Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Neither Strong Guy Nor Fat Guy, He Was The Genius.

Many years ago, I stupidly suggested my parents watch Pulp Fiction.  When they were done with the viewing my dad called me and asked, "What the %*@# did we just watch?"  They may have had the same reaction had I suggested they watch Late Night With David Letterman when it debuted 33 years ago.  (Of course, they may have also wondered why a seven year old was making 12:30am television viewing recommendations.)  No, Late Night was not hilariously violent like Tarantino's masterpiece. No, Letterman didn't accidentally blow of Marvin's head or "Bring out the Gimp", but he brought out Larry "Bud" Melman, Stupid Pet Tricks and the dumbest gags night after night.  Discovering Letterman ten years later as a seventeen year old college freshman was a freakin' revelation.  In the ensuing twenty-plus years, the only person to bring more joy to my late nights than David Letterman is my wife. (If you know what I mean. Wink.)  While it isn't as funny as Adam Sandler's lyrical tribute or as  emotional as Norm McDonald's, I wanted to write a brief tribute to the King of Late Night as he signs off for the last time tonight. 

Letterman being passed over for the Tonight Show in favor of Jay Leno may have been the best thing to happen to him.  He left for CBS and never looked back.  When the Late Show debuted in 1993, Dave came out swinging, crashing the 11:30 hour with a force that he may not have had if he had been handed the Tonight Show.  We were all better for it.  Dave was fearless, sarcastic and hilarious.  Jay was safe, comforting, boring, there to tuck you in.  Dave was your buddy that dragged you out of bed and said, "Let's get drunk and throw a TV off the roof.  Dave made wacky okay.  Acting like a dope moved you from the dunce corner to the head of the class.

"Voice of a Generation" is perhaps too strong a designation to hang on a TV host.  Maybe that moniker should be reserved for an author, poet or musician.  But for twentysomethings in the early 90's was there a better arbiter of cool, hip and funny than Dave Letterman?  Maybe the aforementioned Quentin Tarantino.  Maybe Kevin Smith.  Maybe Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann glibly doling out the highlights anchoring ESPN's Big Show.  But my money's on Dave.  He was the ringleader and chief entertainer presiding over a circus five nights a week.  Acerbic and absurd met nutty and shameless night after night.  Whether throwing footballs into moving taxis or piercing the bloated ego of a celebrity with sarcastic precision, Letterman was defining funny.

My friends and I slurped it up with a spoon.  In the pre-internet/pre-DVR age, monologues and Top Ten Lists were appointment television.  Dave's catchphrases and comedy bits seeped into our collective consciousness and populated our lexicon.  I can all but promise you that the simple act of me writing, "Freeze, Hair Boy!" will elicit a chuckle from my friend Rob if he reads this.  And that was a throwaway line from a throwaway bit twenty years ago.  But we remember.  Our own gags, from shopping cart races to Wacky Hat Night, from a Rascal parade through Wal-mart to a little student film called "Charmin: Not Just for the Bathroom Anymore" were, if not inspired by, were at least unwittingly sanctioned by our TV pal Dave.    

As I've gotten older, I am not usually up at 11:30 unless I am weeping through a Capitals' NHL playoff overtime or addicted to a Netflix binge.  I had not watched much Late Show over the last few years.  When I did tune in, Dave seemed a little tired, not as sharp.  (Until these last couple weeks leading to the finale.  He seems happy and energized.)  Clearly Jimmy and Jimmy,thanks in part to social media and a change in how we consume television, have passed Dave.  I'm sure they know the debt they owe Letterman.  It's a debt we all owe Letterman.  He has been directly or tangentially responsible for millions of laughs.  Late night will never be the same.  Thanks, Dave.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cap-sized! Rangers Flip Series, Sink Washington In Seven

I want you to try something.  Call a buddy over, you are going to need some help.  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Now ask your buddy to kick you in the nuts as hard as he can.  I don't mean a gentle toe tap.  I mean a kick that drives one of your testicles so far inside you surgery will be required to remove it.  Go ahead, I'll wait... Hurts doesn't it?  Why would you ask somebody to do that?  Are you stupid or somethin'?  Now you know how it feels to be a Washington Capitals fan.  We stand, feet spread, wincing as we accept, practically beg for,  a big 'ol nut punt Spring after Spring.

It's like some sort of decades-long fraternity hazing.  Thank you, Sir! May I have another? Yes, I will stand here and endure all these Daniel-san crane kicks to the ballbag, but it will all be worth it because at some point I will get my pledge pin and get to play beer pong with pretty girls, right?  No dumbass!  You are going to take all those scrote-ripping groin busters and the big Swedish goaltender is still going to kick in the door, steal all your Milwaukee's Best and take your woman upstairs.

I mean, seriously?  Can something be inevitable and impossible at the same time?  101 seconds from Round 3.  A disallowed goal.  A puck deflecting off a defenseman's skate, through the goalie's pads to be tapped in for a goal with .3 seconds left in the period.  Simply more markers on the road map charting the Hockey Heartbreak Highway that Caps fans have traveled for decades.  Run your fingers along the route with me.  (Not that longtime fans need a map.  We can find every exit and way station with our eyes closed.)  Gonchar falling in OT.  Joe Juneau failing to convert an overtime penalty shot.  Tom Poti's penalty.  Esa Tikkanen. I've  got a dozen more, but you get the point. 

This blog, whether discussing my dad skills or my favorite teams, is frequently fueled by pessimism and incompetence.  In this regard, the Capitals are a flippin' nuclear reactor.  The negative energy emanating from this franchise is unreal.  Almost literally unreal.  It seems impossible that every time they land in a Game 7 after blowing a 3-1 series lead they end up completing the fall.  But here we are, 5 for 5.  Impossible yet inevitable.  Who didn't think when they lost Game 5 in OT that they were done? Liar.  Then a frantic comeback in Game 6 provided false hope that maybe they could pull something off in Game 7.  Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown one more time.  Good Grief indeed, Chuck.  There will be fans talking about what a great game Game 7 was.  They will tell you it could have gone either way.  They will tell you the Caps stood toe to toe with the better, favored, President's Trophy-winning Rangers through seven one goal games.  This is all true.  Also true, however, is that Washington once again choked away a 3-1 series lead.  I don't care how big an underdog you are, you must finish that series. 

Because if you don't, despite having a new coach and a new GM and new players and a new attitude and new resolve, you are still just the same old Caps.  Is it October yet?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Who You Gonna Call?

Well, here we are.  The place any team would love to be. The place any fan base would love to be.  The Washington Capitals are one win from their first trip to the Conference Finals in seventeen years.  One win from Alex Ovechkin's first venture beyond the second round.  With Wednesday night's victory the Caps built a commanding (legally required to use that cliche there) three games to one series lead over the hated Rangers.  But Caps fans know well the perils of 3-1 series lead.  We have borne witness to blown leads and choke jobs.  We have watched helplessly as the likes of Lemieux and LaFontaine, Jagr and Halak, have yanked our hockey  hearts from our chests and mercilessly ground them under their skate boot.  Out of two hundred seventy occurrences of  a team holding a 3-1 series lead,  only ten percent of the teams have blown that lead.  Four of those twenty-seven teams,the most in NHL history, have been the Capitals.  Four times I have watched as a team unraveled, as history repeated itself, as a series slipped away almost cosmically as if it were a fate preordained by the hockey gods.

Don't get me wrong; I haven't fired up the Doomsday Siren yet. Yet.  But I am looking for the keys just in case.  Such is the life of Caps fans.  The worry reflex has kicked in.  Muscle memory instructs us to expect the worst.  We are wary when things are riding too high.  I'll watch Game 5 through my fingers.  A Game 6 would elicit the paces of an expectant father.  A Game 7 would tighten sphincters across the region.  I have seen what can happen and it's not pretty.  It is hard to shake the feeling that New York has us right where they want us.  

So, why can't I get my head around the idea that these might not be the same ol' Caps?  Maybe because, unlike the opening round, I have been able to watch precious little of this series.  In fact, I have seen less than twenty minutes of game action combined through four games (fortunately, a few of those minutes included Joel Ward's Game One buzzer-beater).  I can't really speak to how the Caps are playing.  Everything I read, hear and see in the highlights seems to indicate, carrying over from the first round, that they feel "different".  Quotes from the locker room indicate the players are quite serious about finshing the Rangers.  Unfortunately, this is typically where teams of the past, and Ovi's Caps, let up.  Whether in an individual game or in playoff series, the Caps tend to let teams off the mat.  The Rangers are good.  Lundqvist is good. Good enough to come back and win this series.  That's why I worry.  However, in Round One optimism was my vow and a Ghost of Playoffs past was banished.  Once again, I'm willing to let optimism be my spirit guide.  Somebody call Ray Parker Jr.  For now, I ain't afraid of no (playoff) ghosts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Charm City?

I will never suffer the indignity of being pulled over for Driving While Black.  I have never lived in a neighborhood that fears a police presence.  I have never felt like my vote didn't count.  I can never truly give full voice to to the anger of feeling marginalized  due to the color of my skin.  I have never been, and hopefully never will be, placed in the back of a police vehicle.  If I do find myself in police custody, however, I deserve, as does EVERYONE ELSE, to be treated with dignity and fairness until justice is served.  So I can't fully live the experience of all my neighbors, but I can stand with those seeking answers in Ferguson or New York or with those wanting to know what really happened in the back of a paddy wagon in Baltimore.  I can appreciate the outrage.  I acknowledge it.  I get it.  What I don't get is using this outrage as an excuse to indulge in wild, illegal, destructive behavior.

The looting and rioting has eclipsed any positive message the peaceful protestors sought to spread.  Thousands of people protested peacefully Saturday.  Unfortunately, a much smaller number of people (not entirely unprovoked, by the way) decided to show their asses.  This destruction, and the coverage of it by local media, seemed to give license to troublemakers who took to the streets with the craziness after Freddie Gray's funeral yesterday.  Just like in Ferguson and New Orleans after Katrina and countless other places before, opportunistic losers took advantage of a grievance to act like assholes.  I have been pissed about a lot of things in my life, but I promise you I have never once thought, "You know what would make me feel better right now?  Burning down a CVS after I steal all the Charmin."  Vandalizing your own neighborhood, "getting mines", attacking police with bricks, destroying businesses-these things make no sense even in, maybe especially in, this context.  My favorite, in a hilariously sad way, video from yesterday was a news chopper feed of the one mall being looted.  One of the looters ran from the store with an armload of clothes, which she had to put down so she could unlock her car.  Rioting Pro Tip:  Be sure to lock up so no one steals your stuff while you are off stealing someone else's stuff. Brilliant!  What are we doing here people?

Thank goodness for those who cut through the nuttiness to help.  Thank goodness for Robert Valentine and for the mom who slapped some sense into her son.  Thank goodness for the man who quietly started sweeping up in the middle of the chaos.  Thank goodness for the hundreds of first responders who stood watch last night while the city burned around them.  I love Baltimore.  She is a proud city.  Despite making fun of her for once being the most syphilitic city in the country, I constantly defend Baltimore to the naysayers.  We have never had trouble going to ball games or to Johns Hopkins for my daughter's surgery and follow-ups.  I hope the city finds peace.  I hope communities across the nation can find peace. How that happens, I don't know.  We are talking about systematic injustice and mistrust.  We are talking about drugs and the violence and sadness they leave in their wake.  We are talking about selfishness.  We are talking, but not always listening.  Criminals and victims.  Sometimes, criminals as victims.

 What I do know, is that we can all help.    We must be sensible and sensitive.  Respectful and responsive.  Caring and careful.  And I know that burning police cars and smashing in windows or skulls is none of those things.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Game Seven:The Two Most Exciting Words In Sports

Bring it in Caps Fans.  Huddle up.  You guys out there on the ledge-climb back in the window.  You over there muttering, “Here we go again”- come on over.  You there, holding your Ovechkin sweater- put down the butane lighter and get over here.  Take a knee and listen up.  I know it doesn’t look good.  Home Game 7s (Games 7?) haven’t treated the Caps very well. (1-4 record in the Ovechkin Era.)  Our stars seem to shrink in these moments.  Big Mo seems to be on the Isles side.  Jaroslav Halak is 6-1 in elimination games during his playoff career.  So what? I choose optimism.  It may not be rational.  It may not be logical.  But it sure is more fun. 
You see, I don’t Rock the Red because Big Ted’s marketing team tells me to.  I root for the Caps because they are my team.  If I was going to stop rooting for this team when things looked bleak, I would have stopped 25 years ago, or during the era they wore Red the first time.  Yes, I predicted the Islanders would win the series in seven games.  That doesn’t mean I want to be correct.  And you know what?  The Islanders might win.  They are a damn strong team.  All the more reason to watch with excitement tonight; if the Caps pull out a W, it will have been well earned. I’ll chew my nails through Game 7.  I’ll don my lucky hat at game time.  I’ll let Grace watch a few minutes before bed continuing her indoctrination into this roller coaster ride that is being a Washington Capitals fan.   I’ll believe in a win until the scoreboard reads otherwise.

Tomorrow, if this team I love has laid another Game 7 egg, I will gladly listen to your “I told you so.” To, “Ovechkin isn’t clutch.”  To, “this organization is cursed.”  To, “Barry Trotz is just Bruce Boudreau with a goatee.”  I will listen to all criticisms and likely add a few of my own.  But tonight we cheer.  Tonight we cheer, for we are fans and that is what fans do.  Because the possibility still exists that the Great 8 will net a hat trick, raising his game as he wills his team to Round 2.  There still exists the possibility that Braden Holtby shuts out New York.  There still exists the possibility that this time the Caps prevail in four overtimes.  Of course, there also still exists the possibility my optimism is entirely unfounded.  I’ll let you know after Game 7!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wow Me.

Okay, I admit it.  As I've gotten older I have become a little jaded.  I think we all do as we age.  I suppose we develop a "I've seen it all" mentality.  Fewer things knock my socks off.  I find myself saying, "It was fine" when asked how something was.  I might enjoy stuff, but rarely am I wowed.  Dinner at that new restaurant? Fine.  That book I just finished? Fine.  The Fourth of July fireworks show? Fine.  (Seriously though, I can't be the only adult that is bored with the fireworks, can I?  If you've seen one, you've kinda seen 'em all.)  This is one of the many reasons having a kid is so great.  You can see experiences through their eyes.  When they experience things for the first time, you can experience it anew vicariously through them.  When Grace tells me a day at the beach jumping in the surf is the BEST DAY EVER! who am I to argue?  Instead of dismissing it as hyperbole, I should remember that, yeah, this is a pretty good damn day.  Child-like wonder can do us all some good.

Two separate kid moments cut through the clutter for me today.  Today was a day of errands and other routine distractions.  As we completed them, Grace asked if we could stop by the library.  How could I say no to the that?  (What I should have said no to, though, was letting her check out the Frozen soundtrack sung in Spanish.  I long for the due date so I may then sing Libre Soy.)  One of our post-library traditions is stopping by the nearby pizza shop for a slice.  We had fun just chilling with some pie in the warm afternoon sun.  The real awesome moment came later when Grace started reading one of her borrowed books.  She has been learning and diligently practicing reading in and after school for a few weeks now.  It has been neat seeing her move from letter sounds to blending words and piecing together syllables.  Today, however, was the first time that she has thrown open a book, begun sounding out the words and nailed it without needing or asking for help.  Needless to say I was filled with pride.  It is so cool to see the puzzle pieces clicking in to place as she determinedly sounds out the words.  Wow Moment Number One.

Wow Moment Number Two  was a kid moment, too, but more because it tied to my own childhood.  The internet blew up this afternoon as the second Star Wars teaser trailer debuted and was subsequently shared by a Death Star-sized percentage of my friends list.  Sure it was only a thirty-second snippet. Watching that tantalizing morsel transported me back to childhood.  Some may say it is only a movie, nothing to get so so excited about.  For them, that may be true.  And that's cool. I'm sure they have their passions.  After all, I believe we are all giant nerds about something.  It might be craft beer or baseball or comics or photography; we all have things that we geek out on that leave others scratching their head.  For me, that trailer hitting the Net (do people still call it that?) was a big ol' NERD ALERT.  Hearing John Williams' score, listening to talk of the Force and watching the Millennium Falcon blast across the screen made me feel like a kid again.  Because for me, and millions of people my age,  the Star Wars Saga was not simply a collection of movies.  It was a gateway to so much more.  It inspired creativity and play time. It fired the imagination and it embodied, right there on that big screen, child-like wonder.  And it was just so damn cool.  That is why today's trailer was important to me.  It was a not so sublte reminder that, "travelin' through hyperspace ain't like dustin' crops, boy."

Now, the jaded me worries that the movie might suck.  A friend, and fellow fan, reminded me that the best part of Episode I was the trailer.  I admit, as happy as I was to see Han and Chewie on screen again, Harrison Ford's gravelly voice sounded a lot like Krystal Skull-era Indy. (Shudder.)  But none of that matters.  I will sit with Christmas morning-like anticipation as the house lights go down December 15th.  Not only will I get to be a kid again, but I get the opportunity to take Grace to see a Star Wars movie in the theater for the first time.  Peaking into a Galaxy far, far away through my eyes and hers could be awesome.  A shared joy and Wow Moment Number Two.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Forecasting the unpredictable NHL postseason is a bit like having dandruff- people think you are weird and you are often left scratching your head.  Knowing just how much the internet is clamoring for my predictions, I have doused my crystal ball with Selsun Blue, so let's get started.  Who wants to talk about the Caps-Islanders Eastern Conference Quarterfinal match up? 

1. BARRY TROTZ:  During his first season in D.C., Trotz has installed a tight-checking, gap-control system that the players are actually buying in to.  Playing as a five man unit defensively, players see that sound defense can quickly transition to opportunistic offense.  Trotz has a good feel for his team.  Whether talking line combos, goalie starts or healthy scratches, he has often pushed the right buttons.  That he has never advanced any deeper into the playoffs than the Ovechkin-era Caps is a valid criticism, but Trotz  never had in Nashville the offensive firepower that he has in Washington. 

2. TOUGHNESS:  Trotz has demanded a level of toughness that even hard-ass Dale Hunter could not coax out of these Caps.  Opponents remark that the Caps are now hard to play against.  Washington has big bodies that can grind a team down.  I'm not saying they are the second coming of recent Bruins teams that punished defenses under a relentless forecheck, but the Caps are swift enough and rugged enough up front to make teams pay. Now, will they?

3. DEFENSE: For years, fans begged GM George McPhee to improve the defense.  Yet trade deadlines and offseasons passed year after year with only a rotating cast of has-beens and minor league journeymen manning the back half of the defense corp.  During free agency new GM Brian McClellan overspent to land stud defenseman Brooks Orpik and fellow blue-liner Matt Nisskanen.  They have stabalized a realigned defense that is now a team strength. 

4.MIKE GREEN:  Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the revamped defense has been Mike Green.  Relegated to the third D pairing has been a blessing.  He appears to be healthy after no longer being asked to play thirty minutes a night.  Bruce Boudreau irresponsibly ran this kid into the ground.  Green has responded to playing less minutes by producing nearly the same number of points in far fewer minutes than in recent seasons.  He is getting hot at the right time and could be a major offensive weapon in this series.  Though, I reserve the right to move him to the WHY THE CAPS WILL LOSE THIS SERIES column as soon as he makes a bonehead, high-risk pass to the other team.

5.NUMBER 8:  Alex Ovechkin has had some masterful playoff performances (dueling hat tricks with Sidney Crosby, Game 5 against the Rangers in 2009), but he has yet to elevate his game to an elite status during a deep playoff run or  even an entire series, for that matter.  This has probably been Ovi's best all-around season.  He has played better defensively (Let's be honest, it would be hard no to.), he has played well with many different linemates and he has led by example with his physical play.  Is this the year he is less Pavel Bure and more Mike Modano or Steve Yzerman, still a potent scorer, but a more mature defender and leader?

6. BRADEN HOLTBY:  Solid, bordering on spectacular regular season.  Most playoff-ready backstop since Godzilla.  My chief concern is the number of minutes he has logged.  73 games played is a lot.  In fact, not since Grant Fuhr twenty-nine years ago has a Cup-winning goalie played so many games during the regular season. But In Trotz, We Trust.  (Not that I think this team has what it takes to win it all.) 


HAVE YOU MET THE CAPS?  This collection of misfits deems it their annual mission to make ME, a complete stranger only loosely connected to their place of work on a geographic basis, miserable.  The Islanders are talented, have a goalie that has previously foiled the Caps in the first round and may be poised to embark on a magical, last hurrah, history evoking Cup run to say farewell to Nassau Coliseum. 

As Dave Letterman would say, this is an exhibition not a competition, so please, please, no wagering.  But if I were a betting man, I'd say Islanders in 7.

Hardware Wars

Behold and bear witness to one man's valiant attempt to win both Husband of the Year and Father of the Year in the same day.  Ignore for the moment that this humble warrior is grossly unqualified to complete the tasks that he dreams will win him these accolades. How will our hero, used to doing battle with words and a keyboard, fare wrestling projects that require complex notions such as math  Will he land in some catalog of Pinterest fails or cheesy Buzzfeed compilation of home improvement disasters (23 Photos of People Who Should Have Hired a Contractor)? Or will he win the hearts, minds and hearty cheers of his loving family? Stay tuned.

My mission this day was, as stated above, two-fold.  My wife, Amanda, and I have been wanting to create a backyard in which we can hang out and relax.  Unfortunately, our last few backyards have been either dust bowls or tiny, grassy postage stamps with no privacy.  Our current yard is large and fenced in. Check. Secondly, our daughter, Grace, has been bugging us to sign her up for gymnastics.  Since we don't need to add ANYTHING ELSE to our Gracie Shuttle Schedule, I hoped building a gym bar in the yard would hold off her requests for a little while longer.  Room for Grace to twirl and flip. Check. With procrastination being my default setting, my big ideas are often left on the vine to wither and disappear.  Today, though, I was determined get the job done and surprise my ladies with my craftsmanship.

My one requirement for any structure was that it could be fairly easily moved or removed.(In case Amanda hated it or thought it would work in a better spot in the yard.)  This requirement, and a looming afternoon thunderstorm, meant any posts could not be secured with concrete; I would need another method.  My plan was simple, if a bit flawed.  But that is okay because Simple and Flawed are my middle names. With a plan in my head and determination in my soul, I headed for the Home Depot.  Yes, the Home Depot.  That place where, like church, the gym and the health food store, I get looks from the employees that seem to say, "Are you sure you are in the right place?"  You see, in my family, I am the least likely to build, make or fix anything.  My mom is a crafter with a yard that is like a fairy garden filled with flowers,  bird baths and squadrons of hummingbirds hovering nearby.  My brother has an engineer's brain and has remodeled two homes.  He inherited those skills from my dad, who, in addition to being an electrician, contractor and all-around handy guy, fixed engines changed the oil in his cars for years.  I can barely change the television channel with my X1 remote. Anyway, like a tourist in a strange city, I wandered around until I found what I needed.  I packed the car (Hey look, the boards actually fit!) and headed for home.

My simple plan included posts for a hammock, posts for a gym bar and festive lights strung all around.  Because I wanted temporary, I chose to use deck spikes to hold the posts in place.  The spike consists of a metal base that acts as a seat for the 4" x 4" post.  Attached to the metal base is an 18" spike that sticks in the ground to keep the post (allegedly) from toppling over.  The spikes are not exactly designed for what I am using them for, but I figured by securing the posts together there would be enough rigidity to keep everything upright.  And there might have been had I actually completed my plan.  I had the posts in place and the hammock hung.  One hammock post was securely attached to an existing fence post.  I had not, however, secured the bar or the support braces when, smugly, I decided to test my handiwork.  Ignoring the fact that my plan called for everything being attached together for rigidity, I slowly eased into the hammock.  It felt good.  For a brief moment I allowed myself to think of summer afternoons spent right here- SNAP- the popping sound pulled me from my day dream, as I landed with a thud, tangled in the hammock with an 8' salt-treated post in my lap (No, that is not a euphemism).  For half-a-second, I thought I had pulled the existing fence down.  Idiot! Nope, just my one hammock post fell.  A quick survey revealed that only my pride and the deck spike were damaged.  The post did not break; the welds of the spike base did.  My eagerness impatience and stupidity had ruined my first attempt.  Discouraged but undaunted, I hit the Depot for another spike.

With  the new spike and all the planned pieces secured, I was confident everything was going to work fine.  I decided I will keep my fat ass from testing the welds.  I will leave the hammock to the lighter members of my family.  All that was left was to string the lights.  The area to be lit is a square measuring approximately 25 feet on each side.  My 150 foot string of colorful lights will be more than - wait, what? 150 count measuring 50 feet? Dammit.  So much for words being one of my strengths.  On my third trip to the store I picked up another pack of lights and considered another spike, this one to drive into my skull as punishment for thinking up this scheme in the first place. A few minutes and a few calming breaths later, the lights were up and my project complete.

I don't yet know if I will win any awards, but I will call the project a success.  Grace was surprised and delighted to have a "flipping" bar.  Amanda greeted her backyard oasis with a bemused, suspicious look, probably wondering who helped me.  So, friends and neighbors, I invite you to join us in our backyard, uh, paradise.  Just be gentle with the hammock.