Thursday, April 19, 2007

American Sports Knowledge (or lack thereof)

It's a beautiful sunny day here in London, so Thing One dug deep into the hat box-- past the winter hats and mittens-- to unearth his new Pittsburgh Steelers hat.

This was the first time he got to wear the hat, a Christmas gift from his aunt and uncle in the Steel City. As we reached the door of his classroom, I realized that some of his friends might ask about the hat and who the Steelers were, so I thought I should check to make sure that he knew answers.

"Do you know what sport the Steelers play?" I asked.

"Umm....." [insert thoughtful pause here]


[Editors Note: For those not familiar with the 2006 Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers are an American football team. Thing One never guessed the right sport, so we will be sitting down after school for a brief sports history lesson. I'm sure his relatives in Pittsburgh died a little death when they read the above.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Marathon Anniversary

Two years ago today, at this very moment, I was running the London Marathon.

One year ago today, I was limping around, due to a mystery problem with my left foot.

Today, I know these three things: (1) I completed the London Marathon; (2) I have arthritis (3) Making that marathon my first, and last, one.

April 17, 2005 was, quite simply, one of the most amazing days of my life. I had been a runner since I was 12, and a marathon was something I always planned to do, but life (job, family, etc.) always got in the way. Finally, in 2004, I "won" the London Marathon lottery and got my place. My plan was enhanced by the fact that I had to do all of my weekday training with Thing Two, who was 23 months old by the time race day rolled around. I called him my personal trainer, and to this day, I am amazed at how patient he was about the training, though I think all of the raisins and fruit bars along the way helped.

Two years later, I can still hear the roar of the crowds, the mission I shared with the 33,000 other runners that day, strangers yelling out "Go M0!" and, yes, the brutal pain that made me wonder why I wanted to do it in the first place. To keep me going, I kept repeating the mantra: Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever. I also kept in mind that if I didn't finish, my chosen charity CAMFED wouldn't get the sponsorship money I promised it. In the end I raised more than £4,000 to send African girls to school, an accomplishment that makes me quite proud.

Now that I have been diagnosed with arthritis-- an especially interesting problem, given that I'm only 38-- my marathon memories have become all the more special to me. In November, my doctor told me I'd never run again. Never one to take no for an answer, I kept nagging him until finally last month he relented and said I could give it a try if I took necessary precautions (i.e.: 20 mile runs are a thing of the past). I've now been out on four runs and I'm thrilled to say my foot is not hurting all that much (though sadly, it's not entirely pain-free).

Even though I'll never run a marathon again, I know that I've done one. I'm just glad that I did finally do it in 2005, or else it never would have happened.

The moral of the story: Just Do It (whatever It might be: a marathon, a novel, climbing Mt. Everest) because you never know what life will throw at you.

To everyone who ran the 2005 London Marathon, (but especially my friends Laura, Liz and Sam) Happy Marathon Anniversary!

Just for kicks, and because I can, I've rerun the picture of me and my personal trainer at the family meet-and-greet area, where he tried to steal (or eat) my medal, which he earned too.

Friday, April 13, 2007

So It Goes, Kurt Vonnegut

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, author of several mind-bending books including, "Breakfast of Champions" and "Slaughterhouse-Five," died Wednesday. He was 84.

I always had a special place in my heart for Mr. Vonnegut-- he was a great writer, an astute observer of human nature and (sympathetically) seemed to be on the brink of madness. But I felt a connection to him because we share the same birthday-- 11.11.

Mr. Vonnegut's books were an acquired taste, to be sure, but once you got into the swing of things, they were a real joy to read, and unlike anything you read before. "Slaughterhouse-Five," published in 1969, became a best seller, but was also banned in many U.S. schools, so you know it has to be good.

I can still remember the weekend I read "Breakfast of Champions" twenty years ago. (And no, it wasn't required reading). I was a senior in high school and an aspiring writer, and I couldn't believe how original, crazy and astute the novel was-- not to mention hysterically funny.

When we lived in Chicago, Mr. Vonnegut, a legendary chain-smoker, went to the University of Chicago in 1997 to give a talk and sign books of his then newly published novel, "Timequake." We got there too late to get a seat for the talk, but we were able to purchase a signed copy of the book. When I turned to the autograph, there were still several ashes from his cigarette on the page. To this day, I still haven't read the book because I don't want to lose the ashes by opening it up again.

In the novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine,” he has his own unique advice for new members of the world:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

So it goes, Mr. Vonnegut.

p.s. One of the best obituraries I read yesterday (and where I found the advice to babies) was in the New York Times. Read it here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Mr. Movie Alert!

This is such big news for Mr. Movie, I'm tempted to go upstairs right now and wake him up and tell him. However, I will resist the urge, as it's 11:30 p.m. and Bad Things Will Happen if I do.

In any case, if Mr. Movie (aka Thing Two) were awake he'd like you to know:
TOY STORY 3 WILL BE OUT IN 2009! (and yes, he would scream it, if he were up)

As reported in Variety (back in February, I'm just catching up), the film will be directed by Lee Unkrich, who co-directed "Finding Nemo," "Monsters Inc." and "Toy Story 2." The story will be written by Oscar-winner Michael Arndt, who wrote, "Little Miss Sunshine."

[Pause for Internet research here]
According to the Internet Movie Database, both Tom Hanks [Woody, for all of you philistines out there] and Tim Allen [Buzz Lightyear] already have signed on for the project.

So that'll be big news for the breakfast table, then.

Famous on Wikipedia (no, not me)

Wikipedia, probably the most popular web-based encyclopedia there is, prominently features a new topic every day. On Friday, the featured article was about The Turk, the chess-playing automaton. The 18th century machine fascinated people worldwide, mainly because people thought a machine couldn't be so smart. As it happens, the machine wasn't so smart, it was in fact (SPOILER ALERT!) a person inside who was so smart.

Why do I know so much about The Turk? Because my friend Tom Standage wrote a great book about it called, "The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine."

Wikipedia's featured article relied pretty heavily on Tom's book for source material, which was quite cool for Tom (though it didn't help his Amazon ranking much, unfortunately).

So read the featured article, and if that intrigues you, buy the book.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Parade

To get everyone in the Easter spirit, here's a picture of Thing One and Thing Two and their school's Easter parade. In the spirit of full disclosure, this parade was actually two weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to posting the picture now.

Thing Two (on the left) is wearing a bird's nest on his head, with a chocolate bird perched precariously on the top (it fell off shortly after this was taken). Thing Two (on the right) is wearing a bunny head, complete with white furry ears and buck teeth. I think they look amazing, but of course I would think that, since I did most of the labour for this project (both sons took on a management role for this project).

To make a long story short, I could have given this post the headline, "Learning to be a Good Loser. Again."

We did not win. We did not even place. Thing Two, who luckily is obvilious to the world when presented with consolation chocolate by the nice PTA ladies, said, "Look Mom! I won! I won!"

Thing One, on the other hand, was not fooled. Not in the least. He thought for sure he had a prize winning entry this year. On the way to the parade, he was still talking about how he lost two years ago. Even Anna, the PTA organizer of the event (who could be a Bond girl in her spare time, with her cool Russian accent) hoped he would win, because she, too, remembered his crushing defeat of 2005.

So he lost. We had to walk around the corner from the event so he could have a good, long cry on my shoulder.

He's still learning how to be a good loser. But that's a tough lesson to learn when you're only 7 1/2. Maybe 2009 will be his year.