward, their team, MTN-Qhubeka, is only calling more attention to their important mission, not only by their jersey colors but by the way they race.

In our home here, we are lucky enough to get our kids on bikes, walk them down the road to school, ready with everything they need. We take it for granted. Qhubeka knows that no one should. And school and mobility should not be a luxury, but a right. From their website:

Most of Africa’s rural population have no access to transport and people have to walk long distances to access opportunity, education, healthcare, shops and community services. Rural schoolchildren are particularly badly affected by lack of mobility. In South Africa, of the 16 million school going children, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to and back from school each day. Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem.

Cycling is a great sport because no matter the context, competitive or not, alone, or in teams, in rural Africa or Western cities, it moves people forward [Qhubeka: an Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa) word that means “to carry on”, “to progress”, “to move forward”]. So I want to congratulate MTN-Qhubeka on their success in Milan-Sanremo, and all the other races they enter on the world stage, on moving the sport forward in Africa, on getting young people onto bikes.

They can do it, and my son can do it, and maybe so can I: this spring, now that the snow is receding, I will also get my own bike out of the basement, brush off the cobwebs, and trust myself to find my balance, and lift my feet off the ground.

My bike; the old Robin Hood.

My bike; the old Robin Hood.

My Year in Blogging: Wiggles and Wiggins!

Who are we? How did we get here? These are the ancient, universal questions that all bloggers must seek to answer. If they want more hits on their blogs. Why does my blog exist? I know my parents read it, but who are those so wholly unconnected with me that visit? WordPress was kind enough help me develop a creation myth for Five Uninterrupted Minutes. 

I love the statistics WordPress provides on the people who read this blog (aka my new best friends). And the most fun thing to do when I want to feel like I am blogging, but don’t want to write anything, is to look at the country map on the Stats page, and see where in the world people are clicking on these pages. I like to imagine glowing screens in places like Uruguay, Estonia, Mongolia, and the Maldives, where web-savvy readers gather round to chuckle heartily at my musings on parenthood and things I watch on TV.

Or, more likely: “I searched for X and have no idea how I got here.” Here are some of the actual search terms that have brought people here:

Colorful rugs for preschool in india Can’t help you there, good luck though

Jonathan Crombie is creepy NO HE’S NOT YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY GOT THE WRONG BLOG

What happened to Bob Costas’ face? Too much Botox, I reckon

I have a crush on Gil from Bubble Guppies AGAIN, MOVE ALONG

Is Norman Fireman Sam’s son YES

Aside from a surprising number of queries as to “why do divers use such tiny towels?” – a question I posed during the Olympics (here’s the answer, in case you are one of those people who seeks this information), the number-one topic that people came to Five Uninterrupted Minutes to read about is, according to WordPress Stats: What is up with Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins’ sideburns? Yeah, that. Hilarious/poignant observations on family life? No. Facial hair on some bloke. Who won a bike race.

Bradley Wiggins

Guess those sideburns don’t slow him down: it’s Bradley Wiggins (Photo: Brendan A Ryan)

Bradley Wiggins has quit Twitter, probably because of twits like me that ask these inane questions [But is it really so dumb?]. So I am afraid this one will remain unanswered. Far be it from me to question a knight of the realm. The best answer I can give is to direct you to this interesting documentary about the UK Sports Personality of the Year – Bradley Wiggins: A Year in Yellow from Sky Atlantic.

So to sum up: the top country for blog readership: the USA [where I know the most people], followed by the UK [Wiggo], and right up there at number three is Australia, because apparently there are a lot of people down under who are mystified, hurt, and confused about the Wiggles breaking up. And then they end up here, to read Oh no, I accidentally broke up the Wiggles, my most-viewed blog post of the year. I never set out to write about Australian preschool music, but there you go. Come for the Wiggles information, stay for the essay I wrote about “show-shaming.” Why not?

Most people from Oz got here because of some variation on the search terms “Sam Moran fired” and “Wiggles break up.” So many that, when you Google “Wiggles break up” my essay is the fourth item that comes up. Which is good, I guess? One even came here by typing “Captain Feathersword does not look happy.” Too right.

But sorry to disappoint you, I am not the Yoko Ono of the Wiggles. I did not break them up, by accident or otherwise. But in the spirit of giving the people what they want, I will endeavor to answer some of the burning questions posed to the Google gods.

English: The Wiggles performing at the MCI Cen...

Toot toot, chugga chugga. Later, Sam.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do the Wiggles sing in Greek sometimes? I have wondered that myself. Anthony Field, the last man standing of the original Wiggles line-up, has a wife of Greek descent. Opa.

Does Murray Cook have children? Many people seem to be curious about this. Yes.

Lately, I have had many people seeking news of “anthony field affair.” So maybe there is a Yoko Ono of The Wiggles after all. I can’t speak to the matter, even as a Wiggles Expert (at least according to Google search algorithms). But I can link to stuff, so you need not seek further. Click here for an article. Also, for those who can’t get enough Anthony Field: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Wiggle (via The Australian).

That last article gets extra points for having a good title. And that brings me to an important lesson I’ve learned about blogging from obsessing over WordPress stats: A good title will get you far. Oh no, I accidentally broke up the Wiggles? Lots of hits. An Ode to the Dreamcrusher, my next biggest blog post, which was also Freshly Pressed? Solid title, sweet hits. But Missing Teeth? I like to think it’s a good essay (who wouldn’t want to read about my family’s strange teeth? I mean really!), but the hits there are not quite as sweet. If anyone can think of a better title, I’d be obliged.

The other thing I’ve learned is that writing about topical, newsworthy stuff is obviously better in terms of generating an audience. I wrote a few posts about the Olympics, to good effect. August was my best month of the year for viewers. But the Olympics won’t be back for another year (Sochi 2014!). Dash it all to hell!

So I’ve got a Google news alert going on to let me know when the Wiggles drop some major news bombs. And when they do, oh, I will be there.

I’m still waiting. In the meantime, maybe I can just pepper my essays about children’s books and my strange Italian relatives with words like Super Bowl! and Justin Bieber! and see how that works.

Justin Bieber

Belieb it! (Photo credit: cukuskumir)

This blog is only nine months old. I haven’t been at it even a full year, but blogging has made writing central to my life again. And I am grateful for that. In this time, every connection I’ve made with a reader has been gratifying (My favorite comment of the year? From someone called Johnnyboy: “I’m stoned and I have no idea how I ended up here, but I like your review of Moonrise Kingdom.” Success!). Every time I hit the “Publish” button I feel good. It’s one more thing I wrote that I couldn’t write a year ago, or two years ago, when I felt so blocked. Being here has helped me start writing again after having kids, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and excited to keep going.

Thank you WordPress! And thank you for reading! I am looking forward to Super Bowl! another year of writing Oscar Buzz! and connecting with other writers Kate Middleton! and readers Gangnam Style!

Top five reasons why a new blog post is so very long overdue

It’s been well over a week since I have posted on my blog, and I tell you, it eats at me. I just haven’t found [see blog title]. But really, I have some legitimate excuses, uh, reasons, for not posting in a while. Here are the few of things that have eaten up all of my [see blog title].

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

1) Worrying about Hurricane Sandy. I type this faster and more anxiously as the wind whips up outside, and even though here in Boston we are well away from the center of the storm, school has been cancelled and the T has been shut down, so we are all four at home today. Read: no me time. Just lots and lots of we time. Which is great, great, great, of course. So instead of finishing my next post, which has been sitting in my draft folder for some time now half-finished, I have been drawing Bubble Guppies for T:

And I didn’t win the Art Award in sixth grade because why? No, I’m not bitter.

Daddy is taking charge of C’s homework (brought to you by the letters S and U, cut from magazines), so I have a few minutes on the computer. I’m typing fast. And when the time for the heaviest winds arrives, I’ll close the laptop and start pacing back and forth in front of the TV as Pete Bouchard tries to conceal his excitement about storm surges and gust MPHs and astronomical high tides. These meteorologist guys live for this, don’t they? They rub their hands in glee while we worriers wear pasta pots on our head waiting for the trees to come crashing down upon us.

English: The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d'Hue...

The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez, with Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Haimar Zubeldia, Roberto Laiseka and Joseba Beloki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Everyone else is blaming Lance Armstrong, so why can’t I? As a cycling fan, I have been completely consumed by the stunning revelations about Armstrong’s alleged doping. Of course, when T was asleep and C was at school, I dropped all important chores and tasks to read the 200-page “reasoned decision” published by USADA, as well as the Tyler Hamilton book. I have had Cyclingnews constantly open in my browser. And like many others, I have been dismayed at charges too hard to ignore, and at watching elder statemen of the sport fall one by one. Another day brings another admission of guilt, another tarnished record, another achievement that was too good to be true. I’m not an expert, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about it. So I will leave it to known Mod and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins to say it best:

“It’s a sport I love and have always loved. It’s a shame that cycling is being dragged through this again. It’s not a shame he’s been caught. As you get older, you start to realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. And that was always the case with Lance.”

Bradley Wiggins racing to Gold in London 2012 ...

Wiggins wins the gold in the time trial, London 2012. (Photo credit: EEPaul)

You have to love this guy. I choose to believe Wiggins has never doped, because that’s what he says, but who’s to know for sure? Who can we trust? Ever? It’s sad that I wish Cyclingnews would publish a list of definitively clean riders, so we could have something to hold onto while the sport goes through this wrenching, scorched earth period that it must endure to restore its integrity.

3) Oh yeah, there’s that election. And Halloween.

C’s “master plan” for Halloween. Or the election???

4) We took a trip to NYC to visit my family and take C to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid. Out on the flight deck of the old aircraft carrier, we passed rows of fighter planes with teeth painted on them and helicopters just wide enough for one person; I imagined them flying like whirring envelopes. And there’s the Captain’s bridge where you climb narrow stairs to talk to WWII veterans who were stationed on the Intrepid, and see an officer’s cabin where there’s a calendar from the year the ship was decommissioned (1974) still on the wall.

Beyond all of that, a temporary bubble houses the shuttle. Inside, the Enterprise floats above our heads in a cloud of blue, like that model of a huge, blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as hushed, just as commanding of respect. I wonder how the Enterprise will fare during the storm? It’s been through much more, I suppose.

The glowing ship.

5) Sorry, I had to watch Downton Abbey again. It just had to be done.

Obviously.

There are a million things to do, and there always will be, and they are calling me now. But it still makes me glad to know the blog is there, and I will get back to it in the next few days. But as I write this, the house is shaking; there is a big gust. My heart is beating faster. T will wake up soon. I’ve drawn the shades but I know the branches are bending and leaves are streaking by. I’ll need to start pacing soon, and pottering around, putting Legos back in bins, making meatballs, reading stories, vacuuming up crumbs, doing all the things I do to put the fear and worry at the back of my mind.

I hope everyone stays safe!

Skip the closing ceremonies, and just read this: The Greenspan Awards

Olympic Park London 2012

Good night, London. (Photo credit: williamsdb)

My mind has already moved off the Olympics, to other concerns of summer (The beach! Eastern Equine Encephalitis! The fast approach of kindergarten!), but, as threatened, I am pleased to quickly throw together The Greenspan Awards! Named for the late Bud Greenspan’s documentary series of very zeniths of Olympics past, these awards will add to the firmament of athletic honor my favorite people and moments from the 2012 London Olympics.

So let’s get right to it. Actually not, there’s going to be a bit of a wind-up. Usually I look forward to swimming more than any other summer Olympic sport, but I must say, while I enjoyed the events, most of the athletes left me cold. They were all great, they broke records and hit personal bests, but I did not end the week becoming a true mega-fan of any of them. And then there was Ryan Lochte’s diamond grill. Um, no. Great athlete, but, no Greenspan for you.

English: Photo of Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olym...

You could have just kept that peeing in the pool thing to yourself. Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feeling as cold as a diver who has naught but a tiny towel to wrap themselves in as they climb out of an unforgiving pool, I turned to the track. There, I found all the Olympic heat and glory I needed. So – OK, here comes the first Greenspan! I’m just going to give the first Greenspan to Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. Really, he wins them all. Not even going to bother explaining why. He just wins.

Polski: Oscar Pistorius pozdrawia kibiców po b...

You win. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The track in London was actually full of gallantry, great sportsmanship, and thrilling events this year. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, David Rudisha, Allyson Felix, just to name a few. They all get Greenspans. Also receiving a Greenspan: Kirani James of Grenada, who won the gold medal in Pistorius’s event, the 400 meters, and immediately after winning his heat, traded bibs with Pistorius. A great moment.

I know this might make me seem like I am jumping on a bandwagon, but if the Paralympics, which begin in London on August 29, are televised, I will be watching them. I’ll jump away. Call it the Pistorius Effect, but I’m all for it if it brings such a courageous side of the Olympic movement, often overlooked, to light. [While we're at it, I've succumbed to the Wiggins Effect too, and got a bicycle (not sideburns). Well, it's more up to coincidence than Wiggo: my commuter-biking husband has been pestering me to get a bike for years so that we can cycle as a family. I told him I thought the whole point of family cycling is that you can take the boys and do it without me. But here I am. I wanted a low-riding bike with a banana seat because I am afraid of falling off (the model I wanted had "Hot Rod" painted down the side), but we ended up going to some hipster antique market in Cambridge and getting a 1950's English bike called a Robin Hood. Which doesn't embarrass him, apparently. I'll let you know if I fall off.]

My new ride. Don’t be jealous, Brad.

OK, I’ve mentioned my two favorite Olympians, Wiggo (obvs a Greenspan winner) and Pistorius, so there’s not much more I can say.

No wait, there are a few more things.

  • I want to give an honorary Greenspan to the fleet of manicurists and waxers that are no doubt on call in the Olympic Village. Because there has not been a body hair or a patriotically-painted nail out of place among the athletes. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, even had a go:

I actually kind of love this guy.

  • Can’t do a wrap-up without mentioning my own local Olympian, gymnastics gold-medalist Aly Raisman of Needham, MA. Although I can’t figure out why everyone thought her parents were acting so strangely as they watched her up in the stands – that’s how we all act in Massachusetts. We are all that “hilariously awkward”:

It’s funny, I’ve been watching the Olympics since I was nine, but this is the first year, when I daydream of myself at the Olympics, I am no longer the one on the podium in an awesome Team USA track suit getting a medal (usually in Speed Skating). Instead I’m in the stands, watching one of my boys getting a medal. And afterwards, of course, he runs straight over to me to give me his bouquet. He gives it to me. Not some hussy.

  • Finally, even though I have ragged on Bob Costas and NBC’s broadcasting choices, watching the Olympics would not be nearly as fun without the network’s trusty crew of color commentators, all experts in their fields. I can’t imagine watching swimming without Rowdy Gaines going bananas, gymnastics without Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett having canaries; cycling without Paul Sherwen’s erudite wig-outs, or diving without Cynthia Potter’s subtle southern tsk-tsks. And Ato Boldon’s knowledgable rants have made a track fan out of me. Well, his rants and Oscar Pistorius’s…Pistoriusness.

Well, the rest of summer calls, and it’s time to get outside and stop watching sports on TV in the air conditioning (until the USA Pro Cycling Challenge! Andy Schleck returns! Actually, no he doesn’t!). There’s still the Closing Ceremonies to get through. Any chance of a reunion of Morrissey and Marr? No? Then I think we’re done here…

Hope in Curiosity

The Moon and Mars

The Moon and Mars (Photo credit: Tolka Rover)

Last night, instead of reading the continuing saga of Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (O hilarity! Thou dost ensue!) to our little son, C , at bedtime, we took out the iPad and watched, on NASA’s app, the robot rover Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars.

“What I would have given to have had this as a kid!” my science-mad husband said. He’s right; it’s incredible that we have this device that can show our son the world – and beyond – at bedtime. (But don’t get any fancy ideas, C: there will be no eight o’clock rounds of Toca Boca Monster Kitchen. This was a special occasion.)

In awe, we watched what really happened, yonder: something approximating a vehicle from one of C’s Lego sets gingerly landed on the surface of the red planet. Then, surrounded by quilts and teddy bears, as night fell outside, we saw images transmitted from another world.

For all of us, it was a wonder. But what I enjoyed most, even more than the landing itself, was the elation on the faces of the engineers at NASA, on desk’s edge in powder-blue shirts. This moment was something probably all of them had dreamed of as children, looking out bedroom windows at the moon from under the covers. And then they turned their hopes into study, hard work, and determination, and now we all benefit (and their mothers must be so proud!).

This morning, the boys still had visions of Mars in their heads. C was on the floor building a robot out of wooden blocks that could keep taking pictures of Mars while Curiosity was turned off. As it must be from time to time. And their dad was sighing into his coffee. “I still want to go into space. I guess that will never happen now.”

“Have a little hope,” I said.

Maybe their dad isn’t an astronaut. But he started as a young boy who loved science, all of it, and now, it’s his job every day. And probably my greatest hope for my two sons, aside from their general health and happiness, is that someday, they will uncover something to aspire to, to work toward, that brings them such joy. That means something to them. All I can do now is show them the possibilities, on the screen or out in the world, encourage their curiosity, and wait for that light to go on, maybe as they lie in bed at night. It could be anything. And there’s probably an app for it. Sweet dreams, boys.

I’m happy to be participating in Melanie Crutchfield’s Blog Relay for Hope, inspired by the Olympics! Thank you to the excellent writer, Mom in the Muddle for inviting me to join in. Both of these blogs are great and worth checking out.

I’ve been complaining, er, blogging about the Olympics here for the past week, so as someone like Melanie who hates exercising, it feels good to participate in some way! And who knows, maybe all this Olympics-watching I’ve been doing will inspire the boys to athletic greatness some day. I’ve already chosen events for them that suit their personalities. For C, the Modern Pentathlon. A combination of pistol shooting, swimming, horse jumping, running, and fencing sounds like superhero training. And also very tiring. And for little T? Shot put. We already know he can throw food, and Matchbox cars.

I know we are getting close to the anchor leg of this blog relay, and there’s not much time left, so (no pressure) I’d like to pass the baton over to my husband over at drcraigcanapari.com to see if he’s got anything to say about hope. (He does! Read it here!) I know in his line of work he comes across it every day. I would also like to reach out to another blog I enjoy reading, scienceofmom.com. If you would like to join, be sure to link back here and to Melanie Crutchfield. USA!

To read the Closing Ceremonies of the Blog Relay for Hope, click…here!

This should just about cover it: my rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage

English: Usain Bolt at the World Championship ...

Usain Bolt in Berlin, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we enjoy the second, and final, week of the Olympics, I thought I’d get a jump on my wrap-up. Frankly, my enthusiasm for the Olympics is beginning to wane. Why? Before I get to my planned Olympic tribute: The Greenspan Awards: Candidates for Future Segments for Bud Greenspan’s Firmament of Olympic Glory (which I may or may not get to, let’s be real here), here’s one long, slightly unhinged rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage.

It’s Sunday night. Clearly I don’t have tickets for the Olympics. Husband and I are at home, stateside, listening to the static coming from two baby monitors. We’re in primetime Olympic coverage. It’s nine o’clock. We all know Usain Bolt is running the 100 Meters tonight, probably because my Olympics iPhone apps have been dinging in my ear all day. I have nine apps. I thought all of a sudden I was really popular and getting tons of texts, but no. Usain Bolt!

So never mind that these apps (and NPR!) spoiled me for the result several times over. As they did for Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial win. (Do I learn? No.) AND never mind I am holding off on watching Breaking Bad for this. I want to watch Bolt win. I am ready. We know it’s already happened, so obviously NBC is going to show it as the centerpiece of the evening’s coverage, right? They can show it whenever they want. Nine o’clock passes…

YET MORE beach volleyball. How much of this sport am I going to have to fast-forward before the end of the Olympics? It’s not even a final, or semi-final. It’s one of about – as far as I can tell, I can’t be bothered to check my app(s) to find out – a hundred million qualifying rounds May/Walsh have played. I feel like I’ve seen about nineteen Olympics worth of THEM ALONE playing beach volleyball, and they keep getting the primest of the primetime spots. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt, running probably the signature event of the entire games, is relegated to the eleven-o’clock hour – that’s practically late night! Why? Is it because Misty and Kristy, or whatever they are called, are American, and he is not? Because there is certainly a bias toward only showing events that the USA is contesting. I was shocked yesterday to tune into a Track Cycling final between France and Team GB (and that’s another thing, addressed to my DVR: if you say you’ve recorded Track Cycling, SHOW THAT. Not more volleyball!). Again, why? Don’t say it’s about the bikinis, because a) insulting and b) too cold for bikinis in London.

To sum up, even with all of the options that NBC claims are available to us for watching any Olympic event, I am pretty much bound to watch whatever they decide to prioritize in primetime. Because really, I don’t have all day and night to watch the Olympics, bouncing back and forth from the computer, to the phone, to the iPad, to whatever live coverage they can show. I really can just pick and choose a few things from the daytime coverage, and hope the DVR records what the guide proclaims (ahem, Track Cycling). And then watch the primetime coverage. Which has turned out to be all-American, all the time, with a huge bolus of beach volleyball stuck in the middle. And if you are watching primetime TV, they force you to the beach volleyball (men and women’s) by not even showing any alternate events on the NBC Sports Network – they’ve been showing poker in primetime! Poker!!! I thought that was the whole point of having a second network; to double your options. But no, Bob Costas needs us to see his taut face, directing us to hang on for more hyperbolic purple prose after commercial breaks. And by the way, Costas, you can chill with the flights of poetic fancy. You are no Greenspan. You are from Commack, you get me? Islander to Islander?

I appreciate that, by and large, people are going to be watching the Olympics to root for Team USA. But the Olympics is an opportunity to let the world into our homes. To appreciate the human, not just the American, spirit. So, in that spirit, O media gods, please, let me watch Mark Cavendish comment on the Track Cycling! I would be willing to pay for BBC coverage of the Olympics just to see this. And anyway, isn’t me funneling more money into media conglomerates also very much in the spirit of the Games? Let us, in the spirit of international fellowship, break down those firewalls!

So, hopefully, tune in soon for these Greenspan Awards I keep threatening you with, highlighting my favorite moments and people from London 2012. Spoiler Alert: Oscar Pistorius is definitely getting a Greenspan. I mean, come on!

English: Oscar Pistorius during 2011 World cha...

Guess who? during the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is waiting…for my thoughts on the Olympics so far

London -- View from Tate Modern

London — View from Tate Modern (Photo credit: Nietnagel)

You might have noticed I lit up the internet with some live tweets of the Opening Ceremony. I feel like I should go along with peer pressure and say that it was brilliant and totally out-of-the-box, but I thought it was a bit uneven, and a waste of Kenneth Branagh.

I mean, how did they come to spend so much time, given everything that is great about Great Britain, on “the kids” pretend-Tweeting each other? What is this, From Justin to Kelly? I get that the kids today love social media, but young’uns looking at phones and writing jolly messages has become a very un-dynamic shorthand for reaching out to youth culture. All those incredible songs in the background, wasted, while people walk/dance around in weird costumes. And in the presence of all these amazing young athletes, we’re spending a good quarter of the Opening Ceremony on people and their ubiquitous phones.

And again, the National Health Service section: out of everything Danny Boyle and crew could have chosen to represent Britain, why this? I’m just wondering. I think that health care for children is incredibly important, I really do, but given the big swath of screen and stadium you have to fill, why fill it with children faffing around on beds? Visually, it’s just not that interesting.

I did like the opening film about the course of the river Thames, and the Tube, though that marker at the beginning looked like a gravestone. I also liked the pastoral scene, even though the choreography as it progressed felt like one overly-long set change, rather anything composed to look at. And I obviously loved the Rowan Atkinson/Chariots of Fire bit. That was hilarious, and to me, showcased British wit and personality so well. If it were me, and I am fending off phone calls from Sochi as I write this, I would have maybe used Branagh as a narrator, ala Our Town, throughout the ceremony, bringing him back periodically to spout off some appropriate lines of Shakespeare, as he does so well. I think that would have helped tie everything together, instead of these uneven blocks of action. And here’s my other big idea: I liked how the grass gave way to a floor that looked like city streets. How about running a river, mimicking that distinctive bend in the Thames (cue Eastenders theme song), through the stadium? I think that incredible river is a perfect emblem for London and the Games. OK, Sochi, I’ll do it.

***

Michael Phelps’s sister, you seem very nice. I even stomached that interview with you, the other sister, and your mother with that insufferable Ryan Seacrest because I thought you seemed so nice. But, as a pretend friend, I’m telling you: move on from that necklace you’re always wearing. The big huge red one. (Check out this London 2012 fashion rundown for a photo) I like the necklace in and of itself, but I feel that for the past six million years, every time I’ve seen you cheering for baby bro somewhere, you have been wearing it. It’s a statement necklace: you make the statement, then you get rid of it and make another statement. It’s not a string of pearls. People are going to remember that you keep wearing it. You’re not Kate Middleton; you have nothing to prove by rewearing your looks. Even your mother switches up her chunky jewelry.

So, sis, unless it is some kind of good luck charm and he loses if you don’t wear it (which we now know is not the case), how about you retire it, auction it off for charity or something, and let your fancy brother buy you a new one, like from Erickson Beamon, or J. Crew? Or, f*** it, Chanel? He can afford it.

***

Finally, my favorite win so far? The Great Britain Mens’ Gymnastics Team! I know I am supposed to be rooting for Team USA, but that was a great win, even though the Japanese team killed the buzz a bit at the end there…still, if someone picks up Bud’s mantle and makes a London 2012: Tales of Olympic Delight or somesuch, I smell a Greenspan! A Greenspan being my new term for excellent, documentary segment-suitable stories of Olympic glory. Stay tuned for a complete list of Greenspans (TM) as the Games progress! No, Ryan Seacrest, you are not eligible…

***

And FINALLY finally, one last Allez Wiggo. Click on the link to see the perfect backdrop to cap the end of an inspiring season.

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Does Zara Phillips have to do everything, people of England? No, never mind, Bradley Wiggins will take care of it. And he’s got his priorities straight.

More importantly, Nancy Hogshead: I thought you were amazing in 1984, and I still think you are amazing.

And the gold medal for watching the Olympics goes to…

London Olympics 2012

London Olympics 2012 (Photo credit: Andrea Vascellari)

Me! Team USA!

As a teenager, I found a questionnaire I filled out for school as a nine-year-old. Who was my hero? Nancy Hogshead, I wrote.

Nancy Hogshead? The name no longer meant anything to me. But it stayed in my head. Who was this person that I looked up to in 1984? That I valued more than my parents, or Madonna, or Garfield? And should I be embarrassed? It took the invention of the internet a several years later to figure out the identity of this hero I had long forgotten.

Nancy Hogshead won three gold medals and one silver in swimming at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Ah, that makes perfect sense, I realized. That’s why I became an ace swimmer at UCLA and won those five gold medals in Atlanta in 1996. I knew I was in Atlanta in 1996 for something. Thanks, internet.

I can’t attribute a stellar athletic career to Nancy Hogshead, but she is probably responsible for something else: how so very much I love the Olympics. Watching them, that is. I haven’t missed a moment since 1984. And now, as they are set to begin on Friday, I have that happy, carefree feeling that I get every other year, because two solid weeks of fairly uncomplicated patriotism, loud athletic fashion, underdog glory, and a tiny hint of schadenfreude are on their way to my television screen. And computer. And iPhone. Oh, the coverage. I love television events that aren’t called programs, but “coverage.” They just go on and on…I can just melt into it.

And it’s just in time to ease me out of my Tour de France addiction. AND better yet! They are about to begin in my second-favorite city in the world! Which is perfect, because my first-favorite city and home metropolis, New York, probably could do without the aggravation of putting on an Olympic Games. Enough already.

So what can you do if you can’t wait till Friday, when you can obsessively watch each and every participating nation parade into the Olympic stadium so that you can pick out some early favorites and make a top ten best (and worst) team outfits list? And then plan a viewing schedule that best coincides with nap times and camp? Here’s how.

If Showtime is not showing a round-the-clock marathon of Bud Greenspan Presents: Tales of Olympic Glory, which as an imprecise but apt name for this television series, they are severely missing out on some good synergy…what? They’re not showing it right now? Oh. That’s too bad. Guess you’ll have to read this blog to find out what you’re missing.

The late, great documentarian Bud Greenspan made a TV series that showcased a collection of the most inspiring stories to come out of each recent edition of the Games. While b-roll and properly-licensed footage ran, an announcer gravely, deeply, and with little – no – zero emotion provided a voiceover telling stories of self-doubt which turned to triumph, or fear which turned to tragedy, which turned to glory. Stories of economic/national/parental obstacles, or bodily harm overcome. And so on. The modern Olympics, since they began, are filled with thousands of these stories. I don’t know about the original Olympics – they didn’t have Showtime then. But probably.

I love all of Greenspan’s documentaries, but every time I see that dear man’s name come up in my channel guide, I manage to see the same episode: Nagano ’98 Olympics: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Honor and Glory. And each time I turn on this show to indulge in said honorable and glorious tales, I see the same two tales again and again: the American speedskater Kirstin Holum, and the Italian skier Deborah Compagnoni. Which is fine. I love those two stories.

Kirstin Holum was an American high school student from someplace, I forget where. Unfortunately I can’t find any of this on YouTube, as I was positive I would, so work with me as I try to conjure up the key details. She made it onto the U.S. Speed Skating team, blah blah blah, and competed against her rival, some Norwegian or possibly Dutch lady who was very good, and very complimentary toward Kirstin when she came in, I believe, sixth. After the race, Holum’s coach said something to her like, “Look! You get a certificate for coming in the top six! Yay!” And…that is it. That’s the whole story. No meth addiction to fight through, she wasn’t raised by wolves or anything; she was just a high school girl who got to the Olympics. Which is awesome. But then…

…we get to Bud’s wrap-up of the scene, as we watch Kirstin skate away to collect her certificate or whatever. Again, I paraphrase: “Kirstin Holum, one of the many in a firmament of stars, that break through the atmosphere, kiss us on the face, so that we make understand glory before she disappears back into the universe.” I kid, but I’m not off by much. The word “firmament” was definitely in there.

Now, this girl came in sixth in a pretty minor, as it goes, sport, and he’s bathing her with language usually reserved for Jesus. I am loving her achievement, but this firmament business is overmuch, wouldn’t you say? The tone of the whole series is this grave and earnest. And I don’t usually go in for grave and earnest, but I have to say, you’ve got me, Bud. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because that’s one of the best things about the Olympics, to me: let’s allow ourselves (and by ourselves, I mean myself) just a few unironic, earnest moments every couple of years. Let’s drop our masks, and revel in someone else’s success, be inspired by their efforts, and hope that it may mean something bigger.

I, personally, have no desire in my life to skate, or swim, or do any sport competitively, if at all, but if these Olympians can do it, then that makes me happy. And I guess that’s why my happiness for them is so uncomplicated: it’s envy-free. If I were settling down to watch two weeks of people going for glory in the fields of awesome blogging, say, or tantrum-free parenting, then I might find it a little harder to watch. And by the way, did you know that later, Kirstin Holum left the sport and became a nun? You go girl. Sorry about the Jesus remark.

On to story #2. Deborah Compagnoni, as deep, serious, voiceover man will tell you, was the “female Alberto Tomba.” You know Tomba la Bomba, right? Compagnoni is a child of the Italian Alps, and as voiceover man talks, she walks through the green, sloping Tyrol in an oversized, Benetton-esque sweater and faded jeans. The Italians would call that kind of girl acqua e sapone: soap and water, pretty and natural. Long story short, she’s tough as nails and came back from severe knee injury to win another medal in her third Olympics. She’s one of the most famous Italian sportswomen, and, as the internet told me, later went on to marry Alessandro Benetton, so she’ll never have to pay for those chunky sweaters again! This is a great, straightforward sports success story, but I have to tell you, if I am asked to fill out another questionnaire in my adult life, under “hero,” I’m putting Deborah Compagnoni! I have no good reason, really: she’s not curing cancer or stopping global warming. That I know of. I just would love to be an acqua e sapone girl growing up in the Italian Alps, then national sport hero, then fixture of the Italian social scene married to a fashion magnate! Wouldn’t you?? And she looks amazing! Come on!

So we’ve established that I love the Olympics because I 1) enjoy occasionally basking openly in the happiness of others 2) enjoy living vicariously through glamorous international types (which is also why I enjoy the Tour de France). There are lots of other reasons, but this has gone on long enough. Suffice it to say I hope to add more stars to my Olympic-watching firmament over the next few weeks: big, bright ones like la Deborah, and others that glimmer faintly from nunneries like Kirstin. Here’s to hoping that Olympic fever will catch on with my children, and they’ll find their own Nancy Hogsheads, for future questionnaires. Here’s to loads of the kind of drama that makes sport great; really baffling outfits; underdogs that stun the world, and oh yeah, I did say schadenfreude.

That’s for you, Mama Phelps. I’ve already seen enough of your mug on TV in obnoxious commercials, not to mention your attention-hogging in the stands while people are trying to swim in the Olympic Trials. Give someone else a turn, am I right, Mrs. Lochte? Enough already.

Some slapdash notes on cycling sideburns and ferry menaces while I have five…you know

“There are 104 days to summer vacation,” Gawd help us, and it’s been harder than usual to fit in time to write, what with all the no school for C and having to take the kids outside to do stuff, rather than just have them watch Phineas and Ferb dream up fun summer activities on TV. Never mind the fact that I’ve been spending any free time I have watching the Tour de France (Allez Jens! Allez Chava!). Hold on, I just need to go and examine some Droids fashioned from Duplo. [...] I’m back. They were nice.

T is sleeping, and C is busy playing “Cowboy Lasso,” a game he “downloaded to his brain” (AKA, is playing using actual, not electronic, toys while running around screaming). Actually, I stand corrected: he tells me it’s actually “Cowboy and Cowgirl Lasso.” Very good. That media training I bought him for his fourth birthday was totally worth it.

I just finished watching Stage 11 of the Tour on my phone whilst tidying up the kitchen, so here are a few notes on that and other things to keep my blog going while I am trying to find time to devise some more thoughtful posts. Which I’m afraid won’t come until camp starts again, and the cycling ends, and before the Olympics begin. So basically never. Priorities.

Tour Coiffures. I am no expert on professional cycling, and while there is a lot to say about this incredible Tour, I hardly feel qualified to say much at all online. But I am qualified to make smart-a*s remarks. So. Bradley Wiggins. Much respect. Allez Wiggo and all that. Every time I’ve seen him mount a bike this season my first thought is, “this guy is not kidding around, is he?” I really admire his intense determination to win; you can see all of the hard graft and careful preparation in his riding, and in Team Sky’s riding. Which brings me to my point. I know Wiggins makes every effort to be as aerodynamic as possible. The right gear, the right bike – every move he makes is calculated to the last detail to ensure he doesn’t lose a millisecond to his rivals. He, I assume, like all of the other riders, shaves his legs, just to get that last extra push through the breeze.

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins leads the Tour de France, sideburns intact. (Photo credit: robkingcameraman)

So why, Bradley, pray tell, don’t you shave those enormous sideburns you have been rocking. I kid, but not really. If you’re planning to duke it out with Vince Noir for the title of King of the Mods, I respect that. But those things on your face must, somehow, cost you a soupcon of time. Right now you’re doing all right, but as you head up the Pyrenees and into the last Time Trial you might want to rethink those face wings. They don’t help you fly. There, I’m done.

Candy Omaha. Here’s another bone I have to pick. We spent last week on vacation down in the Hamptons, on Long Island, and to get there we take a car ferry from New London, CT, to Orient Point, NY. Where, as we drive off the boat onto my native island, it is my prerogative to play a Billy Joel song as we celebrate my summer homecoming. Usually “The Downeaster Alexa.” That is, if the Spotify works, and it usually doesn’t. There ain’t no Island left for Islanders like me, indeed.

The Cross Sound Ferry runs a tight ship, as it were, and it is always fun to spend part of our journey on a ferry rather than in a car. And our favorite boat in their fleet is the Cape Henlopen. Mainly because it has an arcade where C and T can pretend that they are really awesome at Pac Man and some driving games.

The other reason that I like the Cape Henlopen is that it was built as a World War II landing craft, and participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy, ferrying GIs to Omaha Beach. And now, in its dotage, it schlepps folks to more peaceful beaches, and Mohegan Sun. It was built for battle, not for the level of comfort of a pleasure cruise. There is some seating inside, and just a limited number of banquettes that seat at least six around a table. They’re big.

So why, lady traveling alone, and there are people like this on every passage, do you need an entire booth to yourself? So you can prop your Reeboked foot on the seat while you listen to your off-brand MP3 player (probably to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, I’m just guessing)? So you can stare smugly out the window, avoiding the glares of groups of four (or more) who are trying to eat lunch on chairs opposite you? You didn’t even eat! You weren’t even using the table to prop up your copy of Fifty Shades of Gray! You just looked over my head as I picked PB&J (and T) repeatedly up off the floor.

I know what you might say, lady (or gentleman, similarly accused). You’d say you got there first, so tough luck to me. That you deserve to sit there just as much as anyone else. That there is no rule against taking up seating for six for yourself. And this is the only complaint I have against an otherwise excellently-run ferry service. There should be a rule. Even two people in a booth, I can understand. But one? There were lots of comfortable single seats that could have accomodated her; it was just selfishness. And the downfall of Western Civilization.

And “Piano Man” was probably playing too loudly in her ear to hear my remark, accompanied by a gesture in her general direction, “I hope you’re enjoying your giant booth.” But the lady in the booth behind her did hear me, and she looked up from her little game of Uno she was playing with her husband and grown son. Which seems a perfectly reasonable use for a booth. Sorry, I didn’t mean you. Hope you didn’t fall victim to any Draw Fours.

Toward the end of the trip, the booth next to this woman freed up, and I slid T in so he could stand up against the window and eat this enormous lollipop, the long, twisting, rainbow kind stuck on a wooden dowel. I had saved that pop for this long, last leg of the journey. T had already won every video game, said hello to every human and dog on this ship, and said “bye” to every boat that passed. So I can call it only karma that while this woman was on her phone worrying about her lunch plans at the top of her lungs, T whipped that pop straight at her so hard that it rained down in shards all around her, and her special booth (it didn’t actually hit her, thankfully). It was as if the ghosts of GIs lost to Normandy long ago arose from deep within the ship to let the Cape Henlopen see battle once again, reenacting Omaha Beach in rainbow sugar.

To her credit, she wasn’t mad when I came over to apologize, but when I tried to go into her booth to clean up the wreckage she waved me away, saying, “Leave it, the crew will get it.” Well, la-di-da to you, lady. T just fired a warning shot across your bow; hopefully next time you’ll heed his warning. Draw four.

I can hear T stirring so it’s time to call a cease fire in the war against cyclists’ sideburns and single seat snobs. We’re headed out to the swimming hole. There are still six hours to fill with summer fun before bedtime, a glass of wine, and the Tour recap show.

A New York Yankee in Big Papi’s Court

Happy Anniversary, Fenway! From The New York Post

 

 

Baseball season is upon us, and frankly I can’t be bothered to watch games this early in the season. It goes on forever, right? But as I was reading Boston.com looking for marathon updates, I saw this funny essay on raising a child in a household of divided loyalties: one parent a Yankees fan, and one a Red Sox fan. It made me think of a similar situation we have at our house. The family in the essay is doing battle within their household (with the mom fighting the good, Yankee fight), but at least they’ve got one parent rooting for the hometown team. In our house, it’s us against the world – my husband and I are both Yankee fans in New England. So what do we do with our kids, born in shouting distance of the Green Monstah?

Let me start by getting something off my chest that I’ve been holding in since I moved to Boston eleven years ago. Hey Sox fans: if any of you clowns moved to New York, would you burn your Nomar jersey and become Yankees fans? NO, RIGHT? So WHY, in the name of Mickey Mantle and all things that are good, do you act so surprised when I tell you that I’m still a Yankees fan? You can drop all the tsk-tsking and get over it! It’s not going to happen!

I may not watch every game, but I will always consider myself a Yankees fan. I’m from New York. My father is a Yankee fan. My grandfather was a Yankee fan – in Brooklyn, the heart of Dodgers territory back in the day. So after all that he went through, treading the streets of Red Hook with pinstripes in his heart, so that his children and grandchildren could root for whichever team they chose, regardless of geography, I’m supposed to abandon my hometown team? I don’t think so.

I know people that have switched loyalties upon moving here, and that’s cool. Your choice. It was especially fine before Boston won all these championships and still had the poetry of the perennial underdog. There was something romantic about that, I grant you. But now, they’ve got tons of championship money and they’re willing to spend it – just like the “Evil Empire’ that Sox fans have so reviled for doing exactly the same thing. Not so cute anymore, is it?

My husband is from Hartford, which is right on the front line the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, exactly halfway between New York and Boston. He’s a Yankee fan, his brother is a Red Sox fan. Again, a lifetime of fighting adversity, and he’s supposed to give it up, just like that?

It was easier when we first moved here, when the Sox’s series drought was still at its very driest. But since 2007, I’ve had to watch duck boat parade after duck boat parade. I’ve even had to watch members of the New England Patriots chant “Yankees suck” at post-Super Bowl rallies (by the way, same goes for football – I spent my childhood going to Giants games, and now I’m supposed to switch on account of Tom Brady’s baby blues or Wes Welker’s mustache?).

But this is about the boys. What do we do with them? Within our house, it’s fine. When we watch baseball, when we talk baseball, we root for the Yankees. We got a bit of Red Sox garb when each of our sons was born. I appreciated the gifts, but that stuff went straight to charity. My son, C, has a Yankees cap, but I don’t let him walk the streets in it – yet. And I’ll tell you right now – their first baseball game is going to be in the Bronx.

But C is going to start kindergarten next year. Baseball is going to be a topic of discussion, just like it was when I was in school. There was constant debate in our school, which was evenly divided between Mets and Yankees fans (unfortunately, when I was in school, only the Mets won a World Series – at least Yankee and Boston fans can agree that that’s lame).

At first, my viewpoint was defiance. I’m not raising a sheep! I thought. I’m not going to encourage him to root for the Red Sox just so he’ll fit in at school! He’s his own man! Let him be different! Let him be proud!

But then I thought, yes, he is his own (little) man. And even though, in a strange way, I think of him as being from Long Island because that’s where I grew up, he’s from (gulp) Boston. The home of the bean and the cod. Where the – how does the rhyme go? where the Youkilises speak only to Manny, and Manny speaks only to God? What? Manny got traded? Oh.

So like I’ll have to let my boys go in a thousand ways over their lifetimes, I think their dad and I will just have to let go, and let them choose their own teams, when, and if, they want to. And whatever they want will be fine. Yankees, Red Sox, Devil Rays. Whichever way they want to go.

Right now, C still has no clue about baseball, but here’s an indication of how it might go: in his nursery school, they used to “sign in” by voting, placing little stickers with their names on them on a board, choosing A or B. On opening day, the Red Sox were meeting the Yanks. The choice was – you guessed it. C’s choice was – you guessed it. The Sox.

Et tu, my son? Well, I think I still have time to prepare some stats and cogent arguments, and get to your little brother.

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