february 2016

It's been a few months since I wrote about the books I've been reading, but here's what I've finished since August:

Absolution Gap—Alastair Reynolds

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency—Douglas Adams

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul—Douglas Adams

Bluebeard—Kurt Vonnegut

Armada—Ernest Cline

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World—Dan Koeppel

Where's My F*cking Latte? (and Other Stories About Being an Assistant in Hollywood)—Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff

Spinning The Record: Sex, Drugs, Rock Stars, Divas and Untold Tales from the Music Biz—Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff

Concierge Confidential: The Gloves Come Off---and the Secrets Come Out! Tales from the Man Who Serves Millionaires, Moguls, and Madmen—Michael Fazio and Michael Malice

The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps—Michael Blanding

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship—Robert Kurson

Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982-87—Simon Goddard

The Clash—Joe Strumme, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon

Don't All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller—Brett Milano

Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists—Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg

I'll talk about these books in more detail for the rest of the week, but there are some general trends here. The first book is finishing off a big sci-fi space opera trilogy that I started late in the summer, followed by revisiting some old favorites from the 80s with the two Dirk Gently novels from Douglas Adams and Vonnegut's Bluebeard, which is also the latest novel from him I've read (he published two others in the decade after Bluebeard that were to be his final novels, but I haven't read either of them at this point despite having read everything he'd ever written up to Bluebeard).

I then read the new novel by the author of Ready Player One (one of my favorite recent books) and a non-fiction history of bananas before taking an unfortunate turn into some really trashy (in virtually every sense of the word) hollywood gossip books, I think spurred by them being on sale for almost nothing on the Kindle store.

Then it was on to more non-fiction in the form of two books about at theft and one about recovering treasure from a pirate wreck, interspersed with three books about music (which I'll write about in more detail on my music blog).

The books I've got in my queue right now are David Mitchell's latest novel, Slade House; Neal Stephenson's Seveneves; and a book about Material Science called Stuff Matters. I'm not sure which one I'll actually tackle next, but while I'm figuring it out, I'm perusing a book I bought a long time ago about conspiracy theories called Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier, which is an encyclopedic listing and explanation of various conspiracy theories, secret societies, etc.

I really enjoyed revisiting the works by Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut—I remember reading all three of these books around the same time in my life (Bluebeard and the first Dirk Gently book were both published in 1987, and the second Dirk Gently book was published the following year), so they are intertwined with other memories from that time in my life, which were some of my most memorable and formative years.

I remember being lukewarm on Bluebeard when I read it, although I also remember sympathizing with what I perceived as Vonnegut's mockery of Abstract Expressionists and abstract art in general, because at that time in my life (in my late teens) I also did not get abstract art (although I have since come to believe that Mark Rothko is the apex of the art of putting color on canvas who completes the arc from putting pigment on the walls of caves to the evolution of painting that started to radically change with the Impressionists and went fully non-representational with the Abstract Expressionists).

I appreciated this book more this time around, and I also saw that, while in some ways he was still making fun of the Abstract Expressionsists, he was also very knowledgeable about them (there are some real artists scattered among his many fictional characters) and very personally sympathetic to the emptiness they felt (two of the leading lights of the movement, both of whom are referenced in Bluebeard, are Rothko, who killed himself, and Pollock, whose struggles with alcohol led to his death in a car accident).

It's a much funnier, kinder book than I remember, but reading it as a middle-aged man rather than as a teenager, it's also a lot more poignant and sad. But as always with Vonnegut, there are notes of hope that can be sustaining, as long as you can take them as genuine (which I do—for all his cynicism about humans as a species, he didn't necessarily believe we were doomed, although it would be fair to say that he thought it was probable that we would end up destroying ourselves when all was said and done).

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is one of my very favorite books from the past few years, so I was really looking forward to reading his new novel, Armada. It took me a while to get it in my queue, and by that time the reviews had come in from critics and fans of Ready Player One. It was almost universally panned, with typical reviews on Amazon boiling down to "I really loved Ready Player One and I really wanted to love this book, but I didn't like it at all."

I knew this wouldn't stop me from reading it for myself, but unfortunately, those reviews are exactly how I feel about the book. The characters are unmemorable, and the scenarios and plot twists are so obvious that I feel like a fanfic writer could have cranked out this novel in a weekend if you had given him or her the basic premise. I kept waiting for a surprise that never arrived; every shift in the story was one that I (and apparently most other readers) would have guessed as the far-too-obvious outcome of the setup. The book commits one of the worst sins in a media environment that is overflowing with great stories being told by great storytellers: it was boring and predictable.

This is a pretty huge disappointment. True, this is only Cline's second book, but if you've run out of ideas that quickly, I'm not sure how much hope I hold for his future output. Unlike with Armada, which I bought and read based solely on my love for Ready Player One, his next book is going to have to get heaps of good reviews for me to want to invest time and money in it.

The remaining titles in my list of recently-read books all fall under the general category of non-fiction, but they can be further subdived into four more precise designations: trashy, gossip-y tell-alls that I am not a better person for having read and which I actively encourage others to avoid; music biographies; adventure narrative; and history.

I won't comment further on the first category, and I'll write in more detail about the music books on my music blog, so that dispenses with those books. For the history category, there's only one title, Banana, which gives a detailed history of a fruit that has become one of the world's staple crops and which has, in its relatively short time as a prominent food source, managed to have huge economic, social, and political impacts, especially in the countries where it is grown.

It's an eclectic mix of biography, science/genetics, and economic/political history that gives a very comprehensive accounting of our species relationship with this fruit and how that is evolving for the future (the fruit we eat now is not the banana that originally became globally popular; that species was all but wiped out due to a specific kind of blight, to be replaced by the fruit we know today, but that fruit is also under assault from a similar type of blight, so the race is on to breed or genetically engineer a new strain that retains the qualities we have come to love about the fruit while also incorporating resistance to disease that will make it sustainable for the future).

My only complaint is that some of the characters central to the development of the fruit as a widely available staple crop are clearly worth fuller biographies, and yet their stories are only briefly touched upon here. I'm not sure all of their stories would be worth my time as a full multi-hundred page read, but I would have liked to have read more about them than I did in this book.

Still, that's a pretty small criticism for what I overall found to be an engaging and fruitful read (sorry for the pun, I can't help myself).

Not very excited about the Super Bowl this year—not a fan at all of the Panthers, but a win for that team would probably mean more in terms of marketing for the league than a Broncos win. But it's the Broncos that I'm rooting for, partly on behalf of a friend of mine who is a lifelong Denver fan and partly because they are the team that knocked both the Steelers and the Patriots, the two teams I hate the most, out of the playoffs this year.

Boring, boring Super Bowl. I actually stopped watching halfway through and never went back to watch the rest of it (which I had DVR'd) because it was clear there wasn't much to see. I got real-time updates in the form of Facebook messages from my friend who is a Denver fan, and I'm pretty sure his enthusiasm for his team win made the game seem far more exciting than it would have been if I had actually been watching it.

It's pretty telling that the MVP award, which you can usually reserve for the winning quarterback, was not given to one of the all time greats who won his second championship but was instead given to a defensive player. I get that Peyton Manning really, really wanted to cap off his career with another Super Bowl victory after being so dominant in the regular season for so many years, but it's really time to hang it up now—it's not going to be good for him or good for the game if he trots himself out for another season, one in which he will likely either get seriously injured or simply be benched because he can't do the job anymore.

Despite his dismal offensive performance in the championship game, this is the closest he's going to come to going out on top. He should take his defense carrying him to another trophy as the gift that it was and step away from his playing days now.

We went to two more Emory women's basketball games over the weekend—one on Friday night and one on Sunday afternoon—and he got another special treat. The player that he's been focused on (her name is Shellie) offered to let Will wear her away jersey for both games, so we showed up early to pick it up and Will put it on over his Emory t-shirt.

He was a little shy about it at first, but he really got into it, and I think it also helped him focus on the game more, especially when Shellie was playing. He really enjoys the experience of going to the games, but doesn't always pay attention to what's going on on the court, so I've been trying to at least get him to focus and really watch what's happening for the last two minutes of each period, but that first game with the jersey, he was watching intently (and clapping and cheering appropriately) for the first ten minutes or so of the game.

We're supposed to have dinner with Shellie next week, two days after the last home game of the season. If that goes well, she's already hinted that she'd be willing to babysit for Will sometime, which I'm sure he would love. We already have a neighborhood babysitter who lives just around the corner, but she's only a freshman in high school, so we don't tend to schedule anything that goes late into the evening on a weeknight. We wouldn't want to stop using her entirely—Will really likes her as well—but it would be nice to have an option for someone a little older who we wouldn't be as concerned about leaving him with until later at night.

It's Julie's birthday today, so over the weekend I took Will shopping to buy her gifts. We ended up at a local artist coop in Decatur that has a wide range of items, all handcrafted. We took a long time to explore the store, but even though he was a little unfocused and hyper (lots of reminders not to touch delicate/breakable things), he was very thoughtful about the gifts he picked out.

He used to be really bad about keeping secrets—he would inevitably tell the person being surprised with dinner or for whom we were buying gifts what was in the gift or where we were going, but he's really worked on it, and although he still likes to tease his knowledge of the secret ("I know where we're going!" or "I know what's in that box!"), he's gotten pretty good about not revealing anything.

So far, so good with these gifts—he's given Julie hints, but nothing concrete enough for her to know what we picked out.

For Julie's birthday last night, Will and I took her out to the Japanese steakhouse where we went for my birthday last year, which has become more and more fun as Will has gotten older. Not only is he more willing to eat the food, but he's very responsive in a way that most patrons aren't these days, laughing and clapping and jabbering away at the chef while most everyone else at the table is staring at their phones and paying very little attention to the show in front of them. (When I was a kid, going to a Japanese steakhouse was a big deal, and everyone—including the adults—was really watching the show and showing appreciation for the chef's skills, but nowadays it seems like a lot of people view this as just another night out, and they don't treat it any differently than going to an Appleby's or Chili's).

We got Julie three gifts during our shopping outing over the weekend, and Will decided to give her one in the morning, one before we went to dinner, and one after dinner. The morning gift was silver earrings in the shape of a heart (he loves hearts—his story that I shared last month was about Happy Heart, a recurring motif in his drawings—a heart with a happy face drawn on it). For the pre-dinner gift, it was a small glass mosaic candleholder, also featuring a pink heart set off from the blue tones of the rest of the glass pieces. And while the post-dinner gift didn't explicitly feature a heart, it was a pillow that says "I love us.", which he liked because 1) he could read all the words himself and 2) because he loves our family.

Needless to say, Julie was thrilled with all of them, and all in all I think she had a pretty good birthday.

Okay, now to finally finish up the summary of the books I've been reading. The only three left are one about treasure hunters trying to identify and recover the shipwreck of an actual pirate ship (Pirate Hunters), and two about art theft, one dealing specifically with the theft of maps (The Map Thief) and one with the thefts of various Rembrandts over the past century or so (Stealing Rembrandts).

Of the three, the pirate one was the most compellingly readable, but it left me feeling like it could have been an even better story in the hands of a better writer. And although I did learn a decent amount of new stuff about the golden era of pirates and how modern treasure hunters go about searching for these lost ships laden with treasure, I really wanted to know more about Josehph Bannister, the pirate whose boat they were searching for—the problem is, despite being a well-known pirate in his day, he never achieved the long-term fame of pirates like Blackbeard or Captain Kidd, so there isn't much in the historical record to build a more in-depth biography from.

The Map Thief was the book I had the most interest in when I bought it, as I've always had a bit of a thing for maps, and while it was interesting learning more about how map theft has been on the increase as these documents/works of art have become increasingly valuable to collectors, the particular thief that the book focused on didn't have as compelling as story as I might have liked. By the end of the book, he comes off as sad and arrogant and in over his head, someone who got away with his crimes for so long not becaus he was especially brilliant or careful about his thievery, but simply because it was so easy to get away with because most of the institutions he was stealing from had simply never dealt with a threat like him before. Still a pretty good read though, especially if you're into maps.

Stealing Rembrandts was probably my favorite of these three. I'm not overly familiar with his work—one of the many blind spots in my personal art education—but this book interweaved a biography of Rembrandt and his works with different thefts of his work in the past century or so. It also gave a lot of detail about how these works are recovered when they are stolen, and the irreparable damage that often occurs because the thieves, far from being sophisticates who know how to care for their prizes, would often store them under conditions that would lead to rapid deterioration of the canvases. In the worst cases, the works were never recovered, or sometimes even destroyed in order to prevent police from being able to prosecute the thieves.

I'm still in sort of a non-fiction mood these days, but I haven't found my next book, so I'm still plugging away at the encyclopedia of conspiracy theories and secret societies. It's good in the sense that it's in very small readable chunks, so I can take it in 10-15 minute chunks, and since it's in alphabetically order by person/society/conspiracy, you never know what the next entry might be about, but it's confusing because the tone is fairly authoritative even though many of the events they are talking about are clearly not backed by strong objective evidence. That makes it hard to know how much of the book to trust from a factual standpoint, but from an entertainment standpoint it's pretty engaging.

The last two home basketball games of the season were on Friday and Sunday, and they were both special games in other ways as well.

Friday (which just Will and I attended) was the breast cancer research fundraiser and the Emory team wore their pink uniforms. We bought the goodie bag (which had a t-shirt, pins, etc.) and a raffle ticket, and Will ate a ton of the free food from a local taco place. The raffle prize was an iPad mini, and although we didn't win it, our ticket was only one off from the winning number, and it was actually a friend of ours who had that ticket (she's the mother of one of the assistant coaches and we usually sit near her at the home games). Will had his now-standard chat with Shellie after the game and took a picture with her while he was holding one of the pink balloons that were decorating the gym.

On Sunday it was Valentine's Day, and we went with Julie and one of our college friends who was visiting for the weekend. It was also senior day because it was the last home game of the season, so there was a little ceremony before the game recognizing the three seniors, all of whom were accompanied by their families. As he did last year, Will waited for the team after the game was over and gave them all a piece of Valentine's candy, and he also gave Shellie a handmade Valentine's card with his signature happy hearts.

Will and I have always had fun going to these games since I started working at Emory, but this season has been especially fun as we've gotten to know the players and coaches a little better, especially Shellie, who Will just adores and who really seems to enjoy hanging out with him. A side bonus: Will actually pays attention to the games now instead of just running around the bleachers the whole time—especially if Shellie is on the court.

Because we had company for the weekend, we didn't do a lot of couple-oriented stuff on Valentine's Day. After the basketball game we went back to the house and I gave Will and Julie my gift—a heart-shaped red velvet cake that I had ordered from a local bakery a couple weeks before. Our friend Mary Jo shared that with us as well, and then hung out for a while longer until it was time for Will to go to bed.

After we got Will settled down, Julie and I shared a dinner of sushi that we had ordered earlier in the afternoon and put in the fridge until dinner. We've never really been the kind of people who like fighting for a table in an overcrowded restaurant on Valentine's Day, but we usually find some way to celebrate, but this was a pretty low key celebration even for us. Still, it was a fun day and a fun weekend.

Last night we had Will's much-adored favorite basketball player Shellie over to the house for dinner, and it went really well. She brought one of her roommates with her, a girl named Amy who plays on the softball team, and they hung out with Will in his room while I finished up dinner prep.

I fixed what is more or less my standard meal for new guests: broiled chicken breasts that had been marinated overnight In a soy/honey/lime mixture; broccoli roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper, brown rice mixed with sauteed red and yellow onions, red and green peppers, corn, parsley, and bacon; and a spinach salad with bleu cheese, chopped toasted pecans, and cubed Granny Smith apples. I'm always pretty critical of my dishes, and this time the broccoli was softer than I wanted it, the chicken was slightly overdone, and the rice mixture was wetter than I wanted, but Shellie and Amy seemed to really enjoy it—they probably don't get home-cooked meals very often.

Will set the seating arrangements, so he put himself at the head of the table with Shellie to his right and Amy to his left, with Julie and I sharing the other half of the benches on each side with one of the girls. It was really great to get to know them a little bit better—Amy is a photographer, so we chatted for a bit about that, and It turns out that Shellie is a huge Star Wars fan (her mother makes her costumes for the premieres) and she reads a lot of sci fi. She's also a big Vonnegut fan (we started talking about him when I made the argument that he's a sci fi writer at heart), so I shared my story of the time I went to see him give a lecture at a local university when I was in high school.

After dinner Shellie and Amy helped us make more progress on the red velvet cake I bought for Valentine's, and then I chatted with them a little longer while Julie got Will ready for bed. I'm well into middle age at this point, so I automatically assume I won't have much in common with people half my age, but I felt like I had plenty to talk about with these two. And Will is even more enamored of Shellie than he was before—she even said she could babysit for us once the season is over (they have three more away games over the next two weekends), and Will is over the moon about that possibility.

The second half of this season of The Walking Dead is upon us, and I still haven't quite finished with the first half (I've watched seven of the eight episodes). I don't think this will really contain any spoilers for regular watchers of the show, because I'm about two months behind the current episodes, but I'm still not a huge fan of this season—even though we've gotten some nice character development for Morgan, our core characters haven't given us much to get excited about: Rick is still moody, angry, and lost; Carl has become an occasional sidekick for his father; Carol is seriously underused and is someone whose core values I don't feel like I trust anymore;  Glenn and Maggie don't seem to really be central to the story development anymore (despite the focus on Glenn and his near-death this season); and we just plain don't get enough of Daryl.

It also doesn't help how clearly the writers telegraph their punches—it's pretty clear that 1) the group will be leaving Alexandria soon and 2) Ron (son of a man Rick killed and also a woman that Rick has a thing for) is going to shoot Rick or Carl or both. It seems unlikely that they will kill either of those characters, so that's just one of those shocking moments that won't really end up being that shocking, but leaving Alexandria has some potential—of all the locations they have settled for a season or two, this might be my least favorite because it's the one that is the least believable in the world they have created.

However, as much as I want them to leave Alexandria, I'm not eager to have another half season of them being on the road unless it's going to lead somewhere that's really different this time—not just another town with its own quirky leadership and residents, but something that points us in a direction where we can have some hope for the future of this world.

I don't expect that this series is going to end with us getting to see these characters in a world that is free of the dead, but if they only outcome we're going to get is that the entire human race is eventually going to be turned into walkers and become extinct, and it's just a matter of how long we can delay it, I'm not sure how much more time I want to invest in these characters.

Again, I don't necessarily expect a happy ending for all of the longstanding characters, or even any of them, but I do hope the series gives us some idea that there is someplace in the world where a rebirth and rejuvenation of our species is taking place, and that however devastating the walker epidemic turns out to be, it is something that we will survive, even if it takes decades to be sure of that.

I went to see The Force Awakens for the sixth time last night, mostly on a whim. It's been about a month since the last time I saw it, and I'm pretty happy about how entertaining it still is despite the fact that I know the film very well at this point. The last time I saw a movie this many times in the theater may well have been Episode IV (the very first Star Wars movie), so in that regard J.J. Abrams has done a pretty good job taking the reigns of this franchise and really revitalizing it.

I'll likely go and see it once or twice more before it leaves theaters for good, but I don't know if I'll quite make it to double digit viewings, and I haven't quite convinced myself that Will is ready to handle it even though he's done really well with the four Star Wars movies he's seen so far (Episodes IV, V, VI, and I, and he watched them in that order). Rest assured, though, that this will be one that I own and watch within 24 hours of it being available on DVD.

It was a busy, busy weekend. It started on Friday, which I took as a day off to burn off some vacation (I'm at my cap, and I would lose any further accrual if I don't take a couple of days this month). My mom arrived in the afternoon, and soon after she got there we headed off to Philips Arena to watch the Hawks play the Miami Heat.

We've never been to a pro basketball game in Atlanta before, but our neighbors down the street have a daughter who does cheerleading for their church basketball league, and the cheerleading squad was going to be on the court for the player introductions that night. They had given the church group a huge block of tickets, and there were enough extra that our neighbors asked if we would like four so we could attend.

The seats were in the upper portion of the stadium (300 level), but they were only four or five rows back from the front of the section, so they were pretty good seats as far as I was concerned (especially given that they were free). We got our dinner at the arena as well, and although the food was ridiculously overpriced, each ticket also came with a $10 credit towards food, so we only ended up paying $18 for hotdogs and drinks for four people. Throw in our parking costs ($30, although we probably could have found a place for $20), and we ended up paying just under $50 for all four of us to see an NBA game, which is a pretty good bargain.

I thought all of the gimmicks were pretty distracting (especially playing music while the game was in progress instead of only during timeouts—that made me feel very disconnected from the action on the court), but Will loved every bit of it: the blimp that would fly around the arena and drop t-shirts on people, the projections that would animate the court, the steel drum band that played the national anthem and the halftime show, the cheerleaders, the music, the mascot, and the giant scoreboard hanging in the middle of the arena, and the light-up bracelets that were the free giveaway that night (along with the thundersticks that have gotten so popular an NBA games). I've always wondered who all that nonsense was meant for, and now I have my answer: hyper five year olds with short attention spans. Unfortunately, there aren't many of those who can regularly afford tickets to NBA games, so I still don't understand why teams are doing this.

As a final treat that night, we let Will get some Dippin Dots. But we couldn't get them from a vendor's booth—oh no, we had to use the machine that used a robot arm to pluck a cup of Dippin Dots from the bin and drop it in the chute. And although I thought watching the robot in action was the main draw, he actually ate his entire portion, which is a first—he usually gets bored with that frozen treat before he's halfway done with it.

We stayed until the start of the fourth period, so we got back home pretty late. Will was pretty wired, but he went to sleep quickly—it had been a big day, and he was all out of energy.

On Saturday morning I left the house around 8:15 to head to the Atlanta Community Food Bank for a service project with college's local alumni group (I went to Davidson, which is near Charlotte, so there are a ton of alums in Atlanta). I did the last one of these events last fall, when we did clean up and yard work for a local men's shelter, and there were several people I recognized from that outing, but there were a ton of new faces as well.

Even though we were scheduled to be there for three hours, we probably only worked for 90 minutes to two hours of that time—we were a little late getting inside the facility, then we had a 15 minute orientation followed by 10 minutes of training on our specific task before we were able to actually start working. We also had a break/snack in the middle of our shift, and a follow up at the end of our shift. In spite of this, they told us that we were the most productive group in terms of the amount of food that we inspected and packed for a three hour shift.

There were two basic tasks: inspecting donated food to see if it could be sent out to agencies that interact directly with those in need, and sorting it by type of item and packing it in boxes. I ended up in the inspection group, which is what I would have chosen if they had asked me. It mostly consisted of making sure the food was not out of expiration yet (although we had a chart that showed us what date we should really look at—the labels on the food items themselves are much more conservative than apparently is necessary), making sure it wasn't in a certain category (any kid-specific items had to be thrown out, as did any items made of chocolate or anything with the seal broken).

I spent most of the event next to a younger alum named Gabe who is currently in medical school at Emory—we talked about technology, higher ed, the med school curriculum, and the relationship between physics and literature. He was very bright and engaging, and I think we'll try to have him over for dinner sometime—Will loves meeting new people, and it would be nice to give a fellow alum a homecooked meal away from the stresses of his intense education.

After the service project was over, about half the group headed out to lunch at a local tavern, Six Feet Under. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to join them because we had plans to take my mother to have lunch with my cousin and her partner, but by happy coincidence, the restaurant that my cousin chose for us to meet at was the same as the one that the alumni group was going to, so I sat with my service project companions for about half an hour and then joined my family when they arrived.

My sister and her husband also joined us, so there were eight of us total: Julie, Will, my mom, my sister, my sister's husband, my cousin (Anna) and her partner (Martha). Anna and Martha had frequented this restaurant often when they were having their house renovated, and while the food was pretty good, the service was pretty terrible. Granted, my sister is always a challenge for waiters—she likes to customized her order, and sometimes changes her mind about what she wants after the order has been taken, but even still, this was not great service. And I have a feeling it was our waiter specifically and not the restaurant generally—the Davidson party had 15+ people in it and they didn't seem to have any trouble getting their food and drinks in a timely manner.

After lunch we went over to Anna and Martha's newly renovated house nearby, and it was amazing—great kitchen, huge outdoor screen porch, a very nice upstairs renovation for their master suite, and a pool that was technically a lap pool but was really more like a sitting pool, since a row of big steps ran the length of it and probably intruded halfway into the overall width. Will was very excited about the prospect of coming back for a pool party in the summer—hopefully we'll get to do that.

We had been hoping to go see one of Amy's softball games that afternoon, but we had such a good visit with Anna that we didn't leave her house until after the final game was over. So we went back home, had a little quiet time, and then finished off the evening with a viewing of Inside Out (which my mom still hadn't seen) and pizza.

Sunday was another big day for Will, starting with a visit to the softball field to see Amy play. We got there a little after the game had started, but just in time to see Amy get a triple and then score on her teammate's hit. It was drizzly and grey, but Will was having a great time, so we were planning to stay for at least a few more innings.

But then something horrible happened: a batter from the opposing team hit a shallow fly into right field, and the second baseman (basewoman?) went over to attempt a catch and slipped on the wet grass, immediately breaking her ankle. She crumpled to the ground and spent the next five minutes screaming in pain as they got her stabilized and got an ambulance to the field.

At first we didn't know if it was the second baseman or Amy, who was playing right field that day—we were standing near the dugout the ball was out of our line of sight when it hit the ground. It was good that Will didn't actually see it, because while they were getting her calmed down I was able to take him on a walk, returning when the ambulance was taking her away. The coaches decided after that traumatic event that the ground was too treacherous to play on, and also that the Emory team couldn't play after losing their teammate (she was a senior and a team leader), so they canceled the rest of that game and the remaining games that afternoon.

Will had a birthday party early in the afternoon followed by his swim lesson, so he wouldn't have been able to go to the afternoon game anyway, but he did say he wanted to go to another game the next time they play.

After Will's busy afternoon of a birthday party and his swimming lesson, we let him pick dinner, and he picked one of his favorite places, the Taco Mac in Decatur. He doesn't mind the food there, but he really, really likes the game room. He's especially obsessed with the claw machine (he calls it the grabber), but even though we let him play occasionally, he's never won a prize from it (although we have seen a few people eventually pluck one of the stuff animals from the bin).

Imagine his sheer joy when he came to report to us that they had a new grabber machine, and imagine our relief when we saw that it was one that let you play until you won something (and it was also cheaper than the other one). It had a giant bin full of rubber ducks with different colors and costumes, and Will was so pleased with himself—we didn't tell him it was a play until you win machine, so he thought he was just really good at it. I think by the end of the evening he had four ducks to take home with him.

My mom left the next morning, but she walked him to school and into his classroom before she left. He was a little sad, but he's getting better with goodbyes—it used to be that whenever anyone came for a visit and left, he would completely fall apart, but now he seems to shed a few tears and regroup pretty quickly. That doesn't mean he doesn't miss people—he still spends the next couple of days asking when they're coming back and what they can do during the next visit, but it doesn't have as big an impact in the moment as it used to.

I was a big Marvel fan when I was a teenager, but Deadpool didn't make his first appearance until after I was no longer reading those books (I was in college by then, and I had no money to buy them and no place to keep them anyway), so I didn't initially have much interest in seeing the movie, especially because I don't like Ryan Reynolds at all. But the movie was getting such good reviews that I decided to take a break from Star Wars and check it out last Thursday night, especially because my friend Steve was also curious about it.

And let me tell you: it was AWESOME. I loved pretty much every minute of this movie. I even kinda like Ryan Reynolds now, which the me of a week ago would be absolutely appalled by. It was funny, the cinematography/special effects shots were great, and the casting—even Ryan Reynolds—was pretty perfect. There was even a post-credits scene that riffed on Ferris Bueller's post-credits scene without telling you it was referencing that movie specifically, but I think everyone who was at my showing got the joke.

I'm probably going to go see this one again, although I will probably go by myself or with another one of my guy friends—I can't imagine there are many women who will like this movie, as it is definitely a dude/bro movie—lots of foul language, crude jokes, gratuitous nudity, and graphic violence and gore. The perfect movie for 16 year old males (who aren't technically allowed to see it) and the 16 year old male that still lives inside most grown men.

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