friends, MS

She Rides With MS 2016: Oxford Edition

A recap of our Bike MS: Oxford ride, as told through photographs from the weekend.

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Team PsalMS, from left to right: Meghan O., Christy, Gail, Erin, Ben, Emily, Katie, Meghan M. and Jill.

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Nothing builds team unity like an official jersey. This year, Team PsalMS went big on the jersey front with a little help from one of our seven new members, Christy Daniel, who got us the hook-up for some sweet Le Col unis (at a discount, no less!). As evidenced by the team picture above, taken before our Saturday ride (when, collectively, the nine of us rode 625 miles), we also went big on the socks front. In fact, the nine of us heard no combination of two words more frequently on the rolling stretches of open road around Oxford, Ohio, two weekends ago than these: “Nice socks!”

The Ohio Valley MS chapter moved its ride from Cincinnati to Oxford this year. That was part of the reason we were able to recruit seven new members to ride with us; seven of the eight ladies pictured above are Miami University alums. That meant, when we weren’t riding, we could be chowing down on a Szczerbiak bagel from Bagel & Deli, or revisiting the old haunts of Limelight and Hooterville, or partaking of (numerous) late night Skyline Chili Cheese Sandwiches for those of us who no longer live in the fair state of Ohio and thus can only eat Skyline from a can (a deeply inferior chili experience). The bike routes were prettier and more scenic — hillier too, though that made for some exhilarating downhills (fasted speed: 39 mph) as rewards for the difficult climbs.

The other opportunity afforded by our jerseys were many opportunities to explain why our name is Team PsalMS. Though not as comical or witty as, say, our favorite fellow team, the Handlebars (from its team page: “We believe that facial hair and spandex will have a direct effect on the lives of our friends living with MS”), or others like Cobra Kai (with the tagline, “Sweep the leg MS!”), our name has significance behind it which led to some meaningful conversations on the road. Bicycling is a more social sport than running. It’s better suited for conversation and leisurely rest stops (unless, like Christy and Katie, our two century riders, you’re out for speed and distance). It was easy to strike up a conversation among our team, given how far back many of those friendships go. But we were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to talk to anyone, anywhere, during any part of the weekend. The camaraderie we felt, even with strangers, was genuine.

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The official jersey.

Just so you can fully appreciate how awesome our jersey is, here’s a close up. Several team members were not even aware, until someone pointed it out on Sunday, that the outline of Ohio is a bike chain. That was Christy’s idea.

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Bike selfie

Bike selfie. As this was taken before the ride began, it was totally safe.

Our intent was to ride 50 miles on Saturday and 25 miles on Sunday, a modest upgrade from our 50 miles last year. But the day was so pleasant, and the miles passed so quickly, that we and Meghan Orr opted on the fly for the 75 mile route. While we trained a wee bit more for this Bike MS ride than we did last year’s (when, we confess, our training consisted entirely of five mile round trips to the pool and a steady stream of Oreos), our longest training ride was a Loveland bike trail-flat 35 miles. So 75 was a bit outside our comfort zone.

And yet, like our half-marathons, the miles pass faster during the actual race. The 75-mile route took us into the farmlands of Indiana; at one point, we actually passed a farmer carrying a bucket of slop across the road to a feeding trough for his pigs. At other points it felt as though we were biking through a corn tunnel. (Never has endless corn looked so wonderful as when it buffeted us from the mild headwinds during the last twenty miles.)

We crossed the finish line a little after 3:00, so we didn’t set any records for speed. (Nor did we beat most of the century riders.) But the feeling of accomplishment and the peculiar pleasure that comes from exhausting physical exertion were all we felt when we pulled back into Oxford (West Spring Street like our Champs-Élysées) to the perfect ending: a cheering section.

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On the road deux

A slightly less safe bike selfie from the Sunday route.

Riding with people we have the honor of calling friends was incredibly special to me (Erin). All of us got to have quality time with each other while, you know, doing some of the hardest exercise of our lives. (The phrase “We can do hard things” seemed a constant ticker tape scrolling in my mind.) I cherished the one-on-one conversations I had on the road–it struck me how much more enjoyable it was to be doing something hard and to be catching up with one another, talking about things utterly ordinary and extremely profound. Those I didn’t get to talk to on the road, I relaxed with after the ride over a beer and the surprisingly pleasing combination of potato chips dipped into coleslaw. (Seriously. Try it.)

I’m a chronic replayer of time, and this weekend proved no different. Even still, I keep playing the “two weeks ago, we’d be checking into the dorm” or “eating lunch at the 28 mile marker” or “doing a spontaneous yoga pose in front of Hooterville” or “hanging out at the tattoo parlor.” And then wish it was two weeks ago.

I am so proud of my team. I am also very grateful that they were part of the audience when I briefly told my story in front of the 551 riders Saturday night. The MS Society asked me earlier in the week if I’d consider, and it didn’t take me long to say yes. But it’s one thing to agree to something and another thing to stand nervously in front of hundreds of people. I talked about when and how I was diagnosed with MS, what the last year and a half has been like, and why I ride. I emphasized how the need for fundraising clicked with me this year since my first medicine wasn’t working but my new one is. Without fundraising and research, which led to my new medicine, my future seems something I don’t want to imagine.

I left the stage unsure about what I’d said — if it made sense, if it was what the MS Society wanted, if it was right at all. Ben and my teammates all reassured me. The rest of the weekend, so many people came to give me a hug or a word of encouragement, and moved me to my core.

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Biking the Covered Bridges of Butler County. 

As of Saturday night, when Steve Niemann, the Teams Development Manager at the Ohio Valley Chapter, announced the top ten fundraising teams (fundraising continues through September 25th), we were in tenth place out of over fifty teams, even though many teams had significantly more members than we did. At one point, Erin was in the top five of fundraisers overall. This is a testament to the extreme generosity of our friends and family, as well as the fundraising efforts of our teammates. We cannot say enough how humbled we are by everyone’s generosity toward us.

Battling MS can be such an amorphous thing — how do you attack something that doesn’t have a cure, that seems to move invisibly, that appears to lie dormant for long stretches of time before flaring up in spectacular and terrifying fashion? What we love about Bike MS is that it gives us something tangible to do: Ride a bicycle! For a long time! Until our butt hurts like nobody’s business! That’s easy, compared to the larger battle at hand. As Erin put it in her speech, “I hate having MS, but I love riding with MS.” We appreciate everyone who is on this journey with us.

friends, MS

She Rides With MS

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When we picked up our race packets for the 50-mile Bike MS ride, a very mannered young man, probably no more than twelve, was there to greet us. “What name is the registration under?” he asked. “Erin Vore,” Erin said. The boy scrolled through the list, located Erin’s name, and then said, “Erin Vore! It’s Erin Vore everyone!” At this, everyone — which was three other people working the table — promptly came over and shook Erin’s hand. “You were one of our top fundraisers!” the director, a man by the name of Steve, said. Another man, just a volunteer, was content simply to shake Erin’s hand. “You’re an all-star,” he said. The twelve-year-old, who may have actually been a forty-year-old trapped in a pre-teen’s body, said things like, “You did an exemplary job fundraising,” and kept checking items off a list to give to us: a standard-issue Bike MS t-shirt; a Bike MS windbreaker; a Top Banana riding jersey (appropriately colored yellow), given to those who raise at least $1200. (It speaks to the generosity of our friends that Erin raised nearly $2800.)

“How many years have you been riding?” Steve asked.

“Well, this is my first,” Erin said. “I was diagnosed last December, and this was one of the first things we both agreed we wanted to do.”

“You have MS too!” Steve said.

“That means you get an ‘I Ride with MS’ jersey,” the twelve-year-old said, promptly taking one off the table. Erin was now holding four articles of clothing.

We felt like celebrities. And that, admittedly, is a nice feeling to have, and one unlike most of the feelings we’ve had since Erin’s diagnosis eight months ago. That feeling helped compensate for the fact that we had done absolutely no — as in zero — training for our fifty miles leading up to race day.

But you can get a lot of mileage off the generosity and support of your friends — both those who supported us (financially and otherwise) before the race, and those who showed up at the UDF on the corner of Remington and Loveland-Madeira … the only people we saw, anywhere on the route, who comprised a cheering section for anyone on a bicycle.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset The people not in bike jerseys are definitely faking how much fun it                                       appears to be watching a bike race.

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There were a few people on the ride who also had “I Ride With MS” jerseys, but the majority of riders were people who knew someone with MS; just wanted to support the cause; or were simply happy to raise at least $300 to take a spin from Bellevue, Kentucky, up to Camp Kern in Ohio.

What got us through the last fifteen miles — besides low gears and a lot of Powerade — was the knowledge that we have great friends and supportive family; that we are not embarking on the journey of life with MS alone; and that there were other riders out there with us — not just those whizzing (or plodding) by the cornfields of Lebanon, but also those like our friend Katie, who did the Denver MS ride, and others all around the country. One rider had a “We Bike The U.S. For MS” jersey full of signatures. His body was a testament to the names of those with the disease, his presence a reminder that while things like MS can isolate and frighten us, they can also be turned outward, pointing us toward community, interdependence, and hope. So we ride on.
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UPDATE!: We have somehow graced the front page of the Ohio Valley Bike MS recap. As our friend (and Bike MS PR person/live-tweeter) Andrew Cashmere would say, “Boom.”

friends, marriage, things to love about Ohio

Scenes From An Ohio Road Trip

Moments after dropping Sam and Leo off with Erin’s parents, as we pulled out of the neighborhood and considered that we would now have the next twenty-eight hours without kids, Ben turned to Erin and said, “To quote Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob?: Free.”

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LEG 1: CINCINNATI TO YELLOW SPRINGS (VIA KETTERING)

“So how do you pronounce his name?” Erin asked, holding Ben’s copy of Between the World and Me.

“It’s Tah-Nuh-HA-see Coates. The ‘Hi’ sounds like a ‘Ha,'” Ben said. “Wait, are you going to read my book before I do?”

“Sure. You’re driving.”

“But I get to read it tonight when we get to the hotel.”

“No. Because I’ll be reading it.”

“But it’s my book. I just bought it.”

“And I’m reading it.”

“This is the, what — fourth book you’ve stolen from me?”

“Oh, that’s not true. Name them.”

“Meghan Daum’s book.”

“OK, that’s one.”

The Dark Path.”

“Two.”

“Oh, The Lifeboat, last summer.”

“No, you stole that from me.”

We passed the newly reconstructed “Touchdown Jesus” off I-75. It was not looking so touchdowny anymore.

“I can’t remember the last visitation I went to,” Erin said.

“I think mine was my Uncle Bud,” Ben said. “I still remember how he looked in the coffin. It was him, but it wasn’t, you know?”

“Where did our summer go? And why did we each bring four books? By the time we get to the hotel it’ll be at least ten o’clock.”

“And there’ll be HGTV.”

“Right. Who were we kidding?”

There was construction outside Dayton and we missed our exit. When we arrived at the funeral home, our friend Scott was there to greet us. Meghan, his wife, was feeding their five-month-old. Life goes on even in tragedy.

More of our friends arrived, and each new arrival made Meghan smile and then cry. We stood around in a circle, witnesses to a passing.

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“We’re going to get in late, aren’t we?” Erin said back in the car. “Also, I’m so hungry I’m going to start gnawing on the upholstery.”

“It’s all right,” Ben said. “It’s a road trip. We’ll get there before ‘Property Brothers.'”

“But where are we going to eat?”

“Anywhere. You pick.”

“Have you ever been to Yellow Springs?”

“No. Let’s do it. Tell me where to go.”

“Take this exit. It’s twelve miles on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road.”

As we drove, Erin mentioned that her last meal in Yellow Springs had been with an old boyfriend, but that it was a very nice meal.

“So you’re saying I need to prove myself tonight?” Ben responded. “On our anniversary dinner?”

“I’m saying this is a chance for me to redeem my Yellow Springs experience.”

The main drag in Yellow Springs is Xenia Avenue, and assorted hipsters and hippies occupied the streets as we drove through. It seemed as though everyone was walking a dog.

We parked and walked around before stopping in the Winds Cafe. We looked at a sample menu while the maître d’ waited. “Plenty of tables tonight,” he said.

“I get worried when they don’t list the prices,” Erin whispered.

“Oh, let me get you a real menu!” the maÎtre d’ said.

We considered. It was getting late, and a meal there would taken at least an hour, putting us in Mansfield at close to eleven.

“Let’s do it,” Erin finally said.

“Oh good!” The maÎtre d’ snapped to action, getting us two more menus before realizing we already had two. He sat us by the window.

“Are you going to be Whole30 tonight?” Erin asked as we looked over the menu.

Ben hemmed and hawed. It was day twenty-one of a very loose Whole30.

“Maybe. Probably. Maybe.”

“C’mon,” Erin said. “Live a little.” She reminded him of the numerous lapses he had already suffered over the past three weeks. “But if you tempt me when I do mine,” she added, drawing a line across her throat.

The waiter arrived. We ordered the Provençal Whole Branzini. Ben ordered a Rhinegeist on tap.

“Good for you,” Erin said. “Let’s document this.”

She took a picture and, before uploading it to Instagram, pondered a good hashtag before settling on “#Neurohiogetaway.”

When the fish arrived, it was the whole Branzini — head and eyes and all.

“We have to eat the cheek meat,” Erin said. “You know the Amy Tan essay, right? ‘Fish Cheeks’?”

“I do not.”

“The best meat is in the cheeks. Let’s save it for last.”

A man walked by the window and saw our meal. He stopped, pointed at the fish, then at us, grinning like an idiot. We smiled and waved. He kept pointing and grinning.

“Yes, it’s a fish,” Ben said.

He nodded and finally kept walking.

While we celebrated our anniversary meal (a week early), the ladies two tables over were sharing their divorce stories. We were the only ones in the room, so their conversation filtered over to us easily. We talked so we wouldn’t feel like eavesdroppers.

“Does this cleanse the ex palate?” Ben asked. “Have we redeemed Yellow Springs for you?”

“Actually, I think this was the same restaurant,” Erin said. “But it was a different name then.”

“Well, we made the right choice then.”

It was nine when we finished. The Branzini was all spindly bone and head (minus the cheeks) when the waiter took it. We ordered decafs to go. The waiter returned with two decafs in mugs. “We didn’t have any travel cups left, but I figured you still wanted these,” he said.

The coffee was tepid. “We give our kids warmer baths than this,” Erin said.

The waiter returned and offered to brew us a new pot. We declined, and he took it off the check.

We left the restaurant as dusk was settling. “That was the kind of meal that’s really good but still leaves you hungry,” Ben said. We had Whole30-friendly banana chips and cashews in the car; most would be gone over the next two hours. “Mansfield or bust,” Erin said, and we were off.

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LEG 2: YELLOW SPRINGS TO MANSFIELD

We arrived at the hotel at 11:37. A man came out of his room as we tried to get our key to work. “You brought a box fan to a hotel!” he said. “Who brings a box fan to a hotel?”

“Apparently we do,” Erin said. We exchanged looks. Drunk? Serial killer?

He was approaching us as if our arrival was exactly what he’d been waiting for. “Apparently! I can’t get over that. What do you need a fan for?” He was closing on us.

“We like the white noise,” Erin said. The key was still not working. The moment was slowly turning into that movie scene when the good guy fumbles with the car keys as a deranged killer pursues.

“There’s an app for that!” he said. He was ten feet away.

The door opened. We were in. “Oh, really?” Erin said, sliding in and beginning to shut the door.

“Yeah!” he said, finally at our door. It was still open, and he was standing right in front of it. “Like three of them!”

“Well, we’ll have to check that out,” Erin said.

“You do that! Nice rooms, huh?”

“Very nice!” Erin said. “Good night!” She closed the door.

“Mansfield’s … friendly,” she said, recovering herself.

“But not lethal!” Ben said.

We found HGTV. Jonathan was giving Shannon and Darl the bad news that there was asbestos in the walls of their fixer-upper. Soon he would tell them they needed to get rid of a beloved clawfoot bathtub as well. Also that the HVAC needed to be replaced. Neither Shannon nor Darl was thrilled to get this news.

“What’s his name?” Erin asked. “Darr?”

“I think it’s ‘Darl,'” Ben said. “Like in Faulkner.”

“Darl,” Erin said. “That’s unfortunate.”

“They’re so weird-looking.”

“Shannon and Darl?”

“No, what’s-their-faces.”

“Jonathan and Drew.”

“Yes, they are.”

After the show, Erin took out A Farewell To Arms.

“You’re going to start your summer reading now, at midnight, in Mansfield, Ohio?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, who am I kidding,” Erin said, throwing the book on the floor.

“Show the kids the clip where Bradley Cooper throws the book out the window,” Ben said. “That’ll be their favorite part of class discussion.”

“Noted,” Erin said. She turned off the lights. We slept terribly.

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LEG 3: MANSFIELD TO CLEVELAND

Erin punched in the address for the Cleveland Clinic as soon as we get in our car. Siri chirped back, “Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis,” as we pulled back onto I-71 North.

“Thanks, Siri,” Erin said. She mimicked Siri’s voice. “Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, an auto-immune disease which occasionally causes you to go blind in your left eye.”

Ben chimed in. “Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, which you still have and can only get worse by the time you arrive.”

“Starting route to Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis,” Erin said, “which just all around really sucks for you.”

We arrived at the Cleveland Clinic an hour before our appointment. The waiting room had a clean, sleek, professional appearance, its inhabitants the usual snapshot of humanity caught in medical limbo. Two boys who did not appear to have parents were sitting side-by-side playing on iPads. The only magazines available for browsing were Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek, two of the least browsable magazines ever printed.

They ran a tight ship at the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis. A nurse, Georgia, ran vitals on Erin and logged her medications, then asked her to complete a timed test that involved moving pegs in and out of a square wood block. She then took us back to the waiting room, but it was less than five minutes before Dr. Cohen himself came out to greet us. He was polite, efficient, calm and reassuring. He agreed with the diagnosis, and talked about the growing number of MS medications. “Overall, I think you’re doing incredibly well given everything I’ve seen today,” he said — which was worth the drive itself, just to hear those words.

In the waiting room, we scheduled our follow-up appointment for February. Because of concerns for privacy, each scheduler is separated by a partition, and the next in line must wait outside behind a glass door. Nevertheless, we could still hear the woman on the other side of the partition very clearly when she said, upon being asked how her day was going, “Fine, except for the open sore on my butt.”

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LEG 4: CLEVELAND TO MANSFIELD

We stopped for lunch at the Chipotle in Middleburg Heights. The line was out the door. We watched as two parents tried desperately to corral their kids into finishing their meals. Eventually the father simply picked up the younger boy, who looked to be Leo’s age, and carried him out like a sack of mulch, if the sack was also squirming and screaming bloody murder.

Despite this scene, we both commented that we really missed our boys.

Back on I-71, Ben asked, “Have you ever been to the Ohio State Reformatory before?”

“Are you asking if I’ve done prison time?” Erin responded.

“It’s where they shot Shawshank Redemption. Should we stop?”

“Sure. It’s a road trip.”

We pulled up to the now-defunct prison, the music from that famous tracking shot playing in our heads. “Will they have a bathroom?” Erin asked. “Oh, I think those are still in operation,” Ben replied. Inside we took the Shawshank tour. Red was our tour guide.

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LEG 5: MANSFIELD TO CINCINNATI

“Funny how you can drive seven hours to Missouri but you need a break from Cleveland to Cincinnati,” Erin said. We had traded places after gassing up outside Grove City.

“What are you implying, exactly?”

“That you don’t want me to finish my book,” Erin said, gesturing toward Between the World and Me.

My book, thank you,” Ben replied.

“This has been a strange trip,” Erin said. “We bookended an anniversary getaway with a visitation and a neurology appointment.”

“Then went to a prison,” Ben added.

It was raining when we made it back to Cincinnati. Everyone — Sam, Leo, Nana, Papa — were sitting peacefully on the couch when we arrived to pick them up. Either the scene had been staged for us to suggest the last twenty-eight hours had been an idyllic time on the homefront, or it was just another instance of grandparenting magic. “They were great,” Erin’s parents said. We found that hard to believe, but we were grateful.

The trip marked the end of summer for us. The beginning of the school year is like reaching the peak of a roller coaster, right before it makes its first stomach-twisting drop. Once the ride starts, there’s no getting off until June. In six months, we’ll make the trek back up I-71, by which point, hopefully, Erin will be stabilized on Copaxone, with no additional relapses; both of us will be settled into new teaching gigs at new schools; Sam will be, in small but significant ways, on his way to being more mature and ready for kindergarten next fall; and Leo will be doing what Leo does, which is generally regarding everything around him with the two-year-old amazement of seeing it all for the first time. Until then, we await the start of another school year with both excitement and unease, anticipation and anxiety. And, of course, the hope none of us come down with open sores on our butt.

friends, NBA, Utah Jazz

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2011-2012 Utah Jazz!

Two wizards. Only one John Stockton.

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I — if you don’t know which of us is writing this based on the title of this post, then hello, and glad you just discovered our blog! — have great co-workers. I’ll give you an example of how great they are. I went into work last week and found on my desk a Starting Lineup John Stockton figurine. Behind him, propped in a plexiglass holder, were about twenty-five sheets of paper labeled “INSPIRATIONAL JOHN STOCKTON SAYING” with a big speech bubble in the middle of the page. I began flipping through the pages, stirred by pithy maxims like, “Plan the work and work the plan,” “Let me know where you want the ball,” and, “You look really good today.” The final ten pages or so were left blank for me to write my own inspirational sayings, as if I could possibly improve upon that last one.

What’s great about my co-workers is that no less than five of them were reasonable suspects for this stunt. (The mastermind, it turns out, was Michael Link. I asked him where he found a Starting Lineup John Stockton and he, in response, asked me how much I thought it was worth, giving me an over/under of five dollars. “Oh, way more than that,” I said. “Good,” he replied, “that’s what I want you to think.”) What’s also great is that, any time during my day when I need a little inspiration, I can look at a small, plastic figurine of number twelve and, mentally, see this:

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And I am instantly ready to plan the work and work the plan.

For a season preview of my beloved Utah Jazz, it’s probably telling that I spent the first 250 words going on about someone who has been retired for almost a decade now. (“You’re living in the past!” is what a Cleveland Cavs fan shouted at me a couple years ago. I picture that fan now, looking at himself in the mirror in his Ramon Sessions jersey, wondering every time Antawn Jamison hoists a three if it would be possible to take a tire iron to his shooting hand and make it look like an accident.) This year, for the first time since 1988, the Utah Jazz reported to camp and Jerry Sloan was not its head coach. The last link to the great Stockton/Malone era was gone. The shock of last season’s tailspin after Sloan left and Deron Williams was traded to the Nets wore off during the offseason but then hit me anew last month. Oh yeah. Times have changed.

One day we’ll hand this over … to Devin Harris and Derrick Favors.

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My expectations for this season were the lowest they have ever been, even after Stockton retired and Malone left for the Lakers in 2003. Utah traded Mehmet Okur for table scraps. It signed Jamaal Tinsley, the dumbest thing the franchise has done since re-signing Greg Ostertag (a move that surely shaved ten years off Sloan’s life). It lost its first two games in spectacularly bad fashion, by a combined 42 points to the Nuggets and the Lakers. Raja Bell was declared officially dead by a Utah coroner before someone pointed out that he was still walking and talking and therefore technically alive. Gordon Hayward had not progressed much in the offseason. Enes Kanter, the third pick in the draft, was hardly setting the world on fire.

And then … (and yes, I cheated by waiting until three weeks into the season before writing this) … I felt hopeful. After dropping three of the first four, Utah has rattled off five straight wins. None have been against especially strong teams, but still. This is a young, hungry team. We suddenly have size and athleticism in the frontcourt. Josh Howard was a great pick-up. Al Jefferson may not actually be a total stiff. Ty Corbin may have learned something from all those years under Sloan.

I’m not going to delude myself that the Jazz is going to contend for anything this year. It’s going to be a weird season, but one that will certainly favor the younger squads. Had you asked me three weeks ago if Utah would make the playoffs, I’d have said certainly not. Now? I’m cautiously optimistic. It’d be a seven or eight seed at best, but that’d be a real accomplishment for this team, and something to build on.

I was all shook up when Utah dealt Deron Williams last year. Now, knowing that D-Will would never have re-signed with the Jazz — and watching his Nets stink up the Atlantic Division — I confess a certain degree of smug satisfaction. I like Williams and hope he (and Okur) turn things around. Williams was instrumental, in one way or another, of forcing Sloan out (though whether Sloan jumped or was pushed we’ll probably never know). Sloan would’ve left eventually, of course. So we soldier on. It’s a strange time to be a Jazz fan, but at least they’re playing games. That’s something to be thankful for.

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My NBA blogging will probably be a bit more sporadic this season, especially as I resolve not to curse the Bulls (and my friend and fellow NBA junkie Scott Guldin) by saying anything good about them. It’s a bit shoddy to make predictions three weeks into the season, but I like the Thunder in the West, even though Russell Westbrook is a head case who will absolutely never co-exist long term with Kevin Durant. I won’t tell you who I like in the East because … well, see above.

Your obligatory Mark Eaton pic:

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Let’s go Jazz.

[h/t Erik Brueggemann on the Stockton/wizard pic]

family, friends, movies, NBA, Sam, Scooter Thomas, sports, Utah Jazz

Voreblog Power Rankings: December 8, 2011

Ranking who’s currently wearing the pants in the Vore household. Previous rankings here and here.

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Entering the list dead last.

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8. TUESDAY’S DATE NIGHT. Previous ranking: N/A

You know you’re in for a bad date night movie when your babysitter tells you, as you’re walking out the door, “Oh, I saw that over Thanksgiving break and it was terrible.” We knew the movie in question, Breaking Dawn, would not be good, but just how not good it was startled even our low, low expectations. Taylor Lautner needed all of five seconds to rip his shirt off, while the CGI sequences involving wolves speaking to one another were almost as bad as the flaming moose CGI sequence from Knowing. (Almost.) Date nights being a rare commodity, Tuesday’s date night was, shall we say, a Flaming Moose. Did you know? Jacob imprinted.

7. OUR CHRISTMAS TREE. Previous ranking: N/A

Charlie Brown, move over.

Our five foot artificial Christmas tree is sparkling and festive … starting at three and a half feet up. The Vore Christmas tree is #7 this year thanks to #4 and #1. O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, how lovely are thy topmost branches.

6. ERIN (down). Previous ranking: #4

After being dealt a grievous blow by David Stern and the National Basketball Association, Erin last night suffered another setback at the hands of the site Vistaprint, which suckered her into designing a super-sweet Christmas card only to tack on an egregious charge for envelopes before slipping in an even more egregious shipping charge which we had to pay if we wanted to see our cards before next February, so that what started out as an enjoyable endeavor filled with Christmas cheer soon devolved into a price-gouging, knicker-twisting, profanity-laced tirade at 11:30 at night. To top it all off, Gmail’s new look is terrible. Future prospects: Grim. A Google search about how to switch back to the old Gmail format proved fruitless. On the bright side: Vetoed Ben’s favorite cow ornament. On the less bright side: Ben put her Graeters black raspberry chip in the fridge instead of the freezer the other night. This was honestly not payback.

5. BEN (down). Previous ranking: #3

Despite once again failing to appear on People’s Sexiest Men list, Ben has, for the first time in his five year fantasy football career, qualified for the Mustache League playoffs thanks to his savvy midseason pickups of Cam Newton, DeMarco Murray and whoever is playing defense against the Chiefs. Ben is also ecstatic to have an NBA season this year, and has spent the last two weeks doing meticulous research on the new luxury tax and its ramifications on Utah’s bloated payroll. Though things look grim in Salt Lake this season, at least there’ll be basketball. Good news: A Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street from where Ben works. Bad news: A Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street from where Ben works. Also: Unlike Tim Tebow, Ben cannot pull another man into the bathroom during a tug-of-war contest.

4. SCOOTER THOMAS (up). Previous ranking: #5

After his precipitous fall from the top spot in the power rankings, Scooter Thomas has since regained his footing by asserting his dominance over the Christmas Tree (#7) — by eating the (fake) needles off all the bottom “branches” and then regurgitating them back into his food dish. (Why?) Despite the incoherence of this behavior, what’s undeniable is that Scooter T. has his mojo back. On the downside: Negligent owners forgot to fill his water dish yesterday, resulting in him licking the bathtub floor after Erin’s shower this morning. Sad.

3. CAMILLE AND MIKE ALLEN. Previous ranking: N/A

For sending us a Christmas card with the following message on the front: “Happy Holidays!” And the following message inside: “…is what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!” We were going to do the same thing but we didn’t have the cojones. Future prospects: Bleak. How will they top this next year? Guess they’ll have to have a kid or something.

2. GRANDPARENTS (same). Previous ranking: #2

The grandparents maintain their perch at #2, thanks to traction with the head honcho (see #1) and a willingness to indulge his sweet tooth with second helpings of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving (Nana and Papa) and fawn over him via Skype while he attempts in vain to pound the keyboard (Mamaw and Papaw). Grandparenting. Can’t beat it.

Papa and le tigre.

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Papa, Nana, le tigre.

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Papaw and Mamaw, Skypers extraordinaire.

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1. SAM (same). Previous ranking: #1

Aside from a small bout of diaper rash, Sam continues to own the power rankings with his Christmas Tree dominance and irrepressible ability to bend everyone’s will to his liking. (“Sam wants more pie? Well sure, let’s give it to him!”) With a burgeoning vocabulary and firm handle on the sign for “more,” Sam runs shop at the Vore household, crashing trucks down the stairs to his heart’s content and getting Classical Baby on demand whenever he so chooses. He also knows just the right moment to grab and pull at Scooter Thomas’s tail whenever his feline nemesis gets a little too chippy. Future prospects: Bright. Despite the need for absolutely nothing for Christmas, he’s still everyone’s favorite to shop for. Ain’t that the life.

books, friends

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

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I (Ben) heard about the new YA book Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children before I realized that I know the person who wrote it. Featuring a creepy levitating girl on the cover with more creepy, trompe l’oiel photographs throughout, Miss Peregrine is an odd, amusing and endearing book that I’ll try my best to describe in just a moment. Let me first tell you about Ransom Riggs.

Ransom — or Randy, as I know him, which is why I didn’t initially make the connection — attended Kenyon the same time I did. I had the pleasure of being in the sketch comedy group “1033” with him. Ransom was one of the stranger personalities in the group, which was saying something. It was also a factor in why I thought him one of the funniest. His humor was, well, peculiar; his timing was just a little bit off from everyone else. I think that was intentional on his part. The comparison is by no means exact, but I’ll use it because I think it approximates Ransom’s charm: I found him funny in the way I find Benicio Del Toro’s character Fenster from The Usual Suspects funny. He was clearly supposed to be in the movie, but it was like someone gave him the wrong script.

The one sketch of Ransom’s I remember in particular was a minimalist riff on Waiting For Godot where he and Scott Guldin (the Lorne Michaels, as it were, of “1033”) sat side by side facing the audience and engaged in an emotionless, rapid-fire dialogue of just about every pop culture reference you could possibly think to cram into five minutes. It worked on several levels — the verbal sparring alone was great fun, as was the way Ransom and Scott robotically one-upped each other.

John Green happened to be in this comedy group as well, which means that, as Scott pointed out to me earlier this summer, twenty percent of the members of “1033” have now gone on to write New York Times bestselling YA novels. Which makes the rest of us really feel like a bunch of washouts. Thanks, guys!

On that note, I will now attempt to objectively and dispassionately review Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Jacob shares a close bond with his grandfather, who shows him strange photographs and tells him stories that Jacob naturally assumes to be macabre and entertaining fairy tales. After his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances (it happens early in the book, but I won’t spoil it by going into details), Jacob and his father visit the Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. Jacob believes his grandfather, with his dying breaths, left him a clue as to what’s really on the island. Soon Jacob meets the very children in the photographs his grandfather showed him — the same children whom the islanders tell Jacob died many years ago.

It’s not clear where Riggs is leading us at first, and that’s part of the novel’s charm. There are so many bizarre developments — I’m loathe to give any away, so suffice it to say that at different points of the book I thought of comparisons to “The Twilight Zone,” Mystery Men, Groundhog DayThe Blair Witch Project and (wait for it!) “Lost” — that you’re swept up in the peculiarities long before Riggs reveals what’s really at stake. Underpinning the cinematic elements are the same qualities that animate any good YA fiction: a quest for identity; parental conflict; peer pressure and social belonging; and, of course, a good, old-fashioned (if slightly twisted) love story.

That Riggs can bridge the fantastic with the commonplace and do so in a way that feels completely fresh in the burgeoning field of “Strange YA Novels” bodes well for whatever he does next. (He’s already promised a sequel.) As for his off-kilter humor, I’ve always been a fan. I’m glad so many other people are now too.

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Riggs is also a film enthusiast, and he directed this trailer for the book. It’ll give you a good taste of what you’re in for.

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Riggs also directed the trailer (which was named Amazon’s “book trailer of the year”) for Quirk’s Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters.

You can follow Ransom’s blog (where he recently announced that Miss Peregrine will be made into a movie) here.