Camping Illini

Everyone’s camping this week.  Not real campfire and s’mores camping, no, but pre-season sports camp.  Our kids at soccer, the high schoolers in various sports, on up to to the college kids.  As coaches with the younger set, pre-season camp is our means to get in more practice, conditioning, and training without throwing the parents into open revolt.  If you said, “OK, we’re practicing four times this week and each session is extra long,” it’s taken a bit differently than the pre-season camp concept.

Victory Badge

Across the state in Rantoul, the Fighting Illini football team have been camping at the one-time Air Force Base, doing two-a-days, knocking off the rust, and forming the depth chart.  Camp Rantoul has a long tradition for the team, going back several coaches, which typically ushers in the Beemsville football season.  Since we don’t really follow the NFL that closely, Illinois football is our pigskin outlet.  A questionable outlet, some might say…  As my uncle observed this past weekend, “it’s not easy being an Illini fan.”

We’re optimistic this year, though.  We see an above .500 season, a bowl, and gradual progress.  The reasoning is pretty simple:  start with this schedule.  It’s a lot more manageable than recent years.  Toss-up games are at home.  No multiple game road-trips.  Avoiding some of the better teams from the Big 10 East.  Also, this is the first season in (too) many where the team has both the offensive and defensive coordinators returning.  Bill Cubit on offense was a must-retain, and Tim Banks on the D gets the chance to show what he can do with a little more experience and his guys.  So the players don’t have to learn new systems for the first time in years, and you would think that little bit of consistency would pay off. Continue reading

Marvel’s Guardians

Took in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend (along with so many others).  What a fun show!  Marvel Studios continues to hit that action-adventure-humor sweet spot, and we would guess that while the majority of the viewing public never heard of Drax or Groot prior to this film, they’re fans now.

Because no one’s demanded it, we’re going to try a little switch on the review format here.  Instead of the longer summary form, we’ll just go with the likes and dislikes, hits and misses, cheers and jeers.

Four likes

  1.  Cosmic Marvel – The intergalactic, sci-fi area of the Marvel Universe has a lot to offer.  Although Stan and Jack originally created some of the aliens and creatures just to give the Fantastic Four or Avengers someone else to fight, the vastness beyond Earth has provided creators with so many opportunities to tell new stories, mix favorite elements of space opera and sci-fi, and envision new worlds.  Guardians, with its mishmash of alien cultures and locales, uses this to great effect to create that fun Star Wars vibe.  We’ve seen hints of Cosmic Marvel in the Avengers-themed movies (especially Thor), but this one really nails it, with references to old school creations like the Kree and Skrull war, the Celestials, and more.
  2. Set Design/Art Direction – Closely tied to the above, big kudos to the visual arts team.  It’s incredible what they can create on screen these days.  Whether it’s Starlord’s ship (orange and blue, baby!), Ronan’s Dreadnought cruiser, the prison, Knowhere (awesome!), or Xandar, the overall result is fantastic.  Not just because of the vivid colors and attention to detail, but also how these environments interact with the characters without suspending the disbelief overly much.
  3. Chris Pratt – Starlord, man!  As a big Parks and Recreation fans, we already knew about the comic timing, which Pratt applies repeatedly and expertly.  He’s a great choice as that Earth-transplant every-dude.  Of course Peter Quill/Starlord has so much potential as an archetypal character.  With a boyhood spend on earth in the 80s, he has those frames of reference, the music, the lingo.  He knows about Captain Kirk and Han Solo and is fully attempting to pull that off.  Pratt’s convincing in the action scenes, and has the range for the more serious moments as well (although you could feel the clowning right around the corner).  His scenes with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were fun and Saldana also deserves a lot of credit for her performance.
  4. Writers/Script – The story’s pretty straightforward:  Quest for treasure turns into a mission to stop the evil overlord.  The characters are your typical band of misfits.  But give a lot of credit to the writing team – James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning.  There’s real economy in their scenes; they set up character traits quickly, and the comedic moments are plentiful without feeling forced.  Drax taking everything literally, Rocket’s antics and tough-guy veneer, Groot…  We also appreciate some of those smaller moments and how they worked in a few Marvel easter eggs like usual.  They didn’t overdo the Starlord/Quill character arc, they didn’t force some grand epiphany upon the character.  And whoever came up with the idea for that final showdown with Ronan – well that writer deserves an award.

One dislike

  1. I thought the post-credit mini-scene (now a tradition) was a little weak and somewhat frightening in an 80’s flashback kind of way.  This isn’t really a dislike, but rather an observation:  the movie had just a little too much violence and a one too many crude jokes for me to bring the kids along.  They’re just going to have to wait, which is too bad, because they want to see Guardians very badly.

 

Are they role-playing?

…which is what the wife asked me in the car last night, as the kids embarked upon an imaginary quest from the backseat that involved a dungeon, treasure, evil wizards, and yes, a dragon.  

A proud moment for a geek-dad.

And it should come as no surprise as kids do so much creative storytelling and scenario-play with their action figures, dolls, and legos. Our kids are primed, with their many hours of viewing Adventure Time, playing Minecraft, and reading mythology and fantasy-themed books…  The girl recently finished the Percy Jackson series and the first Eragon book, while the boy has enjoyed Beast Quest and super-hero comics of late. Continue reading

Coaching Class E License – Prep Work

A friend and I have been coaching rec league soccer at the YMCA for our boys the last two years.  This summer we decided to try and take some of our players and form a competitive team to play in local soccer tournaments in our area.  We have a good central group of kids, and the the thought is we can find a handful of other good players from the Y teams in our age group to fill out our roster.

So far so good.  We decided to sign up for the Illinois Class E Coaching License – a two day course focused on ages 9-12, sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation.  We figure this will help us improve our training sessions and overall coaching.  This weekend we’ll be at the course, but prior to that we had prep work to complete.

The prep work consists of three main assignments:  Rules of the Game/Referee Introduction, Concussion Awareness, and Coaching Philosophy/Team Management.

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Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

…written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffra, and Amanda Silver; directed by Matt Reeves; starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Toby Kebbell.  And some really good CGI guys…

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the better sci-fi dramas we’ve seen lately.  Set in a post-infectious disease event world, with the vast majority of humans having succumbed to the simian virus in the previous movie, the film rightly begins with the apes.  They are, after all, the stars of this show.

Caesar (Serkis) and the other apes have built a thriving hunter-gatherer civilization outside the ruins of San Francisco – and we quickly learn they have language (written, spoken, and sign), specialized roles, laws, and yes, politics.  They’ve seen no humans in years (and are happy about this) when a human blunders into an ape hunting party and promptly shoots one of the apes.

Turns out, the survivors of San Francisco are running low on fossil fuels, so they’ve traveled out to the apes’ forests in an attempt to get the old hydroelectric dam working.  But Caesar’s having none of it.  He rallies the apes, who converge upon the humans and let them know they need to stay in the city and leave the forest to the apes.

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Rest, cramp, strain, recover

This is why you see so many pudgy ageing men.  It’s just hard.  To elaborate…

Two weeks ago I finished a 3 month work out regimen.  You’ve probably heard of it, tons of infomercials, big following.  Anyhow, was feeling pretty good about myself.  Improved core strength, good aerobic capacity, no real problems with the strength movements.  My energy levels were higher.  Looking pretty good in the old swim-trunks, and I was glad to get through the program without injury.

The next week we were on vacation.  Figured it was a good time to rest, relax, recover.  Maybe eat a little too much and enjoy some of those favorites I’d been moderating.  So what – I put on five pounds – it will come off pretty quick when I start in again.  The plan was to cross-train a few weeks, maybe some running and strength work, then do the 90-day program again or try something different. Continue reading

Buckeye Lake

We recently returned from a family reunion/vacation on Buckeye Lake near Columbus, OH.  Our second trip out there in the last few years, and it was a lot of fun.  The kids are at the age to really enjoy water sports, which were our featured activity each day.  This meant early mornings – getting up at 5:30-6:00 EST(!) to make our cast off time, avoid the crowds, and hit the smooth water.  It also meant my brother and me had to make our attempts at wake-boarding, to the delight of the kids, since neither of us are very good.

The kids caught on quickly, though, aided by the patience of our cousins and their silver and red Buckeye boat (it really is an awesome ski-boat; the best one on the lake), not to mention some surprise instructions by a former professional wake-boarder and friends.  Weekends like these are big confidence builders for them; they tried something new, were pretty successful, and had fun.

For me, it’s a little strange to be on a lake that’s purely recreational.  Our lakes in Illinois usually have dual-hats:  flood control, power plant cooling, etc.  Lake Shelbyville, where I grew up, is a federally run lake with a flood control purpose primarily.  No houses and restaurants at water’s edge, fluctuating water levels, and lots of coves with old dead trees.  Couldn’t say which is better, but Buckeye Lake is sure a lot more convenient.

The best part of this vacation, though, was the family reunion.  Everyone made it back except one cousin, and we all had a genuinely good time together.  No major drama, the bigger kids were very kind and patient with the younger kids, and the adults were able to catch up and enjoy the down time.  We may have had some early wake-up calls, but the stress levels were low and the food was good, and the weather outstanding.  No real Griswold moments with this one, though I’d like to think old Clark would have approved.