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So, last night — actually, very early this morning — I was delivered my annual dose of disappointment in the form of the Chicago Cubs’ final loss of the season.

It always happens: The Cubs always lose their last game of the postseason because, as we all know, the Cubs never win the World Series (100 years and counting, now) … and only the team that manages to do that ever wins its last game. When it comes to the postseason, anyway.

Bah, humbug!

And the day started out so promisingly (is that even a word?) …

Tennis at 10 a.m., and though I didn’t play particularly well — I had getting-it-over-the-net and keeping-it-on-the-court issues, combined with my usual not-moving-my-feet issues (my serve was coming in pretty good, though!) — playing tennis with this particular foursome (Diane, Amy, Sarah and me) is always fun. And the weather was PERFECT: I told myself (and maybe the others? I cannot recall) that it was the kind of day that made you feel like you wanted to go outside and do everything.

(Looks like today might be another one of those days. Durn those Cubs for keeping me up so late and leaving me bleary-eyed this a.m.!)

After tennis, a swing by the ATM and Taco Hell for some crunchy tacos and a Pepsi, then home to get cleaned up. I had a couple of hours before Diane, Cindy and I would be heading out for dinner and a movie (not necessarily in that order), so I thought, how about a drive to the lake to check out the fall colors? (They’re not quite there just yet, but in a few days, they just might be spectacular!)

We went to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which I must give an enthusiastic two thumbs — er, perhaps two paws! — up.

I knew I’d get roped into seeing this movie as soon as I saw the first preview, in no small part because of the fact that the dearly departed Chico was, indeed, a Chihuahua. I had about the same level of excitement regarding this movie as I’d had about Live Free or Die Hard, whenever that was (last summer? this summer? I’m having total brain fog at the moment; I think it was last summer), and, wouldn’t you know it, once again I was very pleasantly surprised. And entertained: No deep thinking involved, just a simple plot, cute doggies and lots of laughs — and I’ll even admit, I got a little teary-eyed in a couple of places.

Dinner at 17th Street Bar & Grill was not the greatest, primarily because I deviated from my usual pork BBQ sandwich and opted for the pulled chicken. BIG mistake: The chicken was dry, and not even extra sauce or spice rub could render it edible. Fortunately, the baked beans (almost every kind of bean you can think of, with a sweet, sassy sauce!) and the potato salad (I swear there’s some form of ranch dressing in there!) were tasty, as usual, so I managed to fill up on those.

Back in town, I went out to the high school to see the Best of the Beatles: The Pete Best Band performing. Starring — you know — Pete Best: The Beatles’ original drummer. The guy who got fired and was replaced by Ringo Starr. The guy House mentioned on last week’s episode of House, M.D. when he and his assistants were doing differential diagnonsense (that’s a Girl, Interrupted reference for those of you who aren’t paying close attention!).

Can you imagine being young and in a band with all your “mates” (isn’t that what they’re called in England?) and being told you’re not good enough — and then having the band become the phenomenon known as the Beatles? Arguably the best, most popular band ever? (I’m torn on whether they were or not; perhaps this will stir some lively debate for the “Comments” section of my bloggie?)

Anyhoo, apparently, Pete Best is actually the second Beatle ever to visit Benton. George Harrison visited his sister, Louise, who resided here, during the 1960s. Unbelievable!

To be quite honest, the show was pretty good. The Pete Best Band did a nice job with its own music and, of course, some Beatles tunes, including my favorite, “P.S. I Love You” — which surprised me so much that they were halfway through it before I realized, hey, they’re playing my favorite Beatles song, and started singing along:

As I write this letter (o-oh)
Send my love to you (you know I want you to)
Remember that I’ll always (yeah-ah)
Be in love with you …

I didn’t stay for the whole show, so I’m not sure if they got around to playing my close-second-favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” … but I did get to hear a guy playing that song on an acoustic guitar a couple of weeks ago when a busload of senior citizens came to town for the day, so I’m actually quite good on live Beatles covers, thank you.

I left the concert just in time to hit the couch early in the Cubs-Dodgers game.

Sadly, I probably shouldn’t have bothered because, much like their first two games against LA, the Cubs just didn’t have it. In no small part because the Dodgers played so well, but mostly because the Cubs really weren’t in the game.

Heck, let’s be honest: They really weren’t in the entire series.

Still, they had a great “regular” season, winning 97 games, including both the games I got to see in person. A bitter ending, true, as their postseason losing streak reached nine games (counting last season’s sweep by Arizona and dating back to the NLCS debacle in 2003 … but even that postseason wasn’t a total loss because I got to watch two of those National League Championship Series games on a big-screen TV alongside some of my favorite pals from college in the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas), but I still say having a competitive team to watch throughout the summer is worth going through the inevitable heartache when the Cubs actually do make it into the playoffs.

On that note, how about a couple of photos from the concert?

Not sure who that guy in the dark suit is, but he caught my eye from across the gymnasium because he was doing this sort of slide-step dance to every song performed by the Pete Best Band.

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Just watched this guy (Roger Federer) win the U.S. Open men’s singles championship:

I have to admit, I was hoping he’d be playing the final against this guy (Rafael Nadal):

Although, admittedly, if Fed and Rafa had been playing each other for the title, I probably would’ve been pulling for Nadal. As it was, I like Andy Murray OK, but nowhere near as much as Roger and Rafa, so that made watching the final relatively stress-free. Especially once Fed took control of the match in the first set.

By the way, both of those photos were taken by me on Aug. 29 and 30, from the south end of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows (or is it “Meadow”?). Our actual seats were up in the nosebleed section — which, actually, isn’t that bad, but somehow, we never actually made it all the way up to our actual seats because we kept finding empty ones in the section below, and no one ever made us leave them.

Anyhoo, now the 2008 U.S. Open is officially over, and after that fortnight and my two-week Beijing Olympics binge, I have to admit I’m all sportsed-out for the moment. Which is ironic because the Cubs are still (amazingly) in the lead in the National League Central (but in the midst of losing, what, six of their last seven games? and seven of their last 10?), and I should be all fired up about what’s left of the baseball season — especially considering the Cubs start a three-game series in St. Louis on Tuesday — but right now, I’m in la-la land.

Which ain’t surprising, for a Monday.

More later on the whole NY trip, perhaps …

Jim Edmonds takes a curtain call after hitting his second home run against the Cardinals in the Cubs’ 3-2 win in 11 innings Friday at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)

This was my favorite moment of the game. Followed closely by Jimmy’s first home run of the game and his diving catch in center field. Followed by Alfonso Soriano’s throwout of Joe Mather at home plate. Followed by the Cubs getting out Cesar Izturus on a suicide squeeze attempt. Followed by an 0-for-13 showing by Ryan Ludwick, Troy Glaus and Yadier Molina. Followed by Jeff Samardzija’s throwout of Albert Pujols attempting to steal second in the top of the 11th. Followed by Henry Blanco’s no-out, bases-loaded, game-winning  liner past short in the bottom of the 11th.

Don’t get me wrong: I actually do enjoy watching the Cardinals, and I’ll admit I root for them when they’re not playing the Cubs. And when they’re not threatening the Cubs’ lead in the NL Central. (And it’s not JUST because The Lovely is a Cards fan.)

Anyone who knows me (well or even casually) knows that sports have been a significant and much-enjoyed part of my life.

I grew up playing all kinds of sports at school with my boy friends — ironically, I never cared all that much for girls back then — and in the neighborhood. I played on the high school tennis team (and basketball team … briefly), and even entertained thoughts of attempting to walk on to the EIU tennis team. I have continued to play tennis, competitively, “as an adult”; in fact, just last weekend, Diane and I won the doubles championship of the Benton Summer Classic. (Hey, I realize it ain’t Wimbledon, but it was our first title since Diane returned from knee replacement surgery in October 2006, so in our little world, it was pretty amazing. And it felt great!)

Anyhoo, 17 years of my professional career were spent as sports editor at a small daily newspaper. It was a job that had its share of ups and downs, and it was one that I did not give up all that willingly. I have gotten to the point that I don’t miss covering high school sports on an almost-daily basis, but there are times when I miss doing what I did because I know I was very good at it.

I don’t dwell on those times, however, because life moves on. In fact, there are moments — and sometimes weeks, actually! — when I don’t think about sports at all, really, except maybe when I’m out there on the tennis court, and even then, it’s not so much “thinking about sports” as it is “trying to keep the ball on the court” — a simple strategy, it would seem, but in reality: It’s one of the secrets to success in the game.

There are other times, though, when my world revolves around sports: A good portion of the Major League Baseball season, especially when the Chicago Cubs and/or the St. Louis Cardinals are in contention (the Cubs, of course, are my heart’s favorite, but the Cards have become a tolerable team because of their proximity AND the fact that Diane loves them … and they tend to play an exciting style of baseball), and any time a Grand Slam tennis tournament (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open) is going on.

Especially Wimbledon, which is, was and always will be my favorite tournament. Make that my favorite sporting event in the world. From back in the day when Debra and I pretended to be Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King or Evonne Goolagong when we were playing badminton in the front yard. (Hey, I know Wimbledon is played on a grass court, but have you ever actually tried to play tennis on actual grass, in an actual yard, filled with actual bumps and holes and dirt clods and twigs and roots and stuff? Believe me, badminton is MUCH more realistic because the birdie doesn’t hit the ground except to end a point … and, besides, we eventally discovered that Chestnut Street was adequate for playing tennis!)

And also from back when I watched John “Superbrat” McEnroe lose to Bjorn Borg in the 1980 men’s championship match. I went into the match pulling for Borg, found myself rooting for McEnroe at various times throughout and ended up, when it was all over, wishing that somehow, some way, both men could have won. (McEnroe, of course, did win the Wimbledon title the next year against Borg, and went on to beat him a second straight time in the U.S. Open final, and not long after that, Borg retired from the game.)

I missed most of last year’s Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and defending champion Roger Federer because I was under the influence of Benadryl for most of the match and simply could not keep my eyes open.

This year, however, I had everything perfectly arranged for the day to include a sports doubleheader of sorts: 8 a.m. to noonish — Watch Roger Federer (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2) on NBC; 1:30 p.m. — Drive to Busch Stadium in St. Louis; 2:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. or so — Watch the Chicago Cubs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.

We stayed at Karl’s house Saturday night, mostly so we could play with the grandkids but also because they reside 90 minutes closer to St. Louie than we do, so we could watch the match and then go to the game — instead of having to leave the match way early.

Everything went according to plan, as far as getting up, taking a shower, getting dressed, having my “breakfast at Wimbledon” — Karl made waffles, YUM! — and settling in for the tennis match — to be viewed in HD on Karl’s 60-something-inch TV screen.

Unfortunately: Rain delay at Wimbledon! Only for 20 minutes or so, thankfully, so before we knew it, the match was under way.

Diane and I were both rooting for Rafa … although I admit I have always admired Fed, so, to be honest, after Rafa went up two sets to love, I was pulling for Roger to make it a match (I couldn’t help noticing Diane was rooting for Fed at certain points in the match, too).

Third set: Another rain delay — by which point I was starting to wonder whether the match would finish before it was time to head to the game! Federer managed to win the third set, and despite having two championship points against him in the fourth, he pulled out that tiebreaker, too, to level the match at two sets apiece, right around 1:30 p.m. — the time we were supposed to be leaving for the ballpark!

“We can stay and watch a few more games,” said Diane, who was every bit as caught up in the match as I was.

We watched Rafa and Fed play to 2-2, 30-all in the fifth set, and then: Another rain delay!

“It’s almost 8 o’clock their time,” Diane said. “Surely they won’t be able to finish the match today.”

We grabbed our stuff and got in the car and headed to Busch, convinced that the match would be suspended until Monday morning (afternoon, London time); still, just to be safe, I called Tee-Hee and instructed her to call me if the match did resume. Diane and I talked about the match all the way to St. Louis, where we found a parking garage right across the street from the ballpark and arrived at the game just as the first inning was ending.

While we were still searching for our seats, the Cubs scored a run, somehow (I couldn’t see the field as we were making our way to the Casino Queen Party Porch). We finally settled in, ate our ballpark food (a hot dog for me, supreme nachos for Diane) and began watching the game.

Then came a text message from Teresa: “5-4 Fed in the 5th set.”

The match HAD resumed! So, suddenly, I’m sitting in a pretty good seat at Busch Stadium, watching a great game — by now, the Cubs are up 2-0 — and I’m keeping tabs on a great match at Wimbledon, thanks to texts from Tee-Hee: “5 all,” “6-5 Fed. Can u say tie break? Cubs still winning?” “Oops! There is no tie in the 5th set!” “Tied @ 7.”

Then Christopher gets in on the action (it’s only fitting, since I was glued to the set two or three weeks ago watching Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open Golf Championships): “I think Roger is done … this final has been great!” “This match is insane!” and then: “We have a changing of the guard at the All England Club.”

And another from Tee-Hee: “Rafa wins!!”

Yes, Nadal ended Federer’s reign at Wimbledon — five straight championships! — with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 victory.

All Diane could do was smile when I told her. I felt a twinge of regret over not seeing the action “live,” but I knew we’d be home in a few short hours and then I could watch (and rewatch and rewatch and rewatch) the highlights. And, of course, I can see the entire match tonight on ESPN Classic (6 p.m. Central, for those of you keeping score at home)!

Meanwhile, back at the ballgame: The Cubs have extended their lead, and shortly after we finish our Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (butter pecan for The Lovely, chocolate fudge brownie for moi), Diane announces that she’s pretty much done with the game (Cubs were up 5-1 or 6-1 at that point; who’s counting?). I always like to leave the ballpark when the Cubs are WINNING … you know, just in case disaster strikes (as it had the day before when they blew a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth).

All in all, one of the best sports days ever in my little world! In fact, the only drawback was not getting to see Jim Edmonds play for my beloved Cubbies; however, it was cool enough to be able to see (and hear) a couple of interviews with him prior to Friday’s televised game, during which he received a standing ovation from Cubs AND true Cardinals fans.

Sadly, Jimmy went 0-for-7 against his former team with four strikeouts and three runners left on base. He did draw a walk in the second game of the series but was thrown out at the plate for a run that would have given the Cubs a 5-2 lead (they eventually lost the game 5-4). However, the Cubs DID win the series, 2-1, so all is right the world, still … for the moment.

Anyhoo, here are some photos from left field from Sunday’s game:

Albert Pujols Bats

Albert Pujols Follows Through

Albert Pujols is, in my opinion, the best player in baseball. He hit his 300th MLB career home run Friday night. Fortunately, this “hit” was actually a foul ball; I believe Albert flied out later in the this at-bat.

Cubs on Base

Cubs on Base

Reed Johnson (9) and Ryan Theriot lead off first and second while first baseman Albert Pujols, second baseman Brendan Ryan and shortstop Cesar Izturis (3) wait for the pitch.

Aramis Bats

Aramis Ramirez Delivers

Aramis Ramirez (16) drills an RBI single in the third inning to score Reed Johnson. Ramirez had three RBIs in the game (he now leads the Cubs with 60), doubled and scored on Mark DeRosa’s single in the first inning (so THAT’S how the Cubbies took their early lead!), and had sacrifice flies in the fifth and ninth innings. Not a bad day at the plate!

OK: Time for me to get outside!

Do you ever forget what year it is? Right then, right when you’re right in the middle of it?

Ever feel like, right when you weren’t looking, someone pushed the Pause button on your life, and there you were, stuck?

Neither one of those “feelings” accurately describes what I have been feeling lately — and by “lately,” I mean, “oh, for the last three or four months (or longer)” — but, somehow, they both seem to apply. Mix in the fact that the change of seasons has already occurred (can’t you just feel the days getting shorter and shorter?) and the knowledge that winter is just around the corner (I’m sorry, Jane and Deb and everyone else with a disdain for cold weather, but it’s true!), and there you have it — and by “it” I mean “me.”

(It is all about me, still … right?!)

So, here I am, stuck in my lil’ time warp, convinced that, in the midst of it all, every once in a while, I am also experiencing something painfully similar to what my mother– and other mothers before her, and women in general long before (and after) all of them, and so on and etc., into infinity, more or less — would possibly refer to as a hot flash.

And I’m only 42.

Although, the other day (maybe yesterday?), I got to thinking about turning 43. And so far, my years as a fortysomething have never bothered me, but suddenly I was struck (stricken?) by the notion that, suddenly, 43 sounded very old. I mean, although I wouldn’t want to wish any of the years of my life away, there’s something that sounds so much better about 44 — mostly the fact that it’s a multiple of 11 — than 43.

I don’t know. I’m kinda cranky. Could be because I’m still dealing with my sinuses/allergies and my mostly screwed-up sleep patterns thanks to the congestion and the Benadryl or NyQuil or Claritin-wannabe that I’ve taken over the past two weeks. (No, I haven’t mixed or over-indulged in the medications, and I’m pretty sure I’m not dependent on any of them.) Meanwhile, I developed my mid-winter cough last week, about three months early, but I’m happy to report that it seems to be fading.

In fact, all in all, I’m happy overall … just a little out of it, I guess.

Other than that, what’s been going on?

Well, for starters, I’m looking quite forward to watching the Cubs play Arizona in the National League Division Series starting on Wednesday. Karl and I both attempted to get tickets — both of us spending 45 minutes or so in Virtual Waiting Rooms at our respective computers, hoping to get logged into the system — but we were denied. If I wanted to pony-up a couple hundred bucks, I could probably go on eBay or StubHub and get a seat for Saturday’s Game 3, which will be played at Wrigley Field, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t bear the idea of spending the weekend “on the road” (See? I told you I’ve been feeling old!) … especially when the idea of watching the game from the comfort of my couch or, better yet, viewing it on the 48-incher, sounds much more appealing.

I realize that not everyone likes baseball, but if you happen to be feeling the least bit ambivalent about which team to root for in the playoffs, I would encourage you to cheer for the Cubs. They could use all the positive energy we can muster because, let’s face it, 1908 was a long time ago … and, as I have become painfully aware, none of us is getting any younger!

In other medical news, I am pleased to report that Kiddle is doing amazingly well after having The Operation last week. I took her to Dr. Clark last Thursday — after needing three attempts to get her into the dreaded “pet taxi,” the final try leaving me with scratches all over my right forearm and a gash in my left palm — promptly at 7:30 a.m. The vet had originally said she would be ready to come home at 12:30 p.m. that day, but when we told him we also wanted to get her wormed and vaccinated, he told us he’d keep her there overnight.

Kiddle emitted a couple of mournful “meows” on the way there, but otherwise didn’t seem too upset. I picked her up at 9:30 a.m. the next day.

Diane had told me, going in, that Kiddle “might not like you anymore!” after I had crammed her into the carrier and taken her to the vet’s office (seems Patches turned against Kurt a few years back when he caught her, put her in a box and took her to the vet’s office to be treated for what turned out to be a sinus infection). However, not long after I had set the carrier on the ground and Kiddle had sprinted out of it, sure enough, she started rubbing against my legs like before.

My kitty still loves me!

(I’m supposed to take her back in a couple of weeks to have her stitches removed. We’ll see how much she loves me after that.)

In photography news, I’ve been shooting away, occasionally, but have been slacking about posting. Believe it or not, I’m still trying to get organized in ordering prints of photos from the past year or so (that’s sort of where my confusion over what year it is comes about) and am making a genuine effort to, at the very least, get some of my favorites into albums or frames.

Meanwhile, here are a few shots from the day I saw Peter Tork. I was en route to the tennis tournament later that afternoon, but a light rain was falling, so I figured the tournament was still in a weather delay. I swung by a road on the west edge of town where, the previous night, I had found some sunflowers. While I was shooting, my phone rang; it was Diane, asking me where I was (because, apparently, it wasn’t raining at the tennis courts and our match was getting ready to start) and what I was doing. I told her I was taking pictures of sunflowers, and she seemed neither impressed nor convinced that that was a very good reason to be late for a tennis match.

I, on the other hand, thought it was a perfectly understandable reason — and I’m pretty sure at least a few of you agree!

No Trespassing

3 Sunflowers

Red Ant

Weekend before last, we — Diane, Karl, Sherry, the kids and I — are all sitting around at Diane’s, watching Roger Federer play Novak Djokovic for the U.S. Open championship and the Chicago Bears play the San Diego Chargers on the split-screen. Actually, Diane and the grandkidlets are out in the kitchen, coloring and what-not around the new Spider-Man table.

A few minutes later, Kameron comes running into the living room and yells, “Go, Cubbies!”

Confusion ensues, for Diane, Karl, Sherry AND the kids (for all we know) are fans of the St. Louis Cardinals. I, of course, am the lone Cubs fan in the group. (Kurt likes them, too, but he’s way down in Loosiana.)

“What’s that?” I ask Kameron.

“Go, Cubbies!” he yells again and then scampers back to the kitchen.

“Who taught him that?” I ask — convinced that one of the adults did so, simply to taunt me.

They all deny it, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that none of them would EVER do or say anything that could even remotely be considered in favor of the Cubs.

Apparently, Kam has come up with this gem on his own! And he is all too happy to repeat himself, several times, whilst I capture it all on cell-phone video.

The next morning, Karl and I are in the car at 7 a.m., heading to Wrigley Field in Chicago where we are going to watch the Cardinals play the Cubs in a game that was postponed a few weeks ago because of rain. (Note to self: Driving to Chicago and back, all in one day, is a road trip you never want to take … especially when the drive home includes constant rain from just outside the city clear down to Troy!)

Although the city itself, as usual, is great fun. We spend 45 minutes at Niketown on Michigan Avenue, then tool over to Arturo’s for nacho chips and tacos for lunch. Less than an hour later, we’re cruising toward Clark, parking about five blocks from Wrigley and then walking to the historic stadium.

Along the way, I see a cute doggie:

How much is that doggie ON the window?

Before long, we’re at the ballpark, and I make Karl snap a picture of me in front of a very recognizable landmark (and, no, I don’t mean McDonald’s!).

Di at Wrigley Field

Once we’re inside, I see one of my favorite Cubs players, shortstop Ryan Theriot, warming up on the sidelines.

The Riot Throwing

The Riot on Deck

Yeah, OK, it’s pronounced “terry-oh,” but isn’t that a cool last name: THE RIOT?!

We’ve got awesome seats, too, so I shoot some action shots during the course of the Cubs’ 12-3 rout of their arch-rivals — including Jacque Jones getting a base hit, and three of my faves (Derrek Lee, David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds).

Jacque Jones Hit

Lee-Eckstein-Edmonds

It rains a little during the game, but thanks to my scorecard serving as sort of a windshield/rain deflector, my clothes AND my camera stay dry.

Two of my favorite parts of the game — aside from the Cubs’ five-run fourth inning — are the women serving as gatekeepers/bouncers for the row in front of us. People try, hard as they can, to get to their seats by walking down the row, but NOTHING gets past these old women, who make them go back up and around and back down! (It’s not all hard work; they also get to take part in the traditional “Y-M-C-A” performance.)

Directing Traffic

Y-M-C-A!

And this sign makes me chuckle:

Foul Balls

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