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‘Tennistock 09’: Be there Man!

TSlogoIn honor of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, the Genesee Volley Tennis Club will be holding Tennistock ’09, billed as “a Love-in.” Of course, since it is a tennis club, you may not want to take that too literally. In any case you, dear reader, are invited to attend on August 23 from 2-10 pm. I guarantee that you do not have to be a tennis player (or even like tennis) to have a good time!

On the program are the finals of our Club Doubles Tournament at 2 pm, games of tennis skill, croquet and other lawn sports from 4-6 pm, a catered BBQ dinner at 6 pm (featuring veggies grown chemical free on Free Soil Farm) and live music by Buzzo’s All-Stars from 7-10 pm. The price is only $15 per person and children 12 and under are free!

The purpose of this event is to give club members and the community a fun End-of Summer party, show off our beautiful club facility, and raise a little money for a worthy cause. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Teresa House the comfort care home in Geneseo. Many tennis players remember the fine care that one of our own, Fred Bright, received there last year.

If you wish to attend, simply download the reservation form here. The form also allows you to reserve a commemorative t-shirt, but hurry! The deadline to order chicken dinners and t-shirts is Monday Aug. 17!

Now about our facility. Many volunteers (especially Bill Lofquist) and I have been busy this summer building a lawn tennis court and clearing the wilderness that had grown up around the former formal garden at Hartford House. In reading up on the art of growing creeping bentgrass I learned that the biggest mistake that golf course make is not cutting down enough trees.

Not wanting to make that mistake, I had loggers come and remove 10 large trees around the new court. Once we began to see the spectacular view of the Valley we were spurred on to remove the remaining smaller trees and brush that had grown up.

All this and my duties as GVTC club President and operator of Free Soil Farm and the Word of Mouth Market have kept me from writing in this blog since June. I’m sorry for my few faithful readers who have been missing me, but I don’t promise to return to weekly postings anytime soon. I’m just too busy!

If you want to know what’s going on with me, the farm or the club, you’ll just have to come to the party and ask me in person! Be there Man!

P.S. It should probably go without saying, but people are encouraged to wear their funkiest 1960s attire to Tennistock.

A sport is born!

I knew right away when I was introduced to Quick Start Tennis (QST) at the USTA Eastern Convention in January that there was a adult game lurking inside this children’s instructional system. It was just too much fun to let the kids have all to themselves!

Quick Start uses a smaller court with everything proportional (smaller racquets, lower net) except for the ball, which is an over-sized nerf ball. The nerf ball is the key to the game because its light weight and large aerodynamics profile make it slow down in flight, but it also bounces quite high.

That may be good for young children, but it also makes it perfect for a new racquet sport which I have invented called bashball (or as some call it, Biffball). Bashball is a combination of tennis and dodge ball. Since it is very difficult to put the nerf ball away, the best strategy (especially in doubles) is to smash the ball and try to hit your opponent with it!

Of course that’s a good strategy in regular tennis as well, but you have to worry about hitting someone in the wrong spot and causing serious injury. In bashball that is not a problem since it would be impossible to hurt someone with the lightweight nerf ball.

The generous bounce of the nerf also makes it the perfect game to be played on the not-yet-perfect lawn tennis surface at our club. I planted 25 pounds of creeping bentgrass in April, however the grass has not yet crept enough to cover all the bare spots. The court is also still a little uneven with an occasional stone poking through.

No matter! The nerf is big enough to bounce quite predictably most of the time, and when it doesn’t, well that’s the nature of lawn tennis, get used to it! I have played two doubles matches and one singles match so far, and the universal verdict is that this game is a gas!

Of course, I had to change the name of the game to get people to try it. Our macho male club members were not about to be caught dead playing a “children’s game”, but once they tried bashball they were hooked! I predict that this game has the potential to do what snowboarding did to skiing, convert a whole group of participants to a new way of enjoying the sport. Warning: Bashball may be addicting!

Although it can be a good work out, it is also a good choice for those with limited mobility. At age 58, I really can’t cover the court well enough to play competitive singles on a full size court, but I had no trouble playing singles last night on the smaller bashball court. Additional warning: Grass surfaces are slippery, but the good news is, if you do fall, you will have a soft landing!

One of the interesting things about QST (and bashball) is that it does not have to be played with real lines. Small plastic line markers are layed down to indicate where the corners are, but the players must interpolate where the actual line might be. Strangely, this results in more generous interpretation of whether a ball is in. Since it is not possible to know exactly where the line is, the tendency is to play anything that is close. If only real tennis was so generous!

Bashball may be good training for real tennis, but that’s not really the point for advanced players. Sure, the bang-bang nature of volleys smashed at point blank range may be good for tuning up your reflexes. When you can serve, volley and smash the ball on a lawn court, however, for that one shining moment you can feel like you are John McEnroe taking on Bjorn Borg at Center Court at Wimbleton. It doesn’t get any better than that!

The odd couple

Author’s note: When word got around about Vera’s illness and this column, my traffic to this blog has soared with many people leaving their good wishes as comments. Now some family members have also posted updates on Vera’s condition. Please be sure and check back from time to time for the latest information. Get well soon, Vera!

When Vera Gleason turned 65 years old in 1993 she was required to retire from her job as at Precise Plastics in Avon. Not quite ready to relax and enjoy her Golden Years, she came to work for a fledgling Avon newspaper, The Clarion. Thus began an association that has lasted for over 15 years but has recently been interrupted by poor health.

Vera was the last full-time survivor of the Clarion newspaper staff. When the paper was discontinued two years ago, I kept Vera on to run my continuing business ventures with the Clarion Copy Center, Genesee Graphics and more recently the Genesee Volley Tennis Club. I did so because I needed some one to keep the office fires burning as I transitioned into other fields and I really couldn’t imagine life without Vera.

In her quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) way she has kept me on track by constantly questioning, reminding and sometimes nagging me to take care of all those pesky details I would sooner ignore. It has been a great shock to my system then, that for the last two weeks Vera has been in the hospital and I don’t know if she will ever make it back to work.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock, that someone 80 years old might retire, but Vera has always been my Rock of Gibraltar– the one constant in a world of turmoil. In the last two weeks I’ve come to realize even more how many important details she routinely took care of, details that I have even less time to attend to now, in this very busy spring season.

I first noticed a problem with Vera’s health about 6 weeks ago when she developed a hacking cough. This was unusual, because she is normally as quiet as a churchmouse in the office. Through a number of courses of antibiotics and other drugs, she continued to work, but her strength ebbed.

At the end of a tough day two weeks ago she told me that she did not feel well enough to drive home and that her daughter was picking her up. Her daughter took her to the doctor, who promptly called an ambulance and Vera has been in the hospital ever since. Talk about working right to the end!

I visited her in the hospital last week after she was transferred to Strong’s heart unit. She had been developing fluid on her heart and was pretty wiped out. She told me that the way she felt, she couldn’t imagine ever returning to work, but I told her she might surprise herself. It wouldn’t surprise me.

For now, I am keeping Vera’s position open for her. I’m keeping sporadic hours at the copy center with a sign on the door that basically says “call me if you need service.” It’s not a permanent soultion, but it will do for now, until we see what happens.

Vera is beloved by many, but I’ll admit she sometimes annoyed me. Her biggest sin was attacking me with a list of questions and problems as soon as I poked my head into the office. Now that there is no one there to do that, does that mean the problems have gone away? Not hardly!

Get well soon, Vera!

Thinking the unthinkable

Mass murder has finally come to Upstate New York with the Binghamton Massacre last Friday morning and yet, for me at least, it doesn’t seem to carry the impact of other recent massacres. Is it just because Jiverly A. Wong chose to commit his heinous crime on a Friday, which is traditionally a slow news day, or are we just becoming immune to these frequent atrocities?

As it happened, a number of local high school students were on their way to Binghamton Friday to participate in the State Finals of the Odyssey of the Mind. It was because of this that I first learned of the Massacre after a concerned mother of one of the students posted on Facebook Friday afternoon.

I was very busy Friday preparing to set up a booth for the annual Farmer’s Night Dinner sponsored by the Livingston Chamber of Commerce and didn’t hear about the shootings until I checked my Facebook page on my iPhone around 5:30 pm after setting up my booth. I quickly did a news search and got the basics of the story, but then didn’t think about it much, other than a moment of silence offered during the benediction.

When I got home I didn’t turn on any of the all-news cable networks and so did not get immersed in the usual wall-to-wall coverage that these outlets traditionally provide of these tragedies. Again, it being the weekend, I did not watch much news on Saturday or Sunday either. I did look at a few news photos on the Internet, but I was not drawn into the story like I had been by recent tragedies such as the Buffalo plane crash or the the Virginia Tech shootings two years ago.

This is painful to say, but could it be because of the nature of the victims that this story failed to carry the emotional impact of other tragic deaths? I related to the Flight 3407 victims because I have flown into Buffalo on small planes many times and it literally could have been me on that plane. I related to the Virginia Tech story because I have children myself in college and it could have been them.

Should the fact that most of the people killed Friday were immigrants with foreign sounding names make a difference? Theoretically no, and yet we have become so used to hearing of tragic killings occurring around the world to foreign people that we may tend to discount it, even when it happens so close to home.

All these thoughts, and a chance meeting last week, made me think about the Holocaust. The partner I spent last Tuesday electioneering with was a Jewish attorney from New York City. As we rode around the beautiful country (See last week’s blog) I asked him where his people had originated from.

He told me that they came from Belarus, an area I admit I’ve never thought much about. Although his immediate family got out before the war, he also told me that after the Nazi’s got through, there was absolutely no trace of any of his family, or for that matter any Jewish community left. This is hard for Americans to imagine, that an entire people could be eliminated from a country without a trace.

My reading on this subject brought me to the history of anti-semitiism and the true meaning of the expression “Beyond the pale.” I’ve used that term all my life, but never really knew its origin. It seems that the word Pale refers to a fence, and that “The Pale” was an area in eastern Europe in which Jews were required to live by the Russians. Jews were not allowed into Russia proper but required to live “Beyond the Pale.”

Because of additional restrictions within the Pale, these areas became full of crowded villages and ghettos, where impoverished Jews struggled to survive. Over the years, the Jews also became a convenient political scapegoat. If things went wrong, in anything from public health to the economy, there was usually someone willing to blame it on the Jews. Out of such alienation, victimhood and inhumanity to our fellow man, the seeds of the holocaust were planted.

In thinking about the Binghamton tragedy, and my muted reaction to it, I wonder if the seeds of a new holocaust could not be planted on our soil. Were those nameless immigrants who died last week seeking to become Americans living beyond our Pale? When we lose sight of the basic humanity of our fellow men, it is perhaps not such a long step to closing our eyes to crimes against them.

Shock and awe

I took a week off from my column last week for a couple reasons. Yes, it’s true as some suspect, that wearing the twin new hats of Tennis Impresario and Budding Farmer, has soaked up a lot of my time for planning the upcoming seasons. More to the point, however, my writer’s block was occasioned by the audacity of President Obama’s speech to Congress last week.

After listening to his plan to increase taxes, social spending and environmental regulation during the worst recession of my lifetime, I am driven to one of two conclusions. Either the man is totally clueless or he is intentionally seeking to destroy what is left of our private economy.

Not being the paranoid type, I prefer to think it is the former. At least then there is a possibility that he will eventually see the error of his ways and change his tactics. If he truly is bent on destroying our country than God help us!

What is clear is that Obama seems incapable of moving from campaign mode to governing mode. He continues to jet around the country and give speeches in a frenzied manner as if the mid-term elections were next week. This alone is very unsettling, not to mention a big waste of energy.

In addition, despite his talk of bi-partisanship, he continues to have his minions demonize any who would dare to raise their voices in dissent of his Grand Scheme. His Enemy List started last fall with Joe the Plumber, and now includes CNBC’s Rick Santelli and Rush Limbaugh.

Notice that none of these are public office holders or officers in an opposition party. They are merely private citizens who, like millions of us, can’t take the insanity any more. I didn’t like it when Nixon took this route and I don’t like it any better today.

When Obama was elected I wrote in this column that I wished him well, but not well enough to be re-elected. Although that was intended as a mild joke, predictably it drew serious criticism from my liberal friends. If Obama succeeds it must be good for the country so why wouldn’t you want to see him re-elected?, they asked.

I let that go, but now the whole argument is being replayed over Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments. People that believe that Rush (or I) want the country to fail are the same people who were willing to believe that McCain wanted to keep the Iraq War going for 100 years. They are only willing to listen to half the argument.

Since I am busy with other things, I will quote from brother David Limbaugh to explain what Rush meant:

“(Rush’s) meaning was very clear. He believes that Obama is trying to restructure America in the image of the central planners and social nihilists: a radical growth in government and consequent reduction in the private sector and individual liberty, a radical relaxation in the war on terror and other national security imperatives, a radical push to diminish American sovereignty in favor of global entities on environmental matters and in deference to United Nations mandates on such distinctly internal matters as how parents raise their children, a radical empowerment of labor unions, a radical boost to the radical pro-abortion industry and death culture, a radical homosexual agenda, and, ultimately, the abject bankruptcy of America.”

O.K. Leaving out abortion and homosexuality, which no one will ever agree on, that’s pretty much how I feel. If those are in fact Obama’s goals, I want him to fail at every one of them! To conclude from that, that I want the country to fail, however, is to believe that the only way to save the country is to embark on this radical transformation of our traditional economic system. I certainly don’t believe that.

There is a tried and true method for getting out of these recessions. It is to cut taxes and let the capitalist pigs do what they do best, make money! It worked for Reagan after the years of Carter malaise, and it worked for JFK to break us out of the 1950s doldrums. It can work again, if Obama would only tone down his dream list of things we can’t afford right now, like socialized medicine, subsidized alternative energy and free college tuition for everybody.

There I feel better now!

It ain’t easy!

After a week of pain, I finally figured how to transfer my old vinyl records and cassette tapes to my iPod in stereo. If you are not interested in this topic you can safely skip this week’s column, but I wanted to memorialize what I learned because it was so darn hard to learn it!

You would think there would be simple instructions on the web about how to do this, and there are. The problem is that none of them actually worked for me. My venture started a few weeks ago when I switched to the iPhone and became enamored with the iPod feature.

After loading every music CD I could find into my computer (and then on to the iPod) I only had about 500 songs and huge gaps in my music library (See “The music of my life“). It was then that (on the suggestion of a reader) I purchased a USB turntable.

Of course, I did my due diligence and read a number of reviews before settling on a Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB Stereo Turntable for $81 plus $14 shipping at http://www.buy.com The price was right and I was persuaded by all the users who testified that they had great success with the product. Warnings 1 & 2: You get what you pay for and you can’t believe everything you read on the web!

With great excitement I tracked down the UPS driver in last Wednesday’s snow storm and brought my iBook and a few choice albums to my office to set up my system. 1o hours later I had failed to record anything close to high fidelity. The music sounded horrible!

After a night of pulling my hair out, I finally figured out that I already had everything I needed to transfer my albums with my old turntable and amplifier. All I had to do was plug a special wire from the amplifier’s out plugs directly into the line in on my iBook.

This solved the basic problem of the USB turntable that it didn’t provide a loud enough signal. I promptly packed the turntable back up and sent it back to buy.com. After deducting my shipping costs, and allowing for some strange math on buy.com’s part, the whole adventure set me back about $30.

I was almost there, except that I noticed that my recordings were not transferring separate stereo tracks. I would get sound in both the left and right speakers, but it would be the same. Again, this was contrary to all the users on the Internet who claimed to have no problem transferring stereo.

After another night of googling and experimenting, I finally found someone who told me the problem was that I was using an iBook. Apparently the line in on the iBook (as opposed to desktop Macs) is not capable of separating stereo without the assistance of a little device called an iMic made by Griffin Technology)

Although I could purchase one of those with the $60 refund I got from my turntable I didn’t have to because, again, I already had one! It seems about 5 years ago I had purchased one in an early attempt to transfer vinyl to digital but had given up because the learning curve was too steep.

Now I simply hooked it up in between my stereo and my iBook and “Voila!” I had stereo! Don’t ask me how it works because I don’t know or care, but it does. Now with the help of free Audacity software, I can transfer a record (in stereo!) eliminate the phonographic hisses, pops and cracks, divide and name the tracks of the albums, and load them into my iPod. Bliss!

It ain’t easy, but if you take 5 years you can learn to do anything! Now if I could only figure out how to convert my large wav format files to mp4 so I can put more songs on my iPod. Everybody says it’s simple …

Slip sliding away

I normally avoid Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend sales like the plague. I also generally prefer to spend what few dollars of discretionary income I have with local merchants. This past weekend I violated both rules and paid a heavy price.

In my defense, I did not do it intentionally. With only half of my four children home for Thanksgiving, it became apparent that we would be in need of some additional living room furniture when the whole contingent comes home for Christmas. Naturally, given the financial realities I disclosed in last week’s column, I stoutly resisted the suggestion that this should be accomplished by purchasing a new couch.

By rough count I have at least 7 other couches in my large house, surely one of them could be rotated into position to fill the breach. Thus things stood at a stalemate until Saturday night when we ventured into the city for what was supposed to be just dinner with the kids.

Although I had intended to eat Thai food, my son’s less international tastes required a mid-course correction towards more “American” cuisine. I justified my venture out of the county by the fact that, after all, there are no Thai restaurants in Livingston County and I needed to pick up some supplies for the office. The first step down the slippery slope!

My son had taken a separate car and when we arrived at the restaurant, we discovered by cell phone that he was still 10 minutes away from our appointed rendezvous. It was then that I noticed a large furniture store with a clearance center next door. It couldn’t hurt to take a quick look!

As we walked in the door, there was a large sign advertising an additional 15% Off Storewide for Thanksgiving Weekend only. That meant that I could purchase a couch and matching love seat for about $750 plus tax, about $500 less than I had spent on my last set six years ago, which was now moldering away in my living room.

As one of my faithful readers knows, there is a furniture store in Mt. Morris, but with my kids going back to college in the morning, this was my only chance to make a family decision on a major purchase, and the price sure seemed right. So to make a long story short, after dinner we returned to the store (conveniently open until 9 pm) and bought a set.

As a “no frills” clearance center, of course, they did not offer free delivery. No problem, I said. I own a pick-up truck, I ‘ll come back in the morning. (They conveniently opened at 11 am Sunday, giving me enough time to pick up the couches and get home to have my burly son help me unload them before he left for college at 1 pm!)

Thus on Sunday morning I found myself trekking up I-390 on an unusual second trip of the weekend into the city. As if the warning signs weren’t already blaring, I whiled away the time listening to the PBS radio show Car Talk. Just as I heard Click and Clack discuss the importance of putting sand bags in the back of a pick-up truck for winter driving, I noticed that cars were sliding off the road all around me.

I briefly thought of getting off at the Rush exit and making the rest of the trip on secondary roads, but things seemed to clear up so I stayed on the Interstate. After all, I needed to make good time to be back before my furniture mover left.

It seems that the Gods always provide a second warning, and so when my truck temporarily lost it’s footing on the ice, I slowed my speed down even further. But alas, not enough. When crossing a bridge near the Thruway, the truck suddenly veered to the left and crashed into a guard rail at about 40 miles an hour. Luckily the only smart thing I had done all day was wear my seatbelt, and so I do not appear to be injured.

Unfortunately I can not say the same for my truck. The early start to winter this year had persuaded me it was time to mount my plow about a week ago. The plow took the brunt of the crash and the frame was badly bent. The truck itself suffered around $2000 in damages. As of this writing I don’t know if the plow damage will be covered by my insurance, but if it’s not, you can probably add another $3,000 to the price of my “bargain”. Even if it is, my $1,000 deductible will more than double the price of my couch!

I hope this will be a lesson to my readers. Do not be tempted by the bright lights of the city. Stay safe and shop at home this holiday season!