12.30.2006

Vacation, Day No. 1

Vacation is good.

Awake at 8 this morning, I started my first day away from work by retrieving my morning paper and was stunned to see the bold front page headline proclaiming “Saddam is dead.” … I mean, I was well aware of his death sentence, but I’d been paying little attention to the national news scene the last few days and had no clue his hanging would come so soon. So here it is, Saddam is dead; talk about anti-climatic … I left Kates to continue sleeping and went downstairs to flip on the “Today Show” for all the latest …

… By 10:30, Kates was up and we caught a quick breakfast at the swanky, new McDonald’s a few blocks from our house. There, too, a big screen TV on the wall was tuned to CNN and talking heads were discussing Saddam’s death, and a Chicago Tribune left on the table next to us also proclaimed the news in a large, bold headline. And later, the focus turned to the funeral plans for President Ford

Ah, the news of the day.

From there, we set out for a day of shopping, taking advantage of the post-holiday deals. Though, taking advantage is an understatement. The stores were nearly giving their stuff away … We were getting 40 percent off sweaters, quality dress shirts and pants off clearance racks. I got 40 percent off a classy pair of shoes and a coat marked 70 percent down from $170.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun shopping. And when it was over, Kates and I had spent nearly five hours at the scene of our crimes …

We took a dinner break, trying out the new Qdoba in town (not much different from a Chipotle, and just as tasty …), and got started on the next mission -- to select a new sink for our illustrious bathroom. We stopped first at Lowe’s and took a liking to a rectangular Kohler sink and a smaller, oval-shaped Carlton sink. Then, after a comparison check at Home Depot, we were back at Lowe’s buying the oval-shaped sink. I guess you could say our long-awaited bathroom renovation has begun …

And after all that, we’re still not calling it a night. We’re off to a party …

Yep. Vacation is good.

12.29.2006

Movie night!

... Let the vacation-week-movie-watching begin!

... First up. "Mean Girls."

Like OMIGOD!!! It was soooo HA-larious!

Seriously. That was some of the most fun I've had watching a movie in a long time.

Superb cast. Great characters. A hilarious take on the urban legends and stereotypes of high school life; it was like an-amped up "10 Things I Hate About You."

I have to admit, seeing this movie was hardly at the top of my list (that's evident by the fact I saw it more than two years after it came out...), mostly because I saw it as another dumbed-down teenie-bopper flick and it starred Lindsay Lohan ... But Lohan is suprisingly good in the movie (after all, I really liked her during more innocent times in "The Parent Trap" and "Freaky Friday," too ...), and the narration of her inner thoughts helps create some of the best moments of the film ...

On top of that, Ana Gasteyer and Neil Flynn (as Cady's parents), Rachel McAdams and the rest of the crazed plastics, and Lizzy Caplan (as Cady's friend Janis ... and good ol Kat from The Class, Woo hoo!) are all perfect for their roles ...

Then you bring in the SNL backgrounds of Tina Fey (not to mention her writing genius), Tim Meadows and Amy Poehler as the cool mom -- well, that's the icing on the cake.

Great movie.

* * *

We caught a little bit of "Raising Helen" on TV during the intermission (another great movie with a stellar, fun cast! ... highly recommended family film!). It was hard to turn it off, but we had to move on ...

... Next up "Mr. 3000."

Now I know this movie got horrible reviews. But the fact it's a baseball movie about the Milwaukee Brewers and it's filming at Miller Park was a big story around these parts wasn't going to stop me ...

Bernie Mac of course plays the aging selfish baseball star, Stan Ross, who blind-sides his team by announcing his retirement on the day he reaches the 3,000 hits milestone. But when statisticians find an error that shows he actually finished his career three hits short of 3,000, he makes a comical return to the major leagues in pursuit of those three hits ...

There's a cutesy love story between Stan and an ESPN reporter who's covering his pursuit. There's the owner who lures Stan back to the bigs to increase the team's poor attendance. And the young star of the team who mirrors a younger Stan Ross. ... then as usual, they all come together in the end for a happily-ever-after conclusion ...

Though many of the jokes fall flat, some of the best parts of the movie are the interplay by the hapless team in the clubhouse and dugout. Plus, one of the famous Brewers sausage mascots is often seen lingering in the stadium tunnel and taunting Stan, which also makes for a couple good moments ... and for a guy who regularly sees games at Miller Park and watches teh Brewers on TV, the stadium shots and faux television spots are dead-on in recreating the moods and culture that goes with seeing a game at the park.

A worthy watch.

Chillin'

... I'm on vacation!

... I was off from work for Christmas Day, but had to go back in for the four-day week. Worked on some designs. Did some editing. Wrote a bit ...

... And at 3 o' clock this afternoon, I said see ya next year and left the building for a much-anticipated, much-needed one-week vacation.

Kates and I have nothing special planned for the week, but I'm looking forward to sleeping late, watching lots of movies, doing some work around the house, some shopping, maybe a day-trip to Chicago and catching up on some personal work ...

(happy sigh)

Being on vacation feels good.

* * *

... So I'm on an ABBA kick now.

Over the last couple days I've been watching bits and pieces of the "ABBA: Super Troupers" documentary I DVR'd from PBS last weekend, and I finished watching it after work today...

Say what you will about their cheese factor, but they're just one of those groups -- you can't deny theeir successes. Their complex melodies and harmonies are oh so catchy and fun to listen to, plus I'm a sucker for great female voices ...

It's reading about their histories and moments like these that I think if only groups like Abba, The Beatles or The Carpenters could reunite just once more ...

12.28.2006

Looking back at '06

Man, it's always fun to look back at old posts on this blog ...

Simply put 2006 was the best of times and it was the worst of times.

It all started barely a week into the new year when I arrived home from work one afternoon to find our house had been broken into and burglarized. The suspects busted a basement window, just outside a room where I keep some of my most treasured memorabilia. They scooped up all they could fit in a duffle bag, we guessed, before ripping our DVD player from an outlet and leaving out our front door. It still hurts ...

Rough mornings. A lost cell phone. Problems with our roof repair. Costly car repairs. A lost camera. And hassles with our lawn mower repair didn't make the year any easier. At times it seemed like the whole world was ending.

It also was the year of Dick Cheney, TomKat and Katie Couric ...

But hey, let's talk about the fun stuff ... Like the Sunday night Chinese, our anniversary weekend, the Tigers or the awe and wonder that was the blizzard of 2006.

It also was a great year for TV. We said good-bye to Will & Grace, and we were forced to say good-bye to Love Monkey, Sons & Daughters and Invasion before we even got a chance to know them ...But we also welcomed My Boys.

Kates began her sixth year of teaching fourth grade and, as I write this, she's reached the halfway mark to completing her Masters degree in reading instruction. And though things haven't always been peachy keen for her, she continues to amaze me ...

For me 2006 was the year I got to see Washington, D.C., in a way I hadn't before. I got back to playing baseball. I got to watch blind people drive racecars. I got to go kayaking on Lake Michigan. I rode my bike in a virtual marathon and still played baseball that afternoon. And I got to watch Superman on my birthday. And I made a return to St. Louis ...

And oh, the concerts and theater! Kates and I saw "Annie,". And I traveled back in time with the River Root Band. O.A.R. won me over. Imogen Heap dazzled me in May. Summerfest left me feeling as alive and exhausted as ever in July. The Goo Goo Dolls and Counting Crows rained on us in August. Seeing James Taylor in Chicago was sweet. And I met James Blunt in Milwaukee ...

I got to meet Elvis' best friend, Mo Rocca and Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell ...

Strangely though, for all the new things, excitement and experiences that defined the year for Kates and I, 2006 might be best remembered by me for something I've known all my life. 2006 was the year I fell all over again for vinyl records ...

12.27.2006

Tonight's news

... NBC did it again tonight, offering up an informative and fascinating look back on Gerald Ford's legacy. It was a good watch ...

... Then later in the newscast, just before a commercial break, Brian Williams told us to stick around for more on "today's bombshell in the sports world ..."

What!? ... I wondered out loud to Kates that we could only hope Barry Bonds had decided to save whatever integrity baseball's homerun record has left and retire ...

It turned out I was close, but not close enough ... A court ruled federal investigators could use the names of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003.

Here's some other good reads from the past week ...
a Gerald Ford: One of history's bravest leaders?
a Giuliani's Primary Hurdle
a Nothing New Here -- And That's the Point
a User-Generated Content Dominates Google's 2006 Hot List
a ‘The Nine’ waits for its second chance amidst much consternation
a Gifts to give some TV characters
a Nielsen Fun Facts: Small Talk About Big Numbers
a Shrine to Ralphie: All that's missing are the bunny pj's... and the related I double-dog dare you to tour house ... I'm soooo going here the next time we go to Cleveland ...

Onion reads

Two good Onion reads ...

Barry Bonds Took Steroids, Reports Everyone Who Has Ever Watched Baseball

The Onion

Barry Bonds Took Steroids, Reports Everyone Who Has Ever Watched Baseball

SAN FRANCISCO—With the publication of a book detailing steroid use by San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds, two San Francisco Chronicle reporters have corroborated the claims of Bonds' steroid abuse by every single person...


Cardinals Apologize For Winning World Series

The Onion

Cardinals Apologize For Winning World Series

ST. LOUIS—Calling Friday night's victory on baseball's grandest stage "a terrible mistake," members of the St. Louis Cardinals issued a formal apology for making the playoffs, winning the World Series, and depriving baseball fans everywhere...

12.26.2006

Christmas in a weekend

Christmas in a weekend

Four days. Five families to visit. And there you have our Christmas tour of Wisconsin, which is fast becoming an exciting, but exhausting Christmas tradition …

God help us when we actually have children in a couple years …

So away we go …

On Friday night, I arrived home from work. Joel, Stephanie and Millie arrived from Ohio, stopping at our place -- the halfway point -- to spend the night before all of headed to my parents' place in Madison …

Saturday morning, we woke up, showered, packed the cars and we were off to Madison, where we arrived two hours later to join the Rusch clan (that’s two grandparents, their six children and their six spouses, 14 of us grandchildren, our eight significant others and one great-grandson -- for a grand total of 37) for Christmas celebration No. 1. In what very well might have been one of our last Christmases together (we’re a big family, all of us growing up, getting older, our immediate families our expanding and we’re spreading out across the country, which, sadly, makes it harder for us to get together every year …) Mom pulled out never-before-scene slides of her and her siblings growing up, and we exchanged presents under the rules of Dad’s variation on “Deal Or No Deal.” (In a “deal” Kates and I got a DVD, “Invincible.”). And the conversation, as always, was fun and lively … ) …

By Saturday evening, and after Mom roped us kids into helping her clean the place, there were just seven of us left (that’s if you include Millie prancing around us and begging for love). We ate snacks and soon began Christmas celebration No. 2. Kates got gifts cards to buy some new clothes. Joel & Steph got the flatware they asked for. I got a sweet retro Cubs jersey. And us kids finally brought Mom & Dad into the digital age, giving them a DVD player and a couple movies to play in it. (Funny story: We bought Mom a special edition DVD of “Sound of Music,” knowing it was one of her all-time favorites. Then the movie actually came up during some conversation that evening and Mom mentioned it was her favorite. That made it so much more to watch her expression as she opened the wrapping paper on it later that night.) …

After a good night’s sleep, we were off on Sunday morning to Lake Mills for Christmas celebration No. 3. Dad’s side of the family. We loaded up Grandma’s house with the 14 of us, a new baby and three dogs, plus lots of food. Per tradition, the ham, cheesy potatoes, dinner rolls and green Jello were on the dinner table. And a couple hours later the $10 gift exchange began. (But this year, Kels and I decided to mix it up. Rather than everyone picking a number and selecting gifts according to the order of those numbers, we called out the numbers at random. Good fun!) My reward for participating in this year’s exchange: a giant canister of Planters peanuts and a 6-pack of Miller Lite beer. Nice …

Sunday night, Kates and I were up in ‘Tosa to meet Kates’ parents and for the beautiful and always calming 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service. I crashed into bed not long after we returned to the house and all of us were up around 9 a.m. to begin the Christmas morning gift-opening ritual, Christmas celebration No. 4. Kates seemed to come away the winner this year, piling up more clothing than she could carry. I came away with a copy of “Grey’s Anatomy: Season 2” on DVD and another good baseball book from John. And we’re still trying to teach Chloe how to open her presents the way Eli did so enthusiastically for so many years …

A drive about two hours north and Kates and I were in Sheboygan by early evening for the fifth and last of this year’s Christmas gatherings, this time with Kates’ dad’s side of the family. This time around there were 17 of us, three dogs and lots of food. And I got lucky in the gift exchange again -- my cousin-in-law Nelson (He knows me so well) came through, gifting me a Dave Matthews CD, a couple Shins CDs and the Star Wars III DVD straight off my wish list …

And finally four days and five Christmas celebrations later, Kates and I were making the long, three-hour drive back home …

We arrived home shortly before 1 a.m. Sunk into bed. And fell fast asleep.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

12.21.2006

NASA Launches Probe To Inform Pluto Of Demotion

This from today's Onion dispatch ...

NASA Launches Probe To Inform Pluto Of Demotion

The Onion

NASA Launches Probe To Inform Pluto Of Demotion

NASA scientists launched a special Consoler probe to assure the former planet that it was nothing personal, and that it will make a "great dwarf planet."

Holiday cheer

... I heard "The 12 Pains of Christmas" on the radio today. I was laughing out loud and it just might have been my favorite moment of the holiday season thus far ... (see and hear it here by pressing play on the YouTube video ...)

... Then I get home and I immediately flip on Fleetwood Mac's "I Don't Want to Know." ... I've been playing the song repeatedly this week and can't seem to shake it out of my head. If I don't watch it, I'm gonna be wearing out that "Rumours" album pretty quick ...

Funny. Last week I was stuck in 1966 and couldn't pull myself away from Pet Sounds. This week, I guess I'm stuck in 1977 ...

Then again, both albums are so timeless it's as though they could have been released this year ... God, I love good music ...

12.20.2006

Person of the Year!

I just found out I was selected as Time Magazine's Person of the Year!!

Unbelievable! I'm so honored!!

... Ok. So it's me and millions of web surfers who are fascinated and obsessed with blogging, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube and all the other things that make cyberspace so amazing ...

... But apparently I seem to be one of the few people who love the idea and concept behind this year's selection ...

... Read Time's story here for yourself ...

Ah good times.

Other perspectives ...
George Will: You are 'Person of the Year'? Get serious
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gud 4 u: Time got it right
Jill Rachel Jacobs: It's about Time (lol) I won
James P. Pinkerton: Time's wimpy choice ignores readers' needs

12.18.2006

Driving me crazy

... So I was greeted when I arrived at the office this morning with a photo of an ugly rollover crash earlier this morning and a note attached instructing me to get some information about the crash ...

Ok.

... A couple hours later I was called out to a rollover crash in a neighborhood just a few blocks from our office. A few minutes later, I was pulling up to the crash, parking my car and walking down the middle of the street amid a stream of emergency vehicles and flashing lights ...

A Chevy Blazer was lying on its crushed roof and nearly a dozen firefighters were crowding around the vehicle trying to free whoever was inside. And an unoccupied pickup was sitting on the sidewalk just a few feet from the Blazer ... We were told a helicopter was on its way to take the person to a hospital, but looking at the Blazer I figured for sure the person was dead.

But 10 minutes later, firefighters wheeled a stretcher up to the vehicle and a few of them ushered out a woman who somehow was talking and moving ... Then just as I was leaving I noticed a police officer pull a middle-aged man from the back seat of a squad car and begin leading him through sobriety tests. Turns out the man was driving a borrowed pickup and ran a stop sign, hitting the driver's side of the Blazer and flipping it on its roof ... He was indeed drunk. At 10 in the morning.

But it didn't stop there.

As I headed back to the office, I was stopped at a major intersection in the city and watched as one, two, three cars made right turns and, rather than staying in their designated lane, made wide turns and veered into the other lane. In the process, the third car cut off and nearly sideswiped another car turning onto the street... I hate it when people do that ...

I'm still not done.

Now, I'm at a stop sign just outside our office and there's another compact car with the right-of-way. But before the driver can proceed forward, a fat SUV pulls up on her right -- this is a single lane road -- does a rolling stop and proceeds through the intersection, cutting off the woman as she starts to pull forward ... Ugh.

Now back to that photo that greeted me this morning ... I learned a young man was driving from a party -- where they'd been drinking -- with his fiancee and the vehicle veered off the road, hit a utility pole and flipped on its roof, coming to a stop in the middle of an intersection. With a bloody lip, the driver immediately got out of the vehicle and apparently was hysterical when police showed up. As far as he could tell his fiancee was dead -- her body was in an unusual position and she wasn't responding ... Lucky for the guy, the woman actually survived, but her arm was crushed. And him? Yep. Arrested for drunken driving ...

C'mon people. Let's be smart out there ...

12.17.2006

Survivin'

... How great was tonight's final episode of Survivor!?

... Heck, how great was this season of Survivor!?

... I won't deny that a few years ago while most of the country was ga-ga over Survivor and CBS waged Thursday night ratings wars with what was then a powerhouse on NBC, I steadfastly stayed with 'Friends' and NBC...

... Now the tide has turned, and I'm mourning the thought of no longer being glued to the TV every Thursday night at 7 to watch Yul and the Aitu superfriends upset the sorority party known as the Raro tribe ... Good Lord, I'm surprised the weight of Candice's and Parvati's constant eye-rolling didn't roll them right into the ocean ...

It truly was a thing of glee to see the short-handed Aitu foursome methodically pick off the Raros one-by-one each week -- Candice, gone. Jonathan, gone. Parvati, gone. Adam, gone.

... and when it finally came to the final three, I saw Yul as the clear winner because he played the game flawlessly from a psychological point. And even though he didn't win many of the physical challenges, he always was in the hunt ... But then Ozzy emerged as a likeable specimen just as well, and it became oh-so-fun to watch him run up win after win in the challenges ... Meanwhile, Becky could talk all she wanted about the way she played the social game (... her decision not to take the immunity idol from Yul when he offered it was beyond admirable ...), but her humiliating attempt at building fire in the tie-breaker with Sundra removed her from any chance of taking the million ...

... and after all that, I figured at least a bit of a relationship had blossomed between Yul and Becky, but Becky insisted on the reunion show tonight that the thought never crossed her mind. Beyond those two, I was hardly surprised to learn Adam and Candice discontinued their relationship ... and what's this about a relationship that died on the island between Parvati and Nate??

Yep. I could only nod and grin when Jeff Probst said this was his favorite edition of Survivor yet. Though I only have Season 2, Season 12 and a few clips in between to compare, I have to agree with him ...

Here's a great Q&A with Yul ... I knew he wasn't trying to be manipulative when he brought Jonathan's hat to tribal council!!

Sunday reading

Some of the good reads I stumbled upon this week ...

Life stuff ...
a Awesome auto does 1,000,000 miles, retires ...awesome in deed.
a Don't be 404 about latest buzzwords
a When you reach the half-century mark, almost anything goes

Music ...
a Bye, bye, bye: Music scene no longer dominated by teens ... Thank goodness! ... Have I mentioned that I can't stand Rihanna?
a Ray LaMontagne, Finding His Place
a Going own ways brings Fleetwood Mac back ... Listening to Fleetwood today, I Googled the band and stumbled across this story from the jsonline. It's 3 years old and written prior to their Summerfest stop, but a worthy read nonetheless. I mean, c'mon, it's Fleetwood Mac! ...

The screens ...
a Animal house: Fanning navigates farm life in ‘Charlotte’s Web’
a 'Charlotte's Web' returns
a Need to sell? Hire a penguin
a Rx for Success: How 'St. Elsewhere' Influenced Today's Top Medical Dramas
a Teaching an old series new tricks ... I still don't get why people are so ga-ga over "Ugly Betty."
a Networks: Listen Up for New Year's resolutions ... I'm a strong supporter of "Brothers & Sisters" and "The Class." But I'm not buying the push for NBC's struggling shows ...
a On Wikipedia, Oblivion Looms for the Non-Notable
a Video Visionaries Meld Traditional TV and the Web

Baseball ...
a Who's the Evil Empire now?
a Incessant talk about money has him green around the gills ... me too.
a Spare the morality play: McGwire deserves induction ... Some good points here.


The game (of life)

... I just finished watching yesterday's national championship game ...

What can I say?

...Northwest lost the game on their own missed opportunities and mistakes, and Grand Valley State capitalized on them ...

That and Cullen Finnerty could not be stopped ...

* * *

... Kates and I joined her family yesterday for her brother Orrin's college graduation ...


... The four of us and the family dog loaded up the family van and made the three-hour trek to the campus, meeting Orrin and his girlfriend at his apartment ... ah, the rat traps that are campus housing ...

... As if we weren't already dreading having to sit through a drawn-out roll call of names, the ceremony got off to an interesting start when the university chancellor stepped t o the podium to welcome the audience and the microphone was dead ... We waited for another 15 minutes as the tech-heads replaced the microphone and then replaced it again, and pride-filled parents spilled from their seats onto the gymnasium floor to get close-ups of their graduates ...

... Once the ceremony started, it moved swiftly. The chancellor addressed the crowd, and an alum who's now a radio show host/comedian gave the commencement address, encouraging the graduates to "save the world" with observations of his own life and times at the college ...

... Then the roll call. Orrin was in the last row of graduates, and that gave us plenty of time to decide what we would yell when his name was finally called and he crossed the stage. The options included: "You're kidding," "Save the world" and "Save a tree." He graduated with a degree in natural resources ... But when Orrin's name was called, we pretty much just said whatever came to our minds ...

From the campus, the graduation party moved to Bernard's, an up-scale German restuarant, where we feasted on duck and salmon ...

But before the food came the champagne. Each of us offered a toast to Orrin, congratulating him and passing on whatever words of widsom we had ...

When it came to my turn, I told Orrin to rememeber one thing: Plastics.

* * *
For the drive to and from the graduation, I was honored to be in the front seat of the van, iPod in hand and plugged in, providing the official soundtrack for the road trip ...

... On the way up we mostly played music heard on Grey's Anatomy before straying into some top 40. Then on the way back, I started with some mellow stuff from Norah Jones, Dido and other favorite female artists to lighten the mood a little bit, and then got into the good stuff with some truly classic rock: selections from The Beatles, Beach Boys, The Turtles, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Joe Cocker, and on and on ...

But that's not the reason I'm telling this story ...

As we sat in Orrin's apartment wasting time before our dinner reservation, Kates' dad started to mention to the group that I brought my "strawberry" and was playing music during the drive ...

Clearly, he was referring to my iPod and confused it with the popular Blackberry. But he called it a strawberry.

I burst into loud laughter, and then explained to his bemusement what he had just done.

Good times.

12.14.2006

Here today

I've been listening to Pet Sounds all week ...

Aside from the trio of hits -- "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Sloop John B" and "God Only Knows" (three of my all-time favorite songs, I might add ...) -- I've never thought very highly of Pet Sounds. I've always thought of it as kind of overrated actually. And I never thought the tracks -- aside from the hits -- varied enough for the album to be considered the classic people say it is ...

...Somehow, after years of owning and listening to it, it's growing on me this week. Funny how that happens ...

I've been reading the liner notes, and "I Know There's An Answer" (aka "Hang On To Your Ego") has been playing in my head almost non-stop ... Turns out the instrumentals actually are pretty darn good and innovative. The lush Beach Boys harmonies are there, although not as obvious as previous releases. And the lyrics, which I hadn't paid much attention to in the past, are worth a listen too ...

... Still, I may never understand what's so special about "Caroline No." Brian Wilson has often mentioned it as one of his favorite creations. But it's so dark and, well, boring. I'm pretty sure it's my least favorite Beach Boys song of all time ...

* * *

So much for having a white Christmas ...

After getting 17 inches of snow dumped on us two weeks ago, and temperatures in the single digits last week, we've consistently hits temps in the 40s this week.

All the snow is gone, and the lawns are green as March...

I love it.

* * *

... My heart sank yesterday at the news of Peter Boyle's death ...

Who knew he was so close to John Lennon!?! Not me.

... I loved him simply for his portrayal of Frank Barone, and tonight TBS aired the episode in which Frank is awarded 'Man of the Year' by his lodge... I'm doubting it was a coincidence TBS aired that episode ...

... Then this morning comes the news that Lamar Hunt has died too ...

* * *

Kates and I booked our tickets tonight to see Frank Caliendo in Milwaukee next month ...

Woo hoo!!

... I was browsing his Web site today and watching the videos of some of his recent performances. I didn't have sound on the computer I was using, but I burst out laughing just seeing his facial expressions ...

* * *

Two days until my Bearcats take the field again in Florence, Ala., for the D-2 National Championship, baby! (ESPN 2, 11 a.m. central, baby!)

... Unfortunately I've got another commitment Saturday afternoon, which means I won't be able to watch the game until late Saturday night. And that means no one better call me, or text me, or email a word about the game until Sunday ...

But how cool was it to set my DVR tonight to record the game and see the words "NCAA Division II, Final: Grand Valley State vs. Northwest Missouri State" ...

Go Bearcats.

12.13.2006

Spreading holiday cheer

Some good stuff I've received the last couple days ... Happy holidays!

HOLIDAY EATING TIPS
1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. it's rare. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.


12.10.2006

Sunday reading

... I finished putting up the Christmas lights today, and managed again to do it without falling off the roof and breaking any bones ...



... My Christmas shopping is done ...


... And my beloved Bearcats are heading back to the D-II National Championship game ...

Life is good.

...Thanks to Internet radio, I listened to the 'Cats bowl over Bloomsburg. Once again, "Sweet Home Alabama" blared on the stadium PA, and the goal posts came down and went into Colden Pond ... Sitting here hundreds of miles away, I'm picturing every moment as it unfolds and reminiscing about my days following the team during the 'Florence or Bust' run of '98 and the miracle ride of '99. And my heart is yearning to be there again tonight to experience it once more ...

Let the countdown to next week's big game begin ...

Some other good Bearcat reads ...
aBearcats step into national spotlight in Division II semifinal
aNorthwest Missouri State has no problem getting big-city talent
a Northwest Missouri State has plenty of pass catchers


* * *

Some interesting reads from the last couple weeks ...

Starting with this one: Things a Man Should Know: About Fatherhood, a fun, comical read for any father ...

New media...
a Morgan Freeman releases new film `10 Items or Less’ by digital download
a ’80s music videos pop up to rock YouTube
a TV, Internet melding
a Star of blogosphere segues easily into ‘old’ media
a Chronicle of the Newspaper Death Foretold

TV ...
a The silent transition: Meredith Vieira moves smoothly into new role at 'Today' ... Interesting. I was just talking the other day about how funny it is that Katie Couric and Rosie are having so much trouble in their new seats and Meredith is sailing ...
a 'The Office' opens doors for Rainn Wilson
a Writers as actors and vice versa ... one of the things that makes The Office so good ...
a 1st ‘Office’ managers write script for States ... if it hand't been for this story, I never would've known watching the episode ...
a Actor aims to leap from 'Heroes' to 'Star Trek'
a 'Heroes' star Masi Oka living the dream

Music ...
a Stefani stumbles during 'Escape' ... Hollaback Girl was 'bananas' enough. Stefani has really gone off the deep end now. Whether it's the AMAs, SNL or VH1, I've been reaching for the remote every time her mindless yodeling song comes on. She ripped off 'Fiddler on the Roof' with 'Rich Girl' (...something I had to inform my brother of at one point last year when the song came on the radio, you would've thought he'd never heard of 'Fiddler'...) and now she's ruining 'Sound of Music' songs .... ugh.

Baseball ...
a Ripken dodges steroid talk as Hall of Fame election nears
a McGwire won't get my Hall vote this year ...I hate to think about it, but these guys have a point ...
a Not all smiling over Soriano deal ... including me.
a Cubs must say 'No' to Soriano for his good and the team's ... more reasons not to smile about Soriano ...
a Piniella learns drought, doubt go together
a A baseball player answers his fan mail 15 years later

And in politics ...

12.08.2006

Crazy.

... So much for working out today.

I came home from the office this afternoon, went through the mail and started changing clothes to head to the gym. As usual, I turned on the news ...

There had just been a shooting at the Ogilvie Transportation Center. They're saying now four people were hurt and the gunman was killed ...

Crazy.

I go in and out of that building all the time ... especially on Fridays.

Wow.

12.06.2006

My hair & other news

... I cut my hair last night. I no longer look like a hippie ...

... Though the hippie look was immensely fun while it lasted, I took some loving joshing about it over the Thanksgiving break, and I knew it was time ...

That and I was getting sick of brushing the hair away from my eyes and the way it caused my ears to itch ...

* * *

An explosion at the Falk plant rocked Milwaukee today ...

It was all any of us could talk about as we arrived at the office this morning, and I was mesmerized -- go figure, me, a news junkie, being mesmerized by good use of the online medium -- of jsonline's coverage ... Through the use of their Newswatch blog, they were constantly updating the Falk story throughout the day with new information and different angles, not to mention encouraging readers and witnesses to contact the newsroom with their stories ... Despite the tragedy of the day, it was a fun way to stay abreast on the news as it unfolded, and I found it particularly striking that the first post of the day -- just hours before the explosion -- started with: "Welcome to Wednesday. It's Dec. 6, which isn't exactly a date that will live in infamy ..."

That's how a news outlet should feed its audience on the Internet ...

...And then you have The Daily Nightly, which continues to provide, in often fascinating fashion, behind-the-scenes insight on the national news of the day, including this post regarding today's Iraq Study Group report ...

12.02.2006

The morning after ...


Our roads are finally plowed ...

Kates spent the day Christmas shopping with her mom ...

I spent the day running around getting my car fixed for the winter ...

As Kates and I reunited to do some errands tonight, the Christmas music playing on the radio finally seemed appropriate...

Tonight we'll be decorating our house for Christmas ...

Interesting how 17 inches of snow can get you in the Christmas spirit ...

12.01.2006

Oh sNOw!

17 inches.

That’s how much snow Mother Nature dumped on us today.

It was the most of any city in the state or region.

… Already yesterday the rumors were flowing that a giant snowstorm was on the way. The morning radio show hosts were placing bets that 8, 10 inches would fall. The TV people were doing their usual reports about driving safety and … blah, blah, blah. I laughed every time somebody mentioned the supposed storm yesterday, because the forecasters do this every year. They predict a huge snowstorm like it’s going to be the end of the world, Armageddon … And then we end up getting like a dusting. It never happens the way they predict it …

Then today arrived.

I was awakened at 5:45 this morning to Kates talking on the phone with a person I quickly figured out was one of her fellow teachers. And the more I listened to their conversation about whether their school would be closed, the more I realized there was likely a whole lotta snow outside our bedroom, and the more I wanted to pull the covers back over my head …

Interestingly, just before I woke, I was dreaming that me and a whole bunch of people I went to high school with were at this huge party inside a glitzy old hotel ballroom. At this party I also was with a whole group of news reporters, and all at once our cell phones and pagers started going off with editors calling to tell us we were under a tornado warning. Just then we looked through a huge, arched picture window in front of us, and there was a thick, dark funnel cloud coming straight for us. And then, like a scene straight out of Titanic, there was this huge rush of people trying to get down an extremely long staircase to the basement for cover. Once I got there, all of these people I hung out with in high school were appearing and our drama teacher was calling us into this special room in the basement which supposedly offered more protection from the tornado then the rest of the basement …

It almost seemed like we were hit by a tornado today …

After listening to Kates talk on the phone a little longer, I finally got the courage to reach for the window and pull back the curtain. Yep. Lots of snow. I let out a groan loud enough for the neighbors to hear …

A few minutes later I was putting on some old jeans, a sweatshirt, my boots and heading out to battle. Shoveling the driveway, that is. As tempted as I was to call in sick and spend the day at home sipping tea and watching movies with Kates, I needed to get my car out and get to work. It‘s the nature of my job … Already several inches had fallen and the forecasters were saying it was falling at a rate of one to two inches an hour … They weren’t lyin’. By the time I finished shoveling our driveway, it was completely covered again.

Then I took like a 30-minute hot shower -- hey, I was going to savor it while I could -- I had a quick bagle and I was out the door by 8 a.m. …

The next battle was actually getting to my office. Our road was nowhere close to being plowed. And, though it was also our garbage day, it was pretty clear that wasn’t happening either. … I nearly got stuck just getting out of our driveway. Then I pushed my car hard all the way down our street, going slowly, and still sliding and weaving most of the way… When I get to the edge of our neighborhood each morning, usually my next move is making a left turn across one of the city’s major arteries, but it was quickly apparent that wasn’t happening today either. The traffic was heavy as usual, albeit slow, but again, no roads had been plowed and I wasn’t about to risk getting my little car stuck in the middle of that road. So instead, I made a right turn and took a long route through the city, trying to make as many more right turns as I could … My typical five minute drive to work took me 20 minutes this morning. And when I finally arrived at our downtown district, it looked like a deserted war zone. There were a couple cars stuck in the middle of streets, white as far as you could see and not a soul in sight … I made one pass on our office parking lot, looking at the driveway and thinking there’s no way I’m going to get in there without getting stuck. When I came around a second time, I noticed a rarely used entry to the lot had a pathway. So I gunned my car once more and rolled into a parking space …I’d made it to work …

I was the second person in our office, after a woman who was one of the oddballs overflowing with glee yesterday at the notion of this approaching snowstorm. “I’m here,” I moaned to the sound of her laughter when I walked in the door …

Soon enough, the rest of our staff began arriving, and almost all of us came in wearing our Saturday best. Getting dressed this morning, I told Kates I was wearing jeans to work and if anybody said anything about it my response was going to be “As least I’m here …” Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. Guys came in sweatshirts, girls were wearing T-shirts. All of us wore jeans. With boots, of course … One girl wore her roommate's Army boots.

… Our morning meeting came and went. The ideas and stories were pouring out. It was clear we had one story to cover today and it was going to be a total team effort … In the meantime, we were parading in and out of the office all day, sprouting from our seats and throwing on our coats to help every time there was another report of someone stuck in their car on the streets below … During my daily jaunt to the police station this morning, I gave in to helping two stuck motorists dig out on my way to the station, and then two more on the way back. During the third of those four rescue missions, I was trying to help a young black woman free her car when a large SUV pulled up behind us and two big guys in fancy, expensive suits step out. Without hesitation, and showing no care for their suits, they got behind the car and helped us push. It was quite amusing and looking for a quick quote, I asked them why they decided to get out and help. “We all gotta do our part,” one of the men said. “If we all help each other out, we can get through this.” I liked his attitude …

Back at the office, our editors had made sure there was pizza for us, ensuring none of us had to drive anywhere to get food, though some poor delivery guy did have to drive to get the pizza to us … All afternoon, the office buzzed with activity as we gathered our information, and fingers tapped out stories … By 4 p.m., my part was done …

My car hadn’t been moved all day, so I was a little leery of getting out of the parking lot as easy as I got in. But I made it …

By now, the main roads had been plowed, but they remained slippery … Our street, however, had yet to be touched and it was more of a mess than when I left it this morning. All the way down, I pushed and pushed, weaving and sliding, and thinking a couple times that I wasn’t going to make it to our driveway. But I did. Approaching our driveway -- which gave no signs that Kates and I had worked so hard to shovel it this morning -- I gunned it once more to get over the snow bank at the edge. And I got within a few feet of the garage door when she came to a grinding halt. Fine. She wasn’t going anywhere.

I shut off the car. And went inside. I was home. … and this is where I’ll be staying. Until Monday.

11.29.2006

Boys will be boys

... So it was like 73 degrees this morning when I left for work. It was raining. But it was 73 degrees. On November 29. Crazy.

... Then I get to work, and my cohorts start talking about the warm weather. A couple of people actually pulled out the short sleeves ...

... But my cohort Bill had to ruin all our fun by telling us the temperature was supposed to drop steadily this afternoon and it might be snowing tonight. And suddenly the talk turned to shoveling heavy snow. And starting up snowblowers. And wishing your neighbors would shovel your snow for you and ...

I hate winter.

* * *

... A few of us got a look today at a couple of the entries for our Christmas coloring contest ...

... Liz remembered doing the contest when she was a kid and said she always felt screwed because she'd see the winners and their entries in the paper. And they were never as good as hers. She says she actually glued cotton balls to her coloring for Santa's beard ...

... I remembered entering a coloring contest when I was a kid too. And I remembered how I was so upset and jealous when I found out my brother had won the contest that I started throwing out my coloring supplies and trashing my colorings ... then my parents had to settle me down and tell me that I was just as good as my brother ...

* * *

... I watched "My Boys" over my lunch break ...

Eh.

The new show, which premiered last night and will air on TBS every Tuesday, is about PJ, "a twenty-something sports reporter for the Chicago Sun Times. At first glance, she’s a typical young single woman-- smart, attractive, outgoing, personable. Her boys are her family, which sometimes hinders PJ's dating life, as the men she tries to date don't know how to react to her unconventional interests and the all-important men in her life."

... In the first episode, PJ meets up with the new sportswriter in town, Bobby, and the pair promptly hits it off. But Bobby gets freaked out by PJ's guy-like approach to things ... and later she tries to clear things up with him, in the Cubs locker room, with a bunch of hard-to-interpret analogies suggesting they keep their relationship on the down-low, somehow comparing their relationship to having hamburgers at the Billy Goat Tavern ...

The show is littered with references to Chicago neighborhoods, landmarks and culture, not to mention the Cubs and the Bears. And Jordana Spiro is adorable to watch as PJ. Plus the hilarious Jim Gaffigan plays her brother Andy ...

...But, in last night's two epiosdes at least, the acting isn't spectacular and PJ isn't so believable as a sports writer, much less a tom boy playing poker with a table full of guys. Plus the narration used throughout each episode, a la Carrie Bradshaw, doesn't work; in fact it's annoying ...

... The show comes off as a "Sex In The City" for guys, with PJ and the whole sports angle being the vehicles to keep us watching ...

... And though the show isn't great, I probably will keep watching because 1) There's nothing else I watch on Tuesday nights 2) It's about a sportswriter covering the Cubs for the Sun-Times 3) it's littered with references to Chicago neighborhoods, landmarks and culture 4) Jim Gaffigan's in it and 5) Jordana Spiro is adorable to watch ...

(The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gives it a decent review here ...and TVsquad reviews it here.)

11.26.2006

Sunday reading

A few good reads from this past week ...

a Global Warming? Terrorism? Mortality? Never Fear: These Derring-Doers Will Save Us!

a The Beatles come together, right now, with a new CD that’s also part of Cirque du Soleil ... haven't heard the album yet. But now Im afraid I might not like it ...

a 'Ugly Betty' loved for its inner beauty ... will somebody pleeeeease tell me what's so special about Ugly Betty!? ... I could barely stand the terrible acting, the relentless stereotyping and poor writing in the one episode I watched. I just don't understand ...

a Gay actors navigate straits of taking roles as straights ... This is a story angle that passed through my mind the moments I heard about T.R. Knight and Neil Patrick Harris, because I love their shows and the characters they play. And it would be sad if either actor or show is affected by the revelations of their personal lives ...

a After a Ratings Stumble, Fox Trots Out the 'Idol' Talk ... hilarious and interesting.

a When business sense overcomes sleaze at Fox ... also hilarious and interesting.


Sunday wit

Kates and I were leaving our car this morning, ready to walk into church when Kates asked for the keys to put something in the trunk. But she had to repeat her request after I didn't hear her the first time.

"Turn on your ears," she said.

"I thought I turned them on this morning," I answered. I had been acting goofy all morning. "I must've flipped the wrong switch. I must've turned off the brain ... "

I burst out laughing.

"You are in rare form," Kates said.

11.25.2006

Puzzles, movies & music

Kates and I arrived at my parents’ place this afternoon to spend the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend with them …

Now Kates and Mom are at my future cousin-in-law's wedding shower …

Dad is at work …

And that leaves me here, with the house all to myself, blogging as I listen to my beloved Bearcats on the Internet in a D-II football playoff game

* * *

It wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving without a couple jigsaw puzzles on the dining table …

The first one, a 500-piece, came out not long after we arrived at the family farm Wednesday and we finished it much later that night. Then, of course, we laid low Thursday, instead spending time with family and sharing a Thanksgiving dinner …

But on Friday morning, while Kates and her mom started in on their Christmas baking, and Kates’ father read a book in the living room -- I couldn’t keep from starting another one (jigsaw puzzles for me are a terrible addiction I can’t seem to shake …). Another 500-piece, I finished it within a few hours …

* * *

It also wouldn’t be a weekend at the farm without a lot of movies …

On Wednesday night, though my concentration was mostly on our puzzle, we loaded up “Syriana” …

The cast is stellar -- George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet -- and all the buzz I’ve heard about this film says this it is a political film you’ve got to see …

But I didn’t get it.

Usually I like the movies that are crammed with multiple storylines working at the same time. But this one was almost too busy, too convoluted and too abstract for me. And the storylines never came together for me …

Luckily that was a one-time sentiment as the weekend-watching continued …

On Friday afternoon, after finishing my jigsaw puzzle, we put in “Lake House,” starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock

Contrary to “Syriana,” everything I’d heard about “Lake House” was that it was a forgettable film. So my expectations were low going in …

Sort of like “Vanilla Sky” meets “Frequency” (two of my favorite movies of all-time) with a hint of “You‘ve Got Mail,” Kate moves from her lake house to a new flat in the city and Alex becomes the new owner. But when the two begin corresponding by mail, they don’t realize Alex is living in 2004 and Kate is living in 2006 … As they discover the mystery, Kate and Alex fall in love via their snail mail and yearn to meet -- even though 2004 Kate is in a serious relationship and has no clue about 2004 Alex. So Kate begins to write about memories she has from 2004 and instructs Alex to try meeting her at various places in 2004 …

The plot, obviously, is complete fantasy, but it was hard not to get wrapped up in the hope Kate and Alex share. The ending is a good one. The chemistry is great. And the cinematography and shots of the Chicago skyline and architectural icons is superb …Good flick.

Then before the credits could roll too far on “Lake House,” I was sticking in “Something’s Gotta Give” …

Now this is one Kates’ father adores, owns, talks about all the time and has watched multiple times … Me? I’d seen parts of it but it never really interested me. I thought it was time to sit down and watch it once and for all …

Turns out, it was pretty darn good. The chemistry between the actors (nice to see you again Amanda Peet and Keanu Reeves) was great! The screenplay was full of wit and good fun -- and it works … definitely recommended.

Finally, with some quick Thanksgiving leftovers for supper, we sat down for one more -- this time it was one I hadn’t heard of -- “An Unfinished Life.”

Funny how the ones you didn’t know about often turn out to be the best ones …

In this one, Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) tries to escape from her abusive boyfriend and moves with her daughter Griff to live with Einar (Robert Redford), Jean’s mysterious father-in-law, on his Wyoming ranch. But Einar isn’t so happy to see Jean because he still blames her for the death of his son in a car crash several years earlier. In fact, he doesn’t even know he has a granddaughter.

Making things more interesting -- and comical -- is that Einar is caring for his friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who is haunted by a bear attack.

The heart of this film is watching Einar’s slow transition from a man who’s cold and cruel to Jean and his daughter to a man who’s forgiving and willing to do whatever it takes to help them. Eventually, Jean’s abusive boyfriend does find her and it’s up to Einar to protect the girls …

Aside from the heartfelt storyline, the banter between Einar and Mitch is well-played and their chemistry is one of the highlights of the film -- like two baseball coaches shooting the breeze in the dugout. Just as good was Becca Gardner, a scene-stealer as the tough and curious Griff. And I gotta say I was pleasantly surprised by how good Jennifer Lopez’s performance was …

Admittedly, the ending did fall a little flat, and we never really get answers about this bear that attacked Mitch and plays such a major part of the film -- but this is such a brilliantly-done film overall, I can get over its shortcomings …

* * *

So I got to hear the Dixie Chicks new album for the first time yesterday morning. Kates’ parents have it and they popped it in the kitchen CD player …

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Top to bottom, start to finish, I think it’s the Chicks best album yet.

“Not Ready To Make Nice” surely deserves all the radio play it’s getting right now for its great sound and heartfelt lyrics, but it’s hardly the best track on this album.

One of my favorites has to be the catchy lead track, “The Long Way Around.” And the comforting second track, “Easy Silence” is right up there too. I love the lyrics of “Bitter End” and the up tempo feisty-ness of “Lubbock Or Leave It.” And it all ends with the splendid Gospel sound of “I Hope.”

Great, great, great album.