Friday, September 24, 2021

Western and Southern Open, Day 1

[Composed 8/19/2021]

Last year's US Open was cancelled. To make up for missing the tournament, we decided we'd double up this year: taking in the Western and Southern Open *and* the US Open.

The Western and Southern Open turns out to be a pretty big deal. Not only is it a Masters 1000 Event, putting it one notch below the 4 Grand Slam Events, but it's "the nation's oldest professional tennis tournament played in its city of origin." Looking at the draw, nearly all the top tennis players in the world were planning to attend, which they use as warm up for the US Open.

While the tournament is hyped as a Cincinnati event, so far, we've yet to see any sign of the city itself. Due to traffic congestion, Google routed us around the city when we made our way from the airport to our hotel last night. On the plus side, I did get to be welcomed to Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio on our drive, so that was fun. I'm sure Cincinnati is great, but this trip is all about making up for missing a year of tennis.

We started the day watching Medvedev take on Dimitrov. Medvedev is number two in the world and ever since his rise in the 2019 US Open, we've been fans. He had no problem beating Dimitrov and he showed off his impressive court coverage skills that I find so impressive. At one point, he took a tumble and Dimitrov came to the other side of the net to help him up. It was a fun reminder that as competitive as these guys are, even they know they're just playing a game.

The day had started with some showers and overcast skies. But that quickly gave way to a mix of sunshine, humidity and heat that's pretty unbearable. Yuck.

Next up we watched Barty take on Azarenka. Oy, it was a blood bath as Barty crushed her 6-0, 6-2. I wonder what goes through Azarenka's mind when she suffers this kind of loss? Was she having a bad day? Was Barty playing next level tennis? Does she question her career choices? Or, like Dimitrov coming over the net to help Medvedev up, does she remember, it's just a game?

After watching these first matches in the main stadium, we made our way to Grandstand, the second tier side court where we watched Monfils vs Rublev. Monfils always brings the entertainment and drama, and this match was no different. After showing signs of knee trouble and getting a medical timeout, Monfils finished a rally by running off court and disappearing behind a waist high barrier. It took a few minutes to figure out what happened, but apparently he had hurled into a garbage can back there.

Monfils took some time to compose himself and come back to the court, which obviously frustrated Rublev. Finally, Monfils approached the net and talked it out with Rublev, getting him to come to the net to do a quick handshake and resume play. I'm not sure Rublev was in the mood to make up and play nice, but sportsmanship ultimately won the day. Don't feel too bad for Rublev, he ultimately took the match.

Next up on Grandstand was Ruud vs. Schwartzman. I convinced Shira to move down to the second row of the stadium, way too close for her preference, to watch the match. It blows my mind that we can watch two top 15 players in the world battle it out from the same vantage point I'd have in a high school tennis match.

After this match we made our way to the food court area where I splurged on a Cookie Monster Sundae from the Graeter's Ice Cream stand. Between the heat and the tennis overload, it was absolutely heavenly. Should I have consumed what felt like a half gallon of ice cream? Uh, yes, yes I should have. I'd earned it.

By now, you must be thinking: that's enough tennis for one day. But wait, there's more! After my ice cream sugar rush we headed over to watch Ram / Salisbury vs Monroe / Tiafoe on an even smaller side court. Tiafoe is from the DC area, so it's a treat whenever we get to cheer him on. This was our first double's match of the tournament, and I forgot how much fun these guys like to have. We were close enough to hear the players banter between each other. Standing at the net, Tiafoe would use the hand behind his back to flash various signs to Monroe who was serving. "Here?" he'd ask. "How about here?" By now I'd had more than my fill of tennis for the day, but even I had to appreciate the energy these guys were bringing to the court.

After doubles, we made our way back to center court where we watched Tsitsipas take on Sonega. Tsitsipas, number three in the world, is a top player who can lose a first set comfortably, knowing that he can prevail in the end. And that's exactly what he did this match. To see the number two and three players in the world play on the same day is really one heck of a treat.

And finally we closed out the night watching Berrettini vs Auger-Aliassime. In a nod to just how relaxed a tennis tournament the Western and Southern open is, nobody checked to see if we'd purchased night match tickets, much less if we were sitting in our correct seats. The match was pretty one sided with FAA showing impressive dominance. That kid is going places.

As we headed back to our car, I couldn't help but feel as though I'd made up for missing the US Open and then some all in one day. And yet, we'd be back tomorrow for more! At least I had ice cream in my   future, that much I could depend on.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Scenes from an Evening Walk

Here's a few pics from yesterday's evening walk.

Fall is coming!

Where there's milkweed, there are milkweed bugs. I love that these critters opt for an unintuitive defense mechanism: have overtly colorful markings and consume a steady diet of milkweed. Milkweed is toxic to most animals, and therefore, so are the milkweed bugs who harbor the poison. Over time, animals that may feed on milkweed bugs have learned to read the colorful markings as a warning sign and avoid them. Monarch butterflies, who also feed on milkweed, use the same tactic.

And just when I thought I'd read it all about Oncopeltus fasciatus, milkweed bugs, I found dvoribird's account of raising them.

It was an Oncopeltus fasciatus named Angel who started my bugsession and caused me to fall in love with milkweed bugs with other insects to follow. Angel (mature adult male with mate) came home with me on a milkweed plant purchased at a local nursery on October 22, 2017. I overwintered him, his wife, and a few additions, and he lived until May 2, 2018, a nice long milkweed bug life.

Raising bugs? Of course that's a thing. Dvoribird's description is part science fair project, part field journal and part pet blog. What a delightful and clever way to both learn about another species and develop a deep love of all living things.

I thought I was capturing pictures of a ladybug. Now I'm not so sure. Perhaps I can convince Shira to go back and let me raise him/her? Pretty sure that's going to be a hard no.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

5 Kids and (maybe) 5 Days of Rain | Entertainment Ideas that Worked and Didn't

The weather forecast for our Tybee Island Adventure was looking grim. Meteorologists promised us two days of sunshine, and then a week of rain. I had visions of being trapped in our beach house with 5 restless children, ages 7 to 12. But, to be forewarned is to be forearmed!

To that end, I brought a slew of activities with us to the Georgia coast so the kids would have plenty to do. Some of these worked great, others were a bust. Here's how it broke down.

Shrinky Dinks

Hit. Thankfully, most of the promised rain held off and we were out and about for the vast majority of our trip. But when we did find ourselves stuck inside, everybody enjoyed crafting with Shrinky Dinks. The kids could be as sophisticated as they wanted, and the results, when shrunk, always came out looking good. Given how compact a Shinky Dink kit is, I'd be hard pressed to travel again without one.

Friendship Bracelets

Miss. The Klutz Friendship Bracelet book and Multi color embroidery floss were two high quality items that delivered on their promise: to teach the kids how to make an old school friendship bracelet. Alas, the kids just didn't have the interest to finish what they started. Maybe when the kids are older, or if we have longer stretches of nothing to do, we'll try again.

Drawing Kit

Hit. The kit consisted of a pad, Ed Emberley's Make a World drawing book and a package of colored pencils and was an absolute winner. Drawing was the perfect activity to help kids wind down for bed. Ed Emberley's Make a World is a thin volume that makes drawing accessible to everyone.

Legos, Attempt #1

Miss. On previous trips, Legos were an absolute staple. I'd usually bring a couple of larger sets for us to build one afternoon. This time, I went more minimal and brought a heap of Lego Mini Vehicles for them to build and play with, along with a baggies of extra pieces. The kids were unimpressed by the offering.

Legos, Attempt #2

Hit. Fortunately, our Lego playing didn't stop with what I brought. J asked if he could bring some of his own Legos to supplement mine and I eagerly agreed with him. He too mainly brought along odds and ends like I had, but his collection was filled with mini figures. And that, it turned, was what the kids wanted to play with. I learned my lesson: (1) they are far from too old for Legos (thinking back, at 12 I was just getting into my Lego prime) and (2) mini figures are key. I'll probably pick up a bulk collection of minifigs next trip.

Travel Tanagrams

Hit. Magnetic Tanagarm's were a hit both in the car and at the house. The kids enjoyed building the puzzles as described in the book, as well as inventing their own characters. When paired with online resources, there's no shortage of puzzle building fun to be had.

Card Game: Snip Snap Snorem

Hit. Snip Snap Snorem is an easy to play, group card game. I found it to be my go-to activity when I needed to keep the kids attention for a few minutes. We played it while waiting for our food to be delivered at lunch, or while Shira was finishing odds and ends before we could head out for the day. The game is fast paced and everyone gets to feel like they're winning.


Hit. What made this classic tile game especially fun was how we could invent variations. We'd take turns being the game master, trying out different rules to see what was most fun. What if you started with fewer or more than the required tiles? Or didn't allow users to pick from the bone yard? Or you had to play two tiles on each turn? The most fun version that G came up with was a co-operative version of Dominoes where everyone worked together to build the longest possible sequence.

Wire Jewelry Making Kit

Miss. I've tried Wire Jewelry Making a few times, and I've yet to really crack it. The kit I brought consisted of a spool of 20 gauge wire and pliers to manipulate the wire. The idea is that you find some awesome looking shells or stones and then artistically wrap them in wire to make a necklace. In my minds eye, I'm going to make a whimsical piece of jewelry, but I always end up with a clunky, awkward-looking creation. It didn't help that the beach didn't provide much in terms of interesting shells. Also, the kids didn't have the patience or interest to experiment on their own with this. For now, I'll leave the Jewelry making supplies at home and continue to hone my technique.

Journaling Kit

Miss. I thought this was genius. I packed a notebook, the drawing supplies described above, an M02 Pocket Thermal Printer and sticker paper. The idea was that the kids could both write, draw and print out content to include in a journal. The result would be both an activity to do while traveling and a keepsake at the end. Yeah, no. The kids were not moved. The M02 printer is neat, but they really didn't see the value of a fuzzy black and white prints that it produced. I still think the M02 holds promise, but even I have yet to find a good use for it.

1,000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle

Miss. This 1,000 piece Marvel Avengers puzzle was going to be the perfect activity for us to chip away at during the week. Alas, the only surface large enough to hold the puzzle was the table we ate at, so the pieces stayed in the box. The puzzle certainly intrigued the kids, but not enough to actually work on assembling it. This one may be pulled out on our next adventure.

5 Minute Marvel Cooperative Card Game

Hit. The kids disappeared upstairs and played this game for the first few nights of the trip. For giving Shira and Myself a few minutes to collect our thoughts, it will forever be considered a winner. In the past, when we played this game together as a family, I was fairly impressed. The game content and cooperative nature is well done.

Card Game: Solitaire

Hit. D had a habit of waking up before everyone. The challenge was to find an activity he could do that wouldn't cause him to wake up the other kids. The solution was solitaire. He'd play the solo card game quietly while everyone else continued to get Zzz's. I'm not sure who taught him this game, but whoever did gets my eternal thanks.

Movie: Sonic the Hedge Hog

Hit. We had a chance for movie night and found ourselves stumped with what to watch. Finally, we opted to watch Sonic the Hedgehog. It. Was. Awesome. The kids got the video game references, and we got the adult jokes. Everybody laughed and soaked up the kid friendly drama that takes place in the movie. As a foster parent, I appreciated the positive message about how families can be formed in unexpected ways. If we had tried to pick such an ideal movie, we never would have done so.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 Remembered

We walked down to the 9/11 Memorial this evening. It's been closed for Covid, so we were a bit surprised to see it was open today.

On our way down to the Memorial we reflected on 9/11 as a change-agent. Were we safer? Had we learned important lessons? In our zeal, had we overreached, trading freedom for perceived security? Once at the memorial, we were brought back to the simple truth: real people had had their lives cut short on this day. It is truly a moving memorial, made all the more so with the flag draped Pentagon in the background.

On the way back home we noticed a crowd at the Air Force Memorial and tried to figure out what they were waiting for. Then we remembered that they've been shining a spot light in the sky the last few nights and people must have been waiting to see it. Sure enough at 8:00pm sharp, the Tower of Light was lit and we all went to work snapping pics of the impressive beam emanating from the Pentagon.

(All photos are by Shira)