Sunday, August 25, 2013

Five Great Things about MLS Soccer & Suggestions for Improvement

In recent years, the Seattle Sounders have come to prominence and their crowds are the stuff of legend.  I had heard the stadium gets super loud and the fans participate in a way no other sporting crowds do throughout the match. There are also so many people we know who love going to these games that it was high time we checked it out.  We went to the game tonight at Centurylink Field.

  And wouldn't you know it--it also happened to be:
  • The home debut of US National Team Captain Clint Dempsey as a Sounder
  • The largest PNW MLS match record attendance of 67,000+
  • A grudge match of Cascadia rivals: Seattle vs. Portland (my former hometown)
  • A warm, dry Seattle evening not bad for our first MLS game.

Five Reasons to Like Soccer

1. Chants, Songs & Flags.
These people were going the entire match.  On their feet, singing, waving flags, chanting--unreal.

2. Unfurling of Very Large Banners.
What does "Build a Bonfire" mean?  You're the Sounders.  Shouldn't you be using a water metaphor?

3. No announcing.
So many times during the Olympics, I'd yell at the TV for those morons to SHUT UP already.  This is a refreshing change but after half the match, I started getting anxious like someone who stopped smoking cold turkey--I felt like I was missing something.  When you're used to a running commentary or at least explanations of plays at a sporting event, it's weird to show up and not have one.  Because I had questions like: Who has the ball?  What call did the referee just make? And most common: WHAT IS HAPPENING?  Because I see a guy on the ground and people pointing and players acting like they are thugs...Hello?  

4. Costumes
I love the enthusiasm and the creativity.  There were also lots of scarves.  The best one said, "Seattle Til I Die."

5. You can throw stuff...

or not.

But really, I have never been a soccer person.  To be honest, I just find it rather boring and anti-climactic--I know, I said it!  There was just so much blood, sweat, tears and effort for that ONE little, measly point.  And sometimes both teams can tie and thus they also both lose.  It's frustrating to see the players work so hard, set up some nice passes only to be thwarted over and over and over again.  I also can't say I'm a fan of using one's head so directly in a sport either.  That's the mom in me.  

I was actually surprised at how physical and thuggish the players were.  It seemed like they were trying to hurt each other and start fights.  It reminded me of another goal-tended sport that rhymes with "sockey".   (My brother vehemently disagrees.)  But with no helmet or extensive padding, those soccer guys definitely have to be tough for all they go through. So I tip my hat with much respect to you, soccer players of the world.  But I just wish you could get points for other accomplishments, like how many times you fall down and no one does a thing about it or how many times a goalie berates his players for not defending better or from how many miles up in space your shoes can be spotted.  All those things could be scored and count for something.  I'm just saying...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cuz I'm Freeeee--Free Falling

Lest you think this blog has become a catalog of my husband's eccentric exploits because my own life is comparably lame, well you've never simultaneously planned a baby shower and a 4-year-old's birthday party.  Now that's EXTREME.


When I first met my husband Ken in 2003, he admitted he was somewhat of a thrill-seeker.  In fact at the time, he had been looking into switching jobs and moving down to California just so he could take regular hang-gliding lessons.  But then we started dating--and he did not move to California as we all well know

As married life and family life emerged, he shelved plans for high-risk pursuits.  But I knew this was part of his essence and it's also one of the things I admire most: his fearlessness.  But as a risk-assessing, contingency-planning, skeptic, I was very leery about tempting fate.  And yet, just leaving the house everyday is a risk too.  

So earlier this summer, Ken learned of a place down in Shelton, WA that teaches accelerated free-fall/skydiving.  They have you jump out at first with 2 instructors hanging on then as you jump again and again they don't hang on to you but stay very close, then there is only one instructor jumping, then it's just you.  Ken felt very strongly and wanted to do this program but I was initially very resistant given our life at this point in time.   However, I looked into this organization with some extensive internet searches and review reading.  I came to feel somewhat better about the prospect.  

On Saturday, Ken spent all day down in Shelton taking the 5-hour class to learn to jump and then doing his first jump at 7:30 pm.  He loved it but had hoped to do more than one for all that trouble.   So with the weather set to be clear and favorable today, Ken said planned to take today off, go back down there and get a few more jumps in.  Well, he actually did five.  He called me about 1:30 PM after doing his 4th jump and said he could come home right then but he also could do one more jump that would allow him to do some acrobatic stunts.  And I was all, "Really?  Well you better get video of that because you'll want something to show for it.  Consider that a (belated) birthday present from me."

So here it is....

There are also still photos from the jump.  My favorites:

Ken's instructor (Shane), Ken and a guy named Shrik

Long way down.

Back flip tuck

Nice view.

Yay for parachutes!
So he tells me this is it and he's gotten it out of his system...for now.  But all this talking about skydiving has intrigued Sidney who wants to go with her dad when she's 18.  Fantastic (sigh).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Save the Figs, Save the World

A man and his figs shall not be separated
We moved into our house three years ago and the centerpiece of the backyard is a 60-year-old fig tree that fruits green Adriatic figs every August.  My husband, Ken, loves those figs and has passed on his affinity to our children.  I, on the other hand, am not so enamored.  Nevertheless, over the past few years, European Starlings (the bastard scourge of the avian kind) flock in the fig tree, peck the ripe fruit and deprive Ken of the bounty that is rightfully his.  

Crime scene #1
Crime scene #2

Never mind that even with the birds, harvests have been plentiful.  
Never mind that we give away a good amount of fruit.  
Never mind that a pound of figs is about $6 at the store.  
Oh no--Something must be done to thwart the interlopers!

In our initial two summers here, Ken's made admirable attempts to quell the siege and keep the birds from claiming the precious fruit.  He's used reflective tape, full-size stuffed scarecrows, blow up dolls, a bobble head owl and a bird trap baited with suet.   But all of these eventually failed because the birds got used to them.  It got to the point that he resorted to the "running-outside-to-scare-the-crap-out-of-the-birds" maneuver which also inspired disapproving looks from our neighbors.  But this method only worked when someone was watching---and of course no one has time to watch the fig tree all day long.  

Operation Fig Shield 
So Ken was determined that this year would be different.  Clearly he had just not used enough technology in his earlier attempts.  He spent the majority of his two weeks off this summer trying to design and prototype a functional solution.  He aspired to build a "thing" that would vigilantly watch the tree and detect when these loathsome bandits appeared.  Then it would trigger something that would scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting birdies.  This posed a complex challenge since he wanted (and I demanded) something that would be more than just a motion sensor.  

Ruining a perfectly good Tupperware
Ultimate Garden Ornament

Ken decided to build his program on the small, cheap and powerful platform of the Raspberry Pi.  There is a lot of "magic" that goes into getting all the parts to work together but simply put, the system identifies and knows the difference between an enemy bird, an errant branch waving in the breeze and a 3-year-old child (or exasperated wife) passing through the garden. The program knows what the "normal state" of the tree looks like and then triggers the deterrent only for an avian interloper and nothing else.  The deterrent is a small leaf-blower with a "wacky wavy inflatable arm-flailing tube man" duct-taped to the nozzle which fires off for 10 seconds as the birds scatter with fright.  


You've undoubtedly seen these at your local Jiffy Lube.  Ken had this one made at 1/3 of the scale.  Initially this was placed on the garden path attached to a dolly but to really increase its effectiveness, it's been recently strung up in the tree with some bungee cords.

Scaring birds all day long

There's also a manual trigger (that we've been mostly using because the system is still learning) that we can access via a URL and just push a button on our phones or laptops to set it off.  I won't lie, seeing those little vermin with wings bolt out of the tree makes me smile with delight--and I don't even like figs.  An added bonus is that our small berry patch located at the foot of the tree receives protection from the birds by proxy.

Is it about the figs or is it about vengeance?

Success disaster: now we have a lot of figs that we didn't plan on.  (Sidney can only eat so many.)  One of Ken's co-workers has volunteered to make some jam.  And yet we still have a lot left over so Ken has been giving some to the neighbors after regaling them with this story at the Block Party last week.   I think we should have arranged this supply chain part better.  Farmers Market?  Foodie Friends?  Restaurants?  He says there are still 50 on the tree--so if anyone wants some this week, please let it be known.