Grg Lstr's linkdump and thoughts on science, family and things in the ocean that would kill you if given the opportunity.

Category: Tales from Stinkbug Manor (page 1 of 7)

Quick Reviews: The Crimes of the Crimes of Grindelwald (spoilers)

I think I want to get in the habit of cataloguing my media consumption here. I generally get just a few opportunities to view a pictures on a screen (I was going to say watch television, but that isn’t strictly true any longer)–while working out on my elliptical machine in the basement, on the weekends if I catch a movie with the kids, and falling asleep while my wife watches a show next to me.

It turns out I can fall asleep while holding up a phone or tablet so she can see it.

So, let’s kick this off with something I watched with the kids this weekend: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.  I’ve read all the Harry Potter books to the kids, with the exception of the last one. For some reason, they just didn’t want me to read The Deathly Hallows to them, and I know they’ve read every other Potter book on their own. I haven’t gotten a good reason why, but I suspect the death of Dumbledore hit them pretty hard and that they have heard noises about more death in the last book.

Collectively, the Lstr household thought the first movie was uneven but fun. Bottom line: This movie was uneven and somewhat joyless. That’s despite the fact that I enjoyed each and every actor on the screen, particularly Jude Law.


  • My daughter uttered the phrase “They are not going to kill that baby, are they?” twice during this film. And the phrase “This movie murders babies” at least once.
  • Pretty much the entire ending of the first movie was undone through unconvincing exposition. Jacob’s memory? Wasn’t wiped. The death of creepy kid? Didn’t happen. Newt’s love interest? Estranged via awkward lack of communication. I wonder if the thunderbird is back in Newt’s box somewhere.
  • Both the Ministry of Magic and Dumbledore want Newt as a their secret agent against Grindelwald because, essentially, he’s so weird and awkward that nobody would suspect he’s anything but the Magical Steve Irwin/Doctor Who mashup that he is. Did nobody else see the first movie where he exposed Grindelwald? No, I guess the first movie didn’t happen and we’re doing this who retcon thing now.
  • Speaking of the big G. How did Grindelwald become a husky-eyed fauxbino? Maybe too much polyjuice. In the Harry Potter movies he was your standard British character actor. Couldn’t JK kept with the No Americans rule?
  • Did this movie somehow take the position that Magic Nazis wanted to prevent WWII?
  • How poorly contrived and overly complicated was the switched/drowned baby story? I love Rowling’s storytelling, but she’s gotten too big for an editor. She’s crossed the Lucas horizon.
  • So, is Dumbledore’s long lost, previously-never mentioned brother now the anti-Potter?

Tales from Stinkbug Manor: Just Like That Softball is Over

I never really wanted to coach softball. My baseball experience petered out toward the end of 8th grade, with the end of little league and the fading appeal of stickball games in the cul-de-sac on Grace Lane.

I present to you the JYA Freaks In Cleats 2018 team, assembled for the last time together in uniform

But then my daughter began T-ball in Kindergarten, grudgingly, and the team’s volunteer coached made no small noise about being voluntold for the position by his wife. So, not to beat my chest too much–this isn’t what this post is about–I stepped up.  I gave him a hand. And, the next year, I when J was still too young for machine pitch, I volunteered again. Fearing I topped out what I had to offer these kids, I didn’t offer to be head coach of J’s machine pitch team.  (This becomes a recurring theme through the years–I’m going to write a book entitled How to Succeed in Coaching Children through the Peter Principle.) Of course, I ended up being an assistant coach.

By the time J was aged into to the minors in 4th grade, I was drafted into the organization’s board to be groomed for commissioner, a position that I deftly sidestepped. Instead, I ended up helping coach my son’s team when another parent volunteer dropped out.  The next summer, I was the softball minors coach and I had to reconstitute the team–begging kids and parents at times to sign up.  Jenkintown has a problem keeping girls in softball. The high school doesn’t field a team, so the little league players all end up in other summer sports, like lacrosse. It didn’t help that the last coach was a bit of a hot head. So, I had to convince kids to play. There is no shame in admitting that I just don’t know the mechanics of pitching, so I found a few other dads to fill in the gaps in my ability.

It was a good team, and we had a decent season that year, which I entirely owe to Dave and Matt.

For the last two years, I’ve been Anthony’s assistant coach along with Matt. Anthony is a great guy and knows the rules of the game better than anyone I’ve met. He coaches with a sense for sportsmanship and the stern glares of a man who teaches high school science for a living, which he does. He loathed bushleague behavior like proud Americans once loathed the Commies.  (Not fond of either bushleaguers or Commies, myself.) Practicing twice a week with the kids. Dragging my daughter out of the house to make it on  time. Getting our butts kicked by teams two thirds comprised of travel players. It has been a good two years and now, as of this past Friday’s playoff game, it is over.

I’ll have my memories, but I can’t help get a little nostalgic. Some manly tears will be shed. My proudest moment is still watching J catch the first fly ball from the first at bat of the season. I remember each at bat from the first base coach’s spot. Not just J, but all the girls. More or less the same crew since Kindergarten.

J’s happy to be done with it.  She loved the game, but never enough to see the point in really working for it. It was fun. She practiced bench cheers more than throwing, and never really understood why she didn’t play second. .  Our girls had spirit, for sure, but never the skills like we acquired playing after school every day. A combination of too many activities and not enough greenspace in our quirky little town to compete for a playing spot, I suppose. For them, softball just became a thing to do until it stopped. None of our girls play on travel teams. It just doesn’t happen.

Coaching isn’t over. There’s B’s soccer team–another sport whose requirements by 4th grade have already surpassed my skills and experience. I was head coach last year, which was fine, but now we have a new team and I’ll end up being assistant, which is also fine. Still, I’ll miss softball. The cheers. The chatter on the field.  Anthony’s frustration. Matt’s pep talks (“youse guys gotta get your heads outta your butts”).

I never really wanted to coach softball, but then I did.


Tales from Stinkbug Manor: It Ain’t a Sprint

B. is fast. J. is too, but B. has the running bug. If he keeps up with it, he can be really good. He doesn’t like the short runs, but events like the 1600 make him happy. He can strategize and plot. The distance gives him room to adapt to the other runners.

That goes with everything, unfortunately. Soccer. Guitar. Trumpet. School. Everything he likes to do comes somewhat easy to him. That’s what worries me.

J., however, is a struggler. She overthinks stuff. She has to work at things and doesn’t always want to. That worries me too.

I never really liked to write about the kids too much here–I like to respect their privacy–but this is about me. I really struggle with finding ways to encourage them even when the payoff is a long time away.  And that’s the hard life lesson for everyone–time has a way of moving forward, and incremental progress has a similar way of accumulating results. I’ve had my ukulele 13 years. Not a coincidence that my oldest turned 13 this year.  A little plucking once a day could have led to something, much the same way that the extra cookie each day also led to something.

“You could be there by now if only you…” that level of regret and admonishment are starting to creep into how I speak to my kids, and I need to quit it. The same way I think about it myself. All the things I didn’t get to do 15 years ago made possible the things I have now every bit as the things I did do, if that makes sense. Sure, I could have retired by 40 if we had saved 80% of our income, but then we probably we wouldn’t have chosen kids. We should have bought a bigger house at the outset, but then the recent series of property tax increases would have driven us out of the town we like. I could have written that book or played that uke, but I still can. Incrementally. A bit at a time.

This was a good weekend. It is finally warm. The kids birthdays have come and gone, and so have the associated sleepovers. The missus and I are groggy, but Tonka is still mellow and the house still stands.

Next comes spring cleaning and the great big resetting of things.

No Rest for the Weary

Despite whining his way through the hike, the Boy found endless creek energy…just when the rest of us wanted to get back to the car.

I’m in the mood to blog again, and it has been a long time since I’ve given an update. Of course, this being a whim, it’ll be a short post.

Let’s see…about three years ago, I left the warm embrace of the nonprofit world to join the world’s largest defense contractor. I went from writing about targeted therapeutics to…targets. So, I’m not quite a science writer any longer, except for what I do on the side or for my own personal enjoyment. It took a bit of getting used to, and I’ll never feel quite as “corporate” as some of my colleagues. The pay, of course, is a bit better, but so is the sense of accountability–from my communications colleagues as well as everyone else.

Hmmm. How can I explain it to my friends working in the academic research world…if you’ve ever felt like nothing changes; like the needle rarely moves. Now, things change all the time. I still work with scientists and engineers, but now I feel like their results are a bit more real, as it were. Probably because I can actually see the results in action.

Also, while I’m still personally invested in my work, I’m no longer emotionally invested, which is actually quite freeing. I feel better about taking time off. I feel fine with working from home when I can (which is not nearly as often as my kids would like).

So, there’s that. On the homefront, things are going well. Stinkbug Manor still stands as the focal point of Lstrlnd. I finally built a fence to cover the ugly chain link on the school border. The backyard feels like an actual place…I still feel like we don’t use it enough.

The kids are great. Boy and Girl are 9 and 12, respectively. They present their challenges, but have yet to turn to evil. Even the 12 year-old, on the cusp of teenhood, is genuinely sweet…with mood swings. The boy is all energy and gusto.

We are in a small midsummer lull. Girl did her first week away at camp about a fortnight ago. She did shockingly well.  I went with the Boy to Cub Scout camp again, on the tail end of the Girl’s trip. He’s a Webelos Scout now. Not quite as independent as I’d like (he was grateful to hear that we weren’t doing the Webelos-only sleepover during camp–where the Scouts go off for a night of extra-roughing it away from camp).  We tried out a new place this year, as our local Council’s new camp arrangements screwed us out of our favored week. The new place felt a bit smaller–and the counselors a bit less experienced–but it was still nice.

As is tradition, the weather was crummy the first two days before a night of torrential rain led to a glorious spate of cool, sunny days. As is tradition, I barely slept the entire trip. Despite his crankiness about staying in a tent with a bunkmate (not me), the Boy did me proud by jumping into all the activities enthusiastically, without the peevish cynicism of some of his peers. Much pride.

We followed up camp with a family trip to the Jersey shore. Each year, we tell my parents we’re not making it down to the home they’re renting for a week in Sea Isle. Each year, we cave and go for a bit. Our big trip is coming later in August, so I decided to save vacation time and commuted between Sea Isle and my new gig in Cherry Hill, NJ.  That’s about an hour and a half ride, for anyone keeping score. I took the Thursday off, but it was still exhausting. It is amazing how quickly children come to love tradition. The second half of any beach week involves a trip to Gillian’s in Ocean City, which is where the new header originates. Girl was deeply disappointed that the Swinger was missing, which was a big ornate affair much like the carousel, which we didn’t ride this year either. Boy went three times in the Gravitron variant (the Alien Abduction, which makes sense because these things are very flying saucer-y) and he apparently hit his limit. Didn’t puke, though. Much pride.

So, this past weekend, we chilled. Except for a brief trip yesterday to Washington’s Crossing. We crossed the river to the Jersey side and hiked a bit through the woods and down the canal path. The picture at the top is everyone poking at minnows in Steel Run creek.

The 10,000 Names of Tonka


A dog this great doesn’t have but one name. He came with a nom de pup of Tonka, one of a litter of “T” names they thought would make him more adoptable, as if he needed help.

Allow me to share some of the extra names he has acquired around Stinkbug Manor.

Tonkey Tonks (walkie walks for Tonkey Tonks)
Baby nummies

More to come…

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