World’s Fair/State Fair

Last day of school is tomorrow. Which makes us one of the last districts in the area to get out. One of the nearby suburbs was done almost two weeks ago. I’m not sure how strongly I really feel about school start and end dates. But I do know that regardless of what the research says, I’m not in favor of year-round school years. Every May my anticipation for the last day of school grows stronger. After the opening Sunday of the NFL season, the last day school is locked in a titanic battle to the death with Christmas and the first day of our annual Ozarks vacation for sole possession of second place on my Days I Look Forward To The Most Ranking. Why? Because it’s a freaking break for Mom and I.

Now many of you without school age children, with just one school ager or even those of you with school agers with large age gaps between them might not know or remember why its such a big deal. So I’ll give you a couple examples.

For next 2.5 months we do not have to remember any field trip permission slips or any field trip money. We do not have to remember which kid needs to bring a sack lunch and which kid is or is not allowed to bring peanut products in the aforementioned sack lunch. We do not have to remember which days which kid has orchestra. Or band. Or choir. We do not have to remember to fill up their school lunch accounts. We do not have to remember to rearrange our morning schedules at work because somebody needs to be at school early for a project. We do not have to remember which days are the days they have to wear certain school shirts for certain school activities. We do not receive emails from three different teachers with reminders and asks about field trips, projects, fundraisers or discipline issues. We do not have to take anyone to dance classes, dance recitals, gymnastics classes, softball practices or softball games. Well that’s not totally true, Mom signed Kinsey and Bailey up for gymnastics through mid-July and Rye is going to take some extra dance classes too. But my point remains the same. In addition to all of that, we do not have to remind the girls to get their backpacks ready before school. We do not have to ask them to get out their planners and reading logs and other various crap, I mean umm…well I do mean crap…that we have to sign or initial. We don’t have to nag anyone to remember to bring their snow gear with appropriate hats and gloves, we don’t have to argue that flip-flops are not appropriate footwear in 45 degree weather.

Not that I keep a list or think about this stuff or anything…

However, you know what I have to remember now? Nothing! Well, that’s not true. I do need to remember to take Kinz and Bails to daycare a couple days a week. But hell it doesn’t matter if they are late to daycare…heck I don’t even care if they eat breakfast. Its freaking summer.

So today the last projects of the year were due for Riley and Kinsey. The 6th graders do a World’s Fair where they’ll pick/get assigned a country and research said country and set up a small display with the above-mentioned research along with food samples from their country. The 4th graders do the same thing except with the states.

Riley’s country was England. Which is fine. I like those guys. They’ve been our friends for a long time. And she might even have some English lineage in her ancestry. On Mom’s side. Rye doesn’t really know because Mom’s side of the family really doesn’t know. Which I find infuriating. My side? Half Polish on my Mom’s side, quarter Hungarian, quarter Slovak on my Dad’s side. Boom! That’s what’s up. Anyway, Mom says she’s pretty darn sure she’s got a lot of German and probably some English. Which, I always remind her, good thing we didn’t tell my Grandma you were (probably) German when we got married. Grandma was Polish and wasn’t real fond of the Germans…but they still rated higher than the Russians. My Mom still thinks that’s funny because one of Grandma’s good friends was the German lady who lived across the street. Anyway…

Rye got England. She made a nice display, was able to rattle off lots of things about the Brits and was even able to work Katherine Jenkins (she’s from Wales) from Dancing with the Stars into her presentation. She also made English biscuits. And by “she” I really mean mostly Mom. I’d give you a percentage instead of “mostly” but like Mom’s disinteterest in her nationalities, I really have no interest in giving you an accurate English biscuit workload division. Oh, and by “English biscuit,” I really mean cookie. And by “cookie,” I really mean half a circle (or a “round” in England) of a cinnamonesque piece of pie crust. They were actually pretty good. And we have a truckload left because Rye insisted her and Mom turn our kitchen into a small English bakery.

I also visited Ireland, Scotland, France, Mexico and Croatia since those displays were manned by Rye’s friends. In the 6th grade room across the hall the kid who picked Scotland had a relative come in wearing a kilt and he played the bagpipes. Yeah, that’s some ancestral freaking pride right there! I made a point during this whole World’s Fair project that I was kinda hoping Rye picked Poland and suggested that part of the presentation should point out how the Poles, invaded from opposite directions in 1939 by the Nazi’s and the Soviets still managed to last longer than the Freaking French did a year later. Ancestral Pride!

I had some nice Irish lemonade which supposed to be like beer…although sadly, it wasn’t. Sampled some cookies from Scotland, some French bread with melted cheese from France, some enchiladas from Mexico and some njoki from Croatia. Which is evidently dough and potatoes. To me they tasted a helluva lot like, but not quite as good as, pierogi’s. Which are super popular in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia by the way. Ancestral Knowledge! The Croats evidently make njoki with potatoes as the primary filling. My people fill pierogis with potatoes, meat, cheese, cabbage, mushrooms, onions or I guess pretty much anything they can find and fry in grease and butter.

I skipped Greece, Italy and Canada. I mean c’mon, I think we all need to be skipping Greece right about now since those guys are killing all our retirement accounts. Italy gets all full of itself when it comes to food already and then there’s Canada. And well, unless its Labatt’s and walleye fillets, I’m not all that interested in Canadian cuisine. Although I’m not really sure what it entails other than beer. Which I like. But isn’t necessarily one of the top choices for the 6th grade World’s Fair displays.

So I moseyed on over to the State Fair. Kinsey, in direct contrast to Riley, was smiling so wide when I walked up to her that I thought that corners of her mouth might actually meet in the back of her head. Rye kinda gave me that aloof 6th grader “oh, hi Dad” like the last thing she’s interested in doing is having her Dad around for a project that she specifically asked me to attend…not to mention drove her to school early the last two freaking days so she could prepare for it….

Anyway, the 4th grade State Fair was filled with less pre-teen angst and more genuine enthusiasm than the World’s Fair. I visited California first, not because it sported a picture of my second favorite president Ronald Reagan but because Kinsey had California. And she gave me one of those one-armed hugs when I walked up to her. Still nice to have her immune to embarrassment in relation to Dad-hugs.

Kinsey, employing a far more practical approach to her local food samples, brought some California sourdough bread. It was already made and came in its own packaging. I much preferred it to the English biscuits. After California, I visited Kentucky. Where I had watermelon and learned Johnny Depp is a native. From there I went to Louisiana and had some cornbread and learned the state beverage is milk. Which I found surprising since I could have sworn it would be some kind of daiquiri. Next I moved onto Connecticut and learned suckers were invented there. The candy kind not the Obama voter kind. So I walked on over to Texas and after the college football realignment dramas over the last two summers I’ve just about had with it Texas…not to mention the food was grapefruit. And grapefruit ain’t for everybody. Next door was Hawaii. I had pineapple. Next door to Hawaii was Delaware, our second smallest state which has no sales tax but was handing out vanilla ice cream peach floats…mmm…

Good Night at the Ballpark

Softball season is winding down for the girls and last Tuesday was a pretty good day…if by “good day” you mean “freaking awesome!”

Rye went 1-2 with 2 RBI’s and Kinsey went 1-2 with a run scored. Kinz also pitched an inning and got a strikeout. It was legit too. Got the girl looking on strike 3. But the hidden stat of the night was the fact that neither one struck out at the plate. That’s the first time that has ever happened in the three years they’ve been playing. Four plate appearances and contact on all four. It’s not like they were the ’71 Pirates but I’m also not talking about the wussy Punch and Judy bouncers that struggle to just to make back to the pitcher.

First time up Kinsey hit a rocket down the 3rd base line that nearly killed the little 3rd grader playing third. My guess, and I’m just spitballin’ here, is that she wasn’t prepared for a round yellow projectile traveling at mach 4 to whiz over her head. She looked like the Air Boss spilling his coffee in Top Gun when Mav and Goose buzzed the tower at over 400 knots! Not that there aren’t some girls in Kinsey’s league who are darn good hitters, there just aren’t that many. Kinda like conservative Democrats in Congress. Plus Kinsey sorta bee-bops her way up to the plate with her big blond pony tail bouncing around in such a way that she does not engender any sort of fear or trepidation in the fielders. They feel like the Empire when Admiral Ackbar and the Rebel Fleet showed up to destroy the second Death Star knowing that the deflector shield was quite operational. So when Kinz connects there is always a very easily recognized, “whoa” from the parents in the bleachers. Plus she is compelled to get to third base after she gets a hit. I mean there is some kind of genetic code in her DNA that requires her to steal second and then third. She’d steal home too but that’s against the rules in her league. I mean she can’t help it. She’s like Nike and screwing up football uniforms…they’re just incapable of not doing it…

Second time up she hit a one hopper right to the girl playing first base who, by the way she easily fielded it, knew what she was doing. And listen, nobody gets angrier about making an out after contact than Kinsey. She feels like she’s been cheated when it happens. Like it is her right to be on first if she hits the ball. Like unions and free health care.

Riley is a different story however. While Kinsey pretty much went 1-2 with a hit and a strikeout in nearly every game last year and makes pretty good contact about every other at-bat this season, Riley pretty much has gone 0-2 in every game for well…ever. Sure she’ll draw a walk every now and then but contact, any sort of contact, was a victory in 2010 and 2011. This year she’s been making regular contact but she’s a little late with her swing so she fouls everything off behind 1st base. But its regular contact. The one game when she smacked one back up the middle for a hit and a RBI…I missed because I had to work late. So we come into Tuesday night’s game with this as a backdrop. Oh, and she missed her only game last week which means she really hasn’t seen any action, game or practice, for about ten days. I’m thinking, “well, as long as she’s still having fun, that’s good.”

I underestimated my oldest daughter.

She walks into the on deck circle before her first at bat and takes a few warm up cuts. Mom yells to her, “Rye! Time your swing and swing HARD!” She gives that 12 year-old nod/smile acknowledging receipt of the information but also indicating she’s a bit embarrassed. Girl in front of her draws a walk. The girl pitching is fast and pretty accurate with her location. Rye strolls to the plate, unloosens her batting gloves and then tightens them up, adjusts her helmet, taps the plate with her bat and gets in her stance.

First pitch is low. Second pitch is good and Rye swings but is way behind it. Third pitch is low again. Lots of “good eye Rye, good eye Rye” comments from the bleachers.

Fourth pitch is…smoked right back up the middle. It wasn’t cheap either. Rye smoked it. Unfortunatley, the pitcher hardly even had to move her feet to snag it. She shot her glove up and caught it while the momentum of the ball knocked her back and off balance.

Earlier in the season, Rye made good contact on another pitch just like this one and she hit it so hard that it took one bounce to the pitcher who fielded it and threw to first before Rye even got out of the batter’s box.

Rye’s reaction to both was the same, she looked at me and shook her head. As she got back to the bench, she smiled and said, “Dad, that should’ve been a hit, I killed it.” I replied “yeah, nice contact but sometimes that happens, keep swinging hard.”

Her team is down 13-2 the next time they come up. Suddenly the bats come alive and its 13-4 with a girl on 2nd and 3rd with Rye up. I’m thinking, “man that hitting is contagious stuff better be true.”

I cautiously walk up to the fence so I can see Rye a little better. First pitch is a laser right down the pipe, thigh high. Rye takes the strike, steps out of the box and takes a practice swing. I turn to Mom, “Shoulda swung at that one.”

Next pitch is…confusing. It was for me anyway.

I distinctly remember thinking that it was a little high as it got to the plate and then that the girl batting, who everybody reminded me was my daughter, hit a high arching fly ball that landed just in front of the centerfielder. Who, in case you forgot, plays on the grass not the dirt. My daughter who got a hit in her first ever softball at bat two years ago on a slow dribbler to 3rd base and then went through the rest of that season with one hit and all of the 2011 with one hit, hit a ball last week that can only be described as Ruthian. I mean I saw that thing in the air and all I could think of, I mean after I said “Holy Sh*t!” was Roy Hobbs when he hit the lights in The Natural and all the sparks rained down on him as he rounded the bases. But of course that’s ridiculous so my thoughts instantaneously shifted to Willie Stargell’s homer off Scott McGregor in Game 7 of the ’79 Series. But what really happened was Rye was so excited she hyperventilated down the first base line and didn’t have the gas to get to 2nd base. But she knocked in two runs!

The look on my face must have resembled what God was thinking when he came up the words “bewildered astonishment and unfettered joy.”

To Rye’s credit, she turns to her coach asks a question about stealing gives him a fist bump and takes off for second on the next pitch. And listen, she was so pumped about her hit that she looked like the 1985 version of Vince Coleman. I filmed the steal attempt:

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Anyway, Kinsey’s team ended up losing 12-4 and Rye’s team lost 19-11. As Rye gathered her gear and put it in her softball bag I walked over unable to disguise my smile. I mean my facial muscles were beginning to fatigue because they aren’t used to smiling that long without some type of break. Same thing happened on November 18th…Cyclones 37 Oklahoma State 31! Woo!

Anyhow, she walks up to me smiling almost as wide as me and I say, “hey, how’s that feel?”

She smiled a bit wider and said “Dad, that felt gooooooood.”

Then we immediately got into a discussion of exactly how far she had hit it into the outfield, how high it went, what were the parents saying when she hit it and what did her teammates do on the bench when she hit it.

Hey, reliving awesome moments makes them more awesome.