august 2019

I was able to take off yesterday and join Will and Julie for an extra day of mommy camp for a trip to the Georgia Aquarium. I hadn't been there in a while—they changed the entrance around and got rid of one of my favorite features, parallel tanks with giant sharp triangles of silver fish that swim along with you as you enter the main hall.

They probably did this to make the entry process more efficient, but I was sad to see that removed from the experience. They had also added a sea lion show, which we saw in addition to the dolphin show (which had also changed since the last time I was there—before it was this pirate rescue adventure stage show thing, whereas this was more educational even though they did a lot of the same tricks). The jelly tanks and the big tank were as entertaining and fascinating as they always are—we visited each of those sections twice and also spent a good deal of time watching the belugas.

If it were easier to get to and not always wall-to-wall crowded, I would want to go there more often, but as it is, once or twice a year will probably be where I end up (although Julie and Will will likely add in a visit or two themselves on top of that).

Thursday was Six Flags day, something we've done every year since Will started elementary school except last year when the day we were planning to go was rained out. As usual, we were there all day (Will never gets tired when we go to amusement parks no matter how hot it is or how much we walk), and because Atlanta and Decatur schools were already in session, it really wasn't that crowded. But they were definitely in end of season mode—several rides weren't open that day, and a few others had been permanently closed for the season. But the rapids ride was open, which has been closed every time we've gone before, so it was fun to finally ride that.

Will is in a no-roller-coasters phase (he goes back and forth between loving them and not wanting to do them at all), so early on we would sit him on a bench near the exit to the coaster while we would hop on for a quick ride. This worked fine until we got to the Superman ride which 1) doesn't let you see the actual line from the entrance (which we didn't know since we've never ridden it before); 2) wasn't running at full capacity (not only was one loading track completely closed, but the one that was functioning had several non-functioning seats); and 3) wasn't being very efficiently managed by the workers, with several empty seats leaving every ride (in addition to the ones that weren't working).

As a result, it took us nearly an hour to get to the front and ride the ride, and when we got back, Will was in tears sitting under the entrance umbrella with a Six Flags worker. He was afraid we'd left him, and it did take much longer than any previous time he'd sat by himself, so I understand why he panicked. After that, whenever we wanted to go on a ride he didn't want to go on, he would stand in line with us and then just wait at the exit ramp on the platform for us to finish.

It was a pretty good day—the train wasn't running either, and that's usually a good way to take a break while still doing something ride-oriented, but not having very long lines meant we got to ride a lot of other things—I even went on a few of the coasters solo when Julie didn't want to brave them. We were some of the first people to arrive and some of the last people to leave, and Will would have stayed longer if we could have.

After Provenance, which told the story of a con artist who focused more on establishing a legitimate-seeming chain of custody for forged art works than on the quality of the forgeries themselves, I next read The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett.

It focuses on two main characters: John Charles Gilkey, who devised various schemes and frauds to acquire books without paying for them (although sometimes this was as simple as tucking one in his coat while the bookseller wasn't looking), and Ken Sanders, a bookstore owner who was not only burned by Gilkey but who detected a larger pattern of crimes he was responsible for.

These two are both fascinating characters, and Bartlett's writing nestles her well-drawn descriptions within a fast-moving plot structure that still takes time to educate you about the larger arena of book collecting, and the forgery and thievery that is part of that world. But as with books like The Orchid Thief and The Feather Thief, this is as much a story about the obsessive nature of collecting that drives people to commit crimes when they don't have the financial means to support their collecting impulses.

There always an element of simple greed to these stories—Gilkey definitely made a handsome profit reselling some of his acquisitions—but he seems just as much driven by the need to possess certain books as he does by the money he could potentially gain from selling them. In many ways, the booksellers who are often the guardians of rare books and the thieves who steal them are two sides of the same coin: both respect books as physical objects not only for the stories they tell and the cultural heritage they contain, but also for the historical weight carried by the object itself as it has traveled through time and through the hands of other collectors.

I've clearly got a weak spot for these kinds of books, but this is another great entry: a compelling, well-told story that gives you entry into a peculiar world while also giving insight into human nature. It doesn't reach the same rapturous heights of writing that The Orchid Thief achieves, nor are the crimes covered as fascinating and weird as The Feather Thief, but it's also a more consistent and focused effort than either of those books.

Our big weekend event was a trip to Suntrust Park to see the Braves play the Reds on Sunday afternoon. I was able to find some relatively cheap tickets in the Infiniti Club section, Will's favorite place to sit but one which we can only afford when there's a glut of tickets and the season ticket holders don't want to see the game.

It was a surprise for Will, but one that he figured out pretty quickly as we started to head north on I-75—pretty much the only time we drive on that road is when we're going up to Suntrust. The Infiniti Club tickets allowed us to enter the stadium half an hour before the general gates opened, and Will loved getting in early. We weren't allowed to leave the Infiniti Club area until the general gates were open, but as soon as they let us, we went over to the Coke area in the upper deck of left field, and we were the only ones there for about 10 minutes.

Before the game started, we went down to pick up Will's packet from the Braves kids club—I got him a premium membership (only $25), which included a vinyl drawstring bag, an Acuna jersey, a pair of Blooper socks, a Braves lanyard, and most importantly, a kids club VIP pass. This pass lets you skip to the head of the line for Kids Run the Bases, and it was the real reason I purchased the pass.

When we've done this before, we've typically missed the last two innings of the game and still had to wait for about an hour after the end of the game before Will made it to the fields to run the bases. This time, we still had to miss the end of the game to line up, but we lined up in a much shorter line that gets to go first, and it was a much speedier process. We usually go on a Sunday so Will can do this, and it's always fun (even for us, since the parents get to walk around the warning track with their kids before the kids are diverted near first base to get in line to run the bases).

It was a fun day even though it was brutally hot and sunny and we were in a section that didn't get shade while we were there. But we were able to escape to the air conditioned indoor part of the club section whenever we needed a break, one of the many advantages of buying tickets in that section (another big one: each ticket in that section includes $15 in food credits per ticket, so we usually spend less than $10 out of pocket for lunch).

The Braves are having an impressive season, with the best record in the NL and one of the best records in all of MLB, and they will almost certainly make the playoffs. Hopefully they'll also finally have the kind of team that can survive the brutal first round 5 game series—although they've been to the postseason 10 times so far this century, they've only made it to the NLCS once during that time, and that was way back in 2001.

Will's first day of fourth grade was on Monday, and so far it seems to be going okay. He wasn't excited about his teacher (he says she also helps run aftercare and she's very strict), but other parents who have had her in the past say she's great.

And in a nice change of pace, Will knew a lot of the kids in his class and some of his closest friends from previous years were also classmates (up until this year, it seems like every year he's had to deal with an entirely new group of kids, and while he makes friends pretty quickly, this causes a lot of stress and anxiety for him while he's building those social bonds).

I can't believe he's this old already, and I know I'll turn around and he'll be in high school and I'll turn around again and he'll be in college. He's such a good kid, and the blissful post-toddler, pre-teenage years will soon come to an end. I just hope he maintains some version of the happy, honest child he is now when he enters puberty in a few years.

I've had some kind of lingering cold, which is likely the result of Will returning to school and bringing home lots of new germs, which I am the most susceptible to in the family.

I don't get sick nearly as often as I did when I was younger, which is probably due to better exercise and eating habits, but I still usually get hit with a few things during the typical cold and flu season. Hopefully this one won't last much longer, but at first it felt like a 24 hour thing and it's already lingered longer than that.

It really is the end of summer now (although that probably won't be reflected in the temperatures in Atlanta until October). Will is back in school, we're back to his normal schedule for piano lessons, and work is definitely transitioning from summer project/planning to travel and gearing up for the reading season.

Summers always seem to go by too fast—just as I'm getting used to the rhythms of summer camps and the more relaxed schedule at work, it's over and we're back to a more regimented existence.

It was a big weekend for entertainment—on Friday night we took Will (and my mom) to see the traveling Broadway performance of Cats at the Fox Theatre, and then on Saturday we went to see Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at the Atlanta Symphony Hall.

Cats was a logistical nightmare—my mom needs a wheelchair, so we had to coordinate dropping her off curbside in Atlanta traffic and then me going to hunt for parking while Julie and Will got in line with her, and then dealing with getting her to her seat, to the bathroom, etc. in the wheelchair in a not superfriendly accessibility environment. Luckily our seats were on the outside end of a row, so she didn't have to try to walk down the row of seats.

The performance itself was really good, and although I've sort of outgrown that musical now, it was very meaningful to be able to bring my mom. She took me to see it when I was a kid (probably not much older than Will), and so it was nice to be able to take her and have her be able to sit with Will and see his reactions to the performance.

Will LOVED it—he liked the Cats CD before, but he wasn't as excited about going to the show as I thought he might be. But not only does he like the Cats theme in general, but the special effects of the stage show and the powerful voices of the singers really blew him away. We ended up getting matching t-shirts for my mom and Will, and also got Will a throw pillow that's in the shape of a black cat's head with yellow eyes in the style of the Cats logo.

We'll have to keep our eye out for good deals for these kinds of shows in the future—I don't know if I'd be willing to pay as much for another show as we did for Cats, but I definitely think Will would enjoy just about any musical, and if we can find a good deal I'd love to take him back to more shows like this.

My mom spent the night with us on Friday after Cats, and we took her back to her house on Saturday morning so we could back to Atlanta in time for Saturday night's outing: a trip to the Atlanta Symphony Hall to see Lyle Lovett and HIs Large Band. I didn't realize the two would be so close together when I bought the tickets months ago (I bought the Cats tickets in January and the Lyle Lovett tickets in March), but when I was added them to my calendar a couple of months ago, I realized they were on back to back evenings.

We got there a little early to make sure we got parking in the deck below the Woodruff Arts Center (the closest parking lot besides that one is across the street but it's a longer walk than you would think), plus Will always likes to run around and explore big buildings like that. We were soon joined by our friends Connie and Jeff (Will's godparents) and their son Noah—Jeff and I bought tickets at the same time so we'd hopefully end up close to each other (we were two seats apart, but the couple that had those tickets switched with us so our group could all be together).

I was a huge fan of Lyle Lovett in the 90s—I was introduced to his music by an English professor (who later ended up being my major advisor) who loaned me Lovett's sophomore album, Pontiac, in early 1990. I quickly bought the three albums he had released at that point (his self-titled debut, Pontiac, and Lyle Lovett and His Large Band), and was an immediate buyer of what might be his masterpiece, Joshua Judges Ruth, when it was released in 1992.

The only time I've seen him live before was my senior year of college when he came to play on campus. He didn't play with his Large Band, but rather a more stripped down group of four or five musicians, and I remember it as exactly the show I wanted to see from an artist I was completely enthralled with at the time.

This show was with the Large Band, and man, they lived up to the moniker. In addition to the standard rock/blues setup of a bassist, a lead guitarist, and a drummer (Lovett typically plays rhythm guitar while he sings), there was also a multi-instrumentalist who played guitar and mandolin; a cellist; a piano player; a fiddle player; the three-person Muscle Shoals Horns; a steel guitar player; and finally Francine Reed as a backup or co-lead vocalist (depending on the song).

It was an undeniably great show that sampled from the entirety of Lovett's catalog with plenty of covers sprinkled in, plus some original songs from other band members, and covered all the genres that Lovett touches on in his work: country, blues, jazz, big band, honky took, rock, folk, etc. It was a tour de force performance by the entire band. Here's the setlist:

    1. Once Is Enough
    2. The Blues Walk
    3. Pants Is Overrated
    4. You've Been So Good Up to Now
    5. She Makes Me Feel Good
    6. Cowboy Man
    7. My Baby Don't Tolerate
    8. I Know You Know
    9. Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You?
    10. Straighten Up And Fly Right
    11. I've Been to Memphis
    12. Nobody Knows Me
    13. North Dakota
    14. Sweet Magnolia
    15. The Temperance Reel
    16. Anyhow, I Love You
    17. Twelfth of June
    18. I'll Fly Away
    19. If I Had a Boat
    20. She's No Lady
    21. Here I Am
    22. What Do You Do
    23. Wild Women Don't Have the Blues
    24. That's Right (You're Not From Texas)
    25. Ain't No More Cane


    26. Church

As you can see, it was massive, and it took nearly three hours to get through all of it. That was one of my two minor complaints about the show: it was so long that they really needed an intermission (it did not escape my notice that everyone on stage, including Lovett himself, left the stage at least a couple of times while songs that didn't involve them were being played). The second is somewhat related: there were several songs where not only Lovett would introduce the band members during the song, but where everyone got a mini-solo. It was impressive from a musical perspective, but towards the end of the show when you'd seen it already a few times and you were think about the restroom, it was hard to appreciate (again, the intermission would have helped here).

Despite the size and formality of the venue and the number of people on stage, it was actually a very intimate show. Lyle told stories about his years playing with his various bandmates and of his previous trips to Atlanta, along with other anecdotes about the songs themselves or other artists he admires. It's hard to imagine him being able to top a performance like this one, but he's such a consummate professional that I have no doubt he goes out and gives an equally impressive performance night after night on his tours. I can't wait for him to come back to Atlanta again, and we'll definitely be in attendance when he does.

I had an Atlanta United game on Sunday, and my seat mate wasn't able to go, so he gave me his two passes so I could take Julie and Will. But I'm still feeling a bit run down, and after Cats on Friday and Lyle Lovett on Saturday, I was completely tapped out. So at the last minute Julie asked her mom to come, and the three of them went to the game while I stayed home to rest (although I did watch the game on tv).

Julie's mom has lived in small towns her whole life, and she's also a very cautious, anxious person, especially in new situations, so she's had a little trouble adjusting to living in a big city where she doesn't know anyone but us. I didn't know whether she'd actually be able to enjoy the experience (including taking Marta to get to the stadium), or whether the crowds and the logistics would overwhelm her. But Julie said she had a great time, and that was at least partially because of Will—he LOVES to be the experienced person showing someone the ropes, so he had a great time telling her about Marta and the stadium and the team.

Atlanta won again, and Josef Martinez also set a new MLS record by scoring a goal in ten straight matches. They're in a serious playoff hunt now, and they have a real shot at not only getting to the postseason but also claiming first place in their conference (which comes with a bye week and home field advantage for the duration of their conference matches).

We're still getting settled in with Will's new teacher, and while I'm optimistic that she'll figure Will out and vice versa eventually, there are some frustrating incidents from the first couple of weeks of school. They all have to do with poor communication and expectation-setting, something that an easily-distractible kids like Will needs, especially when he's (for once) in a class where he's already socially well-adapted because he has so many classmates from previous years.

The biggest incident stems from something that we just reached resolution on today: on day one of school, she gave them an in-class assignment that was about 11 pages long and involved multiple writing and picture-drawing elements that were meant as a get-to-know you kind of thing. As is typical for Will, if it's not required and there's no deadline, he's not going to spend a lot of time on it during free time in class (which is when they were supposed to work on it), preferring instead to socialize.

But then suddenly on Tuesday she decided to convert into homework, and made that homework due today. Out of that 11 pages of work, Will had only done about 2 1/2 pages, and because it took Will about half an hour for each page of work, we spend several hours across Tuesday and Wednesday nights working hard and trying to complete the assignment. Not only was the deadline and decision to convert it to homework seemingly improvised at the last minute (which Julie confirmed with other parents in the class), there was no communication with parents about this.

In her introductory email to parents, she says the right things in terms of her teaching philosophy and her approach to managing the classroom, but no matter what the context—parent/child, manager/employee, or teacher/student—the person with the greater balance of power in those relationships is responsible for providing open communication, clear expectations and consequences, and reasonable timeframes. That's how good mentors position their mentees to succeed, and if you don't provide those things, any failures on the part of the child/employee/student are actually your failures.

I won't judge her permanently on this one incident, but I also won't forget it (it was a very stressful couple of evenings with no time for family activities or piano practice), and there have been a couple of other little things that seem to point to this being an ongoing issue. I don't want to be "that parent"—I don't expect teachers to have the same management style that I do, and I like to give the trust and space to do their jobs without constant attempts at parental micromanaging—but there are core concepts that lead to success that I think any good leader/manager employs to get the best out of the people underneath them.

Julie is volunteering to help in the classroom on Friday mornings, so hopefully she'll get a chance to know the teacher a little better and deal with any issues we see with Will in a more direct manner.

I was supposed to go see Sidney Gish, a young singer/guitar player who currently has two albums, both of which I'm quite taken with. It's hard to describe her style, but it's a little like early Suzanne Vega if Vega had an acid tongue, a taste for wordplay, and stronger jazz influences in her guitar playing. If I read that description, though, that wound't want t make me listen to her music, so I encourage you to go right to the source and hear for yourself.

I bought the ticket several months ago, and given that 1) Gish hasn't released a record in 18 months and 2) she graduated from college this year, I was hoping the solo headlining tour meant a new album would be in play by then. But there's no new record forthcoming as far as I know.

I really wanted to go, but sometimes I just can't get to those weeknight shows, especially when I don't have a partner to add more motivation. To compensate, I considered buying a live performance that she recently released, but it was so uneven that I didn't end up purchasing it, and really, if that's what I would have seen at the show, it makes me glad that I didn't go—I'm ready to go on being enchanted with her, and having to sit through a performance like that definitely would have take some of the luster off of my infatuation with her music.

I'm glad she at least got the money from my ticket purchase, and I hope a new record is forthcoming. If she's able to dedicate herself full time to her music now that she's done with college, that might also mean a tighter live performance with a group of solid backing musicians—all of her recordings so far have been home-brewed, and her touring has been pretty limited (she tended to finish albums while home for Christmas break and tour in the summer when school wasn't in session).

My big task this weekend was attending a college fair on behalf of my office. The fair was from 10-1, and it was about 45 minutes away (south of Atlanta outside the Perimeter), so I ended up spending the bulk of my Saturday there.

It was a nice crowd—I'm always encouraged when parents and students are willing to come out on an evening or a weekend to talk to college reps—but the odd twist to this one was that they encouraged students to bring their transcripts with them, and promised that some schools would give out acceptances and possibly even scholarships on the spot.

We're not one of those schools, and we don't even like to engage in "chancing" people based on their transcripts, grades, extracurriculars, etc.—your odds of being admitted have a lot to do with the context of the applicant pool you'll be a part of so, we don't know who is going to really stand out for us until we know who you're competing with.

Instead of giving them a sense of whether they might be admitted, which students over-interpret no matter what you say, I pointed them to our middle 50th percentile stats in our handout and talked up the positive aspects of their transcripts. I had some really good conversations, but you can't really judge the ROI/success of these events until you look at how many of these students become applicants, and more importantly, quality applicants who are in serious consideration for an acceptance letter.

The latest attempt to reboot the Predator franchise (this one called simply The Predator) is playing on HBO this month, so I DVR'd it and finally got around to watching it on Saturday night (after Julie and Will had gone to bed).

Similar to The Terminator and Alien, the first two films in this franchise are sci fi classics (and, in the case of the first Predator movie, also a classic example of over the top 80s action movies), but the ones that have followed have ranged from interesting but flawed to outright terrible. Alien vs. Predator was a low point for both franchises, and 2010's Predators reboot had an interesting concept with flawed execution; The Predator is somewhere in between those two. Some of the big problems: a male lead who is somehow even more and forgettable and generic than Jeremy Renner. A convoluted plot that is simultaneously obvious from early in the film and that also remains unresolved until the very end in a clear setup for a sequel. A child co-lead who doesn't add anything to the film and can't possibly have been included for demographic appeal reasons since kids can't/shouldn't see this film.

It was watchable, I guess, but there weren't any really memorable set pieces. Comparing the most recent entries in the three franchises I mentioned in the opening, this is easily the weakest. I actually like Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant), and I hope he gets to make the 2-3 other prequels to his original film (sequels to these two) that he's talked about in interviews. And although reactions were decidedly polarized, I thought Terminator: Genisys was a fun film with lots of sly callbacks to the original film that you could enjoy if you just stopped taking it so seriously (and with the return of James Cameron to the franchise with this year's Dark Fate, we could be in for the reboot that actually works for this franchise).

But no one's going to be itching for the hinted-at sequel to the latest Predator movie, and I honestly don't know where the franchise can go from here. That doesn't mean the industry won't keep trying and put out a new attempt at a reboot every 5-8 years, but this universe really has run out of steam.

A couple of years ago, seminal Nashville hot chicken joint Hattie B's (which has three locations around Nashville and additional outposts in Memphis and Birmingham) announced that they would be opening up a location in Atlanta in Little Five Points. They finally opened the location last year, but for whatever reason, we never made it a priority to give it a try even though all three of us really like spicy food.

That changed earlier this week, when it popped into my head while we were trying to figure out someplace to go for a quick dinner out. It's a cool little location in an old gas station, with some covered outside seating on fake grass and a minimalist, open indoor space. I can tell that parking is going to be an issue, but we got lucky and found a space right out front when we pulled in.

We decided to each get chicken sandwiches, which come with a side and your choice of heat level: Southern (no spice), Mild, Medium, Hot!, Damn Hot!!, and Shut the Cluck Up!!!. I've heard stories for years about how hot even just the regular Hot is, so Julie and Will tried Medium and I tried the Hot. For sides, I got fries, Julie got greens, and Will got the mac and cheese.

It was all really, really good. The chicken breasts on the sandwiches were large and juicy, the for me, the fries (with a bit of salt added) were the perfect compliment to the spice. And while the Hot was decently spicy, it wasn't outside my normal range of heat, and I think I'll step it up next time we visit. And there were definitely be a next time: Will and Julie also really enjoyed their meals (including their sides), and Will also seemed interested in bumping up his spice level to the next tier (he had a bite of mine and didn't flinch).

I stayed in the nonfiction world after I finished The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, moving to another book-related work called The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio by Andrea Mays.

The broad outline is the story of Henry Folger (brother to the founder of the coffee company, but Henry himself made his fortune working for Standard Oil) and his creation of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, which has become one of the most important global centers for Shakespeare studies, largely because of the extensive collection of Shakespeare's works and ephemera amassed by Henry and his wife, Emily. But the book tells so many stories, and tells them in such insightful and empathetic ways that the journey to get to the end goal of the library is as fascinating as the library itself.

Some of the topics/narratives covered: Shakespeare himself, and the terroir of England during Shakespeare's lifetime; the attempts to publish Shakespeare's works (which did not happen during his lifetime) and the printers and printing houses involved in that effort; Henry Folger's personal and professional history, which also include a brief history of Standard Oil; a history of the book trade, especially as it relates to rare publications of Shakespeare's works; and finally, the planning and building of the library.

At the core of all these stories, however, just like with The Orchid Thief, The Feather Thief, and The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, is our human capacity for obsession, and how that obsession can twist our lives down odd but compelling and significant pathways. Henry's happened to be with Shakespeare, primarily with first folios (the earliest printed editions of Shakespeare's plays that are as close to source material as we will likely ever have) but I really loved the amount of detail Mays was able to compile regarding the history of Henry's various purchases—the dates, the prices, who they were purchased from, even the failed negotiations that led Henry to refine his strategy for future negotiations. It's clear that Henry single-handedly reset the market for Shakespeare-related material, particularly first folios, and in doing so likely helped Shakespeare's already-ascendant star achieve even more cultural prominence.

But this isn't just Henry's story, and the true life partnership between Henry and Emily is one of the most endearing aspects of this story. They did not have children, and considering the wealth they achieved, they lived very simply all their lives. Their joint obsession was Shakespeare, and Emily became as robust and accomplished a scholar as her husband. Without her dedication to cataloging and ensuring the safekeeping of their collection (which was stored in various warehouses around NYC before the library was built), it's entirely possible that the collection would have never been fully reunited or the provenance of most of the materials known for future researchers and historians.

One of the few criticisms I have of this book is that it paints Folger as the lone beacon of morality and ethical behavior in the expansion and eventual forced breakup of the monopolistic Standard Oil. I love Henry's dedication to his collection and his library, and even though he was certainly unusual for someone who achieved the level of wealth he did in his career, I'm sure he was no saint. I would rather Mays had spent less time editorializing about that part of his life and trying to convince us that the acquisition of Shakespeare's works and the library that became their home came from wealth that had no negative history attached to it. That's almost never (possibly absolutely never) true, and it's the one aspect of the very sympathetic portrayal of Henry that I just didn't buy.

But overall I loved this book. Some might find the extreme detail in terms of purchase dates and prices a little dry, but I didn't—Mays had a talent for telling the stories of these machinations in a way that was as dramatic as the biographies of the people whose stories she tells in this book. It's Mays' first book, and given her eye for detail and her ability to weave together disparate histories of people and objects over centuries of time into a coherent, readable narrative, I can't wait to see what she tackles next.

I bought a couple of albums a few weeks ago that have really captured my attention. This hasn't been a great year for new music for me—I've bought a reasonable number of records from both artists I already know and those who are new to me, but nothing's really grabbed me and made it into heavy rotation. With Lizzo's Cuz I Love You and Chance's The Big Day, I got two at once.

Cuz I Love You is Lizzo's debut record, and although I have a work colleague that has been talking the record up for months (it was released back in April), but I wasn't compelled to buy it until I was flipping through the channels and happened to see the video for "Truth Hurts" on MTV (yes, I'm as shocked as you are that MTV was actually playing a video). That's still one of my favorite tracks (along with the Missy Elliott-featuring "Tempo"). There are moments when it drifts into overly-slick neo-soul pop, but it's addictively listenable and gets better with every listen.

Chance has been making records for years, and I especially loved his last two solo releases Acid Rap and Coloring Book. He calls those two efforts mixtapes and refers to The Big Day as his debut album, but I don't really see the distinction, especially on the polished Coloring Book. The Big Day is also centered around his recent marriage to his longtime girlfriend and mother of his children, and it veers even more deeply into the gospel-tinged religious themes that he began exploring on Coloring Book (and which have been a clear influence on friend and mentor Kanye West's recent work).

Acid Rap might still be my favorite, but there are lots of great songs on here. The number and sometimes willfully eccentric nature of his collaborators can get a little overwhelming—there are ones that aren't that far afield, like Gucci Mane, Knox Fortune, and Nikki Minaj, but others range from Shawn Mendes to Death Cab for Cutie to Francis Starlite and even Randy Newman. Luckily, though, these aren't typically the kind of features that overwhelm the source material (other than maybe Death Cab for Cutie—Ben Gibbard's voice is so distinctive to fans of that band that it's hard to hear this as anything but a Death Cab song).

It's a big album, not only in number of songs and length, but in the themes it tackles, but it's also as compulsively listenable as his earlier releases. And it pairs really well with Cuz I Love You, which, since I ordered my recent purchases playlist by album title, it happens to be adjacent to, making it even easier to listen to the two of them back to back.

Will and Julie did a few things without me this weekend—a 5K on Saturday morning and a Scout meeting on Sunday afternoon—but on Saturday afternoon we walked into Decatur with Will's friends Evie and Anika (and their dad, who I'm friends with) for dinner. We walked to Taqueria del Sol, one of the most popular places in Decatur.

We don't often go there because the line is so long, and the quality of the food, while good, just isn't worth the wait for us. But we thought if we could get there 15 minutes before they opened for dinner, we wouldn't have to wait too long. We were wrong about that—there was already a huge line when we got there—but after it officially opened, we noticed some other (presumably veteran) diners pop into the bar and emerge with margaritas to have while they waited in line, so we followed suit. We had finished our drinks by the time we got to the counter, so we ordered a pitcher of margaritas for the table (it was nice that we had walked so none of the grown ups had to worry about being the designated driver).

Ordering the pitcher might have been the right call if we hadn't had that first one in the line, but when we go to the end of the pitcher, it was clear that it was a good value but a bad decision. Evie's dad and Julie don't drink very much or very often, and although I usually have a couple of drinks once a week or so, I don't have an incredibly high tolerance either. And margaritas are dangerous because the sourness overrides the alcohol and you don't really know how strong they are.

It was a fun night, though, and it was nice for Will and Evie and Anika to have some time to hang out again (Evie's parents are divorced, so she's not always around, and she spent a lot of this summer with her grandparents outside the city).

The other thing all three of us did together was go and visit my mom and take her out to lunch. She had another surgery last week (in the past two years, she's had surgery on her hip, her leg, her knee, and this time one of her shoulders, and she still needs to have procedures on her other knee and her other shoulder), and she hasn't been able to drive in all that time.

So the only time we get to see her is when we can drive out to her, which we don't have time for during the week given how far away she is and that Julie doesn't typically get home until 6 or later. It's hard to do as often as we'd like to—we typically have dinner with Julie's mom once or twice a week, often on school nights, because she 1) only lives 10 minutes away and 2) can drive herself to the restaurant if it's not convenient for us to go by her place.

Hopefully my mom will eventually be on the mend enough to be able to drive herself places, but I'm not holding my breath—for the past two years she's been thinking she's only one surgery and a three month recovery time away from driving independently again, and it looks like she's going to have to have at least one more surgery this year. So we'll keep doing our best to get out and see her in the meantime.

Hard Knocks has finally jumped the shark this year. With Antonio Brown and the dumpster fire that is the current state of the Raiders franchise, this should be a great show, but there's really nothing insider-y or behind the scenes, and it seems more scripted than any previous season.

It's always been a propaganda piece for the NFL and the players, but I remember seasons only a couple of years back where you would see people genuinely losing their shit and either forgetting or not being aware that they were on camera. You would also be in the room when some authentically difficult and emotional conversations were taking place, like when a player was getting news about an injury or when they were being released from the team.

But even those small nods towards authenticity and grit are completely gone now, especially with the focus on the NFL's current class clown, Antonio Brown. As a Ravens fan, I have no desire to spend that much time watching the antics of a former Steelers player who caused us headaches for years, especially when they seem forced and calculated as a way to get him more camera time.

I'm sure I'll finish watching this season, but this might be it for me. It's always been a nice companion piece to the preseason to get me excited for football to start back up again, but it's become like so much else in the NFL—bland and fake. I don't know which is worse—that it's boring or that it's dishonest—but either way, it's no longer compelling television, even for a diehard fan of the sport.

I don't know why I care about such a terribly run enterprise as this league, that has so many terrible people on the field, on the sidelines, and in the management suites. Maybe one day the bad will outweigh the entertainment value and I'll be able to walk away from caring about the games themselves the same way I'm over caring about this supposed documentary of training camp.

We went back to Hattie B's Hot Chicken for a second visit, this time bringing Julie's mom along. I stepped up my heat level from Hot to Damn Hot, and Will moved up from Medium to Hot, but Julie's mom chose Mild and Julie stuck with Medium.

Damn Hot (the second highest heat level) is what I imagined when people described the heat level of Nashville hot chicken, and it's probably the heat level I'll use as my default going forward. I am getting really obsessed with this place though—my only complaints are that it's really, really loud inside, even when it's not very crowded, and they don't give you nearly enough pickles. But otherwise I could eat here on a very regular basis.

I recently started watching Amazon's corporate super hero series The Boys, which is apparently based on a comic book series of the same name. I came into it cold though—I haven't read any reviews of the show, nor have I ever seen the comic.

I'm only a couple of episodes in, but so far it's great—it does a good job of quickly bringing you into the world, establishing connections with the heroes and the Boys (a ragtag group of miscreants who are unified by personal grievances with the heroes and who are dedicated to exposing the unseemly aspects of both the heroes as individuals and the negative consequences from their acts of heroism). The writing is solid, the art direction is terrific, and the ensemble cast has some real bright spots, notably Karl Urban (Bones from the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films) and Jack Quaid (son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan).

There are still a lot of unknowns in terms of the larger story arcs and the motivations of the characters, but so far I'm intrigued enough to given them a chance to tell the story across the full eight episodes of the first season. There's a lot of potential here for not only a great show this season, but one that could continue for several more. I'm hoping the show will continue to build and give us some sort of satisfying conclusion or cliffhanger—it sometimes seems like it's easier for showrunners to do the world building part of a new shows than it is to make you care about it once you've figured it out.

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