Friday, December 19, 2014

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

Early in December my husband and I received a letter that read, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:5,8). Enclosed with this letter was a $100 bill.

No signature or return address. No post mark, but it had to have come through the mail because we have apartment mailboxes (you can't just slip letters in there). Everything was typed, so no opportunity for handwriting analysis. We considered having it dusted for prints but decided against it.

So, Secret Santa, if you're out there lurking, here's what happened to the awesome gift you sent us.

As far as we were concerned, our Secret Santa's intent was clear. This was an opportunity to do something cool for someone else, an opportunity we actually have every day but don't always think about. We spent a couple of weeks debating our options. Do we donate it to an organization, like Toys for Tots or Ephraim Orphan Project? Or buy a few grocery store gift cards to distribute to the homeless near our neighborhood? In the end, we decided we wanted to keep the money intact. One gift for one person. We thought it would be cool to give someone that same SHOCK value that we got when we first opened it.

So that was settled. But who?

As my husband said, "The only wrong answer is to not give it to anyone."

We moved to downtown Chicago less than a year ago and are still growing accustomed to the workings of our neighborhood. It's a fascinating neighborhood with a rich and complicated history. We're on the Near North Side of the city. We tell people it's the Old Town neighborhood (because we aren't sure what else to call it), but technically we're just outside of the border, the area that 100 years ago was known as "Little Hell" and more recently Cabrini Green. Cabrini Green was a collection of public housing buildings, row houses and high rises. When we moved here earlier this year, we knew all of this, but we didn't realize just how recently things had changed (the last of the Cabrini Green high rises was torn down in 2011).

This area was dangerous and violent on and off for more than 100 years, but we've never felt unsafe. We've felt warmly welcomed by everyone we've met. But still, if you watch, you can see the signs that this area is still shifting. There's a police presence, but in a friendly way (some of the local officers live in our apartment building, and others whistle when they stroll into the shiny new Starbucks). There are security patrols, especially in parking lots. There's an organized community watch, especially near the elementary school by our building (the school dates back at least 100 years and has seen all of the neighborhood's best and worst).

We'd taken extra notice of these community watch people lately. They stay at their posts for hours at a time, bundled to the teeth against the weather, with big thick parkas under high visibility vests and scarves wrapped around their faces. They watch the kids (and adults too) as they're crossing the streets and generally keep an eye on things during work/school hours. These men and women are like everyone else I've met around here, warm and inviting. This neighborhood is much improved because it's clear the people living here want it to improve. Whenever we tell someone we're new here, they beam with pride and can't wait to tell us how far this area has come in the last few years.

So we handed our Christmas card, complete with our Secret Santa's bill, to a woman in the community watch who stands in the cold and keeps an eye on our building and the school. I don't know her name, and I didn't introduce myself; we didn't want her to know us well enough to thank us (I mean, the gift isn't even really from us). But I knew we'd found the right recipient when I handed her the card. She looked surprised and legitimately pleased to be receiving a card (regardless of what was inside). She said thank you with so much warmth in her voice. I smiled and disappeared into the night (because I apparently think I'm Batman or something). I was about a block away when I thought I heard her squeal, but I didn't look. Another community watch person noticed me smiling and said, "You seem awfully cheerful today!" I responded with a Merry Christmas and wished I had a second card.

That's the story of the best Christmas gift I ever received. It started with a little anonymous Christmas magic, and I think it ended with some, too. Thank you, Secret Santa; please never, ever confess your true identity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


It's that time again! You're going home. Family and food are happening. Sportsball will likely be on your TV. Need something innocuous to discuss while you stuff more pie in your face? You've come to the right place! And lucky for you, non-sports viewer, this year's slate of Thanksgiving games features all of our favorite whipping posts, from Tony Romo to Jay Cutler and ports in between. We haven't had this much fun since the Butt Fumble (seems like it was only last Thanksgiving, but no, it was TWO Thanksgivings ago and it's kept giving ever since).

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
12:30pm EST (CBS)

Big week in Detroit. On Sunday, the Lions play in New England against the evil Patriots. On Monday, they're letting the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets "borrow" their stadium so that they don't have to play in 47 feet of snow, and then on Thursday, they host their annual Thanksgiving game. For generations, the Lions' Thanksgiving game has been the perfect opportunity for a food nap, but in recent years, they've become much more interesting. After monster receiver Calvin Johnson (also known as "Megatron") broke all the receiving records a year or two ago, the Lions have been kind of quiet this year, almost sneakily going 7-3.

Their opponent, the Bears of Chicago, have been anything BUT quiet and sneaky. They've been a delightful tire fire while having a bunch of really exciting fantasy football players. Even embattled quarterback Jay Cutler has put up lovely fantasy numbers (I have him on my team). I love watching Jay Cutler; he reminds me of April from Parks and Recreation; I firmly believe he has a heart of gold underneath that glum stare (he's from Santa Claus, Indiana for crying out loud, which, incidently also claims Hall of Fame Quarterback Bob Griese as its own).

Basically, this game features two entities just dying to collapse for our amusement, and getting Jay Cutler as part of my Thanksgiving festivities is an unexpected treat. I don't know what I've done to deserve this, but I'm unworthy. Thank you, NFL Schedulers.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
4:30pm EST (FOX)

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Mark Sanchez's triumphant return to Thanksgiving day! (Watches Butt Fumble video three more times.)

The word on Philly is that they like to play football as though it's basketball. They like to snap the ball fast, score fast, everything fast. The announcers have trouble talking between plays. If they get their way, it will be a difficult game to nap through, like being in a room with a strobe light. Their starting quarterback is a guy named Nick Foles, who looks shockingly like Napoleon Dynamite, but Nick/Napoleon is injured, and that's how we get Mark Sanchez, his back up, who exists somewhere in the realm of "I've played in two AFC Championship games, but I'm also the guy from the Butt Fumble." So anything could happen, including copious napping.

A few weeks ago on Monday Night Football, Tony Romo fractured his back. Then he took a flight from Dallas to London and still played. Now he's back and (theoretically) still-still playing. If Mark Sanchez is known for a two-year-old Butt Fumble, then Romo is probably best known for a seven-year-old botched snap in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Both guys have enjoyed being the coolest dude in the room and being beat up as the most incompetent moron in the league, or so it would seem. But only one will emerge victorious, and both have their eyes on playoff spots with only about a month to go. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
8:30pm EST (NBC)

The other two Thanksgiving games are cool because they have an awesome mix of comedic potential and actual sporting potential. This business, however, is commonly thought of as the best rivalry in the land (at least at this moment). The Seahawks are defending Super Bowl champs, and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl the year previous. They legitimately don't like each other. Even the coaches have some previous, dating back to when they coached at rival college institutions (49ers Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Seahawks Pete Carroll at USC). This game is the real deal, and they're playing it in the 49ers brand new shiny stadium.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving week!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Read then Write: UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan

Earlier this month I was invited to participate in #YALaunch, an author event in Omaha, Nebraska highlighting debut authors Kate Brauning and Nikki Urang, who have been critique partners for years and just happened to have their books released on the same day. I'll do a proper write up on this one day soon (there are rumors that links to videos might be made available), but for the purposes of this post, #YALaunch is when I at last met my friend Alex Yuschik, an amazing lady who is getting her PhD in Mathematics by day and writing modernized Shakespeare by night. Much to my surprise, Alex showed up in Omaha with a stack of three books and instructions for me to take them back to Chicago because she thought I'd like them.

I trust Alex, so I jumped in with the first of those books.
UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan.
Let the post-read freewrite begin:

I'd heard of Brennan and knew she had a great reputation, but I hadn't read any of her work before this. As is my usual habit, I didn't read the jacket copy or any other summaries (because they often tell you what happens through the first 1/3 of the book and it's no fun "discovering" things you already know). It's a paranormal, which isn't usually my favorite thing. I'm not that in to creatures (werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc). But I do enjoy psychics and a good witch/wizard, and this is more in that direction.

The general idea is that the main character (Kami, an English girl of Japanese heritage) has had an "imaginary friend" her whole life, someone she talks to that no one else can see. Kami can't see him either, but she can hear his voice in her head. When she's older (17 I think?), she meets the guy who is the source of the voice, an actual guy who can actually speak into her mind. Turns out their voices are reciprocal.

"Mind Reader Boy" books aren't that rare in YA, but I did especially like this one, not for the gimmick itself, but for the voice. It's one of the "voiciest" third-person books I can remember reading. It's probably 90% from Kami's point of view with a few very brief jumps into the boy's (Jared) perspective. And, in a refreshing shift from other "mind reader boy" stories, romance isn't the point. They're trying to solve a mystery, and Brennan really sells the stakes, especially in the last act. Kami's a budding investigative reporter, and since she has the reputation around their village as "the crazy girl who hears voices," people kind of let her do whatever she's gotta do.

This book has a funny, energetic voice. It has fun, well-rounded supporting characters (I especially enjoy Kami's best friend Angela, who will do just about anything to avoid human interaction, and who plans her life around nap-taking). My only qualm was that, as much as I enjoyed the voice and wanted to spend time with it, it didn't sound especially English to me. Granted, I'm just another loud-mouthed American, but there were a few instances that pinged the back of my mind and made me think, "Is that really how an English teenager would say this?" But, then I was reminded that Sarah Rees Brennan is actually Irish, so perhaps that accounts for some of it? Or perhaps I have unrealistic expectations of modern, teenage, English voices?

Their world is a charming little English village (Sorry-in-the-Vale, which in my mind, is Night Vale with a woods instead of a desert) run by an old-school, feudal, manor-living family. It's about 80% pleasant village and 20% suspense as the mystery intensifies toward the end.

Alex also gave me the second book in the series, UNTOLD, so I'll jump right in to that while this world is still fresh in my mind. Would recommend this to those looking for a pleasant, lighthearted read with some elements of suspense and magic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Recent Reads and TBR Coming Attractions

Once upon a time, I had a college professor who suggested that we should free-write 200-400 words after reading a book, just so that we could easily remember our initial impressions of it. We read a lot, and it all inevitably started to blend together without a little cheatsheet. Back in the day, before things like "followers," I created this blog with the intention of recording thoughts like these, to help me remember what I got out of any given story (books/movies/TV). It's relatively easy, saved for eternity, and even SEARCHABLE! If anyone else benefits from my ramblings on a given story or idea, then bonus! The only problem is, I got lazy, and now there's a huge gap in my memory.

A lot of writers I know seem to have a goal of reading about 100 books a year (roughly two a week). I've done alright keeping up on my reading, but I've gotten lax in keeping notes, to the point that in some cases, if a book doesn't make a really strong impression, I sort of forget that I already read it and go through the embarrassing moment of "that kind of sounds familiar...??? :( :( :(." And then I lose my street cred.

For the past several months, I've been sportsball blogging here, freelance editing, and writing my own stuff. That's all been lovely. But my early New Year's Resolution is to be a bit more organized in my reading. Here are a few lines about my recent reads and what I hope to get to in the next few weeks.


* THE INFINITE SEA by Rick Yancey
I read these two books back-to-back and nearly got genre whiplash, but I adored them both.
THE INFINITE SEA is the second installment in the 5TH WAVE series. It's a sci-fi thriller told from several different first person POVs. I was a little hesitant to embrace some of those perspectives at first, but they each proved worthy and won me over in the end (some were even just very brief flashes inside a character's mind). This book is creepy as hell, and makes excellent, heart-wrenching use of the word "owie" in the first chapter. Loved it, would recommend it.

ISLA, on the other hand, is a sweet love story that recalibrated my brain after being chased by alien monsters for ~300pages. By comparison, some readers might say "nothing happens" because we've grown to used to the pattern of "everything is going so well... and then there's a MURDER (or other catastrophic disaster)." Spoiler alert, no one gets murdered in ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I kept waiting, waiting for something truly gruesome and terrible to happen, and stuff did go wrong, but it shifted what felt like "high stakes" in my mind. It was real and funny and voicey and so different than anything else I'd read for awhile, with it's lack of death and pestilence, that I voted for it hard in the Goodreads "Best Young Adult Fiction" category. A completely refreshing reading experience that basically revolves around, "the guy I've been crushing on for years just noticed me, and now I'm afraid he'll be kicked out of our boarding school."

* IF I STAY by Gayle Forman
I mostly read this because the movie was coming out, and were it not for the movie, this is probably one I'd accidentally forget I'd read. It was fine, there was nothing "wrong" with it, it just wasn't my thing. Compared to the other things I'd read before and after, it felt like there wasn't a lot happening, other than the narrator trying really, really hard to convince us that she loved classical music and was unashamed. But the movie looks beautiful, so I'll probably try to catch it at some point. This book is popular for a reason, so I'd like to know if there's something I just missed, so seeing it through the movie-maker's eyes might shed some new light.

* GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn
I gave in to peer pressure and read this like everyone else. I was especially in to this after I learned that Gillian Flynn lives one neighborhood away from me in Chicago. I mean, what if I cut her off in traffic some random day, or take the last marble loaf while she's standing behind me in the Starbucks line? Anywho, GONE GIRL was especially interesting to me because I suspect she was partially inspired by a couple of local missing wives cases from a few years ago. Like the rest of the world, I felt like the book ended a few chapters too late, but overall, by far my favorite "grown up" book I've read in a long time. (Speaking of grown-up books, I also gave in to the peer pressure and gave OUTLANDER a try, if nothing else so that I could better follow Lori M. Lee's live-tweets of the TV show.)

Probably the most satisfying reading experience I've had in a very long time. I devoured these books after they were recommended to me by my friend Emery Lord, and then she got to enjoy watching me completely melt under their power. It's the best kind of character driven fantasy story, told in third person, about a female assassin, imprisoned for her crimes, and then released on a condition that she participate in a competition (small-scale Hunger Games). So often in fantasy, world building is the star, but in the first book, these people hardly leave the castle (which is made of glass, mind you). There are late-night murders reminiscent of a game of Clue, there's friendship and betrayal, backstabbing and kissing, hints of magic, EVERYTHING. I loved these books so much my brain melted, can't wait for the fourth one.


* RUN TO YOU (PARTS IV-VI) by Clara Kensie
So, I moved twice in the last year, and during most of that time I was a tablet-only reader for practicality purposes. Once we finished the last move, I basked in the opportunity to at last read "paper" books again. And that was right about the time the last three installments of these psychic serial killer romantic thrillers came out (e-reader only). They've been there waiting on me, and I want badly to read them because the first three were a lot of fun and Clara is so talented. If only I were better at reading multiple things at a time, I'd have done it already.

I met Lori at Chicago's 2014 Spring Fling and have been looking forward to this one ever since. It's been at my bedside taunting me and I'm furious with myself for not getting to it yet.

For people who read this blog back when I actually posted to it, you might recall that Diana Peterfreund won my favor by nailing a YA sci-fi retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel and officially earning a special place in my heart. Every since, I've been wanting to visit her other work, especially this one (a similar YA sci-fi retelling of Persuasion).

* INTO THE FIRE by Ashelyn Drake
I've been working as a freelance editor for Month9 Books for several months now. Month9 specializes in young adult speculative fiction, and has developed some pretty cool stuff, especially considering that it's a small press and has only been in operation for two years. Since I'm still one of the new kids, I've been scrambling to catch up on their list, and they've (or, I guess "we've?") been busy. This is one (which I did NOT work on) that keeps jumping out at me as potentially special.

* MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME by Everyone Ever
Several years ago, beloved authors John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), Maureen Johnson (13 Little Blue Envelopes) and Lauren Myracle (The Infinite Moment of Us) worked together on a holiday compilation called LET IT SNOW, which will soon be a major motion picture (in my mind, it will look kind of like the young adult version of Love Actually). Since I fell so in love with LET IT SNOW, I was more than ready to impulse buy MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME, featuring several of my favorite writers. Holly Black (I adored The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and have been wanting to try Doll Bones). Ally Carter (The Heist Society series makes me very happy). Stephanie Perkins (already gushed about how much I loved Isla, and Stephanie actually edited this beast). And NINE OTHERS, one story for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which is why this is a "Do not open until after Thanksgiving" item for me and mine.

So now you tell me - what are your recent reads and what's missing from my TBR pile?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 World Cup CHEATSHEET: US Men's National Team

Entire country coming to a standstill tomorrow to watch American play soccer and you'd like to have an idea of who's rep'ing the Red, White, and Blue? You've come a pretty good place (though the right place is probably Though I'm terrified that anything I write might end up being incredibly jinxy, here are my personal thoughts on a very likable United States soccer team.


The United States has been producing world-caliber goalies for quite some time now. Historically, the best ones have had no hair, and this roster is no exception.

Tim Howard is our starter. He's a man's man, the sort that would grow a beard to play a ninety-degrees-in-the-shade game in the Amazon jungle. He's originally from New Jersey. Once upon a time ago, he played for the infamous Manchester United. Now he plays for Everton, a spunky team in Liverpool in the English Premier League (and they wear the same color blue as the Indianapolis Colts, so I dig them). He's lived with Tourette Syndrome and plays in goal as though he's moving his defenders around with a PlayStation controller.

Our backup goalie is a guy from the Chicago 'burbs named Brad Guzan. While we obviously hope Timmy Howard maintains perfect health, we do have some depth at the position should something go horribly wrong. Brad also plays in the EPL, for Aston Villa in Birmingham, and Brad actually played in a lot of the games that qualified the US for the World Cup. Our third goalie is a guy I don't know anything about: Nick Rimando, who plays for Salt Lake City in MLS (who lost in the championship game last season to Kansas City). He has a full head of hair, so I'm not sure how I feel about him. He's probably a really nice guy who's kind to puppies and children.


A lot has been made about Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's German kids (Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, John Anthony Brooks, Jermaine Jones, and Julian Green). Guys with one American parent and one European parent, the children of American soldiers who were stationed overseas. Four of the five have played, and they've really risen to the occasion (Green hasn't played, but for crying out loud, he's 19 years old). There were some questions of how "American" these guys really were. Maybe they've never lived in the States. Maybe they speak with European accents. Maybe they just decided to play for the States because "they weren't good enough" to make Germany's roster.

We can't know what's in these guys' hearts, but I have thought a lot about how much identity is wrapped up in nationalism (I wrote a novel about it once upon a time ago, so this narrative is particularly special to me). At some point in history, all of us have ancestors who chose to be American. Nobody forced these guys to join the team. We don't know for sure that the line about them "not being good enough" is actually true (especially in Julian Green's case, because NINETEEN YEARS OLD). So long as these fellas want to be American, that's good enough for me. They've already made a lot of positive noise in the World Cup, and they'll no doubt (for better or worse) be the story against Germany.

There are two other kiddos on the roster who had to choose their national soccer allegiances: Aron Johannssen and (my personal favorite) Mix Diskerud. These are our Scandinavian Americans. Aron, who came on for the injured Jozy Altidore against Ghana, was born in Alabama, but grew up in Iceland (some have nicknamed him "The Iceman"). Mix, who might have the coolest name in all of American sports, has a Norwegian father and Arizonian mother. Match-ups and injuries have demanded particular players play, and Klinsmann has done a magnificent job managing this roster, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm terribly disappointed Mix hasn't gotten to play yet. But he's young. And delightful. He'll get his chance.


One of the underrated stories of this World Cup how our domestic league players have really delivered. The United States brought several established players who have been toiling in MLS for years, who maybe thought their chances at making a World Cup team were over.

Matt Besler and Graham Zusi both play for reigning MLS champions Kansas City (who, by the way, have really nice uniforms). These two are best buddies. Besler has been awesome as a defender in two games, despite his gimpy hamstring. I didn't know much about him until he caught my attention in the ESPN 30for30 documentary on the team, when he basically said "Ronaldo's good, but he's human." And Graham Zusi has been a corner kick wizard, getting two assists and looking good doing it.

One of the truly blue-collar players has been Kyle Beckerman, he of the famous dreads. He plays for Salt Lake City, doesn't get a lot of glory, but plays hard and with a great attitude. Side note: if you want to get attached to an MLS team and aren't sure where to start, the pattern of players on the national team would probably lead you toward Kansas City, Salt Lake City, LA Galaxy, or Seattle. If Mix's transfer to Portland had gone through, my allegiance would be finalized. Alas.

We can't forget Chris Wondolowski here, either. Wondo's a California guy of Native American heritage with eyes so big and innocent I like to think of him as the American Puss-In-Boots, right down to his quiet assassin-like tendencies. DeAndre Yedlin, a burst of energy off the bench against Portugal, was born in Seattle and now plays for Seattle, too. Omar Gonzalez is a basketball-tall soft-spoken guy from Texas who now plays for the LA Galaxy. And Brad Davis, who plays in bright orange for the Houston Dynamo, does a lot of great work with military families.

One thing to keep an eye on: if the United States continues to play well, some of these players making names for themselves might get opportunities to move to higher paying teams overseas. MLS has a salary cap; the European leagues do not, and they don't have limits on how many guys they can keep on their rosters, either. If these guys attract foreign attention, it could be good for them, but it might potentially suck for the home league to lose them.


As much as MLS has improved over the last twenty or so years, the best players still play elsewhere. But, there has been a bit of a trend lately of American globetrotting players coming home. Our star goal scorer, Clint Dempsey, played for a couple of London teams, Fulham (which is now owned by the same guy who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Tottenham (one of the bigger teams in the English Premier League). But, in the run up to the World Cup, Dempsey shocked everyone by coming home to play for Seattle, arguably the most rabid soccer fanbase in America. They consistently fill the Seattle Seahawks' football stadium and behave like a really, really big college student section. Seattle is amazing.

After Dempsey came home, so did Michael Bradley. He'd been playing in Rome for one of the better teams in Italy, but now he's stationed in Toronto (yes, I know it's technically in Canada, but it's still our domestic league). Defender Geoff Cameron, who has taken a little heat for the goal at the end of the game against Portugal, plays for Stoke in the English Premier League. An English TV announcer once described him throwing a ball in from out of bounds as "Quarterback Style!" Though defenders don't score very often, it is fun to scream "Quarterback Style!" any time Cameron does something good. But when things go a little sideways, he has been known to get Tim Duncan eyes.

To round out the roster, Alejandro Bedoya plays in France, and DaMarcus Beasley (originally of Fort Wayne, Indiana) plays in Mexico. And of course, our injured playmaker, Jozy Altidore, a Floridian born to Haitian immigrant parents who scored goals like a maniac when he played in the Dutch league (with Aron Johannssen), then almost suffered relegation with Sunderland in England. Jozy's been tumbling around inside a cement mixer for about a year, but hopefully he's on the mend. That's twenty-three likable guys, each with a story to tell and with something to contribute. But really, the star of the team seems to be Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He's dynamic, he's charismatic, and he's played a very, very smart tournament. I've grown quite fond of him. Regardless of what happens Thursday, I hope he has this job for a long, long time.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

CHEATSHEET: 2014 World Cup

Not a sports fan? Think soccer is stupid but everyone's talking about it right now and you feel a little left out? Or maybe you kinda like the idea of soccer but there are so many leagues and teams and players that it's all kind of overwhelming? You've come to the right place! We're Americans! We like embracing flash-heroes! Here are a few story lines and talking points to help you enjoy the next few weeks.


Maybe you've heard the United States is in "Group G." There are eight groups, "A" through "H." Every team is guaranteed to play at least three games. Wins are worth three points, ties are worth one point, losses suck. If two teams in a group have the same number of points after three games, then they count up the goals scored to decide who wins the group (so running up the score is good, if you can do it). The top two teams in every group move on to an NCAA Tournament style knockout round, where ties cease to exist.


Spain was one of the favorites, but I'm late writing this post, so they've already been eliminated. This means I don't have to explain how they won the last three international tournaments in a row, but it also means I have no excuse to link to anything related to Sad Fernando Torres. Watch for him to score 10 completely meaningless goals against the Australians, who are also already eliminated. What a shame, the Aussies were fun to watch.

The Dutch were the runners up in the last World Cup, and they were the ones who slayed the Spanish and Australians. They usually wear orange, but so far in this tournament they've been wearing these gorgeous blue alternate uniforms, which I've decided are lucky. They have two super stars who are rumored to hate each other, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben (Robin and Robben). Robin plays for the famous Manchester United in England, Robben plays for the also famous Bayern Munich in Germany.

Germany might be the San Antonio Spurs of this tournament, quietly taking care of business and people kind of forget about them between games. The United States will play them soon, and there are many connections between the two. Our coach is a former German team star. Several of our players are dual American/German citizens, because their fathers were military guys stationed overseas. Those players had their choice of which country they wanted to play for; once they take the field for one country or the other, they're "tied" to that country for the rest of their career. John Brooks, who scored America's winner against Ghana, was one of these dual-citizen players. He was not officially tied to the United States until he took the field on Monday, but he's ours now!

Mexico looks pretty good, but they were a "bubble" team; they had to do a weird playoff against New Zealand to qualify. Their goalie Ochoa was like an X-Man in the zero-zero tie with Brazil this week (and he's currently between teams, so it must be a fun week to be his agent). That was the game where people started whispering, "I understand why ties can be cool."

No European team has ever won the World Cup in South America. Brazil has never won the World Cup at home, and they're dealing with a lot of personal baggage. Chile looked really, really strong, and Argentina has arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi (yes, pronounced messy). In conclusion, I know embarrassingly little about the teams from Africa and Asia. I am ashamed.


The subject of "best player in the world" breaks down to a sort of "Manning vs Brady" argument, with Lionel Messi playing the role of Manning and Cristiano Ronaldo, for Portugal, playing the role of Brady. The United States will play against Portugal on Sunday, and there have been rumors all week about Ronaldo having a bad knee. But, being arguably the best in the world, he'll have to be comatose to not be on the field. Oh, and if he scores, he might un-shirt himself.

Those who taught me soccer, Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, believe Uruguay's star Luis Suarez looks like Anne Hathaway. Italy's Mario Balotelli, who scored the game winner against England last weekend, is probably best known for blowing up his own bathroom with fireworks on the eve of a big game, then wearing a t-shirt that read, "Why Always Me?" (Note: I enjoy Balotelli; he makes me happy). Belgium's team is just filthy with big-named players and they've long been thought to be a dark horse contender (if you want to sound like you know what you're talking about, tell your friends you predict either Belgium or Chile to win it all). The English team has some fun characters, too (Note: Wayne Rooney looks like Shrek), but we have to get on to more important stuff. Just know, generally speaking, that teams tend to give the symbolic number "10" to their star guy, and the captain, their team leader, will wear an armband.


So why isn't Landon Donovan on this team? I don't know, but I've heard several theories. He's getting older and kind of broken down (by his own admission). He's still playing well for his team, the LA Galaxy, but by Team USA standards he's probably a guy who would come off the bench, and thus might have been a distraction ("Why isn't he starting!?"). By not having him there, it may have been just one less thing to worry about. Or, he and Coach Klinsmann might just passive aggressively not get along. If you listened to Landon's quotes leading up to the selection, you kind of got the idea that he was prepared to not be on the team; it's possible he was just worn down. But anywho.

Team USA has had a few different "number 10" guys over the years. Sometimes Landon wore it. Sometimes it was Clint Dempsey (the guy who scored the goal in the first 30 seconds against Ghana then got his nose broken). Now Clint is our captain (so some people are hoping he'll wear a Captain America mask to protect his broken face), and he's arguably our best goal scorer. Our best player is probably our goalie, Tim Howard, who plays for Everton in the English Premier League; he used to play at Manchester United when Portugal's Ronaldo was there. They were TEAMMATES! Now, our number "10" is actually a new guy, Mix Diskerud (the coolest name on the roster); he tends to be the first guy off the bench, when injuries don't dictate otherwise. I adore him.

The guy who needs to have a HUGE game against Portugal is Michael Bradley (the bald guy who never smiles). His dad used to be Team USA's coach; he was fired after the last world cup, and that's when Klinsmann took over. Bradley is really good; the people who know things say that he could easily play in any league in the world, but he recently chose to come to MLS (he plays for Toronto). A lot of our guys have been coming back to the home league lately.

Against Ghana we lost the one guy we couldn't really afford to lose: Jozy Altidore. He's supposed to be our biggest scorer; none of the other guys play the way he plays (no, not even Landon, they don't even play the same position). Rumor has it that his injury isn't as bad as they originally thought, but he's not playing against Portugal. So who will replace him? Either Aron Johannsson (a kid who was born in Alabama but grew up in Iceland) or Chris Wondolowski (a late-blooming player of Native American heritage). Aron came on for Jozy against Ghana, and it was a little symbolic, since they played together for awhile in the Dutch league, before Jozy moved to Sunderland in England. I'm kind of feeling Wondo against Portugal. I can't explain why, just a feeling.

Team USA has a lot of interesting, likable characters on it (see also, Kyle Beckerman), and you can see them all introduce themselves here in little 90 second videos. Highly recommend.

Friday, April 11, 2014


I first crossed paths with Emery Lord on October 29, 2010 (this date is real, I looked it up). The internet daisy chain that brought us together is long and tangled, but suffice it to say that we were both looking for someone willing to read and critique our "finished" manuscripts. Mine was a sort of Revolutionary era fantasy thing; hers was a contemporary young adult romance about a girl trying to reinvent herself a year after the unexpected death of her boyfriend, but told in a really smart, funny voice (look for this one on bookshelves in about a year). In those days, Emery also had a seedling of an idea about two best friends, one a shooting-star musician and the other a girl trying to separate herself from a series of bad habits; she called this idea OPEN ROAD SUMMER, and it will be available in a bookstore near you on Tuesday, April 15th.

I'm not much of a contemporary romance reader, but I fell in love with Emery's writing style when we were still strangers. Since then, she's become a great friend and writing partner, so it's a little difficult to "study" her work objectively. I was there when she was still trying to decide where to start the story (in a parking lot, beside a tour bus adorned with wildflowers). I watched her experiment with first person past tense and first person present (present tense won out). Characters changed names and song lyrics were rewritten, and every microscopic detail was attended to and optimized because that's just how Emery operates. I had a front-row seat while all the puzzle pieces clicked into place, and the entire process was magic.

So what makes OPEN ROAD SUMMER special?

* This isn't what I would consider a standard contemporary young adult romance. Our narrator, Reagan, has several interesting relationships, and one of them is indeed with an incredibly charming guy. But, this story is just as much about her relationship with her best friend, a famous musician reminiscent of Taylor Swift named Delilah (Dee for short). One thing Emery does as well as anyone in the business is craft compelling best friend relationships, and this is a pattern readers will notice through everything she writes. There are also specters of Reagan's long-absent mother and troubled ex-boyfriend; we never see them, but we can still feel their lingering impact.

* This book has a riveting and intelligent first person narrative voice. Since I've had the luxury of reading three of Emery's manuscripts now, I can say with confidence that all of her first person narrators have completely distinct voices. It's almost like she's performing a one-woman play, channeling the character in every tiny motion, every feeling, every word. When we meet the narrator of OPEN ROAD SUMMER, she's just decided to quit smoking, quit drinking, quit her ex-boyfriend, and put literal geographic distance between herself and her rock-bottom moment by going on tour with her famous best friend. Reagan doesn't always make the best choices, but she's trying; she's three-dimensional and real. You can hear the clacking of her trademark high-heeled shoes and the shutter of her camera. At times you can even feel her glaring at you, but you love her just the same.

* Another thing Emery does as well as anyone: she creates these tiny, poignant moments and wrings all the emotion right out of them. OPEN ROAD SUMMER is an especially nice showcase for this because our narrator, Reagan, is a photographer. She's always looking for these snapshot moments, and when she finds them, she captures them, internalizes them, processes them, and reacts to them. Reagan does this with her friend Dee, capturing her open spirit, how she treats her fans, how she handles the press in the midst of scandal, and how she behaves when she's out of the spotlight. Reagan does this with her father, a recovering alcoholic who managed to pull his life back together after his wife walked out and left him to raise his daughter alone. And, she does it with charming former boy-bander Matt Finch, who joins Dee on tour, both as a personal favor to a friend and in hopes of finding something to break his longstanding songwriter's block. Reagan, for all of her rough edges and attitude, realizes that everyone around her has a story to tell (including her), and her photographer's eye captures the key thousand words.

This book is such a satisfying, pleasant read. It made me laugh, and funny is such a rare and delightful treat. It's fun without being fluffy, it's substantive without being heavy, and it has just the right amount of romance (of about a PG-rated level) to satisfy readers who want it and to not bog down readers who don't really care about that stuff.

If you'd like a free copy of OPEN ROAD SUMMER, enter by leaving a comment below, and please include a twitter handle or some way for me to contact you if you win. On May 1, 2014, I'll choose a winner using a random selector. If I get enough entries, I'll give away TWO. This is open to readers in the United States and abroad. Thanks!

UPDATE: I'm reminded that leaving comments on these blog posts isn't as easy as it used to be. If you don't want to mess with the Google comments, you can also enter through email (bethany at bethanyrobison dot com) or contact me on twitter (@BethanyRobison). Thanks!

Friday, January 31, 2014

SUPERBOWL CHEATSHEET: Mannings Take Manhattan (or at Least New Jersey)

Don't like sports? Forced to attend a seven hour Super Bowl party with people paying varying levels of attention to each other? You've come to the right place. Here are some trivia bullets to get you through the evening, and maybe even help you accidentally enjoy yourself. I mean, the Chili Peppers are doing halftime, and then auctioning off their special drum kit to benefit Make-A-Wish! Improve your attitude!

  • MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey (basically New York City)
  • New stadium, opened spring of 2010
  • Shared home of the New York Giants and New York Jets (only two teams in the league that share a stadium)
  • It includes a total of four locker rooms: one for the Giants, one for the Jets and two for visiting teams.
  • Between the two NFL teams, concerts, and special events, the stadium was named the top grossing stadium in the world
  • Capacity: 82,500 (90,000 for non-football major events)
  • The first open-air stadium in a cold-weather U.S. city to host the Super Bowl.
  • Before the Jets and Giants agreed to collaborate on this new stadium, the Jets originally planned to build a new stadium on the west side of Manhattan as part of New York City's 2012 Olympic bid.


Seattle Seahawks
  • Team founded in 1976.
  • Seattle held a ‘civic suggestion campaign’ to name team; there were more than 20,000 entries (but only about 1,700 unique names).
  • Original team owner died of a heart attack before the team played its first game.
  • Seahawks were added as an expansion team to the NFC, switched to the AFC after one year, then switched back to the NFC again in 2002. During their AFC years, the Seahawks were in the same division as the Broncos (with the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders) and played each other twice every season.
  • Seattle is the only team that has switched conferences.
  • Seattle’s stadium was specifically engineered to be the loudest (open air) stadium in the NFL; December 2013 they broke the ‘crowd noise’ record in the Guinness Book of World Records. During a playoff game touchdown run in 2011, the crowd got so loud that it registered as an earthquake on a nearby seismograph.
  • The Seahawks refer to their very loud, very enthusiastic crowd as “The 12th Man” and raise a flag in their honor in their stadium before every home game.
  • They share their loud, rowdy stadium with Seattle’s MLS soccer team (the Sounders).
  • The Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 Super Bowl. That was their only prior Super Bowl appearance.
  • Coach Pete Carroll (age 62) coached at powerhouse University of Southern California (USC) from 2000-2009, where he won multiple championships (and then kinda fled in the midst of an NCAA investigation). He also chews a lot of gum.
  • Marshawn Lynch (age 27, #24) was the guy running when the Seahawks fans registered their “earthquake” – now they refer to him as “Beast Mode.” When he was a kid, his mom would give him “power pellets” (Skittles candy). In 2011, fans noticed a trainer giving him Skittles to celebrate a touchdown, and now when he scores, fans give him “rainbow showers” (throw candy at him) in the endzone. Skittles produced limited edition “Seattle Mix” candy in Seahawk colors for Super Bowl week. ESPN did a “Sports Science” experiment to see how Skittles actually affect his performance.
  • Defensive player Richard Sherman (age 25, #25) grew up in Compton, California, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Communications and has begun graduate studies there, as well. He has the reputation for being very articulate, but also rather mouthy. He once tweeted a picture of himself talking to Tom Brady after the Seahawks beat the Patriots with the caption: “U mad bro?” Whatever, I laughed.
  • Quarterback Russell Wilson (age 25, #3) has been drafted by both major league baseball and the NFL (if he played baseball, he’d be with the Texas Rangers). He won the inaugural Big Ten Championship game with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2011. The Seahawks drafted him as a backup in 2012, but he won the starting job before the season even started. Experts said he was too short to play quarterback in the NFL (he’s 5’11”). He often posts Bible verses on Twitter (@DangeRussWilson) and includes Matthew 6:33 in his Twitter bio.

Denver Broncos
  • Team founded in 1960, never moved to or from any other city.
  • Founded by Bob Howsam, who owned a minor league baseball team. He built his baseball stadium too big (34,000 seater), and needed more revenue to survive the deep debt that resulted. Thus, he started a football team.
  • Howsam had a “name the team” contest, which resulted in the name “Broncos.”
  • During its first season, the team was so financially strapped that the players wore used uniforms featuring hilariously hideous vertically-striped socks. Two years later, the new head coach’s first order of business was to hold a public sock burning ceremony to usher in a new era.
  • Played in six (6) Super Bowls and won two (2) in 1997 & 1998, both with quarterback John Elway (now the Broncos’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations). The 1998 Super Bowl was Elway’s final game.
  • Players tend to celebrate touchdowns by giving the ‘Mile High Salute’ – a military-style gesture given to fans and teammates originally popularized by former Bronco Terrell Davis in the late 1990s.
  • The Broncos nearly made it to the Super Bowl with quarterback Jake Plummer in 2006, when they lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. A few months later, they drafted Jay Cutler.
  • Obligatory Tebowmania bullet: remember the 80 yard touchdown in overtime against the Steelers in the 2011 playoffs? The receiver who caught that Tebow throw (Demaryius Thomas, #88) is still on the team!
  • Earlier this season coach John Fox was hospitalized with heart problems that resulted in aortic heart valve replacement surgery. He was back with the team about a month later and now says he’s never felt better.
  • Receiver Wes Welker (#83) played in two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots (lost both).
  • Defender Champ Bailey (age 35, #24) has been a Bronco (and fan favorite) for 10 years; this is his first Super Bowl. His real first name is Roland. His younger brother Boss Bailey played for the Detroit Lions.
  • December 2013, kicker Matt Prater broke the record for longest field goal in NFL history (64 yards), though some argue he had an advantage, kicking in Denver’s thin, mile-high air.
  • When the Broncos score at home, a white horse (and rider) runs the length of the field in celebration. This real life bronco was born with the name ‘Winter Solstice’ but took the name ‘Thunder’ (the traditional name of the Bronco’s mascot). Thunder trained extensively for the job to get used to the lines on the field. He also leads the team out of the tunnel at the beginning of games.

The Peyton Manning Stuff
(Note: This cheatsheet was created by a crazed Indianapolis Colts fan, NOT an impartial observer. If you want bias-free trivia, ask someone else. Also, the Colts beat BOTH of these teams during the regular season.)
  • Born March 24, 1976 (37 years old) in New Orleans.
  • His father Archie was the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints from 1971-1982.
  • His brother Eli (33 years old) is the adorable quarterback of the New York Giants.
  • Eli heroically won the Super Bowl in Indianapolis during Peyton’s tragic last year with the Colts; now Peyton has the chance to triumph in Eli’s stadium as well.
  • Peyton and Eli’s older brother Cooper (39 years old) was on track to be a pro-caliber receiver, but was forced to quit football in college due to a spine condition. Now he’s a partner at a lucrative energy investment firm. I love him.
  • Peyton married his gorgeous but spotlight-avoiding wife Ashley in 2001. They have two perfect children (~3 year old twins, a boy named Marshall and a girl named Mosley). I'm so glad we got Marshall into a Colts jersey at least once in his beautiful little life.
  • Peyton was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 (first overall pick) and signed with Denver in 2012.
  • There is a hospital in Indianapolis is named Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.
  • Peyton missed the entire 2011 season after a messed up disk in his neck caused nerve damage that resulted in numbness and weakness in his throwing arm. After four neck surgeries and a full year of rehabilitation, the Colts released Peyton (and most of their other players and coaches). Because he was released and not traded, Peyton was able to choose which team he wanted to play for. After visiting a few teams, he chose Denver.
  • Between Peyton and Eli, the Manning family has played in five of the last eight Super Bowls; Eli won both of his; Peyton has won one and lost one so far.
  • Papa Archie never made the playoffs but is still a winner.

For the first time in many years, I'll actually be attending a Super Bowl party - for the first half. I'll be watching the second half from an undisclosed location because if Peyton wins, I don't want to cry in public.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

OLYMPICS CHEATSHEET 2014 - Embracing Your Xgames Side

The following is a preview of the 2014 Sochi Olympics that I put together with Beth Pond, author of PODIUM FINISH, a young adult novel detailing the Olympic journey of two friends: one a figure skater, the other a hockey player. I have read it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially refreshing to see dual points of view structure used for friends instead of resigning it to love interests. Ms. Pond specializes in girl-power sporty books (I've read 2.5 by her now), and she has some great insights into how we build identity through our successes and those times we fall short. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot from her in the future.

And now, a sport-by-sport breakdown of your 2014 Winter Olympics!

The one where they ski and then they shoot! Here's a story of one athlete giving up her spot on the Olympic team so that her twin sister could go instead. New medal opportunity this year: The Mixed Relay, where men and women will compete together as a four person team.

One story I'll definitely be watching is Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams, track stars turned bob sledders. Lolo and Lauryn are set to become only the ninth and tenth Americans to compete in both the summer and winter games. Lolo might have the more memorable name, but Lauryn’s the more decorated; she already has a silver medal from Athens and a gold medal from London.


The Ringers: USA Figure Skating’s best (and arguably only) chance at making the podium in Sochi lies with ice dancing duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning world champions, who took home a silver in Vancouver. The gold went to Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Sochi will likely prove to be an enticing rematch. Davis and White are consistent and incredibly patient. Their “Scheherazade” program has been in their back pocket for the past two years, just waiting for this Olympics. If they win, they'll be the first Americans ever to win Olympic gold in ice dancing.

The Ladies: Gracie Gold won, you guessed it, gold at the Olympic trials. It was her first US title. Newcomer Polina Edmunds, who has never competed internationally at the senior level, came in second. Ashley Wagner, who has done well in past seasons, had a disappointing performance—two falls—and finished fifth. However, she was chosen for the third Olympic spot because of her experience.

It seems controversial, naming Wagner (though she does fit the profile of ice darling, especially now that she has a potential comeback story). But giving her the spot meant that the actual third place finisher, Mirai Nagasu, gets left at home (that video is of her exhibition performance right after she learned Wagner was chosen for the Olympic team instead of her; Grantland explored some of the reasons behind the decision here). But what’s USA Ladies figure skating without a little homemade drama?

The New Team: The Figure Skating Team competition is brand new this year. Each country competing will submit one entry for each discipline – women’s, men’s, pair’s, and ice dancing – so a total of six people on each team. I’m IRRATIONALLY excited about this, and it starts right away on Feb. 6th! Obviously, we’ll have Davis and White, and probably from the women’s side we’ll send Gracie Gold? But then what?

The Men: We have two men’s competitors to choose from. The favorite is probably Jeremy Abbott, a guy who is on the brink of retiring from competition but strikes me as a bit flaky (he was almost disqualified from the Olympic qualifying event because he was skating around the ice instead of taking his starting position – he only got it together because the audience started screaming out the count down like a student section at a basketball game!).

Our other option is a nineteen-year-old, Jason Brown, who apparently has less technical ability than Abbott, but the audiences ADORE him. He did a Riverdance thing that earned him a standing ovation before the program was even over.

The Pairs: Some interesting characters here. There’s Castelli and Shnapir, who owned Boston (their hometown) during the qualifiers. I enjoyed them for several reasons, not the least of which is that he is SIXTEEN (16) inches taller than her, and one of their routines is James Bond inspired! And then there’s Zhang and Bartholomay, who did a nifty “Les Mis” routine, with Zhang pumping her fists ("If she could have high-fived someone right there, she would have!") on the last lift, knowing that they’d just thrown down the performance of a lifetime. Both won me over, lots of personality.

The Dancers: The TV broadcasters for the US Championships said that we are LOADED at Ice Dancer this year. In addition to Davis and White, Team USA is sending two other promising ice dancing pairs: Chock and Bates (Les Mis is hot in skating this year, and the dancers get to use music with lyrics), and the Shibutani siblings (Michael Jackson!).

Team USA definitely has some talent. The US and Russia have always had strong skaters, but we’ve seen much more competition from Japan and Korea in the past two Olympics. It's certainly a likable bunch that will give us a lot to talk about.

I'm pretty stupid about hockey, except that I know there are ten (10) Chicago Blackhawks competing for five (5) different countries. I'll let Pond handle this one on her own (I like to call her "Pond" because it's very Whovian):

Let's talk hockey! After earning the silver in 2010, USA Women’s Hockey is poised to take on Team Canada in the gold medal round yet again. Team Canada has won gold at the past three Olympics, but Team USA’s 21 player roster, which includes 11 Olympic veterans, has a strong chance at disrupting this winning streak. If they do, this will be the first time Team USA has claimed the top spot on the podium since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first time women’s hockey was part of the Olympic program. Standout players on Team USA’s roster include: Julie Chu, Jessie Vetter, Megan Duggan, and Gigi Marvin.

Consider hockey veteran Julie Chu (in her 4th Olympics) a potential candidate to carry the American flag into the opening ceremonies.

Sliding really fast down hill! Luge = feet first, Skeleton = face first.

Luge is another sport pioneering a new team concept this Olympics. With several of these new Olympic events, there seems to be an emphasis on adding a team dymanic to sports that have historically been highly individualized - and on getting men and women competing together in these events, as well. This setup gives athletes an opportunity to work together as a team, and it also means more chances for more medals. Curious to see how these new events will be received, but love that they're giving it a try.

Take it Pond!

The Ladies: With Lindsey Vonn sitting out these Games to recover from knee surgery, Team USA will be looking to Olympic veteran Julia Mancuso and 18-year-old up-and-comer Mikaela Shiffrin to makes their mark on the slopes for the good ol' red, white, and blue. It’s definitely disappointing that Vonn won’t be competing, but hopefully she’ll have a speedy recovery.

Some other women to keep an eye on: six-time National Champion aerialist Emily Cook had a strong 2013 season and is definitely one to root for in Sochi, her third Olympic games. Also, New Hampshire native and reigning Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney will hopefully clinch a second gold in Sochi. Since the Vancouver Olympics, Kearney has won 32 World Cup moguls races.

The Men: The infamous Bode Miller is back and supposedly leaner than ever. Also expect to see some great runs from Ted Ligety, the 2006 Olympic combined champion, who is a favorite to medal in the slalom this year.

The Ladies: Once again, I'm out of my depths (and speed skating is her favorite), so I turn the floor over completely to Pond:

One person I’d watch is 30-year-old Michigan Native, Jessica Smith. After finishing in 6th at the 2010 Olympic Trials, one spot away from qualifying for the Olympic team, she dominated the 2014 Olympic trials, claiming first place finishes and Olympic berths in all three short track distances. She was “fire on ice” at the Olympic Trials, and I really hope she finds success in Sochi.

Right behind her is teammate Emily Scott, who gained national attention in 2013 after a USA Today story reported that the athlete had filed for food stamps. Thanks to crowdfunding, Scott raised over $48,000 to date and was able to quit her part-time job in order to focus solely on preparing for the Olympics. I think Scott, Smith, and the third member of Team USA women’s short track 2010 Olympian Aly Dudek, are all on track to shine at these games. US Speedskating was recently rocked by a coaching scandal that left the athletes very divided, but I don’t think these three women have ever skated better.

The Men: Look for strong individual performances from two-time bronze medalist J.R. Celski and first-time Olympian Eddy Alvarez. The men won silver in the relay in 2010. Whether or not they will be able to repeat this remains to be seen, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I think they have what it takes to make it onto the podium. One thing is certain though: Team USA’s biggest competition in the relay will come from the Canadians and the Koreans.

Note: Look for Apolo Ohno in the commentator's booth.

This year the Winter Olympics have fully embraced their innate Xgames element with several new events. Xgames athletes are awesome; you get the impression they’re always rooting for each other to do something cool. Makes for an awesome atmosphere. Check out the new Xgames additions: ski slopestyle, ski halfpipe, and even MORE snowboarding events.

For snowboarding we’ll likely be seeing a lot of familiar faces shredding in Sochi. Shaun White clinched an Olympic berth in the Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle. On the women’s side 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark, punched her ticket to Sochi with her recent Grand Prix win.

And for the first time, they’re adding women’s ski jumping, pioneered by American Lindsey Van.

You can find a full schedule of events from NBC here.
A million thanks to Beth Pond for her insight and expertise. Check out her new novel PODIUM FINISH, and go Team USA!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

CHEATSHEET: Football is Somehow Almost Over

You're not a sports fan? That's cool, you've come to the right place. We'll give you just enough information to survive a playoff party, decide who to cheer for, when to be excited, and when to be outraged. Really, that's all we need to know in any given life situation.

The Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb 2, 2014.
The halftime show is locked in (Bruno Mars - and the CHILI PEPPERS!!!).
The location is set (New York City - er, at least the New Jersey-exposed-to-the-winter-elements section of it).

All we need now are the teams (much like a girl in her twenties who has her dream wedding all planned and just needs a willing guy).

But ENOUGH parentheticals! Cue the dating-game music and let's meet our championship contenders!


There baaack! The Super Bowl Losers' Curse cannot touch Captain-Coach Jim Harbaugh. My feelings for Jim Harbaugh are well documented in this space. He had a super-human season for my Indianapolis Colts during my impressionable youth. In fact, this year's playoffs QBs span about 20 years of my life (Jim Harbaugh circa 1994 took us to Peyton Manning in 1998 took us to Andrew Luck in the now). And, of course, Harbaugh was Andrew Luck's coach at Stanford. Everything comes full circle. YAY!

Every time I turn on my TV, I see Colin Kaepernick's beats. They're playing the hell out of that commercial, and with good reason, as it shows cold-as-ice Kaep getting off the bus surrounded by an angry Seattle-colored mob, which might be exactly what happens this weekend (tho, I always assumed Seattle people were too chill to mob?). Kaep is one of the league's rising stars, though some might say he's regressed this season (he was my fantasy QB, and I did indeed bench him one or twice in favor of Alex Smith for cripes sake). But it's hard to argue with him making the final four twice in two attempts. We should all be so regressive.

By the way - sometime in the 1990s THIS APPARENTLY HAPPENED(?!?)


Russell Wilson has been in the NFL for two seasons now, and he's five-feet-ten of adorable. Spent some college minutes as a Wisconsin Badger, got drafted by the Texas Rangers baseball team, but entered the NFL draft as something of a long-shot (given his shortness). He lists one of his key NFL heroes as Drew Brees (another "short" quarterback), which makes him alright in my book. He was drafted by the Seahawks last year to backup high-dollar free-agent Matt Flynn - and then won the starting job outright before the season even started. Vintage Disney stuff. And here he is, one game away from the Super Bowl.

Defensive player Richard Sherman is one of the approximately two million Stanford players in the NFL at the moment. Harbaugh was his coach, but now...

Coach Pete Carroll was an NFL failure. He coached the New England Patriots several years ago, such that Sports Guy Bill Simmons nicknamed him "Coach Fredo" (GODFATHER joke). Pete went to USC, reinvented himself as a perennial winner, started a blood feud with Jim Harbaugh when they were both coaching college teams, and then fled NCAA allegations by accepting the job in Seattle (where his team has since enjoyed a series of drug test suspensions). Word on the street is that Coach Pete and Captain Harbaugh truly despise each other - which makes this game (the THIRD time these teams have played this season) all the more fun.

Substance allegations aside, I adore watching the Seahawks. I like how their brightly colored uniforms look in the rain. I like the silhouette and noise level of their stadium (which doubles as a soccer stadium that ALWAYS sells out). Seattle has some of the BEST sports fans in the world. If it were up to me, they'd be hosting an Olympics immediately.


Hello, nemesis. Tom Brady is one game away from the Super Bowl AGAIN. For the SIXTH (6th) time. He's married to the highest paid super model in the world. His house in California has a mote. He does ads for Uggs. There is nothing new here.

Except that, due to injuries and incarcerations, the Patriots are now a running team instead of a throwing team. That sneaked up on people. And it seems as though the league now goes out of its way to make him look hilarious. There are some truly amazing Tom Brady GIFs out there. (Note: As I was drafting this post, news broke that Tommy missed practice because he was sickly. Now I feel terrible, hope it wasn't something contagious that will spread to the entire team...?)

Don't forget about the Belichick - the Hoodie - the evil genius behind it all. Remember the hoodie code: When he wears the blue one, he's vulnerable. The red one, and the Pats have basically already lost. But the gray one - in the gray one he's damn near invincible. With all the stats people out there, I do NOT understand why this is even an issue, but he busted the blue hoodie out for the Colts last weekend. Or perhaps it was just hubris (yeah, Coach Chuck, I'll beat you even with the BLUE hoodie!).

I hate the Patriots in that way that I want them to lose, but I don't want them to go away forever. Ours is a Megamind/MetroMan relationship. When Brady/Belichick ceases to be a thing, I'll be nostalgic. I've missed a lot of games this season, and struggled to get into the story lines. We took a long vacation to foreign places, we sold our house, did a lot of apartment hunting, etc. I feel like I BARELY know what's going on. The end of the Manning/Brady era is coming, and I want to soak all the goodness out of it, but...


As I said in the beginning, my alliances are well documented, and I'm a Peyton girl through and through. I care too much. I've spent all week building a pillow fort behind my couch from which to watch this game. Just thinking about it makes me feel like this.


New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Sunday, January 19th - 3pm EST (CBS)

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, January 19th - 6:30pm EST (FOX)

Winners meet in the Super Bowl
Sunday, February 2nd - ~6pm EST (FOX)