Posted by: simplysheridan | August 19, 2010

The Wonders of Wood

It’s a summer evening and I have plans to go out for the next few nights, so tonight is a quiet one at home. The Phillies are in the thick of the pennant race, which means that baseball is on the radio, tv and/or computer.

While our national pastime has modernized it’s playing equipment like most other sports, the bats used in professional baseball are still made of wood as they have been for about 150 years. With rare exception, little leagues up through college baseball have used aluminum bats since the 1980s.

This transition from wood to metal and composite equipment took a number of years and my sports “career” spanned this revolution – I used wooden bats for most of little league, learned to play tennis with a wooden racket (I believe it had Jimmy Connors signature), my first set of golf clubs were hand-me-downs from my father and the “woods” were actually persimmon, I learned to scull in a heavy wooden boat that looked a lot like what you see in a Thomas Eakins painting from the 19th Century.

The goals of most equipment innovation in the last 30 years, aside from corporate profit, have been to reduce the gaps between good, average and bad players, or give wealthier individuals, teams (or nations) an advantage in competition. While having technology replace some amount of practice and hard work is not the most laudable goal, at least the equipment arms race has enabled a lot more people get and stay engaged and feel good about their game. In the interest of full disclosure,  I was never an equipment buff, but I’m pretty sure my current racquet and clubs will last forever – I didn’t feel the need to be cool or trendy, but wasn’t looking to be mocked either.

Before there were metal bats, there was a lot of superstition and individual bats of the same weight and length had very different reputations on the neighborhood diamonds. Sometime you knew the good one based on a scar from it’s use or a piece of black or red tape on the handle.  Like Robert Redford’s bat in “The Natural,” there really were magic bats, which was great until you broke one and everyone was mad at you for the next couple of games. I now think the magic came from the fact that the bat had been alive before it was milled and might have had a soul – it certainly did when a ball snuck through the infielders or an unlikely hero did something big in the late innings.

When aluminum arrived, we were all seduced by it’s resemblance to a jet plane and it’s aura of invincability. It also made a much cooler sound when you connected on a fastball – at least in the mind of a 12 year old.  As the team acquired more metal bats, the Louisville Sluggers and their cheaper competitors spent the season leaning against to fence untouched and unloved except for one of the younger players who had to get them to and from the coach’s car and in and out of the bat bag. The magic was gone.

While it’s possible I used a wooden bat playing pickup ball at the rec center during my teens (the city couldn’t afford aluminum bats and sometimes we had to go with what they had in the rec center closet), I was probably 12 or 13 the last time I used one in a big game in league competition. I don’t remember that at bat and I’m sure I never will, but I’m very glad I got to play baseball the old fashioned way. In the years since, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment from softball during college intramurals, the lawyers’ league, and playing with the crew from the Pen and Pencil. I’ve reached for bats hoping they had some magic in them, but the assessment was more a rough guestimate about the quality of their engineering than a communion between batter and bat based on a feeling that you can’t explain.

I mostly run and do yoga now, and don’t expect to play competitive baseball again, but I have figured out a way to get back to the wonder years of wooden equipment. When I get married someday, I’ll give my wife a Father’s Day shopping list of wooden sports gear including a tennis racket and a baseball bat (and matching minatures). The list won’t be too long because I still have my mother’s Flexible Flyer (talk about an antique 😉 and a couple of authentic and slightly scarred hockey sticks stored safely in my parents’ basement (the attachment to a goal scoring hockey stick is at least as strong as it is for a magical baseball bat – you use it until it breaks and you keep it lovingly fortified with tape to minimize wear and tare). I’m looking forward to passing the wonders on to the next generation, and to be honest I don’t expect I’ll need the latest and greatest equipment to impress a pre-schooler or little-leaguer (unless I marry a total princess and here genes predominate ;-), and by the time they get to high school I won’t be cool no matter what I’m doing, what I’m swinging, or who’s shoes I’m wearing 😉

Posted by: simplysheridan | August 18, 2010

MANual Labor

Today I spent much of the day helping my parents attack some pretty tenacious weeds. With all of the rain and sun we’ve had this summer, things are more robust than usual.

Because I have allergies to pollen/dust/mold/etc., I’ve been able to avoid yard work for much of my life. I’m still not a fan of large lawns – I believe the space would be better used for forest or food, but I have to admit a sense of accomplishment though from my time in the yard (and a little pride for a number of deep scratches gained in battle), the kind you don’t get winning legal cases, raising money, doing civic education, or even mentoring. I have done a lot of outside work before, but I’m just reaching the age where I appreciate the hidden beauty of what I would have considered a boring or tedious assignment when I was younger.

Physical work might not be glamorous as the creative economy and there are times when it’s downright unpleasant , but I think it’s really good for us (even the girls who are certified princesses ;-). So instead of outsourcing things we can pay someone else to do as a matter of course, it’s probably a good idea to try to do more ourselves (insourcing?). Some jobs are beyond our abilities, but where we can get it done, it makes sense to feel like a real man or a woman and save the money.

While I’m an optimist, all the talk of many baby boomers outliving their money has me thinking my generation is even less prepared to live to 95 or 100. The government and the economists want you to spend to stimulate the economy, but I think at least a little bit of increase in saving/selfishness is good. Save it where you can and if you have more than you need in 50-70 years, your kids or your favorite non-profit will be happy to take any extra cash off of your hands. As an alternative, doing some things yourself might save enough cash over time to justify some custom furniture or other household items, designed and built by a local craftsman or craftswoman.

So, in my mind all work is of equal dignity and every human being should test both his or her mind and body on a regular basis – the easiest way is probably by moving towards a slow food approach in the kitchen, but your home or apartment (or your parents) probably presents lots of opportunity for both personal satisfaction and savings…

Posted by: simplysheridan | August 17, 2010

Is News Necessary?

Let me start by saying a free and independent press is essential to the protection of liberty and democracy (at least in theory).

On the other hand, most media coverage these days has little to do with good government, the coverage of civic issues is frequently superficial, there’s very little investigative journalism compared to the media’s heyday, and the public has become much more tolerant of corruption and incompetence since the shock of Watergate, the revelation of Iran-Contra, and Bill Clinton’s misadventures. So while there may be smoke, there’s rarely fire – this includes not only the media, but also most reform groups who may fight the good fight, but don’t have much of a winning record in the real world.

I’ve pretty much stopped following local news – it’s heavy on sports, entertainment and tragedies (crime, fires, accidents), and the political coverage just gets me worked up, since I’m not in a position to change things anymore, and those who are aren’t doing a good job of it.

I read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal just about every day because they have a lot of interesting national and international stories and they tend to have more room to give thorough coverage than local media (we have some great journalists, but I don’t think the modern newspaper is a complete enough platform for their skills and there aren’t enough of them to cover everything that’s important in a thorough way – which is why I think newspapers are failing – there may be 7-10 stories worth covering, but only 2-3 get written and is that enough to justify the cover price?).

Tonight I was reading about the mosque controversy in NYC and ended up blogging about it on facebook. I may change a few people’s minds, but it’s also very possible I wasted an hour and got all worked up for nothing (I’m a big beleiver in freedom of expression). There are only 24 hours in a day and wouldn’t my time be better spent doing some sort of social entrepreneurship (working on a new initiative for the museum or maybe drafting a chapter of my book).

I guess I read the news because that’s what I think and have been programmed to think that educated people are supposed to do, and much of what I read now and share is uplifting and shows human creativity and/or generosity.

On the other hand, reading bad economic news isn’t exactly good for your spirits when you’re looking for work – the irony is that I get some satisfaction from being right about the ongoing decline – I knew we were screwed on several levels pretty early on in Bush’s first term and the collapse is consistent with my expectations.

I don’t see myself not reading a paper (I actually really enjoy small town weeklies and Ocean City is one of my favorites), but maybe I’ll try even harder to stick with the “good” news for inspiration and ideas – I usually just post the link, no long tirades or involuntary reversion to my gift for civic education ;-).

There are a lot of things we do because of inertia or tradition – I think we read the paper or watch the news because we’ve always done it, so back to the original question – Is News Necessary?

I’m curious as to why the news resonates with other people (or doesn’t) and expect some of you would have very different views – from not reading at all to reading multiple papers cover to cover. If you’re inclined, please share your thoughts (on this or anything else I post ;-). Thanks!

Posted by: simplysheridan | July 30, 2010

The Natural

While this could be about Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, or Robert Redford (as Roy Hobbs), it’s about baseball itself. With the Phillies enjoying their most successful period in 130 years, baseball is having quite a renaissance in Philly – and it’s rebirth has me thinking about the early days of the game.

While I enjoy watching in HD and simultaneously having access to every stat imaginable online, I sometimes like to experience baseball the way my grandfather did for most of his life (before he watched some games on color TV and cable) – on the radio in the back yard on a warm summer evening. The purest experience is a day game at the ballpark (and college and minor league can be even more authentic than the majors thanks to their lack of amenities and fancy audio-visual systems). When I was at Tulane, beer and hot dogs were a couple bucks, and we sat in the empty corporate seats behind the catcher on many spring Fridays catching sun and watching a good college team which featured a lot of Latin American players.

For me “radio al fresco” is a close second, because it takes you back to a time where almost everyone sat outside before air conditioning was widely available. There’s the voices of the announcers, muffled by a bit of static, and the noises of either the city or the country – both of which have been the starting point for countless ballplayers, who made their youthful debut on surfaces ranging from ash lots to lush grasses.

In addition, while I’m a bit of a beer snob (to be honest, an unrepentant beer facist), American lagers actually taste right while listening to a game on a hot summer night. I’m also a big believer of peanuts in the shell, and outside there’s no reason to worry about making a mess. At some point I’ll get a grill for hot dogs to complete the trifecta, but in the meantime, beer and peanuts will have to do.

So while all of us are going to take advantage of technology most of the time, I encourage you to hop a time machine once in a while and enjoy our national pastime the way your grandparents and great grandparents experienced baseball. You may break a sweat if it’s humid and you may miss your fancy Belgian beer for a couple of hours if you go with Yeungling or Coors for the game, but it will give your imagination a work out and take you back to an era that wasn’t necessarily easy or simple, but you’ll experience baseball in a way that provided comfort to millions during two world wars and a great depression, and brought entire families together for at least a couple of hours every summer night.

For Oswalt’s Phillies debut, I’m thinking about visiting my parents (who are long-time fans), but there’s a good change I’ll be in the back yard with an American beer and a portable radio – if the signal is too clear I can always turn the knob a bit to the left of right to get the proper amount of static 😉

Posted by: simplysheridan | July 29, 2010

Oil and Vinegar

Some of you may be thinking this is a volatile little (but compellingly beautiful) brunette who cause a bit of havoc in my world a few years ago, but it’s actually about olive oil and balsamic vinegar. As a kid, I wasn’t a fan of oil and vinegar – may have been that most restaurants had poor quality back then or it was just something that’s not going to resonate with an Irish kid. Now I’m a big fan and going back to simplifying life – I’ve done away with other dressings and it’s my main salad option (I do blue cheese at restaurants, but not home). Start with spinach or arugala, the vinegar and oil, and top with any combination of black pepper, good parmesan/romano, sundried or fresh tomatoes (or a bunch of other possibilities) and you’ve got a quick salad with a fresh flavor and no food additives. You can go heavy or light on the oil depending on your mood and waistline. It’s all about tasting the food – hope you’re all making the most of the tomato season – I had a couple from my father’s garden with mozzerella today. I used to think unlimited food variety was a great thing, but now I’m not so sure – so more and more I’m going with the wisdom of our ancestors and eating things we know from thousands of years of experience are good for us!

Posted by: simplysheridan | July 29, 2010

Self Censorship

I’m realizing that the challenge of writing about life is what to share and what to suppress. It’s not a matter of anything scandalous (at least not at the moment), but each of our lives intersects with many others and people have widely differing views of privacy even when it comes to good things. While things are still up and down, I’ve had a number of remarkable moments during the last week or so. While I don’t feel like you need to ask permission to write about something that wasn’t gained in confidence, at the same time it’s hard to conceal things which are close in time when your primary audience is friends and family. Writing fiction is much easier because of the time lag between facts and publication and the ability to conceal defining qualities of the people involved. On the other hand, there are good things worth sharing, so I guess I’ll figure it out as I go along. An anonymous blog would be one solution, but I really believe you should sign your name to what you write and own it. I also believe that politicians should have to write their own speeches and conduct their own press conferences with PR people doing it for them – forget about campaign finance reform, if all candidates had to be the man or woman behind the podium, we would much more easily weed the idiots out before they’re elected. So while I think I can share some good stories here, a lot of the best stuff will probably have to go in a journal for future fiction use – a big part of living simply is the avoidance of conflict, especially with those closest to you (while EB White frequently mentioned his son, his essays rarely mention his wife in detail). If you feel different about a writer’s responsibilities, please share.

Posted by: simplysheridan | July 27, 2010

Something Pressing

As I’m drinking my morning coffee, I thought it was a good time to advocate for the French Press – environmentally friendly, easy to use/clean, and makes the best coffee possible. I have 2 single serves and one larger pitcher. Making coffee at home or at the office (if you have a hot water cooler or teapot) can also save hundreds of dollars a year over starbucks or even wawa. On some level, it also feels a lot more authentic than using an electronic machine. I have a cappucino maker, but mostly use it for parties. p.s. The Press also works well with loose teas…

Posted by: simplysheridan | July 27, 2010

Welcome to My World

A few of my friends suggested that I blog, so I’m finally doing it. Those who know me well might expect this to be political or reform oriented, but I’m (almost) over all of that. In the last couple of years, I’ve realized how important it is to focus on what you can control and not stress too much about things that are out of your hands. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things worth fighting for – especially the environment, just that I’ve spent most of my adult life as a lawyer/advocate and now I want to focus on building things and being a happy person. I think the keys to happiness are balance and simplicity, and probably humor, so that’s what I’m going to write about. I’m also going to try to just relax and express (not easy for someone who tries to use proper grammar even in text messages). I hope this will be fun and maybe even win over some converts to my relatively new philosophy of simplicity. I’m a big fan of both Norman Rockwell and E.B.White and while life was never easy or fair, I think there was a lot of truth in their representations of American life – family, community, country, pride in job well done, and grace under pressure. Both political parties try to claim these things, but it’s not a slogan or an agenda, it’s who we were and who I hope we will be again (except genuinely inclusive in the future).