Looking for a Forgotten Book

Hoping this might sound familiar to someone . . . I’m resuming the search for a lost book from when I was a kid, and all the threads in forums that I had this on a few years ago on the Barnes and Noble website are now shut down.

I do not know the name of the author, or the book title . . . I’ve found this tends to hamper book searches.

I read it when I was in 5th or 6th Grade. It took place in modern times in a fictional town called Masonville, named after one of the founding families ancestors who caught traitors in the Revolutionary War. Another family in the town, the Bradys, goes on a quest to clear their ancestor, who was caught by the Masons and hanged as a British spy.

I remember one scene where the Brady’s decode an old letter using a pair of glasses – they slid the the frames down the letter until it contained the real message. Modern glasses were too big to fit around the coded message, so they had to find replica 1770s spectacles. The message framed within the spectacles were actually an illustration on the book’s page within the block of text.

The book cover showed a dark night scene, with a silhouetted man in a three-pointed 1770s hat and overcoat in the foreground, with a dark road behind him, and maybe a wagon with lanterns backlighting the whole thing. It was really Sleepy Hollow-ish.

This is a long shot, but does this ring a bell with anyone 40 or over?

 

QUICK UPDATE: I also posted this on my Facebook page. My cousin Christine, like me a former student of the Marshfield (MA) School District where this book had been bouncing around during our formative years, clued me in to the title of this book. Thanks Christine!

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My Reading and Writing Goals . . . I Am Now That Guy.

Did you reach your reading and writing goals for 2016? You know the ones that you set between Christmas and New Year’s Eve of 2015, full of ambition, possibility, and maybe spurred on by the numerous articles coming across your social media feed? These are the ones that come from Writer’s Digest, The Writer magazine, and maybe any number of celebrity authors now promoting their own writing classes. They are numerous, and the idea is to inspire you on to higher productivity. At least for me, they work for a short time. I feel inspired to write and write and write, and fill every waking moment with some kind of creativity.

But, and maybe you run into this too, as the new year moves away from the holidays and into late January, I trail off. I run into what I call “The White Noise of Life.” Bills. How much sick leave do I have left at work? Laundry. How many miles overdue for an oil change is the van? When is my next job evaluation? Where are my keys? Kids, take out the garbage. Necessary things, these tasks. And life would be a lot harder if they weren’t handled.

But I have a fundamental flaw in my character. Once The White Noise of Life is handled, or at least handled for now, I get tired and crabby – the job of life is done for the day. And in the meantime, infinite blank word documents sit waiting. The craft of writing is rusted. Books are read too slowly, snippets here and there. Not a bad thing for a shorter book, but months-long slogs for those thousand-pagers. That’s where I forget who is who, and what’s going on here now? That’s when I give up and figure I can come back to them, with plans on starting over the whole thing fresh and strong.

This year, I have a different plan. Overall, I set a pretty modest goal to write an average of three hundred words per day from January 1 to December 31, 2017. This amounts to 109,500 words for the year. Be advised that this does not mean polished words, ready to submit to some literary journal. I’m only interested in practicing the craft for now. We’ll see if any of it ends up submitted somewhere or not. If I reach this goal, that would make 2017 the most productive writing year for me ever.

For reading, I set a Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge goal of a modest nineteen books – just one more than the most that I’ve read in a single year. I’d like to bust through it and hit thirty or forty, but I think setting something more realistic would be more encouraging. There are 52 weeks in a year. I would need to finish a book every 2.74 weeks. Not a neck-breaking pace, so I got this.

These goals will also help me get through my Day Zero Challenge. Endlessly revised and restarted, I’m going to try to stick with is “as is” this time out.

Look at that. Over five hundred words already.

Observations while in Spokane today:

1. There is no way to word the concept of “keep the change” to a barista without sounding like a condescending tool.
2. I bought myself three cakepops. The barista put my three cakepops in three separate bags. Like I was gonna run into two friends later and say, “Hey, I got us all a treat!”
3. Radio stations will still censor the Tom Petty song “You Don’t Know How It Feels” by switching “roll another joint” to “hit another joint” despite the fact that, you know, it’s almost 2017.
4. A-Ha’s “Take On Me” still stands up as a great song after all this time. Sorry haters.

Waco Real Estate and Cabin Fever

The kids are sick. We’ve had four or five clinic trips for over the past week.

So we’ve been watching Fixer Uppers. It’s a home renovation-type show. It takes place in Waco, Texas, near Baylor University.

After watching a few episodes, I need to know . . . what’s going on with real estate in Waco?

This is the typical scenario:

“Okay, built in 1955. 4 bedrooms, 3 bath lakefront property on five acres. Good schools, and your neighbor is police chief who is married to the fire chief. Ten minute commute to town through rolling hills and farmland. Snicker’s bars grow wild all over the property. They’re asking $75,000.”

Huh?

More to the point, what’s going on with real estate lending in Waco? If X is the average home price there, X + $60,000 seems to be the average home loan. The surplus is what the homebuyers use to fund materials and labor in their Fixer Upper episode. Then the house is worth twice what it was worth two months (or whatever) before?

I don’t know. Sounds too good to be true?

I think cabin fever has set in. Send pizza, because we have seven more episodes in this season.

So You’ve Decided to Coach Your Kid’s Youth Football Team

Congratulations! You’ve taken on a pretty big responsibility, but the rewards can last a lifetime. You’ll have a team picture with you, your child, and the whole team, as well as many good memories.

Hopefully, you’ll have a qualified assistant (likely another parent), and a helpful league administrator (likely another parent who’s stretched pretty thin). Hopefully, you also have a whistle.

You’re probably pretty nervous. I’ve been there. Keep in mind what will determine your success as a youth football coach will not be wins and losses, but if the kids had a good experiences overall during the season.

To make things go more smoothly, remember to practice some basic principles over the season.

Teach Proper Tackling and Blocking Technique

I heard it said if you want to see how high school football was played in the past, one only needs to look at youth football practices today. A former player of mine from semi-pro football once told me he had a coach that instructed smacking the facemask into the chestplate of opposing ballcarriers. Safety first, right?

Modern techniques are safer than what you or I may have learned from our youth or high school coaches. So learn and teach proper, modern techniques right from the start of practice. Be vigilant throughout the season that players are executing the techniques properly. Always stop and correct bad technique quickly, specifically, and with a huge amount of encouragement.

Here are some good links from USA Football on how to teach proper technique in tackling and blocking:

Tackling.

Blocking.

Xs and Os – Keep It Simple, Stupid

You can’t emphasize everything. You will want to emphasize everything.

You will come across articles, playbooks, special teams diagrams, practice plans, videos, etc. etc. etc. There are thousands of resources out there, and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself bogged down in some seriously complicated detail.

Defensively and on special teams, I recommend simple alignment/assignment-based schemes – line up here and anyone that comes through this gap with the ball, tackle them.

Offensively, it may be a good idea to limit your playbook to eight to ten plays. Coaches will sometimes introduce 20-25 plays to a young team, and players end up forgetting what to do on two-thirds of them because there are two practices a week in season – not enough time to cover and review everything. Brain drain and lack of attentive listening will happen if your team offense sessions turn into the Mike Leach playbook.

Your playbook really only needs the following plays, no matter what your scheme or base formations look like:

  1. Some kind of sweep (power, toss, or even rocket/jet sweeps if your league allows motion). This is your bread and butter,
  2. A counter to the sweep going in the opposite direction. Use this when your opponent takes away your bread and butter.
  3. An inside play (a dive, or an inside zone play where an athletic kid can cut back into open lanes when needed). Use this when the defense overemphasizes the edge where your sweep running paths will hit.
  4. Two or three various pass plays, including a play action or bootleg pass. Because well-executed pass plays will keep defenses on their heels.
  5. All of the above, mirrored to run to the other side.

Add to it, if you’d like. But do so cautiously. If you’re tempted by the “Offense of the Week” (which you’ll find tends to happen after a particularly bad game), remember that the more complicated your offense is, the more difficult it will be for your players to master it.

And don’t bother blocking the cornerbacks on those sweeps. You’ll see why.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Planning is an antidote to the poison of chaos. Plan everything –how your kids will line up for equipment handouts, the structure, length, and even the layout of your practices, your drills, when you schedule water breaks (always leave plenty of time for the players to rehydrate themselves), your pregame warm-up.

What’s you lightning plan? Hear thunder, see lightning – practice is over.

Plan everything.

Plan how you’re going to correct a kid’s mistake (hint: it should be very specific. If you find yourself yelling “You gotta block somebody!” it’s time to reassess your coaching style).

Plan, plan, plan.

If you have a plan, the kids will begin to follow all of your familiar expectations. Soon after your season begins, you’ll see them taking the initiative when they hear “Okay, let’s begin our warm-up,” and they jump into lines or begin jogging around the field. The natural leaders will take charge to guide their teammates.

Remember when you had to tell them where to stand? This is progress.

Some kids won’t want to be there . . . maybe for just that day. Maybe for the whole season.

They’re not going to say it to you. They’re probably not going to say it to their parents. But honestly, they’d rather be playing video games, or hanging with their friends, or maybe they’re just biding their time until basketball season.

The lack of desire to play football will manifest itself in a lot of ways, but most commonly, you’ll see it in a lack of interaction with teammates and a lack of full speed effort.

Don’t try to force them to be enthusiastic. Don’t try to pull these kids “out of their shell” or whatever nonsense you’ve seen other adults try in real life or the movies – they’ll come out when they’re darn good and ready. Work with them as best you can. Be patient. Give them a lot of encouragement when needed, and breaks when you sense they’ve had enough.

Remember, it’s your job to try to give the kids on your team a good experience. That doesn’t mean just kids that are wildly enthusiastic about sports. It also means kids who will not be in football in a few years. They need your time and attention too.

Sometimes you won’t want to be there.

At times, your enthusiasm will vary from stoked to be a part of such a great experience for your kid to dreading loading the car up with gear after a tough day at work, and maybe even wishing the whole season was over already.

It happens. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad coach or a bad person. It’s a grind sometimes, especially if the team isn’t doing so well.

Here’s the thing. None of the kids, not even yours, can ever know this. They can’t even suspect it. You need to fake it ‘til you make it.

Remember, it’s your job to give them a great experience. That requires enthusiasm, simplicity in teaching the game, and letting them know through your coaching you are happy to be a big part of their childhood. In doing so, you’ll be fulfilled as well.

You have to keep that in mind when you’d rather be home dozing in front of the TV.

Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive – you already know that you’re not there just to make sure your kid gets all the carries, right? Right.

Keep seeking out age-specific football information.  And remember, it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Same with the kids.

Good luck, Coach!

The Sweater

I recently rediscovered a short film from my early adolescence called “The Sweater.” It is narrated by Roch Carrier, who also wrote the short story the film is based on called “The Hockey Sweater.” It’s about a young boy in rural Quebec who, like the boys around him, idolizes Montreal Canadian legend Maurice Richard. They all wear the #9 sweater that Richard made famous.

One day his mother notices the sweater is wearing out and buys him a new one. But when it arrives, the boy is horrified to find that it isn’t the red Canadians sweater, but a blue Toronto Maple Leafs sweater. This just would not do.

This is roughly the same as my mother buying me, a Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice fan of the 70s and 80s Red Sox, a pin-striped Reggie Jackson or Thurman Munson jersey complete with the true sign of the devil, the overlapping NY of the New York Yankees.

I watched “The Sweater” for the first time in eighth grade in Mr. Bob Courchesne’s French class. Mr. Courchesne was a good teacher, but he couldn’t get anywhere with me – you get out school exactly what you put into it, and my contribution at the time was nil. That was a little over thirty years ago. I don’t remember a lot of the French language, but I do remember “The Sweater.” I probably would have never known about Carrier’s wonderful story if it wasn’t for eighth grade French.

The film was seen somewhat as an allegory for the language and cultural friction between Canada’s French and English heritages. I didn’t recognize that in when I was thirteen, but I can see it now. But whether a political message was intended or not doesn’t matter to me. I just have fun watching it over and over with my younger kids, who now hear the beginning notes of the opening song and come running.

And that fun family time, Mr. Courchesne, is all thanks to you.

Sorry about the whole never doing my homework or paying attention thing . . .

Digging The Past From My Bookcase

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If you are into researching your family history and connecting with your past, family photos and oral histories are a great place to start. But don’t forget your parents old books either, particularly books on topics your parents were passionate about. Looking though old titles is a great way to connect to the past and the memories you have of your old relatives, and to places that just don’t exist for you the way they used to. And you might find that it’s something you need to brace yourself for, because it’s not always the easiest journey, but it can be rewarding as well.

One of my prized possessions is a book with a simple title, Hockey. It was published in 1969 and written by Gerald Eskenazi, longtime sportswriter for The New York Times and Huffington Post contributor, and features photography by Ken Regan, best known for capturing private moments of rock and roll icons in the seventies and eighties. You might have seen pictures of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg at Jack Kerouac’s grave, or Keith Richards holding his baby daughter, Theodora.

Hockey features a cover photo of Hall of Famer Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is literally on his face, nose pushed into the ice, and skates up in the air. It is a tough-looking picture. Inside, Hull is shown again. The bridge of his nose is broken, blood spilling down his face, and he’s held back by an official from going after an opposing player.

Eskenazi covers the early history of hockey, from when players skated on ponds in local leagues with magazines tucked into their socks for shin guards to the then-modern NHL, where helmets still had not come into common use.

Regan’s photography is amazing. I remember as a boy, I would spend hours scanning through the pages of my father’s book, just looking at the photos. The first section of the book, just after Hull’s painful cover shot, there are several pages of game time action. Hockey, a tough sport now, was absolutely brutal back in the late sixties. Regan captured that perfectly.

Regan’s lens captures rough men playing a rough game. They look like guys hardened by life, and look much older than me even now at age forty-five. They look like they’d be at home turning wrenches in a garage, or training on the speedbag for a fight in a gym, or in a union hall voting to strike. They were like my Dad, who when not pulling a shift in the fire station, worked for a lumber company, and ran his own contracting business on the side.

Evidence of my Dad’s love for the book – and hockey – is all over the book’s pages. Several pages of photography are captionless, and the photos speak for themselves. My Dad though, unsatisfied with that, wrote the names of each player directly onto the pages, That was him. He’d see something that isn’t quite right in his eyes, and he fixed it.

In the back, there is an appendix that shows the statistics of the NHL – all the Stanley Cup winners, goal leaders, individual trophy winners. One can look back almost a hundred years to see who won The Vezina Trophy for being the best goalie in the league – Clint Benedict of Ottawa, Bill Durnan and Jacques Plante of Montreal all must have been goaltending freaks. In the 1955-56 season, the first of five straight seasons he won the Vezina, Plante gave up only an average of 1.86 goals per game.

My Dad made additions to The Art Ross Trophy page. The Art Ross Trophy is awarded each year to the NHL player that scores the most total points in the regular season. I’m sure Wayne Gretzky has a garage full of them. The last stat line at publication was “1968-69 Phil Esposito, Boston, 74 (Games Played) 49 (Goals) 77 (Assists) 126 (Total Points)” My Dad, at the end of the 1970-71 season, added “1970-71 Phil Esposito 78 (Games Played) 76 (Goals) 76 (Assists) 152 (Total Points).” This was probably recorded just after the season, roughly when I was born.

Why 1969-70 didn’t get recorded is lost to history. He may not have purchased the book until the ’70-71 season was over. He may not have had access after the fact to the information we had today – the Internet is wonderful for bringing up any stats you want to check out. Maybe life got in the way and the stats weren’t as important when he got married, was honorably discharged from the Air Force, began a career as a firefighter, and began a family. Or he may just have only been interested in a record breaking season by one of his favorite players on his hometown team the season his son was born.

I can only guess. He’s not here for me to ask.

When I flip through the book, looking at Regan’s photography and reading Eskenazi’s writing, I think of my Dad. I think of him reading it, perhaps thinking of his old school hockey days playing for Brookline (MA) High. Maybe he related to the hardened men in the photos, who probably grew up in hard-working families like he did. I think of my Dad, and how he may have seen the sport of hockey, one of his true passions.

When I flip through this book, I think of my Dad sitting in our darkened dining room at night. My mother would watch her shows out in the living room on the big TV. My Dad would watch the mini black and white on top of our table. The gray glare from the screen would shoot across the walls. He’d be watching the Boston Bruins play on Boston’s Channel 38, with Fred Cusick and Johnny Peirson broadcasting. I used to wait for the Peter Puck cartoons during the intermissions.

When I flip through this book, I think of my Dad with a broken earpiece from a pair of glasses serving as a hockey stick, shooting a shirt button like a puck past an empty Marlboro box serving as a goalie. The net was actually just an old shoebox. I could watch him do this forever.

When I flip through this book, I think of my Dad.