Tag Archives: 30 at 30 lists

30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

When I was younger, I had a dream that is common among children. I wanted to grow up to become a professional athlete. To be more specific, I wanted to play in the NBA. By the time I was cut from the varsity basketball team as a junior in high school, it was pretty clear that I was not going to realize that dream.

There are numerous reasons why that dream did not pan out. Genetically, the odds were not in my favor. My dad is the tallest guy in the family, yet at 6’3″ tall, he is the size of most point guards in the NBA. I never even made it to 6 feet. Then there was the work ethic. I loved playing basketball, but I did not necessarily love every aspect of becoming a better basketball player. Shooting was a strength that I practiced regularly. However, I focused less on other facets of the game, including strength, speed, and endurance that would help me on the defensive end of the court. I realized that I did not have what it took to be an NBA star, but my passion for basketball remained strong.

My parents were not diehard sports fans. There are photos of me as a child wearing NFL team apparel of the Steelers, Browns, 49ers, Giants, Raiders, and Seahawks, and probably others that I cannot remember. My dad was (and is) a Detroit Lions and Tigers fan but also a Los Angeles Lakers fan. My mom was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but otherwise generally sided with dad.

By the time I hit first grade, I had a budding passion for sports, especially basketball and football. I latched on to the Los Angeles Lakers (the only team my family agrees on), the Oakland (then Los Angeles) Raiders, the Michigan Wolverines, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the Oakland Athletics. I was hooked.

When the teachers gave a creative writing assignment, I wrote about sports. When we had to give a speech or presentation, I researched a professional athlete or commentator. I read about sports, wrote about sports, and then came home and watched them on TV. Because I was too young to stay up and watch all of the late games back then, I began every morning began with SportsCenter to fill me in on who one and who lost as well as to see the highlight plays.

By the time my NBA-playing dreams died in high school, I was a sports fanatic. My calendar revolved around the sports calendar—again, especially pro and college football and pro and college basketball.

The first 30 years of my life have been filled with memorable sports moments, including some I wish I could forget. So why is it that I spend so much time watching games?

One major part of it is the thrill of competition. Every blowout seems worth it for those magical matchups that go down to the wire and end on a last second score. Great games and magical moments are key components, but those games and moments don’t just happen.

Perhaps the most significant part of sports, at least for me, is not the game or the moment but rather the people who win the games and make the moments happen. The players are the most compelling reason why I watch. Whether it is a dominant performance of a superstar or a key contribution from an unheralded role player, I love watching how athletes perform on the grand stage. Perhaps it is my way of living out my unrealized dream vicariously through them. Or maybe it is just a fascination with knowing how hard it is to make it to the Division 1 college or professional level in sports that keeps me so captivated by what they do game in and game out.

Whatever the explanation is, I am the sports fan I am today because of the athletes I have cheered for over the past three decades. While I know that my sports fandom will take on new characteristics as I enter the next phase of my life, I also know that I will pass on stories of the athletes listed below to my future children. Without further introduction, here are my top 30 favorite athletes of my life so far. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If there is one musical medium that defines me as a 30-year-old, it is the compact disc. I have an entire tower of more than a thousand CDs (and counting) occupying a corner of my living room. Sure, I have fond memories of listening to my dad’s vinyl records, especially Billy Ocean’s Love Zone and Bobby McFerrin’s Simple Pleasures. And yes, the first music I ever owned was Ace of Base’s The Sign on cassette tape. However, it wasn’t until the CD era, that my appreciation for music took off and became a passion.

By the late 90s, I had already followed in my father’s footsteps, joining CD mail-in clubs to jumpstart my collection. Just as my collection was starting to grow, Napster burst onto the scene. Suddenly, digital music was all the rage. Although I admittedly downloaded music during that wild west time period when no one really thought twice about the legality or ramifications of online piracy, I also continued buying CDs. While I liked the instant access that Napster offered—anything free was great for a 15-year-old kid without an income—I was a purist at heart. I liked listening to an entire album and discovering a new favorite song that wasn’t necessarily a radio single.

If you’re slightly older than me, you may have dabbled in the mixtape era, dubbing individual songs onto a cassette tape. Aside from a few cassettes of songs that I recorded from the radio, the mixtape era predated my music obsession. Had I been a teen in the 80s, I no doubt would’ve spent countless hours painstakingly putting mixtapes together. Instead, as the 90s came to a close, my older cousins showed me the newest piece of technology that came with their new computer: a CD burner. I was in awe. A CD burner meant the best of both worlds: the freedom to pick and choose your favorite songs and the power to organize them all in a way that made sense to you. Keep in mind that iTunes and the iPod were still more than a year away from being created at this point in history. The CD burner took the mixtape to a whole new level, and I wanted in. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

30 at 30 List #12: Parental Promises

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Earlier today, Jessie and I publicly announced the good news that we are expecting our first child this fall.

Becoming a parent is a dream of mine despite the warnings from pop culture and even some friends and family. The message is typically something along the lines of, “Enjoy whatever free time you have now because you won’t have any once you have a child,” adding with caution, “Your life will never be the same.”

I agree that it won’t be the same. I understand that I will have to make some sacrifices in my schedule. I even realize that there may be some moments when I wish I had the free time of my pre-parenthood life. However, after 30-plus years of being a dependent, I am ready to pay it forward to the next generation.

The truth is that Jessie and I have been tremendously blessed in our lives thus far as daughter and son, respectively. Our parents have been and continue to be amazing role models for us, giving selflessly and loving unconditionally. If we can live up to the standards that they’ve set, our child is in good hands.

It is in that spirit of love and pre-parenthood hopefulness that I am making a pledge to my future child(ren). It’s idealistic to expect that I can make good on all 30 promises 100 percent of the time, but I’m optimistic that by striving to live up to these promises  that I can be the best parent possible. Some of these promises will be easier to keep than others, but I believe it’s part of my calling in life to be a great parent.

So, in order to live up to my potential as a parent, this is for my future child(ren). I don’t even know you yet, but I can’t wait to hold your little hand. I’m already working hard on becoming a better me, but once you arrive, I promise to:

30. Try to be the perfect dad
The key word here is “try.” Right now I have such hope and optimism. I know that in the future there will be down times. I’ll be tired or sick (or both), and my child will want something. I’ll think it can wait, but he or she will think it’s an immediate need, and in that moment (and all the other moments like it), I want to be willing to try to be the perfect dad.

29. Make mistakes and learn from them
Understanding that I will never actually be the perfect dad, I want to be someone who learns from his mistakes. I will make poor choices as a parent. I will lose my temper. I will misjudge a situation. I will let my child down. What I don’t want to do is make a habit out of any poor parental move I make. When I mess up, I want to own up to it, learn from it, and grow as a person and a parent in the future.

28. Allow you to make mistakes and learn from them
If I’m not perfect as a father, I certainly can’t expect perfection from you. I will hold you to high standards but not unreasonable standards. When you lose your temper or misjudge a situation or let me down, I want you to know that it’s OK to mess up as long as you own up to it, learn from it, and grow as a person in the future. In life, failure actually is an option. What’s not an option is failing to try or failing to learn from past failures.

27. Let you be who and what you want to be
It’s 2015. You ought to have the right to be who and what you want to be. Insert gender stereotype here: if you choose to defy it, more power to you. I am not going to be the one to slam any doors of opportunity closed. And if you choose a more traditional path, that’s fine, too. The point is that you will have a say in figuring out who you are and what you like from sports to music to theater to art. My job as the parent is to expose you to as many different options as possible and then let you decide what fits you best.

26. Provide for you
I’m a high school English and journalism teacher. I don’t foresee a six-figure salary anytime soon, but I will continue to work hard in my professional career not only for my own personal fulfillment but to ensure that you have the necessities of life and some of the middle class comforts that I have grown accustomed to as well.

25. Eat healthier
I think it will be a lot easier for you to maintain healthy eating habits if I help you by modeling them for you from a young age. I have some bad eating habits that I hope not to pass on. I don’t want to fall into a “do as I say and not as I do” mentality because I believe that actions speak louder than words. Setting a good example of healthy eating will go a long way to promoting a healthy lifestyle for you. From lessons in moderation to the kinds of foods we choose to eat as a family, I look forward to making smart, healthy choices about food for myself and for you.

24. Exercise regularly
In that same line of thought, I know that it’s important to promote an active lifestyle. From family walks in the neighborhood to organized sports, I want to encourage you to be active and exercise regularly. Sometimes I fall into the category of someone who stares at a screen—phone, iPad, computer, TV—for too many hours a day. I am a big fan and avid user of technology, but physical exercise needs to be an important part of your daily routine, too.

23. Listen
I want you to know that I am always available to listen. In the early days, I’ll be listening to hear you cry. Later on in life, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. If there’s something on your mind or on your heart, always know that dad is willing to listen.

22. Protect you when you’re scared
It’s OK to be scared. Sometimes you have to be brave and face your fears, but other times it’s good to rely on others to help you be brave. If you ever need that someone to lean on, you can count on me.

21. Comfort you when you’re sad
It’s OK to be sad, too. It’s even OK to cry. In fact, one of my favorite quotes ever comes from the late Jim Valvano, former basketball coach of North Carolina State, who said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” So if something is tugging at your heartstrings and moving you to tears, let ’em out. I’ll be there to comfort you.

20. Help you learn the difference between right and wrong
Some issues in life shouldn’t have to be taught like the difference between good (Michigan) and evil (Ohio State), but other issues are not as clear. It’s part of a parent’s job to establish a child’s moral compass, to teach them a sense of right and wrong and, eventually, a more fine-tuned shades of gray understanding of more challenging issues.

19. Teach discipline and respect
I am a teacher by trade, but teaching as a parent is different. Understand that every lesson I teach is rooted in love, even the lessons that may feel like anything but loving. You won’t like every lesson I teach, and sometimes you might feel like you don’t even like me, but trust me that you will someday have respect for the way you were raised in the same way that I have respect for my parents and the way they raised me.

18. Emphasize the importance of a quality education
As an educator, I know the value of being a lifelong learner. I also know that a quality education encompasses much more than a letter or number in a gradebook. Academic performance is one component, but I also want to encourage you to develop a strong work ethic and interpersonal communication skills and to get involved in extracurricular activities.

17. Learn something new
I really want to emphasize that idea of being a lifelong learner. Education isn’t something limited to the hours you’re inside of school or doing your homework. As a parent, I want to model how I learn new things all the time and pass on that love of learning to you. I also want to share with you the value of keeping an open mind and allowing that something new that you learn to sometimes override or change your understanding of something that you thought you knew before.

16. Communicate openly
There will be times when what I say goes, period. “Because I said so.” Sometimes that’s a lesson you need to learn. See #19 on this list. But as a general rule, I promise to communicate openly. I want to encourage dialogue and explanation. I want you to feel free to ask “Why?” and “Why not?” respectfully when you don’t understand something. Strong communication is at the core of any successful relationship, and I do not think a parent-child should be an exception to that rule. Of course, you will be learning how to communicate, so this process may not always run smoothly, but I want you to learn effective communication skills and strategies and I can’t think of a better way to learn than through your own experience.

15. Model vulnerability
Sometimes the world makes it seem like it’s not OK to feel anything. Some people can be cruel, and it sometimes seems easiest to avoid ridicule by hiding your emotions, by staying as neutral and unfeeling as possible.  I want to model vulnerability to show you that it is OK to be passionate, to be caring, to be vulnerable. It’s OK to feel strongly and to express your feelings.

14. Avoid projecting all of my hopes and dreams on you
This might be one of the biggest  challenges for me personally. I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine if you don’t grow up to play in the NBA or WNBA. Given your parents’ DNA, the deck is stacked against you being especially tall. But what if you choose not to cheer for my teams like the Lakers, Raiders, or Wolverines—am I really going to love you any less? What if you aren’t all that interested in sports at all? No, I don’t think I would love you any less. You’d just be more like your mother, I suppose. And she’s my favorite person in the world! Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any hopes or dreams for you and our relationship as parent and child. I promise I will not try to mold you into some sort of a mini-me, but hopefully you’ll want to follow in Dad’s footsteps in at least some areas of life.

13. Deal with the messy stuff
Let’s call a spade a spade: I am not a big fan of dealing with bodily fluids. I don’t like the sight of blood. The worst physical sensation I’ve ever experienced is vomiting all night long from a nasty case of the flu. And I have yet to have the honor of changing a diaper, but suffice it to say it’s not on my personal bucket list. Yet I know that my future is full of encountering unwanted bodily fluids, especially from you: blood and puke and poop, oh my! I have to learn to deal with the messy stuff, and I will. You are worth it.

12. Encourage creativity
Your dad is a writer. Your mother is a pianist. Your grandparents include artists and musicians. You will be surrounded by creative people, and we will encourage you to find and explore your muse, whatever it is. Be inspired and be inspiring. Creativity is an amazing gift. Don’t let anyone stifle your creativity.

11. Tell stories
One of my fondest memories of childhood is of my dad telling bedtime stories before I went to bed. I am excited to pass on this tradition to you, likely with some help from your mother, who has an imagination that rivals and perhaps even surpasses my own. I think you are in for some awesome bedtime stories!

10. Read together
To start, I’ll read to you. Then, once you’re able, I want you to return the favor and read to me. There is joy in reading. Unfortunately, as an English teacher I find all too often that the joy of reading has either been lost or never even existed in the lives of many of my students. I want to actively participate in your development as a reader and help you appreciate all of the possibilities that will be available to you as someone who reads well, reads often, and reads for fun.

9. Laugh with you
I am really funny. Don’t ask your mother for confirmation on that one. Just trust me. I anxiously await making you laugh, but probably not as much as I look forward to all of the ways that you will make me smile and laugh.

8. Be a father first
My Twitter profile currently says, “I am a sports fanatic, teacher, writer, listener, husband, brother, son, and more.” I will continue being all of those things after you are born, but I want you to know where fatherhood ranks on the prioritization scale for me: first. Well, maybe it’s tied for first with husband, but I’ll explain that more in item #2 on this list.

7. Play with you
Even though I’m your dad, I’m still a kid at heart. Although I may have to deal with some grown-up aches and pains, I cannot wait to play with you. Someday when you’re older, you’ll realize that one of the toughest things about growing up and becoming an adult is losing out on playtime. First they take away recess. Then before you know it most of your free time is occupied by being responsible. So whether we’re outside running around together or inside hanging out playing with your toys, I am likely almost as excited as you for playtime.

6. Pray with you
God is good. You don’t have to look beyond a mirror to realize that. Your mother and I are so blessed to have each other and now to have you. It’s important to give thanks for all that we have, and I want you to feel comfortable praying from an early age.

5. Establish meaningful traditions
You represent a new chapter in our development as a family. How will we celebrate your birthday each year? What will Christmas look like? Easter? Thanksgiving? As the family grows, traditions that I grew up with will change and we will form new traditions. I know how meaningful those memories were and are to me, so I want to ensure that you are a part of something just as special.

4. Pass it on
I have hinted at this throughout the list, but I really want to pass on the legacy of my parents/your grandparents. Many of the items on this list are inspired by them already, but I wanted to call them out specifically. Trust me when I say that if I treat you as well as they treated me you are in for a great life!

3. Spend time with family
Both sets of your grandparents are the coolest, and they live in Erie, so I know they will be around often. Additionally, you have some amazing aunts and uncles to get to know. Some are in town and others might have to check in via FaceTime or Skype more often, but they are all dying to meet you, and welcome you into the world, and shower you with love. You also have two great-grandmothers and so many other extended family members—not to mention all the family members looking down from heaven—who love you already.

2. Cooperate with your mother
Truthfully, this promise works in concert with the other 29 items on this list because I am not entering this new world of parenthood alone. Fortunately, I am entering with the greatest tag team partner I could ever ask for. Your mother is already loving you on a daily basis as you grow and develop inside her. I have known her for more than a decade, so trust me when I tell you that your mother knows best and will love you more powerfully than you could even imagine. Together, she and I will work together to give you the best life possible.

1. Love you unconditionally
I cannot think of a more powerful promise than this one. Yet somehow from the first moment I knew you existed, I was compelled to feel this way. I love you so much already, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about you and all the joy that you will bring into this world. My parents gave me the gift of unconditional love, and for so many years of my life, I was overwhelmed and in awe of that love. I worried, thinking that I could never repay them for that gift. But I am starting to understand that I was never meant to repay them for that gift. Their love did not come with stipulations, limitations, or provisions. Their gift of love was not a debt to be repaid. It was meant to show me how to love you. I do. And I always will.

30 at 30 List #11: Annual Events

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I have lived my entire life in Erie, Pennsylvania. In Erie, our summers are full of blissful, Presque Isle postcard-ready sunsets and free, live, outdoor music. Our winters are full of soul-crushing combinations of snow and cold that we begrudgingly accept and even embrace. As a community, we roll our collective eyes as other areas of the country declare “a state of emergency” for one day of bad weather that we endure for months at a time.

Last week, as Erie enjoyed its first stretch of above-freezing temperatures in 2015, I couldn’t help but smile at the melting snow and ice all around me, especially the thick layer of arctic refuge that had engulfed my driveway since shortly after Christmas. It was a subtle reminder that spring was coming, and that even if Erie’s snowfall total isn’t yet finished for this season (we know better than that), brighter days lie ahead. Living in a four-seasons state has its perks. Even if sometimes the seasons feel less like winter/spring/summer/fall and more like winter/post-winter/summer/pre-winter, there is a comfort in the cyclical nature of the seasons.

I am a creature of habit. In addition to living my whole life in Erie, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life as a student and/or teacher, which means my personal/professional life has been shaped year-by-year by the academic calendar. Yet every year as the calendar turns to March, my mood instantly perks up, and it has nothing to do with the impending spring break. The time changes, the snow melts, and, most importantly, the madness begins.

March Madness is the ultimate annual event. From the buildup of the conference tournaments to the anticipation Selection Sunday to the frenzy of the opening weekend to the spectacle of the Final Four, March Madness has it all. Collectively, it is unrivaled. But how many of the various stages of March Madness actually rank among the top 30 on my list of favorite annual events? (Spoiler: the list is sports-heavy). Read on to find out.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #11: Annual Events

30 at 30 List #10: My Dad’s Ceramic Christmas Ornaments


In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and I have my family, especially my parents, to thank for that. My parents had four children born in a span of six years. Given that 2:1 ratio, there must have been holiday stress when I was a child, and I’m sure they could tell me stories of that nature. However, looking back at age 30, I don’t remember any of those stories. What remains is their overwhelmingly positive influence during the Christmas season.

My mom and dad were/are the king and queen of Christmas. Mom decked the halls inside while dad made sure the lights outside were always the best and brightest on the block. Mom teamed with grandma to make the world’s greatest Christmas cookies while dad played Christmas carols on the piano. And so on and so on.

I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to both of my parents for the love they showered upon me and my siblings growing up. Of course they loved us all year ’round, but they also always had a way of making Christmastime feel special. That’s why, even today as adults, my siblings anxiously await this time of year when we can all be together as a family.

Of all the Christmas traditions that I grew up with, one of the most uniquely Hubert traditions is one that is still going strong as of 2014. Each year since I was born in 1984, my dad has made me a personalized ceramic ornament. For anyone who doesn’t know, my dad is a professional ceramic artist. He has also taught ceramics at Mercyhurst University since before I was born. In the first few years of life when I was an only child, I got spoiled and my dad sometimes made more than one ornament for me. Then, after my siblings came along, the tradition became one ornament per year for each child.

As we grew up and began to have interests, we were able to give input and select what we wanted as our ornament for that year. Each year, shortly after Thanksgiving, Dad would ask us what we wanted. Some years, there was an obvious milestone worth commemorating. Other years it was simply a matter of showcasing something or someone we were a fan of at the time. After everyone submitted their ideas, Dad would begin working on the ornaments. Getting from idea to finished product is a multi-step process that includes hand-sculpting, firing, and glazing each ornament to give it a personalized touch. My dad puts hours of work into each ornament (a time period of days if not weeks during the month of December).  Then, either shortly before or on Christmas Day, the new batch of ornaments is revealed to us. At different stages of the tradition, other family members (and, later in life, our significant others) have received a Tom Hubert original, but only the four Hubert children have received one every year.

This photo was taken Dec. 7, 2008, just prior to decorating my brand new tree for the first time living in my apartment.
This photo was taken Dec. 7, 2008, just prior to decorating my brand new tree for the first time living in my apartment. A few of the ornaments pictured here would be lost 364  days later in a fire.

When I moved out of the house into my first apartment in 2008, my collection of Christmas ornaments was among the first things I packed.

Then, on Dec. 6, 2009, disaster struck. The apartment complex where I lived in Erie caught fire in the middle of the night. Fortunately no one was injured, but the damage to the building and the individual units, including mine, was substantial. Once the shock of that experience had worn off and I knew that everyone had made it out safely, my attention shifted to what was left back inside. I was saddened to think of the loss of my new leather furniture, my TVs, even my extensive CD collection, but I knew those physical possessions were replaceable. In the forefront of my mind, all I could think about were the box of handwritten letters I had from Jessie and my dad’s ornaments.

I was so grateful to receive this basket that morning. Almost every ornament was recovered.
I was so grateful to receive this basket that morning. Almost every ornament was recovered.

For obvious safety reasons, no one was allowed back into the apartment complex, even after the fire had been put out. There was no official word about if or when the tenants would be able to return to their unit to pick up the pieces and see if anything was salvageable. I just kept thinking that among that wreckage was my freshly decorated  Christmas tree and all of my treasured ceramic ornaments, and I wondered if I would ever see them again. That morning my prayers were answered when a firefighter “rescued” the ornaments from my apartment amid the soot and ash after hearing my story from my now mother-in-law.

Following the fire, I moved back home with my parents. My dad remade a few of the most notable ornaments that were unable to be recovered. The whole experience only added to the significance of the ornaments in my life. When I next moved out/moved in, it was to live with my wife Jessie. She’ll be the first to tell you that my favorite part of Christmas preparation each year is putting up the tree, specifically decorating it with the many unique ornaments he has made for me over the years.

Truth be told, each ornament has some level of special significance to me. At the very least it was meaningful enough to me at the time to represent that year for me. But I’m going to try to do the impossible and rank my top 30, keeping in mind that I have had slightly more than 30 ornaments in my 30 years since I got spoiled during the pre-sibling era of 1984-86.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #10: My Dad’s Ceramic Christmas Ornaments

30 at 30 List #9: Christmas Movies

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

The day after Thanksgiving has been overtaken by Black Friday consumer culture. And while I crazily did find myself among those early morning shoppers a few times in my younger years, I now prefer to spend the day after Thanksgiving kicking off the Christmas season.

Although I hate winter, Christmas is my favorite season of the year. I even make an exception and appreciate snowfall on December 24th and 25th (and then pray for a heatwave on the 26th). Growing up, my family had a lot of special Christmas traditions, and many of them still go on in some form today.

Every Christmas Eve features a visit to my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Rich’s house, which is highlighted by the legendary “Grab Bag.” The first step is finding the letter. The letter from Santa is addressed to the family, and Santa always gives a shoutout to each family member to prove that he’s been watching closely all year long. At the end of the letter, Santa makes reference to the Grab Bag that he hides somewhere inside or outside of the house. The kids search for the bag, and once they find it, the real fun begins.

The Grab Bag is filled with small, unique, often silly gag gifts. Uncle, plays the role of Santa’s helper, doing his jolly best to read off names in entertaining fashion as each wrapped present is handed/tossed/thrown to its recipient. By the time all is said and done, the family is laughing hysterically and usually wearing something goofy such as fake glasses, bandanas, oversized sunglasses, or matching boxers over their dress pants. After the Grab Bag portion of the evening ends, the music gets turned up, more Christmas cookies get eaten, and the gang typically heads to the basement for a pool tournament that goes on for hours. It’s zany Christmas fun, and it’s my favorite day of the year.

Another Christmas tradition that is really special to me is the yearly ornament I get from my dad. Every year since I was born my dad has made a ceramic ornament for me. (Truthfully, I think I got spoiled with more than one ornament for the first few years when I was the only child.) Once I could think for myself, my dad gave me the option to request an ornament of my choosing. From Big Bird to Hulk Hogan to Bo Jackson to Adam Duritz, I have some of the most unique Christmas ornaments you will find on any tree. Over the years, my dad has made hundreds of ornaments for my siblings and I as well as ornaments for cousins, significant others, etc.  I’m still thinking about what I want for 2014, but whatever I decide, I know it’ll be something I treasure for the rest of my life.

Clearly I have a soft spot in my heart for these and other traditions that I have grown up with. They are a huge part of what has made Christmas special for me. I know that, in time, as me and my siblings start to have to children of our own, old Christmas traditions will change or stop and new ones will be formed. I can only hope that I will be able to create such love-laden memories as my parents have for me.

Another thing that I love about Christmas are the movies. There are so many great Christmas movies, and my family seemingly has seen all of them. I typically don’t have time for the Christmas season movie marathons, but there are a few that I make a point to watch at least once every Christmas season. With that in mind, I thought, what better way to kick off the 2014 Christmas season than by putting out the list of my 30 favorite Christmas movies. I’ll admit, 30 is a big number. As many good Christmas movies as there are, I had to reach a bit for a few of the selections I included. I promise the top-10 are well worth it though. If you watch nothing else this Christmas season, check out those classics, and you’ll undoubtably be feeling the Christmas spirit. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #9: Christmas Movies

30 at 30 List #8: The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

One hour into the month of October, the Oakland Athletics’ heavily anticipated playoff run was over. It ended abruptly in the bottom of the 12th inning in Kansas City against a pesky, never-say-die, smallball playing Royals team that seemed to relish the bright lights of playoff baseball perhaps only a bit less so than their fans did, a fan base that had waited 29 years for playoff baseball to return.

The A’s dramatic fall-from-ahead (three times!) loss added another depressing chapter in the ongoing saga that is being a fan of the Billy Beane-era in Oakland. Moneyball the movie was great, but the real world A’s have proven to write a script too tragic for Hollywood. Their regular season success has been overshadowed by postseason futility. Since 2000, Oakland has now lost seven consecutive winner-take-all games, and has won just one postseason series (a 3-0 sweep of Minnesota in the 2006 ALDS) in eight appearances.

This year was supposed to be different. Oakland was a Major League best 67-42 on Aug. 1 when general manager Beane, who was well aware of the playoff struggles of years past, decided to shake things up and go all-in for a World Series run by dealing slugger Yoenis Cespedes for ace pitcher Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. Lester debuted Aug. 2, ironically against the Royals, in a game Oakland won 8-3. However, Oakland’s fortunes quickly took a turn for the worse. They watched a 4-game lead in the AL West over the Angels evaporate, finishing the season with the worst record in AL in the month of September and only clinching the second wild card spot on the final day of the season.

Lester was given the ball on the mound in an attempt to validate why they brought him in. He entered the game with a career 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, good for top-5 all-time. So when Brandon Moss went deep with a 2-run home run in the top of the first inning, many thought Oakland already had given Lester enough support for them to survive in advance. Instead, the wild card game played out, wildly, like a microcosm of the A’s season.  The A’s got off to a fast start only to squander it away in heartbreaking, devastating, typical Oakland fashion.

Lester surrendered a run in the bottom of the first and another 2 in the third, allowing the Royals to play with a lead until the sixth. Oakland’s offense awoke from a month-long drought for a 5-run sixth inning, giving Lester a 7-3 lead. Just when it seemed like Lester was finding his form, the Royals got to him in the 8th, forcing manager Bob Melvin to replace him after recording just one out in the inning. Luke Gregorson came in from the bullpen and struck out the final two batters, but not before the Royals had plated 3 to bring them within a run at 7-6.

Oakland failed to tack on an insurance run in the top of the 9th, and it proved costly as the Royals tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third, and then scored on a Nori Aoki sac fly. The Royals were terrors on the basepaths all night, seemingly bunting runners into scoring position every inning and stealing bases at will.

The A’s had one last gasp in the 12th. Pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo came through with an RBI single to score a run and give Oakland the lead for the third occasion of the evening. But KC battled back yet again in the bottom half. First, an Eric Hosmer triple off the wall. Then, Christian Colon hit an unplayable chopper down the third base line to score the tying run. With two outs, Colon then stole second, the Royals’ 7th stolen base of the night. Salvador Perez stepped to the plate against Jason Hammel. Perez was 0-5 on the night, but he delivered with a rope down the third base line, just under the mitt of Josh Donaldson. And just like that, the game, the A’s season, and (most likely) the Jon Lester era in Oakland were done.

Unfortunately, this is not my first rendezvous with sports heartbreak. The feeling has been all-too familiar in my 30 years of life. In fact, I first wrote about the topic of “the devastation game” back in 2008 following Game 4 of the NBA Finals between my Lakers and the rival Celtics. To see where the A’s collapse ranks on my all-time list, read on.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #8: The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan

30 at 30 List #7: Things I Will Remember About Rocket

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Rocket072113The final day of summer 2014 also proved to be the final day of life for my family’s pet dog, Rocket, who would have been 15 in October. Flashback to 1999. When my parents first brought him home to meet the family, I was a student in high school—today, I’m teaching it. Where does the time go?

Rocket was a part of my life for nearly half of my life. And while I haven’t lived at home with him and my parents for a few years now, my fondness and affection for him only grew as he aged.

This unexpected 30 for 30 entry is my way of grieving this loss and memorializing his life. Rocket was a good dog, and he was truly one of a kind. Read on for all that I will remember about Rocket.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #7: Things I Will Remember About Rocket

30 at 30 List #6: Things I Want to Do in My 30s

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Matt30thBday

Happy birthday to me! It’s official. I am 30 years old today. As I suggested when I began writing about the 30 at 30 project six months ago, this project will continue on after September 7th. I still have 24 lists to cover, including the final pieces of the musical artists countdown that got this whole thing started. Given my teaching schedule, it’s a likely bet that the 30 at 30 project won’t officially wrap up until sometime next summer when I’m approaching 31.

Today’s list is all about possibilities. At the dawn of a new decade of life, I’m focusing on what I’d like to do. Some are very specific; others are more general guidelines. Some will be easier to accomplish than others. There’s no guarantee that I’ll make any—let alone all of these—hopes turn into reality, but I’m going to try. Here’s to making the most of these resolutions over the years to come!

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #6: Things I Want to Do in My 30s

30 at 30 List #5: WWE Personalities

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

When people find out that I am a huge WWE fan, they generally have two reactions. Initially, they’re surprised, even shocked. Once I confirm that yes, I, the educated, well-adjusted, mild-mannered English teacher rank WWE’s Monday Night Raw second among my all-time favorite TV shows, their first question is always a variation of this: You know it’s all fake, right?

Yes, I know the outcomes of the matches are predetermined. The idea of professional wrestling as legitimate competition was something I gave up on as a toddler when my dad introduced me to the WWF (The company was originally known as The World Wrestling Federation before a dispute with The World Wildlife Fund forced them to change to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002). The problem is that everyone asking that question is missing the point entirely.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #5: WWE Personalities