not that terrible.

Oh, look — someone from The Simpsons found a copy of Uncle Crappy’s bracket.

Folks, I have to apologize. I normally would have had this update ready by midweek at the latest, but real life got in the way in a pretty significant manner this week.

But writing about basketball — and the Fourteenth Kind Of Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub*) is the kind of distraction I need — so let’s get down to bidness.

As longtime AUCNFFC players will recall, no one has any points yet — that doesn’t happen until teams actually reach the Final Four after Monday night’s games.

We can, however, begin to ascertain how things might shake out, based on the results of the first weekend. Quite a few of us picked Ohio State as our eventual champion, for example — and that’s not going to work out so well. A few others of us went all in on the Big Ten — and that’s really not going to work so well.

But most of us — well over half, in fact — were able avoid real disasters associated with early upsets, and are therefore in pretty good shape. And there two of us — just two of us — who have an intact Final Four still alive.

I have done no math associated with this so far, but in general, I’d give the advantage to those who are still working with their pick to be national champion over those who are trying to move on without. And so, we begin with the bad news and move on to the good.

One FF team alive, champ pick is out:

  • Strang
  • Trailion

One FF team/champ alive:

  • Susan

Two FF teams alive, champ is out

  • Mrs. Crappy
  • Cleveland Kelsey
  • Kewyson
  • Spoon

Three FF teams alive, champ is out

  • Uncle Crappy
  • Lianne
  • Carla
  • Pgh Rugby Ref

Three FF team/champ alive

  • Socialist Joe
  • Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl
  • Aunt Annoyed Angel
  • Mister G
  • Styx 4 Curl Girl
  • Chachi
  • Calipanthergrl
  • Dudders
  • North Coast Matt
  • Sports Chump
  • MFulk
  • Dish
  • JCK158
  • Scooter

And our best of the best, as we go through the second weekend of FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*):

All FF picks/champ still alive

  • Miss C
  • Red Buppy

There is one more player I haven’t mentioned, and that’s Juan, oh he of little basketball knowledge. When I started this thing, I was concerned that I wouldn’t get enough entries to make it interesting, so I badgered the hell out of my family and close friends to get in. Most were accommodating, but Juan dug in his heels, giving me BS reasons like “I don’t like college basketball” and “Why are you torturing me?” When he finally made it clear that he was out, I decided to enter him anyway, using a variety of methods that pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn’t come close to ever winning this thing. He grumbled about it at first, but eventually came to appreciate that he would be entered in AUCNFFC with zero effort and almost zero chance of stressing about it at all. It became a standing joke, one of a looooooong list of standing jokes we had between us.

Juan — that’s not his actual name — was my friend who died this week. We’re not going to worry about his picks for the rest of FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*), and if I do this again next year, I suspect the tournament will be named in his honor. Which he would find as funny as I would hope.

I hope your teams do well this weekend, and I’ll be back on Tuesday — I promise this time — with the first look at our official FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*) standings.

i wasn’t ready.

I had to come sit outside. Away from TV, my phone, music in the kitchen. Just the moon, a few stars, some wispy clouds and the soft lights of our front porch. It had been a gorgeous day, and it was still warmer than you’d expect for a late-March evening in Pittsburgh.

I didn’t know what to do. I was utterly unprepared.

After a few minutes, I began to hear a dad and his young son walking up the street towards our house. The boy is happily chattering away and I hear him say, “Hey! Let’s play I Spy!” Dad agrees, and as they reach the side of our driveway, the boy spies, with his little eye, something white. Dad looks across the street, points at a neighbor’s white minivan and says, “Is it the van?” The kid releases his father’s hand long enough to clap.

“OK! My turn!”

I’m smiling now.

Dad glances at the flowerbed next to the driveway. “I spy with my little eye something yellow!” There is silence for a split second before the son shouts, “Is it the flowers?”

Dad says it is. The boy giggles. I realize our daffodils have started to pop. I hadn’t noticed before. I mean, the last two days have been pretty hard.

I’m still smiling — genuinely smiling — when Dad and the now-skipping boy spot me on the stoop. The man asks how I’m doing and I return the greeting. The boy turns a little shy but says he’s good, and thanks me when I wish them a good night.

That little bit — the bouncy, happy kid in the orange shirt, the yellow flowers starting to appear — was enough to lift me up out of my seat.

My smile faded, though. I had to go tell Mrs. Crappy that my best friend — the one I met pretty much as soon as we started seventh grade, the one who roared through Athens and Granville and New York and Colorado and Columbus with me, the one who was the best man at our wedding — died this afternoon.

I will see you again someday, my friend. Love you.

one year later.

Home away from home.

One year ago today, I sat down at my desk in the newsroom, to start work for the day and to assess what I might need from my cube to make working at home a little more comfortable.

I didn’t need to bring much, I thought — I mean, how long could this thing last?

The newsroom was pretty quiet, as a lot of my colleagues had already begun their stint at their home offices. My boss was in that day, though; I recall telling him as I was pack up to go home that I was going to definitely stay away from the newsroom for two weeks before I would reassess the situation.

Two. Weeks. That’s a funny thing to type now, one year later.

I’ve been back in the newsroom a handful of times since. Once was to box up stuff on my desk for a newsroom decontamination effort. I was forced to work in the newsroom for a few weeks in the summer. That was punishment, I think, for a Facebook post that pointed out … uh … an ethical inconsistency, let’s say … on the part of the then-executive editor; my sentence was cut short when the governor issued a work-form-home order. And when the union’s situation was looking especially dire, I stopped in on a Saturday morning to collect all of my stuff, because I believed at the time that I wouldn’t work in that newsroom, for one reason or another, ever again.

I’m feeling less uncertain about the labor stuff. And as I am halfway vaccinated against the plague, I feel like the darkness has started to lift, just a little.

But for now, I’m still here, at home, looking at the window and desk in our little office. During snowstorm of 2010, I worked at home for a full week — and I hated it.

That’s a funny thing to type now. One year later.

happy.

Yes. I’m aware that it’s only Nov. 17.

Yes. I’m aware that Thanksgiving isn’t for another week.

Here’s the thing. This year has been so miserable that I think we should all be looking for the things that make us happy. Because there hasn’t been a whole lot of happy for a while.

So if that means I completely blow up my traditional starting times for Christmas beers, I don’t care.

So if I call up the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Spotify in mid-November because I’m driving through a snow squall? Insert shrug emoji here.

And if I decide to put up the Christmas lights on the house eight days before Thanksgiving while listening to Tony Bennett sing Christmas songs in my earbuds? It makes me happy.

And we could all use more of that. Regardless of what the calendar says.

someone stopped.

You know how a bad surprise can leave a pit in your stomach for hours?

I’ve had one since this afternoon.

I spent the weekend in Columbus, mostly to see a Picasso exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. After a couple of beer-related stops this afternoon — and a White Castle lunch in the car — I hit the road back to Pittsburgh, anxious to see Mrs. Crappy and Mr. Charlie, both of whom I missed like crazy since I left on Friday.

There’s an odd stretch of I-70 between Newark and Zanesville where the freeway balloons to three lanes in each direction … for no apparent reason in a sparsely populated part of central Ohio. It’s great when you’re trying to make good time, but there is, inevitably, a brief bottleneck when the highway narrows back to two lanes.

And that’s why I was stuck in the passing lane just after the merge. When I spotted a tiny moving thing right on the far shoulder of the freeway.

It was a kitten.

Traffic was heavy. I couldn’t get over to stop. If I had pulled over on the left, I would have had to run across the freeway to get back to the tiny cat.

I sped up. There was an exit just ahead. I turned around there and headed back to the west at 120 miles an hour, looking for the first cut in the jersey barrier so I could turn around again. After that illegal U-turn, I eased over to the right lane and plodded along the shoulder, looking for the kitten, while other cars passed and honked.

I didn’t see it again.

Part of that is good; I didn’t see a dead kitten on the shoulder of the freeway, and that’s a whole lot better than the alternative. But I hate not knowing, and that’s the stone that sat in my gut for the rest of the trip home.


It’s easy to not stop. I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw the baby cat — and maybe I wasn’t the only one who tried to do something — but we’re all on the interstate because we’re going somewhere: Zanesville, Cambridge, Wheeling, Pittsburgh, someplace further east. We’re interested in making good time, getting to where we’re going, seeing the people we haven’t seen all weekend while we were away. I can’t blame anyone for that; I was thinking the same thing when I left my folks’ house this morning.

But I’m so grateful for the people who stop. The ones who notice. The ones who see the strays and leave a dish of food outside. Or the ones who grab the strays from an overgrown yard in front of a vacant house or from a sidewalk along Penn Avenue or from the shoulder of the freeway and take them to a shelter.

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We shared our homes with Miles for 14 years because someone in Indiana County stopped. We share our home with Charlie because someone stopped somewhere in the East End, grabbed him and his brother and dropped them off at ARL. I’ll never know the circumstances. I’ll never know who it was. But I couldn’t be more thankful that someone did what they did.

It’s going to bother me for a long time that I won’t know what happened to that kitten. Maybe it ran back into the woods along the highway. Maybe its mother grabbed it and hauled it back to safety.

Or maybe, in the six or seven minutes it took me to get back to the spot where I saw it, someone stopped. I’ll never know for sure, but that’s what I’m hoping for.

yogaversary.

IMG_5991

Two years ago Sunday, I walked down the hill in Grandview Park on Mount Washington, accompanied by some pretty significant misgivings, for my first yoga class. In spite of my nerves, that morning was close to perfect: sunny and warm, but not at all uncomfortable.

Two years later — on Sunday morning — I walked down same hill under a stack of gray, drizzling clouds, and headed for the bandstand, which would shelter us from the rain that was starting to strengthen. And feeling none of the apprehension I had in 2014.

***

I’ve written before about what I felt before that first class, and how it translated to a mental block I had constructed for myself over the last year. I wrapped up the workshop weekend feeling confident that I was going to work through that block — the one about doing shoulder stand — but at that point, I hadn’t done it yet.

Here’s what happened since: I did it. With a lot of help.

One of my teachers, Holly, definitely read the part of the wrap-up post where I said I needed to have a stronger core; in the very next class I had with her, she hammered us with core work — and then stood over my mat while explaining that that’s probably what I should expect when I wrote about needed more core work. I’m almost positive that I could hear her smirking while she spoke … but I don’t know for sure because I had too much sweat dripping in my eyes.

Starting the Saturday after Chrissy Carter was in town, my other teacher, Ashley, started a three-week series of classes built to prep her Saturday Morning Yoga Party students for … wait for it … shoulder stand.

The coincidence is incredible, right?

This involved a more core work, plus extra time opening shoulders so we’d have a strong platform to build from. On the second Saturday, Ashley hauled out the chairs — backless versions of the basic metal folding chairs we all know — for prep work for the Week Three climax. Part of this was using the chairs to help us into halasana, a pretty common jumping-off point for shoulder stand.

chrissy chairAnd that’s when it changed. Ashley was sitting right next to me, ready to help swing my legs all the way over my head; as I started, I said, out loud, “I don’t think I’ll be able to do this” … as I tucked my legs into my chest and then straightened them out to the seat of the chair behind my head.

I could have done shoulder stand right then, but I was so surprised at myself and the strength I didn’t know I had that I sort of forgot what I was doing.

But I didn’t forget the following Saturday.  when Ashley brought out the chairs again, I did what Chrissy demonstrated in her workshop. I even felt like I could have held it for a while.

The fear was gone, replaced by the strength I needed to really do the pose for the first time. Another thing had vanished, as well: the voice in my head that tries to convince me that I can’t do the thing I’m trying to do. There were two best parts about this process of the last month: the first is being able to set aside that voice — even if only for a little while — and doing what I wanted to do.

The other best part? If you guessed it was getting shoulder stand, you’re incorrect. The other best part is that my two teachers took it upon themselves to help me get there. I’ve mentioned this before: this is my yoga family. For some reason, the universe took me up to Mount Washington for that first outdoor class two years ago. It also took me up that long flight of stairs to BYS the following August. That’s where I was supposed to be; these are the people — all the teachers and all the people I practice with — I am supposed to accompany as we all walk this path together.

This is home.

***

After we wrapped up Sunday’s class under the bandstand, I told Ashley and Kristi that I wanted a picture with the two of them, to commemorate my second anniversary.

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As is often the case with these people, I got more; I wasn’t the only one celebrating an anniversary. As the director at BYS, Kristi was one of the first to offer outdoor classes in Pittsburgh, now a pretty common thing here through the summer. Ashley walked into her first class at BYS ten years ago this week. And Ashley’s mom, Dee, started with an outdoor class a few years before I did.

So I got a photo with four yogis, and four anniversaries. And I got a final bit of wisdom from Kristi:

IMG_6001

Always take the jumping pic. Always. See?

Happy anniversary, yoga family. And thank you, so much.