Sunday, September 30, 2007

Best of Both Worlds

It's up...

photo courtesy


photo courtesy

Auburn 20, Florida 17.


...I did all the yardwork.
...I got the work out in.
...I got the kitchen cleaned.
...I got Kid2 picked up from dance. between it all, I saw the most important parts of OU's fall, Texas' whipping, Bama's demise, the Ducks' fumble, and a host of other bits here and there from the craziest day in college football in the last 15 years.

If Washington had just recovered that onsides kick against USC, it might've been the best college football day I've ever seen!

I can't tell you how much fun yesterday was with 6 of the top 11 teams losing...

...and getting all the chores done!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Empty Nest Practice

A strange turn of events changed the dynamic of our Friday night:

It was supposed to go down thusly: Tracy had taxi service responsibilities that would take her and Kid2 out of any and all social engagements last night as well as for the first half of today. On Thursday, Kid1 worked out a sleepover with a friend for Friday night, so she was on her own. This left me with an evening of hanging out on my own. The gym was on the slate, as was catching up on some TiVo'd shows and maybe grilling some sort of meat. An early night.

Then things changed right after lunchtime.

A friend called and asked if I could pick him up at the airport. Since my night wasn't highly structured, his flight arrival could easily be worked in. So I told him it'd be no problem at all. It really wasn't, either. Besides, when you live in FloMo, everyone is good at airport runs. There's an art to it, and we factor in internet updates and baggage pick up which affects your arrival time (if the pick-up person doesn't check luggage, you need to be there 10 minutes after flight arrival...if they did, 20). Everybody goes into the system on both sides of the equation--you do pick ups as needed and they return the favor when needed. Deposits and withdrawals into those accounts always seem to balance for our citizenry.

Then Tracy called and said Kid2 had arranged her own sleepover with a friend from her ballet studio who lives in Fort Worth, so that eliminated the need for her taxi service not only for Friday night but also for the half-day today.

All of a sudden we've got nothing that we have to do.

We're empty-nesters by 4PM on Friday. What to do? What to do?

One option was my friend Heath (who was one of the first students ever involved in my ministry in 1988, and we've kept in touch ever since) who is a stand-up comedian by trade (and, very clean & funny, too--and he's been on Blue Collar Comedy in their cast as well as on Roseanne Barr's cast when she tried to develop a show to compete with SNL) and got a surprise invite to play the Improv in Addison. Unfortunately, the reality of my airport pick-up eliminated both the early and late shows on that deal and we'll wind up missing him this trip through Big D.

Now, if we're going to make the airport pick-up, we'd need to get to dinner by a certain time. The first restaurant we chose had a line outside so we went with a local favorite, The Village Grill. We had dinner...well, I had the healthy choice and Tracy had a piece of mousse pie for dinner as she'd had a late, big lunch. The best part was that we had good conversation and weren't pressed for time. We talked about serious things and funny things. And, we ran into other full-time empty-nesters who go to our church. They were amused that we were so excited about our night of empty nesting.

Since dinner ended a bit sooner than we'd anticipated, we drove through the new shopping center that opened last night. The place was packed even if all the stores weren't opened yet...there was a lot of energy and vibe and lots of families hanging out and enjoying a mild (well, 82 degrees) fall night by the fountains. It's one of those kinda cool retail villages with narrow streets and room for hanging out and stuff like that...if you're into that kind of thing. Which I'm not.

Then the airport run. We picked up our friends who'd been on a vacation and they filled us in on what a good time they had. We tried to talk them into a late movie (they're empty-nesters, too) but they were tired from a long day of travel so we just took them to their house. As an important aside: Their flight was on-time but their baggage claim took longer than expected so we actually had to sit for 10 minutes outside the doors to pick them up. I viewed this as a failure of sorts...kind of like when you get there too early and have to drive in circles in Terminal C for 15 minutes, or if you arrive too late and your pick-up has been standing outside for 10 minutes. Dangit.

And we called some other friends of ours at 9:15PM to see if they wanted in on the late-night movie. One couple did. One couldn't.

We had a good time at an "okay" movie. Kinda preachy. But stuff exploded and there was lots of suspense.

And, then we slept in. Sleeping in for me is 7AM. Tracy's better at that than I am.

But here's the lesson I learned from last night:

Mine eyes have seen the emptying of the nest. And, while I'm sure there's some emotional stuff that comes with that reality when it happens for real, and while I'm sure it isn't as easy as it looks, and I'm sure it's a big--and maybe even difficult--life adjustment... was good.

It was very good.

Even in (or especially because?) the understated nature of it.

So, empty nesters, is it really all it's cracked up to be?
Saturday Dilemma

I have things I should do today.

I should go to the gym.

I should do the yardwork.

I should study a little more for my 2nd Sunday School class for tomorrow night.

I should really dive-in to that book I've only been jump-started in.


...I don't feel like doing any of those things.

I feel like laying around and doing absolutely nothing. Except watching GameDay, football, more football, and then one final football game.

But if I did that, those other things would still be there when I'm done.

Post 2,000

This is The Diner's 2,000th post.

I wish it'd been something a bit more meaningful.

Friday, September 28, 2007


It doesn't happen often anymore, but a while back bloggers would come up with a topic and then "tag" other bloggers to write about the same topic. I don't do that too much, but every now and again I'll play along. The Retrophisch tagged me about my most recent song purchases. Like the Phisch, I'm an albumist. That is, I tend to buy entire CD's and so I've chosen a representative song from the list when I did that...although I did get one new song recently on the iTunes.

In order, the last five songs I've purchased:

"Hard Son" by Eddie Vedder (from the "Into The Wild" soundtrack). If there's been a better song written in the last year, I haven't heard it. Brilliant stuff, and I'm definitely going to see this movie (which opened today) even though it's playing only in the "arts" theatres.

"The Pretender" by Foo Fighters. Are you kidding me? If the Foo Fighters release a CD, I get it on the first day.

"F**K Authority" by Pennywise. It was one of those days, man. One of those days.

"I've Just Seen A Face" by Jim Sturgess on the "Across the Universe" sountrack. My daughters were smitten by the trailers from Across the Universe, and the Beatles are timeless in their I picked it up for them and our whole family has enjoyed the re-makes of classic songs from artists like Bono & Joe Cocker. I've heard the movie isn't that great, though.

"Let it Go" by Def Leppard from their "Rock of Ages" (greatest hits) CD. All of a sudden I'm in my '77 Cutlass with the cassette driving up Columbiana Road on the way to high school, with blog commenter Hal riding shotgun.

Your last 5 purchases?
Friday Football Picks, Week #5

As you've already read, my picks last week were 1-7. This is why Las Vegas is the best business model ever. You can win all you want for three straight weeks, but that fourth week will bring it back to at least even money. Over the long haul, you just can't beat the house. This theory works for days, weeks, months or years...even decades. This year, I'm 16-15-1 against the point spread...meaning that if I were betting $100/game I would be up $85 by the time you added in the "service charge" they reserve for taking bets on sports.

Anyway, on to this week's picks:

Friday Night Game, West Virginia at South Florida (+7): Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. West Virginia is barking about revenge from last year and there's no question they've got a good coach in Rich Rodriquez and a fantastic quarterback in Pat White...but their freshman running back might be the best freshman running back in the country. On the other hand, South Florida is scrappy, well-coached, loaded with talent on defense. They've got their first sell-out...EVER. The Bulls kicking game is dicey, though, and it might just cost them tonight. Diner Prediction: West Virginia 31, South Florida 27.

Auburn (+18.5) at Florida: I can't figure out how Auburn has a chance. Sure, I can list off all the times the Gators have been ranked #1 or whatever and AU has found a way to knock them off...1993, 1994, 2003, 2006. But I've watched Auburn play every game and the offense doesn't gel for whatever reason (I think it's the recievers are subpar), the defense has multiple injuries to key players and they're using 13 freshmen this season (they used 4 last year). The Gators, on the other hand, have revenge from last year, speed, and a better-than-expected team. 18 will only be enough if it's a blowout early and AU gets some garbage points late. Diner Prediction: Florida 34, Auburn 13

Florida State vs. Alabama (+2.5), at Jacksonville, FL: What I would've like to see is these two teams play in, say 1992. But I think this should be a good game, too...although I can't figure out how a Seminole team that was behind at halftime to U.A.B. is favored over the Tide. Bama's running game is pretty good. Their defense has some trouble on 3rd downs, and the bottom line is that I don't think Casey Weatherford is as capable as Matthew Stafford at picking those spots to do damage. FSU always has athletes, so it'll be a good game, but I think the Tide has more playmakers at key positions. Diner Prediction: Alabama 23, Florida State 20.

Clemson at Georgia Tech (+3): Clemson has been a pleasant surprise in the ACC. Georgia Tech has been all over the map, and their win against Notre Dame at the time looked impressive but now, not so much. Georgia Tech's at home which is nice (and, by the way, I haven't had a hot dog from The Varsity in about 20 years, and now that I'm thinking about it, I'd kinda like one) in a game like this one, but I think that Clemson is better than Tech and will pull it out in a low-scoring, defense-and-kicking game kind of way. Diner Prediction: Clemson 17, Georgia Tech 13.

U.S.C. at Washington (+20.5): Every ounce of logic says this one will be a blowout. But every year U.S.C. finds a way to let somebody sneak up on them and find themselves in a real fix. Ty Willingham is a better coach than most think (and he might be somebody Auburn might want to look at if Tuberville bolts for A&M once the Aggies have had enough of Fran) and he'll have Washington ready. They won't win, but I think they give the Trojans fits. And, tell me again why ABC is broadcasting this in prime time but the next game in my picks--the marquee game in the Pac 10 this week--won't be seen by anybody? Diner Prediction: U.S.C. 34, Washington 20.

California (+5.5) at Oregon: I've become a believer in Justin Forsett and I'm not as impressed as I once was by the Ducks' victory over Michigan in the Big House. Cal handled a Tennessee team pretty well and I think the Vols on the road are better than Oregon is at home. In fact, I think that the Bears win outright. Diner Prediction: California 35, Oregon 28

Oklahoma at Colorado (+22): Oklahoma is the obvious class of the Big 12. Nobody else in this diminished conference (I think the Big East is better than the Big 12 this year) can stay close. My worry is that Oklahoma may get out to an early lead and then coast...letting Colorado cover. Hopefully not. Diner Prediction: Sooners 41, Colorado 14

U.C.L.A. (+1.5) at Oregon State: Oregon State started out as the underdog this week and has moved to the favorite. Must've had something to do with Utah throttling the Bruins and Oregon State being better than most people think. If the Beavers play well, they should win pretty easily against a struggling U.C.L.A. bunch. Diner Prediction: Oregon State 27, U.C.L.A. 17.

And, as a new feature, I started doing picks for the local high school teams...last week I was a surprising 3-0. Here's this week's high school picks:

Marcus at R. L. Turner: Turner hasn't scored one point this season. Not three games. They've given up an average of 33 per game. Marcus is more disciplined and in better shape than they've been in years. This one will not be close. Diner Prediction: Marcus 45, R.L. Turner 0

Newman Smith at Flower Mound: The Jags aren't as good as early season predictions indicated, but they're going to win several of their key district games...but this is one on their schedule they were counting on winning when everybody thought FM was better than they've shown. Newman Smith is better than people thought, Flower Mound isn't as good as people thought. But the Jaguars, at home, will have more than enough. Diner Prediction: Flower Mound 31, Newman Smith 6.

Coppell at Lewisville: The Fighting Farmers are giong up against a team ranked 7th in the area. Even though they had over 500 yards of offense last week, and their defense only gives up about 10 points a game, they haven't played anybody as good as Coppell. The Farmers will lose at home. Diner Prediction: Coppell 24, Lewisville 13.

There you go...what're your picks?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gone Fishin' (or whatever it is that I would be doing if I had a hobby)

Just takin' the day off from blogging...

...except for this one.

I'll be back with football picks tomorrow, but I figured that it would be rude if you showed up to The Diner and the lights were off and no coffee was made.

It's just that I don't really have much to talk about... I'm just takin' the day off from The Diner, man.

Just takin' the day off...

...and just lettin' you know.

So, come on in, make yourselves at home, and discuss whatever you want. I'll lock up after you all leave for the day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Family Heirlooms

I have a ton of discussion starters that I use when I teach small groups. Loads of them. In fact, I have a little box stuffed with them that fits in the glove compartment of my car. Never know when you might need 'em.

Anyway, I was thinking about one of those little slips of paper when I glanced at my dresser today. I saw my father's class ring. The question popped into my brain from one of those small groups, "What family heirlooms do you have & why are they important to you?" So, I thought I'd answer with a few that I have kept up with.

First of all, there's a .12-guage shotgun in my closet. This is funny to me because there are several sports I never really "got": Hunting, fishing, and golf. Now don't get me wrong, I can hit a golf ball pretty well, and I guess if I had an extra $3,000 a year and an extra 120 hours per year and some friends, I might enjoy that one. But, really, it seems like a huge time-waste and money-waste and it's likely the closest I'll ever get to golf is watching my Caddyshack DVD repeatedly. ("Cemetaries and golf courses are the biggest wastes of prime real-estate." -Al Czervik)

But, back to the shotgun. Turns out that my father and grandfather were big into the hunting/fishing thing...but my dad fresh-water fished largely because he could get away in a boat with his brothers and drink beer. His passion was sport fishing for marlin & other saltwater trophies. But he'd take a lot of Saturdays and head off to hunt deer or quail--whatever was in season--with my grandfather. Well, my grandfather had this shotgun that others seemed to be impressed with, and upon his passing, he left it to my father. My dad used it for a few years and upon his passing, I was the owner of the gun. I've shot it 6 times since I've owned it. The reason I know this is I shot skeet one afternoon at a youth ministry fundraiser. That was over 15 years ago. I keep it because of the sentimentality, and I let avid hunters use it every year to keep it in firing shape (it wows them...apparently this is a somewhat valuable weapon) and they clean it for me when they bring it back.

I also have my grandfather's shoe-shine kit. This is funny to me for two reasons: First of all, it came from Sears and my grandfather was one of those pragmatic guys...the kind of guy who would say things like, "Sure, I paid a little more for it at Sears, but with Sears you know you get quality and it'll last forever." Apparently, he was correct because I still have it and it works great. Which leads me to the second reason it's funny: I don't wear the kind of shoes that need to be shined. But if I do, I have a great shoe-shine kit that has been used about 4 times since 1979 that should do the trick. This may have added to the longevity of the machine.

I have my father's class ring I mentioned earlier. Now, some universities make a bigger deal out of class rings than others, and Auburn University may have changed over the years, but if you grow up in the state of Alabama and attend the university your parents did...the class ring is kind of a big deal. My mom made a big deal about giving me my dad's ring at the end of my junior year at Auburn when it was apparent that I'd actually graduate (I didn't show much early on that would give her that confidence, but I figured it out and by 1986 it was evident I'd finish in 3 years, she was kind of proud of that). She gave it to me, it fit, and I wore it until last year...when I made a deal with Kid1 that I'd replace it with a ring that signified I'd always communicate with her. But I like having a ring that has both my name and my dad's name in it, and I replaced the stone (that Balfour guarantee is SERIOUS, man) and I like having it.

I also wear the wedding band that was my grandfather's and dad's as well. Long story short: My dad lost his band not too long after my grandfather died. I've heard three stories of how he did it: One was that he jumped in the river to water ski and it came off. Another was that he was playing in the ocean with us and he lost it. The final one is that he left it in the hotel room before deep-sea fishing and they never got it back. Either way, he wore my grandfather's ring until he died, and my mom made another big deal out of that one right before my wedding...something like 50 years of unbroken marriage behind it and I'd add to that number. It's a plain gold band, but really meaningful to me.

I have a Coke bottle that I took on our last walk through of my paternal grandparent's house. Everybody was getting a few momentos before the final move-out, which was pretty enjoyable with everybody getting something that meant something to them and sharing the memories of why they wanted it. Well, I wasn't as close to my dad's parents, but every time I went there to visit--especially when I was old enough to drive I went more often--my grandmother would tell me to go get a couple of 8 oz. Coke bottles off the stoop, open 'em up and let's go on the porch and sit in the rocking chairs and talk. If it was too hot we stayed in the living room. But that's why I kept one of the 8 oz. Coca Colas. She told me lots of stories about my dad and uncles and such while we were there. And fishing stories as well. She loved to fish, but never went with my dad or his older brother because they drank beer rather than fished and she was serious about fishing, so she went with my dad's younger brother, who didn't drink much, if any, beer.

My daughters were given a car and a string of pearls by my mother last summer, which I think I should mention even though they aren't mine because they symbolize some pretty cool things about my mom. First, she loved the element of surprise and was very good at thinking through the realities of those getting the gifts. She had a car that she kept in good condition for two years even though she couldn't drive once she got sick for the express reason of giving her granddaughter a car of her own (knowing that Kid1's dad couldn't afford one) once she turned 16. My mom really enjoyed giving cars to her children and grandchildren when they turned 16...I think it made her feel like a big shot. And she gave Kid2 her pearls. If you're a woman in the Deep South you know that a string of pearls is very important and she'd been given this strand one bead at a time by my dad. The car gets used every day. The pearls haven't yet...but I think the time for those is somewhat down the road.

But those are the heirlooms that hang around here from my side of the family...

...what do you have that's meaningful?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tried & True

Lots of people do it on their blog pages. When they're in the funk, they take some time and list what they're thankful for. So, here goes: great a salvation.
...the fact that the coolest girl I ever knew said "I do" and well, is still around. Lesser women would've been long gone. She still makes me smile inwardly just by walking into a room...and I think that's a good thing.
...two daughters who are interesting people I'd probably choose to hang out with even if I wasn't related to them. And the fact that thus far, they've made my job terribly easy.
...Lloyd, who, against all odds and my distinct predisposition to dislike what he stood for (a...ahem...change of the guard in our household from late-in-life Buford, The Greatest of All Dogs), rose to "great dog" status.
...a church family that still seems to want me around, warts and all, after all this time.
...the incredible friendships that nearly two decades of student ministry can bring about, and the possibility of doing the same thing with grownups in the next two decades of life.
...good relationships with my in-laws. They may not have understood the stuff going on in our lives & my work, but they always supported the stuff going on in our lives & my work. It's my understanding that many folks have a decidedly different experience. brother-in-law Shane, who seems to have wrangled true happiness in my sister, Jilly, who I'm also thankful that we have the kind of relationship most people just look at and wonder how something so cool happened with their sibling. sister-in-law Jodie, who, even though we're markedly different in some areas, we're discovering how similar we are in others an awful lot lately--which leads to an awful lot of laughing.
...the neices & nephews. Margaux, who has recently gotten extensive P.R. here at The Diner lately, who has been able to cause me to be quite smitten and I've only seen her digitally at present (so I can't imagine what actually holding her will do). Peyton, who recently ran a reverse in his middle school football game, picking up a first-down. And Katelyn, my partner in crime & comedy.
...parents who loved me. Enough said.
...a home in Flower Mound that has central air, a dishwasher and a fireplace. Tracy and I never thought we'd ever have those things--our first home certainly didn't.
...our new teaching pastor.
...our "old" (and by that I mean by comparison to the new guy) pastors--who've shown so much to our congregation publicly, many in that group have no idea that they've shown so much more integrity privately.
...Dr. Suess, Sesame Street, & Legos. relatively crime-free existence. It's nice to not really worry about that...and Tracy and I used to have to worry about that early in our marriage.
...great opportunities I can give my kids and also giving them thought processes and realizations that living in a big city can give.
...the good old U.S. of A. Listening to that crack-pot Iranian leader yesterday got me all "love it or leave it, holmes." But I love that he can say that stuff and all the ideals we're founded on make this a pretty cool place all-in-all. Even if politicians try to wreck them at almost every turn.
...positive high school and university experiences. Watching others who didn't have those struggle even in mid-life makes me realize the value of that.
...that every day for me is "casual Friday." Even more descriptive would be "Jeans & T-shirt Day."
...a love of reading & learning that, even if it didn't pop up until my junior year at university (I manipulated systems until that time) I'm glad it came around.
...that somehow, we graduated from grad school debt-free, and even to this day we can't make the numbers add up.
...a good wine with dinner, even if others have to tell me that it's a good wine with dinner.

...and, you know, I'm not really a complicated guy. I love my God. My family & friends. And I guess I don't have a lot of "stuff" I'm thankful for...

...which makes me thankful.

Monday, September 24, 2007

If I'm A Little Disheveled Today...'s because I'm pretty much exhausted.

Not in that "I-didn't-get-enough-sleep-because-I-watched-the-Cowboys-game-last-night" kind of way.

It's more like that "It's-been-a-very-long-year-and-I've-been-having-sinus-crud-not-sleeping-well-for-a-week-plus-I've-been-working-too-much-plus-I-need-some-vacation-time-because-I've-been-in-a-funk-for-two-weeks-now-but-I've-still-tons-to-do-this-week" kind of way.

So...if The Diner proprietor has the newspaper up in front of his face when you visit or spends an abnormal amount of time in the back room doing paperwork, it isn't because I don't care about you nice folks.

It's just that I'm a little crabby and I don't want to offend the patronage. Not majorly or overly crabby, mind you. Just enough to want to be left alone and just enough to know better than to say anything that I might regret later.

But, since I'm not majorly or overly crabby, I'll leave you all with one of those Chuck Klosterman discussion starters ya'll seem to like so much:

Assume everything about your musical tastes was reversed overnight. Everything you once loved, you now hate; everything you once hated, you now love. For example, if your favorite band has always been R.E.M., they will suddenly sound awful to you; they will become the band you dislike the most. By the same token, if you've never been remotely interested in the work of Yes and Jethro Tull, those two groups will instantly seem fascinating. If you generally dislike jazz today, you'll generally like jazz tomorrow. If you currently consider the first album by Veruca Salt to be slightly above average, you will abruptly find it to be slightly below average. Everything will become its opposite, but everything will remain in balance (and the rest of your personality will be unchanged). So--in all likelihood--you won't love music any less (or any more) than you do right now. There will still be artists you love and who make you happy; they will merely be all the artists you currently find unlistenable.

Now, I concede that this transformation would make you unhappy.

But explain why.

Have fun while I avoid contact with the human race as much as possible today.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...about how cool my wife is. She has a friend that works for an airline with an extra pass, who called her to see if she wanted to go to Hawaii (Tracy's good friend moved there recently) since some seats were open on that flight. She packed up her camera and went to Hawaii--for the weekend!
...about how miserable my football picks were this weekend. I got one right--out of 8. This is why Vegas is the smartest business model ever.
...that having a driving teen has changed the dynamics of our household for the better in only two days.
...that I'm kind of excited about the new Barnes & Noble and AMC Theaters that is opening in FloMo next weekend. This makes me feel like my soul died a little bit because it excited me.
...that my friend Bailey became the head cheerleader at Marcus High School this year, and they're off to their first 3-0 start since their state championship year. Coincidence? I think not.
...that the way we do communion at our church's 5 O'Clock Worship services is way more enjoyable than in the morning when we kinda have to mass market it. The real bread, the tables in the back, elders serving from each table--very cool. But still not as cool as the way the high schoolers do it, with a real dinner & a time of talking about what God's doing in your life.
...that my frustration level was on high yesterday as I was trying to order something on pay-per-view yesterday and the fine folks at Verizon don't work weekends and the automated phone operator wasn't equipped to handle this transaction. First, there could've been a simple solution, such as when I clicked on the event from the guide, it could say, "You aren't subscribed to this channel, would you like to order it now for $21.95?" Then I could click "yes" or "no." Second, when I tried to go to the web site I couldn't find help or get immediate tech support--make your website more practical & easier to navigate! Third, while looking on your site I was able to find that very event I wanted to order was available for free for Verizon subscribers if you watched on-line. So, all's well that ends well. But that half-hour of frustration was totally unnecessary and this is why you always need to have people serve customers.
...that the work out/diet thing is still going swimmingly. Down 27 pounds from January 1 (when I gave up sodas) and 21 from when I started the work-out/diet thing. I can't tell you how much better I feel.
...the Rangers baseball team has mailed in the end of the season, losing 10 of 11. The only excitement comes from seeing if Michael Young will get his 200 hits again this season after a disasterously slow start.
...the Dallas Stars new uniforms are kind of ugly, but the kind of ugly that makes me want one of the road jerseys.
...I like that moment when the work out is finished, the yardwork is completed, other chores are squared away and all that's left is dinner & relaxing for the evening. That moment is a pure life moment.
...that the article in today's Dallas Morning News about European lifestyles compared to American ones is a real thought-provoker.
...that every time I get an e-mail from the higher-order barnstorming couple with a new photo of my neice, I smile. I smile because, sure, Margaux is a cute kid and all, but also because they're so happy & proud.
...Kid2 is off to watch a ballet in Tulsa today. I'm glad she's into the arts and has opporunities like this one. Plus, yesterday, I had 45 minutes in the car with her. We got to chat and get caught up on stuff--and it makes me want to tell parents that you should turn off your car's DVD player, lower the music to "barely audible," and shut off the mobile phone and talk to you kid. That car-only captive audience is highly valuable time.
...that I've learned an awful lot in the past year. Good and bad.
...that I'm glad my reading has picked back up again. I have no idea why I like reading so much, but I think Dr. Suess had an awful lot to do with it.
...that I'm really looking forward to my day today. Lots of cool stuff at church: My friend Mikey is preaching today, I enjoy teaching my two classes a great deal, 5 O'Clock Worship really excites me, and the Cowboys close it out after all that is said and done. And the possibility of a really long nap in between services. I'd better get on with it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another Milestone...And A Great One!

So, yesterday, Kid1 and I were off to the DMV. See, her school district was out of school for the day and it was the first opportunity she'd had to go and get her driver's license. She'd completed the home course, "Drivers Ed in a Box" (which I highly recommend), and after about 15 minutes total time of paperwork and eye tests and signing a few papers, Kelsey got her license!

She couldn't wait to go somewhere as soon as possible (even though she tried to play it cool) so she and her sister headed off to Sonic to get some mango tea and other stuff...

She backed out...

She got going...

And she was off!

I imagine this last photo is an image I'll be seeing a great deal of in future days. And I'm kind of excited for her, too. She's a pretty good driver and she's given us every reason to think that she'll be very responsible (as well as the motivation of it being HER car helps) and make wise choices--which makes it cool.

And those little taxi runs Tracy and I have been making since the early teens look like they'll be a thing of the past...which is a very good thing for all involved.

But it had that twinge you felt on their first day of elementary school or middle school or high school or first date or 13th birthday or whatever...

...that it's one more little reminder that she's growing up.

And even though it seems way too fast (I'm too young to have a 16-year-old)...

...she's certainly ready, and we kind of are, too.

It's a very cool experience, if you're asking.
Margaux Update

Margaux, in overalls (as the higher-order life-liver sister Jilly described as "the native clothes of her mother's homeland")

I get to see her in 16 days.

Pretty pumped about it.
Sometimes, The Funnies Mirror My Life

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Football Picks, Week #4

Last week, against the point spread, I was 4-3 (with one "push"--Alabama won by exactly 3 points), making my record this season 15-8-1. Not too bad...but last week was one of the reasons Vegas always wins, man. There's a reason they make money. Anyway...

...on to this week's slate (which doesn't really have too much that excites me)--after I comment on how unbelievable it is that the Big 12 has only 1 team that can compete on a national scale. Aggie coach Fran is definitely on the hot seat after last night's debacle in Miami. Read the Dallas Morning News today as they really got after him.

Here's the picks:

New Mexico State (+16.5) at Auburn: I know. Auburn's game isn't really worthy of top 8 consideration this week, but they're my team and it's my Diner so they're always gonna be in the mix. I wish they weren't, though. They're struggling offensively and the defense has a propensity to blow it on third and long. This won't help as Hal Mumme's offense at NMSU will run 80 plays and pass on 60 of them. They'll score enough to cover the point spread, but I think Auburn struggles and wins. Diner Prediction: Auburn 31, New Mexico State 20.

Georgia (+3.5) at Alabama: Same as last week. Bama at home. The Tide has, quite literally, the momentum and good vibes of a hungry Alabama following. All the cards fall in Alabama's favor and Georgia lost at home to South Carolina...who isn't as good as Alabama. I can't believe that Saban turned it around that quickly, though, but he has. I really hope I'm wrong, but I think Bama will coast. Diner Prediction: Alabama 28, Georgia 17

South Carolina (+16.5) at LSU: The only thing that makes this mildly interesting is the reality that LSU's starting QB is in danger of not playing and well...ummm...Steve Spurrier. But LSU is scary good this year, and it'll be enough at home, man. Too much firepower. Diner Prediction: LSU 34, South Carolina 17.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (+6): Guns up, Red Raider fans. Oklahoma State, in yet another example of the Big 12's drop in the eyes of the nation, lost to...wait for it...Troy. The 4th Division 1-A team in the state of Alabama. They lost to an overrated Georgia team in a big way. Tech scores points like it's pinball. Diner Prediction: Texas Tech 35, Oklahoma State 24.

Penn State at Michigan (+3): Okay. Going to the Big House ain't what it used to be. And Penn State's better than they used to be. I think they're in the top 10 for a reason. Michigan will be better, but when you're only win thus far is against (I like saying this) hapless Notre Dame, well, it's too bad that you don't have a New Mexico State on the schedule to give you a little more confidence. Diner Prediction: Penn State 24, Michigan 10.

Michigan State at Notre Dame (+12.5): Did anybody mention when Notre Dame scored an offensive touchdown this season? If they did, they were lying because they've yet to find the end zone. I think they'll get lucky and get one and muster up a field goal (maybe 2) along the way. Unfortunately Michigan State's got a new coach, they're on the road, and they're no Michigan talent-wise on offense. So, Michigan State wins, but I think the Irish will actually cover. Diner Prediction: Michigan State 21, Notre Dame 10.

Kentucky (+6) at Arkansas: Arkansas will run. And then run again. And the run some more. And Kentucky is still on a high from their upset of Louisville last week. Everybody knows the very best way to shut down a high-octane offense is not to let them have it, run the ball, eat clock and score TD's. Arkansas will have enough at home. If they don't, Houston Nutt will be looking for a job sooner rather than later. Diner Prediction: Arkansas 35, Kentucky 24.

Washington State (+24.5) at USC: Every year, USC has a scare or a loss against a Pac 10 team. The Cougs don't have enough to get that done from what they've shown thus far this year. That scare or two will come from Washington or California. The question is whether or not 4 scores to cover. I think they will, but it's sad when they beat a Big 12 Nebraska by 18 (and it wasn't that close) and I don't think WSU is as good as Nebraska. Diner Prediction: USC 45, Cougs 17.

I was also asked to pick local high school games by some readers so I'll take the three local teams...but really I have no idea about how to pick the games (and they won't count in my standings). Since Lewisville's Fighting Farmers won big last night, I'll pick a few others:

Marcus vs. Keller: Marcus has found new discipline, solid defense and a tremendous kicking game this season if what I saw last week was any indication. Diner Prediction: MHS 34, Keller 20.

Keller Fossil Ridge vs. Flower Mound: The Jags lost a game last week against a team that Marcus struggled against, but won, and I think Fossil Ridge is pretty good. Diner Prediction: Fossil Ridge 28, Flower Mound 24.

Liberty Christian vs. Bowie: I know the kicker for Liberty. Liberty is always significantly better than their non-district teams. I think this one's easy. Diner Prediction: Liberty 42, Bowie 9.

What're your thoughts, patrons?
Since Ya'll Seem To Like These So Much...

Here's another Chuck Klosterman discussion starter:

It is 1933. You are in Berlin, Germany. Somehow, you find yourself in a position where you can effortlessly steal Adolf Hitler's wallet. This theft will not effect Hitler's rise to power, the nature of World War II, or the Holocaust. There is no important identification in the wallet, but the act will cost Hitler forty Reichsmarks and completely ruin his evening. You do not need the money. The odds that you will be caught committing the crime are less than 2 percent. Do you take the wallet?.

Have at it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You Know That Feeling...

I like to go white-water rafting. Nothing serious, mind you. I'm not one of those hardcore aquanauts who seeks out a bigger and better set of rapids, but when I have the chance I like to go.

Early on, it's fun and you're joking with your boat friends (usually I'm in large groups and organizing the trip...occupational hazard [thanks, Justin], so people are joking with me from the get-go regarding whatever it is that "I've gotten them into") when the instructor tells you what to do when/if you fall out and you're guessing who is gonna fall in the drink from your boat and double checking to see if you've got sunscreen and your keys secured and all that jazz. But it's kinda fun and you're looking forward to the two or three hour adventure.

You get in and start taking in the sights. I usually go in Colorado so on the hills or cliffs that surround the water might provide you with the chance to see mountain goats or bighorn rams. The instructor is pointing out things and reminding you what you're going to do once you hit some rapids and then your group practices her commands. I like to sit up front and do the grunt work.

And then the rapids hit. At first, your group usually struggles (I mean, we're all tourists, for cryin' out loud) in the first set or two because you don't quite have the guide's commands mastered and he or she reminds you again and you kinda smack your forehead because you KNEW that but just forgot. When you get to the whitewater again and your group gets better by about the fourth set.

This leads to playful splashing when all the boats get to calmer waters. All sorts of taunting and such go back and forth. Somebody always brings a Super Soaker and gets the best of everybody. Lots of singing the Gilligan's Island song, too. It's always funny, too.

More rapids. You get better at navigation and problem-solving and the adrenaline takes over as you start to get more fatigued.

The playfulness in the calm waters settles in. You're a little sunburned. Muscles you haven't used in a while are starting to get sore. The effect of the day and the event are beginning to wear on you a bit. By the time lunchtime rolls around you're pretty glad to get out of the boat and rest and eat a little something. There's usually a bridge or small park where the river guides settle in for lunch. Super Soaker guy is at it again, too, mostly chasing the little kids.

But I always like to sign up for the all-day trip where you go to the bottom of the gorge. Even though I know I'll be pretty darn tired and my muscles will let me know that next year we'll just do the half-day. Yeah, right.

You know you're going to climb back in the boat in 10 minutes and then you'll repeat the process for about three more hours.

That feeling that you experience when you look at your watch when you're tired and your belly's full and you know you've got miles to go...

...that little voice in your brain that says, "You know, you really don't have to do this, man. You could just get on the bus that takes you to the parking lot and go back to the hotel and nap for the rest of the day. Sounds kinda nice, doesn't it?"

That's where I am today. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

But I really like that little voice in your brain that responds, "You've been on these things before, man. You know the longer you go the better the rapids get. The greater the adrenaline rush. The better the laughs get and the better stories come. There are better sights, too. You can nap tomorrow...or the next day. Hell, you've got the rest of your life to take naps. But you don't know when you're ever gonna have this chance again. Adventure awaits, man. Get in the boat. And don't make me even bring up what your daughters might miss out on. Look at 'em. They really want to go." *apparently, that little voice in my brain likes to sprinkle in a curse word every now and again. He's a wild man by personality, so I let that little character flaw slide a bit.*

That's the voice I'm listening to today. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

So let's get the keys & cameras in the dry bag. Life jackets, sunscreen. Helmet's up. Let's put-in after the Eddie line and get after some haystacks and strainers and even attack a hole or two (risking popcorning the whole group, of course, but well worth it) and see how many CFS we can generate. Until we get to the take-out. Seriously.

Break's over man. Break's over.

Bring it on.
Since You Seemed To Have Fun Yesterday...

...I thought I'd give you another Chuck Klosterman discussion starter!

You work in an office, performing a job you find satisfying (and which compensates you adequately). The company that employs you is suddenly purchased by an eccentric millionaire who plans to immediately raise each person's salary by 5 percent and extend an extra week of vacation to all full-time employees.

However, this new owner intends to enforce a somewhat radical dress code: Every day, men will have to wear tuxedos, tails and a top hat (during summer months, male employees will be allowed to wear gray three-piece suits on "casual Fridays"). Women must exclusively work in formal wear, preferably ball gowns or prom dresses. Each employee will be given an annual stipend to purchase necessary garments, but that money can only be spend on work-related clothing.

The new regime starts in three months.

Do you seek employment elsewhere?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Klosterman Quandary

Okay, so I'm late to the Chuck Klosterman reading party...

...but I'm really enjoying his essays and should finish his latest book by this weekend.

ANYWAY one of the ways he engages his readers is to introduce absurd predicaments which force you to choose one result or another. He says he does things like this to get to know other people in social situations. I thought we'd try this one in The Diner today:

You are offered a Brain Pill. If you swallow this pill, you will become 10% more intelligent than you currently are; you will be more adept at reading comprehension, logic and critical thinking. However, to all other people you know (and to all future people you meet), you will seem 20% less intelligent. In other words, you will immediately become smarter, but the rest of the world will perceive you as dumber (and there's no way you can ever alter the universality of that perception). Do you take this pill?
Hey, Everybody! It's Jimmy Fallon's 33rd birthday today!

So, let's all celebrate by...

...giggling when we're not supposed to be laughing and trying to cover it up but not doing that very well.
...making light of today's news events by using biting sarcasm.
...coming up with some of the most underrated skit characters ever (Jaret, Barry Gibb, Johnny Burtalahni, and one of the backup singers to Will Farrell's "more cowbell")
...and writing alternative lyrics to current pop songs which highlight the silliness of our culture.
Seriously...What Could We Do?

On the heels of my riding my bike here and there lately...

There was a headline in the Dallas Morning News today that talked about how a commuter in DFW spends an average of 58 hours a year in traffic congestion. This placed us 5th in the nation.

The previous 4, in order, were Los Angeles, (with three tying for 2nd place) San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

Naturally, the article interviewed all the usual people. One guy was really excited that some area road construction projects were going to be finished soon. Another lady was talking about some trolleys and bus lines and maybe even a light-rail expansion. There was talk of making the current HOV lanes "toll roads" where you could pay a fee and use them even if you didn't have other people in the car.

It seems to me that those solutions wouldn't ultimately help all that much. Maybe save a few minutes here or there which might add up to about 2 or 3 of those hours shaved off...which would only bump us down to 7th on the list of "very large" cities.

And I looked at the cities known for having sufficient public transportation options and where they ranked. New York, Chicago & Boston all averaged 12 hours less per year sitting in traffic. It didn't help much in San Francisco or Washington, D.C. Mid-sized cities like Minneapolis-St. Paul or Portland averaged less time by like 20 hours a year.

So, the option of public transportation didn't necessarily relieve the commutes...and the studies were obviously on the major thoroughfares in each of those places. If our little suburb is any indication, that commute filters onto our major roads. 2499 from 5:30 to 6:30PM coming in, anyone? Or 2499/121 going south at 6:45 to 8:30AM, anyone? Gerault & 3040 in the afternoons, anyone? 407 coming towards town around 8:30AM or outbound after 5PM, anyone?

But we don't really have what I'd call a serious public transportation option where I live. Sure, depending on where you have to get to downtown you might could go to the DART park-n-ride and do that...or even from the airport, where there are more options.

And what about those that take the public transportation in those cities where it "works?" I'd imagine that they'd have time in what I'd call "gridlock." I mean, they stand in line for trains or buses, right? I'd imagine that at various "rush hours" in say, New York City when everybody's trying to get out of the city and get home there's some crowded cars and waits...although once after a Mets game at Shea they were able to move about 25,000 folks who took the train to the game out of there and we never stopped moving.

So, for today, here in the Diner, what little things can we do...I mean, really do that would help out these kinds of situations.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Festivus Comes Early

Those of you well-versed in Seinfeld lore already know about Festivus.

Those of you who aren't, Frank Costanza invented a holiday because none of the major religions "fit" what he believed..."Festivus for the Rest of Us," says Frank. There's an episode dedicated to the celebration in which bits and pieces of Festivus are revealed, but yet, little explanation of it are given. For example, there's a Festivus Pole. There was supposedly a Festivus Miracle. After the Festivus Meal (which is celebrated on December 23--consisting of spaghetti & red sauce) there is an exhibition of Feats of Strength.

But Festivus kicks-off with the official "Airing of Grievances." This is where you can pretty much tell off individuals or society how they've angered or disappointed you over the last year...


...I'll stay away from the individuals (although I suspect that'd be the better blog topic) and stick to soceity at large, but, today, I'm kicking off the Festivus season early. If Target can start putting out Christmas stuff, I can kick off Festivus.

I shall commence with the Airing of Grievances:

One should NOT park on both sides of the street at the local park during you child's sports practice. Our cars can't navigate during the late afternoon. Park only on the side of the street closest to the park...if that's full, park on the several side streets and walk.

One should NOT block an intersection trying to get through the light. I don't care if it's rush-hour or whatever, but when you sit there in the middle of the intersection you block the rest of rush-hour traffic.

One should instruct your children that iPods & hand-held gaming platforms have no place at church services or Sunday School classrooms. Especially when you complain that other children aren't "accepting" your child and they "aren't making friends" here.

Cell phones should be turned off during movies, during sermons, during classes and text messaging should cease and desist during those times as well. Oh yeah, teens, drop the attitude when told that. Parents: Reinforce that. Also, there are headsets and such for driving, so everybody that doesn't have those features cease and desist all cell phone usage. I've had enough near misses lately.

Telemarketing should be outlawed. I ignored 12 phone calls yesterday. 12.

Auburn fans should tap the brakes on the grumbling and backstabbing. The bottom line is that we have a coach that's won 33 games and lost 5 in the last three years, we've beaten Alabama 5 times in a freaking row and even if the hated Crimson Tide has things going their way right now (that pendulum swings back and forth over years, or sometimes decades anyway) they still aren't the Auburn Family. And I'd rather be loyal to a coach who we treated poorly and he stayed with us and to a team that will always relish being the underdogs in a system designed to slight them (re: 1983 & 2004) than to be a part of the Bama Nation. They hire mercenaries as coaches and feel entitled. War Eagle, folks. And remember, life's better in orange and blue, even in a down year (but frankly, the future looks quite bright with all the freshmen & sophomores we're playing).

Please understand that there's nothing really going on behind-the-scenes at our church that you haven't already heard...but even if there were (Elder Board meetings are "public"--anyone can attend) don't you think I'd have the integrity not to discuss things that aren't ready for public consumption yet?

Retail establishments & banks should get back to the business of customer service. I get awfully tired of being told--even inadvertantly--that I'm free to take my business elsewhere as I'm truly discussing a situation with a manager. The Manager-On-Duty last night literally told her employee she needed to handle that situation herself because "I have to get back to home theatres NOW" even though it was obvious that the college kids were having a "rush" and the other nice lady was truly respectfully asking a question about the nature of her service plan and why it wouldn't cover it.

Don't drive through our church parking lot because the traffic on the main thoroughfare is backed up and you're trying to save time. We have lots of little kids who walk through there and moms who can't always wrangle them as safely as they might like. Just wait patiently or leave earlier. you can all see, Festivus came early and even though I could air more grief, I'll open the floor to the Diner Patrons. So feel free to join in, and Happy Festivus!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Occupational Hazzard

It's interesting to listen to the chatter that goes on in the hallways of our church between services. There's discussion of where to go for lunch. There's talk of the soccer or baseball games the kids will play in later that day. There's talk of a Cowboys game-watching party with neighbors or a mini-church group. There's conversation about taking in a movie or doing some shopping because of a sale. There's a group going to hook up the boat and/or jet-skis and head out to one of the local lakes for some quality time with the fam on the last few hours of the weekend.

And it dawned on me how the "other half" lives.

See, Sunday is a full blown day of work for pastors. Now, I'm not complaining about that...I mean...I knew Sundays were part of the gig when I signed up. And, in fact, I get to have those same discussions on Mondays (my day off) when the rest of the world is busy at work. So, it all evens out in the wash.

But Sundays themselves are different for let me pull back the curtain a bit for those of you that might be interested in how it plays out.

It starts out with a review of the order of service with the people who will be in the main worship service about an hour before the services start. This involves the worship team, the pastor giving the sermon, any and all who will be doing announcements or special presentations and the like. If you aren't involved, then you don't have to attend that one. I've noticed that the new soccer complex across the street from our church is full at 8:00AM on Sundays. What's up with that?

Anyway, there's a time of prayer for the staff about a half-hour before the service.

After that, since my role is to make sure teachers have all the support they need, I do the "management-by-walking-around" thing and check up on the teachers in the adult C.E. department have their rooms set up and any teaching aides like projectors or overheads or computers, etc. This takes about 10 minutes.

Since I like to be extremely visible and available I head downstairs about 10 minutes before the service time and meet & greet folks. It's actually kind of fun, too.

I usually attend the 9AM service...but sometimes we have meetings or other things that need to be taken care of. I probably make that service 3 out of 4 weeks.

In-between services it's more being visible and available. It's still fun. Then I repeat the "management-by-walking-around" thing for the 10:45AM classes. Then I teach a class during that hour.

After the service, the staff rotates responsibility for rearranging the auditorium for the 5:00 O'Clock Worship service. If it's your week, you stay about half an hour and oversee that process. If it isn't your week, well, you generally head home. While it's nice for people to offer you the chance to come and eat lunch with them there's a reality that you'd like to, but you know that rest is needed and I've learned that lunches like that can be very friendly or evolve into counseling/problem solving kind of stuff--which is fine and good every now and then--but I tend to hedge my bets and eat lunch with my family. Which may evolve into counseling/problem solving kind of stuff, too. But the odds are less likely since they know the drill.

And the drill is usually to eat some lunch, sit down to read which evolves into a nap. Depending on what time the Cowboys play...if the 'Boys play at noon, I'll grab the nap at 3. If they play at 3, I'll nap after lunch. But if they play at 3, you can only watch the 1st half--and don't bother TiVo-ing that bad boy because there's no way to avoid hearing a final score before you get home. If it isn't football season or the game is at night or on Monday, the nap is longer. Sometimes, rarely, there is yardwork that gets done.

Then it's back up to the church for another walk-through before the service (again, if you aren't involved you don't have to attend) and my family attends the 5:00 O'Clock Worship service. We don't really get the chance to worship together as I have a series of responsibilities that usually puts me in the service by the time the sermon usually, I'll listen to the sermon on televisions in the office suite while I check on the 6:15PM Sunday School classes and such...or set up my room for teaching. I take that kind of seriously.

We leave about 7:30PM...and knowing that I'm now "off work," I usually find some time to relax with my wife or with friends or whatever. Sometimes the youth staff will have a "movie decompression night" and we'll all go see something blow up or see something silly. Sometimes the wife and I will just have a quiet dinner at the house and get ramped up for our week, too.

So, that's more or less what it's like behind the scenes for's different for different pastors as we all have different levels of responsibilities during different service hours.

But, occasionally, I kind of peek over the fence and see how green the grass is on the "other side" of Sunday. And think how cool it would be to be "off" after the 9AM service is over. To have that whole day to lunch with friends or to watch my kids do their thing or watch the Cowboy game with a mini-church or head off to a movie or sale at the mall or hit the lake or whatever...

...and then I remember that it's my job to share the incredible news of Jesus Christ with folks who use the "other side" of Sunday to enjoy that side of the spiritual life with their family and friends. And, I'd gladly trade the "other side" of Sunday for the chance to do that. And to do that for a living.

In fact, I did.

And I'm happy that I did. Especially at the church that I did it for. And when I say "church" I mean it in the people that make up that congregation...whom I've come to love and appreciate more and more over the years.

And, I've always got my Mondays...while the folks I love and serve are the "other side" of their work weeks.
Ordinarily, I Wouldn't Have Paid Attention To An Article Like This...

...but when your daughter, Kid1, attends the place, well, you stop down and read when you see a headline that says Dallas arts magnet high school closes in on goal to fund rebuilding. Booker T. Washington just $2 million shy in building campaign.

photo courtesy Dallas Morning News Shared Content

I may not can give my kids much by comparison to many in this community, but I can give them opportunities. And I'm glad my kid has the chance to attend this school.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Life Lessons

Things I either learned or were reiterated to me over the course of this weekend:

Catching up with old friends is nice: I ran into somebody I hadn't seen in a few months at the football game on Friday night. We got caught up on each other, our kids, our mutual friends. It couldn't have been more than 10 minutes of conversation, but it was very enjoyable.

Go "green" when you can: The weather is cooling off a bit and our community has plenty of sidewalks so I chose to ride my bicycle to the football game and to coffee with another friend the same way. Sure, it's only 15 minutes to each from where I live so it isn't a huge deal...but I enjoyed it. You can think while you ride. Or pray. Granted, you can't do it often in Texas, but I was surprised a bit by people who said things like, "Why would you ride a bike three miles? That's a long way."

Don't mess with band parents: I went to get some snacks at halftime of the football game. My seats were very close to where the local state-championship band is seated...and upon my return, walking up the stairs about a minute before the state-championship band was to take the field, all the parents were glaring at me with looks that said one of two things: First, you'd better be glad you got back from the concessionaire lines or we'd have been pretty mad at you not having the common courtesy to view the entire band's halftime show. Second, we're annoyed that a millisecond of our handi-cam video production is now going to have your head in it. Don't get me wrong as the show was good & worth getting back to my seat for, but man. Tough crowd...but many left after halftime so I could exit safely.

Parenting teens takes work, too: Many parents disengage as their teens get older, but I'm finding that preparing teens for the new levels of decision making they'll do when they're old enough to drive/date/get jobs/prepare for college/etc., takes equally as much dedication (if not moreso) as when you came home and played legos and helped them clean their rooms. The upside is that the conversations are better and the kids are now turning into people instead of "charges." Much of the work is mental, trying to find that delicate balance between giving insight or micromanaging.

Dates with the wife are still nice: It was really nothing special. Just a movie out. But I was with the coolest girl I ever met and we saw a surprisingly funny movie (a British comedy--which are always hit or miss) with a happy ending, but there are times when I just look at her and think, "Manalive is she pretty and cool and smart and I'm glad I'm here with her."

We've got good teachers in our area: At the football game Friday night I ran into three teachers I know at various points. One was volunteering for the band. Another helps out with the drill team. Yet another came just to meet & greet with her students. I'm sure there were more, but they're the ones I happen to know. These teachers worked all week and still found time to be a part of their students' (or in one case, former students) lives. I think that's cool.

Coffee with former students is a highlight: Watching my former students apply life lessons that their parents drilled into them and I reinforced, finding ways to love their spouses and use their gifts to serve employers and ministries is very cool.

Sports are a diversion: It's obvious that my college football team isn't going to do anything particularly special this year (not with LSU, Oklahoma, USC & maybe Florida the obvious class of college football this season) which frees up an awful lot of emotional energy and time to do other things. Especially when the pro baseball team is 10 games under .500 and pro football doesn't matter much to me until the playoffs (although, I confess a certain interest in the Cowboys) and hockey season hasn't started yet (which is really a long season to discover where we'll be in the playoff seedings)...and I'm glad I don't live in Alabama anymore because this week would be truly miserable for Auburn fans. Here, you watch the game and say, "Dangit, my team lost. Well, gotta go mow." In Alabama, you'll dissect the game at church, work, on the internet and on talk radio all week. Again, I'm glad I don't live there anymore for a myriad of reasons, but that's one of them.

Remembering my mom brings a smile to my face: Alabama played a football game on television last night. I wasn't particularly interested in anything but the coin toss because, if you remember, last summer my family and I scattered my mom's ashes at midfield of Bryant-Denny Stadium. So, when they're choosing who gets the ball first, I think of my mom. She also wanted us to scatter some at a local landmark where famous football captains of UA teams past have their handprints in the sidewalk and write their names in the squares. My mom wanted to be next to Joe Namath (college crush, like every other girl at UA at that time), and the broadcast last night showed the legend next to his handprints. It was an added bonus to see both places her ashes were scattered.

Get the yardwork done on Saturday: For some reason, my weekend doesn't feel "started" with yardwork still needing to get done...and the sooner the better. Yesterday, when I put the mower up, it felt like a whole world of possibilities opened up.

New beginnings can be exciting: Our new teaching pastor and his wife are coming to our church today. I'm excited, not necessarily because of the couple themselves (although they're extremely likeable and I think Steve will serve our congregation very well) but because it's a tangible reminder that Christ is in control of our church and these are the people He's placed at this time to serve and lead CBC. This is very exciting to me and that looking to the future to see what God is going to do in and through the Hixon's over the years...and in and through our church in the years to come...and in and through me over the can you not be excited?

So, what did you learn over the weekend?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Early Heart-Rate Boost

From a book written to pastors by Eugene Peterson:

"None of these acts [prayer, study of the word, visiting with individuals] is public, which means that no one knows for sure whether or not we're doing any of them. People hear us pray in worship, they listen to us preach and teach from the Scriptures, they notice when we are listening to them in conversation, but they can never know if we're attending to God in any of this. It doesn't take many years in this business to realize that we can conduct a farily respectable pastoral ministry without giving much more than ceremonial attention to God. Since we can omit these acts of attention without anybody noticing, and because eacho the acts involves a great deal of rigor, it is easy and common to slight them."


...I work with a group of people who hold each other pretty accountable to these things and don't fake it...

...but it's scary to know that Eugene Peterson--who's pretty astute in observations of the Christian culture--thinks it's so common to "slight" those most important things (they're the first things in a CBC pastor's job description, by the way) that he wrote a series of three books about them.


Friday, September 14, 2007

The Diner Friday Football Picks, Week #3

I have to say that I'm pretty pumped about my 6-2 record against the point spread last week. For those of you keeping track on the season, I'm 11-5 thus far, which is pretty darn impressive for those of you who don't know about such things...and 6-2 is pretty much phenomenal. I lost badly on Michigan (again!) and South Carolina upset Georgia (I wasn't alone in overrating the Bulldogs, either)...but other than that I was pretty much "on." I did pick Auburn to win, but I really did think South Florida (a bowl team from last year & will likely win 10 games) would cover & they actually won in overtime.

With that said & done, we'll see if I can continue this two-week winning streak and there are a lot of good games on the docket:

Arkansas (+3) at Alabama: The Razorbacks can run, man. McFadden is a legitimate Heisman candidate and Alabama doesn't have a legitimate star, really. But these two teams always play close and the series is like 9-8 in favor of Bama. While I think the Hogs are more talented, I really do believe that Saban & staff are better coaches than Nutt & his staff. The oddsmakers pretty much see the game as a toss-up with Bama getting 3 points at home. I see it as Bama having two weeks to get ready for this one, making them a bit better, and also getting three points at home in what I think will be an incredibly hungry Tide crowd. Diner Prediction: Alabama 23, Arkansas 14.

Mississippi State (+13) at Auburn: This Auburn team is an enigma. Did they play two improving bowl teams to the wire or did they struggle against middling Big East & Big 12 teams? Did they struggle offensively or did the other teams have defenses that caused it? Is Auburn QB Brandon Cox regressing or surrounded by subpar upperclassmen talent? Auburn's at home, they'll try to use the formula that won 11 games last year: Establish the run, use the short passing game to open up even more runs, and stifling defense combining with a strong kicking game. Auburn has shut out State the last two years, too. They won't this year, but they should cover--even in the early Saturday games where they struggled last year. Diner Prediction: Auburn 27, Mississippi State 13.

Tennessee (+7.5) at Florida: Florida has tuned up against weak competition and the Vols went on the road at Cal and, with the exception of a punt return and fluke fumble return, went toe-to-toe with the Bears. The line started with Tennessee getting 10 and now they're getting a touchdown, so lots of folks liked the Vols and two scores, but not many like one. People have been calling for the demise of Florida after their national championship year and graduating so many playmakers on defense...and they might be right and I'd have taken 10. But for some reason, I think the Gators will win at home. Diner Prediction: Florida 28, Tennessee 20.

Boston College (+7) at Georgia Tech: Every year, people get jacked about B.C. having a breakout year and they never break out. ESPN GameDay guys love 'em but they always seem to disappoint. The Jackets have been getting it done, throttling Notre Dame (not as impressive as it looked at the time) and did what they were supposed to against Samford. I like Georgia Tech at night, at home. Diner Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Boston College 20.

Louisville at Kentucky (+6.5): Is it me or does Louisville look a little vulnerable without Petrino at the helm? Kentucky is pointing at this game as one which will show they've turned a corner and can compete with the Cardinals. The problem is this game will look like an Arena League game because no one will play solid defense. In a game like that it will favor the more offensively minded football team, which makes the logical pick Louisville. For some reason, though, I've got an existential feeling that Kentucky has indeed turned a corner of sorts...and getting points at home is good in this case. Diner Prediction: Kentucky 44, Louisville 38.

Ohio State at Washington (+4): Ohio State, and the Big 10 in general, have been overrated the last two seasons. Ohio State struggled last week against inferior competition and now they have to go on the road. Big 10 power football against speedy Pac 10 finesse offenses. Well, we saw what Florida's speed did to Ohio State in the big game last year. We'll see sometime similar this weekend, but not on that scale. Diner Prediction: Washington 23, Ohio State 20.

U.S.C. at Nebraska (+9.5): Media darlings U.S.C. go on the road to Nebraska in prime time, at night. In my youth, I never thought I'd see Nebraska get points at home, much less two scores. So, I think an upset is possible, it isn't likely...I just don't think the 2nd or 3rd best team in the Big 12 is as good as the class of the Pac 10. While U.S.C. gets initial hype every year and the media loves them, I think they'll have enough and have enough to cover. Diner Prediction: U.S.C. 28, Nebraska 17.

Notre Dame (+7.5) at Michigan: Michigan? I really thought they'd rebound against the Ducks. And I really think they're better than this bad Notre Dame team that can't find a quarterback. Or course, Michigan's starter is out, too, which may be a blessing. That isn't saying much. But I simply can't imagine Michigan losing three in the Big House. Period. Of course, I can't imagine Notre Dame losing three straight, either. Hmmm. I really have mixed feelings about all this, but I still think Michigan has more talent and they're at home. Diner Prediction: Michigan 24, Notre Dame 10.

That's this week's picks...your thoughts?

Thursday, September 13, 2007


One of the occupational realities of my job is that my students will use me as a reference for various jobs they're applying for.

Now, I have no idea what's going on at the places that need references, but they usually go something like this:

"Hi, Mr. McKinney. My name is Jill Smith and I'm calling from [insert retail store name here]. Jane Doe has submitted your name as a reference and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions if you have a minute or two?"


"Now, how do you know Jane?"

"Well, she's been in my youth group for 6 years."

"Uh-huh. Good. How well do you know Jane?"

"Pretty well. I mean, she's been on mission trips and retreats and I've had coffee with her every couple of months or so."

"Uh-huh. That's nice. And you think she'd be good at helping our business sell CD's and video games [or be a sandwich artist or be a hostess or waitress or tear movie tickets]?"

"Well, sure, I guess...I mean, I don't know how I would be able to..."

"Thanks so much for your time, Mr. McKinney. You've been very helpful, and I appreciate your time. Thanks again and have a nice day!"

Like I said, I don't have any idea what the retail establishment really needs. Maybe it's because of the nature of the McJob they're applying for that checking references is a formality. Or maybe just a routine test to see if they actually have a real person as a reference. Maybe teenagers don't have that much to refer since they tend not to have criminal records and haven't had a track record built yet...and the manager's experience is that checking fully into the reference is kind of a time-waste.

But my guess is that they don't really need my input, and they're following some sort of procedure. They've probably sifted through the applicants and maybe even have an interview with them. What they need is to check off a box for the boss to say they called their references.

Now that I bring it up, I'm not entirely sure why this bothers me. I mean, I have plenty to do that doesn't involve telling the potential boss that his future clothing folder at The Gap is very creative and has an infectious laugh...or that she's pretty bright and is a good friend to her friends and she's got this great taste in music and is a defensive driver and she turns her cell phone off when we have coffee and that she's always been on time for the bus trips and she makes good grades and she handled not making the team pretty well last spring and her Facebook page gets all sorts of comments and she doesn't care much about boys just yet and she told me her mom makes her keep her room spotless all the time...

...and you might think that information might not help a manager choose a teenager to greet folks, and hand them their little lighted buzzer after you write their name down and a big "4" and tell them it'll be a 20-minute wait.

But I'd think if I were running a retail establisment of any kind, I'd want to surround myself with interesting & fun people who enjoy whatever they happen to be doing at any given time, because, let's face it, work is usually work.

And, with that in mind, if I were running a retail establishment and needed hourly-wage high school/collegian worker bees, here's what my job application for them would look like (in addition to the basic information, here are the essay questions):

1. If you were going to make me a playlist from iTunes of songs that you REALLY love, what would be the first three songs?
2. What literary fictional character do you identify with the most and why?
3. If I gave you five hours with nothing to do and said that you had to use that time to do what you loved, what would you do with that five hours?
4. When do you think you were happiest in life and why?
5. What television shows & movies have made you laugh out loud recently?
6. If I were new to the area and we had an hour and I asked you to drive me around and show me little bits of our community that are the best parts of it, where would you take me and why?
7. If you were to get arrested, what would the charge most likely be?

And, you know, if I got answers to those questions I could determine pretty accurately if I could enjoy working with that person.

And I wouldn't need to check off a box of some pseudo reference at all...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Tracy and I have done the Parent-Teacher Association meetings at three different schools...and, they're all pretty much the same. What I mean is this: You go to the meeting, primarily because it is meet-your-kid's-teachers night and they advertised a 7:00PM start time. What that means is this: The PTA recruitment drive begins at 7PM. The meet-your-kid's-teachers part starts about a half an hour later.

The recruitment drive begins. It's basically an explanation of how and where to write a check to become a member.

They elect the officers for the new year. This is basically a time where those people who head up the volunteer organization re-up for another year of service. Everybody runs unopposed...and in one case last year, they actually asked a lady out of the audience if she'd pleeeeeeeeeeeease be the treasurer again.

They vote to approve the budget. This involves telling us that there is still $2,100 left over from last year and that this year we're going to try to raise $5,300 for new playground equipment and a sign by the other entrance. We're going to do this by selling light bulbs and frozen meals, and maybe magazine subscriptions. Everybody says, "Aye." There's never any opposed or any abstentions for the record. Everybody just wants to go meet-your-kid's-teachers.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for the nice people that volunteer their time and help out the school with the new playground equipment and the new sign by the entrance and new software for the high school computer lab. It's really a nice addition for any school to have parents help out with those things as well as come up with nice "thank you's" at the end of the year for the administration and the whole bit. It's just the meetings for those organizations tend to be more mundane and predictable than informative or helpful.

Until Monday night...

...when Tracy and I went to the P.T.S.A. meeting for Kid1's arts-magnet school she attends. In typical fashion, I went because there was "mini-school" where we could go through the schedule and quickly shake hands with the teachers (there's a lengthier "meet-your-kid's-teachers" night in October when they've had a chance to get to know your teen a little longer) and catch a glimpse of the school itself. At this school, students can be members of this organization, too. That's true at other places as well. Hence the "S" added to the "P," the "T," and the "A."

First of all, they introduced the board members. And by board members, I mean BOARD members. This wasn't a collection of moms and dads getting off work and giving a few free hours. It was more like a business board of directors. There was a rotation/succession plan for the leaders for next year. But it wasn't all businessy, either. They introduced the "Senior Mom" who is the kind of lady you'd want to be the volunteer mom around for a group of seniors. She helped hand out copies of the budget and there weren't enough, her booming voice said, "You all's gonna have to make yourselves some friends and sit close because I've only got about three per row!" And then she laughed in a way that made everybody laugh.

They informed us of a reality that, at this school, which has roughly 650 students, there were more than 660 members of the P.T.S.A. I thought that was pretty impressive.

There was a push for volunteers. You'd have to go to the website and get a background check first...but I got the idea that most of the volunteering was done through various "guilds" they would tell us about later.

Then they threw out some budget line items. Now, I have no idea why the universal protocol is to hand out budgets and then read the line items to everybody...they should just say, "There's the budget. I'll give you three minutes to look over it and then open the floor for any questions." But they don't. So, he read the budget line items. But it was cool to see a bottom line budget that's about 10x what most P.T.S.A.'s would throw together, followed by a mention of the area businesses who contribute to that bottom line. Suffice to say if they're based in Dallas, they give a little something to the arts school.

Then they talked about fundraisers. This was cool, too...because they seem to have little trouble getting former students to help out. So, for example, they said they had the first fundraiser planned in a well-known section of Dallas at a new "Wine Bar" that seats about 90 people. A moderately well-known local singer would perform two shows at this wine bar in an intimate setting and tickets were going for $75 or something like that. We'd get an e-mail with more details. Another was a 3-course dinner at a tony restaurant in town with an "introductory cocktail" included for $65 or something like that. We'd get an e-mail with more details. There will be about 5 similar e-mails throughout the year, I'm guessing.

The majority came from a silent auction. Half of the budget. All that money goes directly to scholarships. Now, I don't know what they're auctioning off, but they raise a tremendous amount of money. My guess is that local businesses go for SERIOUS donations of some pretty pricey things because I remember thinking it was cool that they could raise that much money and it speaks well of an organization's priorities that 50% of a budget goes directly to students. Another 30% goes to student support (computers, instruments, sound/AV, etc.).

They then promoted "season passes" to all the performances, music, drama & dance as another way to get involved. Come see some great talent in development. And then there was mention of how we could also get involved in the various "guilds" off the main meeting. You know, like if you've got a kid in drama, there'll be an e-mail telling you when your guild meets to support that discipline. Same for dance. Same for music. Same for visual arts.

And then we were off to "mini-school." Most of my teen's teachers left notes on the door to let us know they'd meet us in October. Kid1 tried to warn us but we were already on our way.

But I'm glad I attended, because it reinforced a basic concept that I believe to be true: Parental involvement, both in the life of their kid and the corporate well-being of the educational institution, is the key to a good education. I don't care how well the meetings are run or the amound in the budget or what that money was spent on...

...because it's parents doing their jobs that makes a school a good school.

Not the district it's in.
Not the amount of money you throw at it.
Not the quality teachers.

Those can all be nice additions to the educational process.

But it's ultimately parents being good parents that make for good schools, IMHO.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Remember...

...hearing the first radio reports of a fire in one of the World Trade Center towers. The sports talk hosts didn't think it was too big of a deal.
...that by the time I got to work there was a second fire, and the sports talk hosts were beginning to think it was a big deal.
...that the Pentagon was hit and everybody knew it was a big deal.
...that there were pilots' wives skipping their Bible study standing around a television set I'd hooked up in my office. They were all scared and most wouldn't hear from their husbands for hours after the planes grounded.
...that somebody ran into my daughter's school lunchroom, grabbed their child, and yelled, "We're at war!" and took their kid home.
...that we had a staff meeting to plan a time of prayer that evening instead of our normal routine.
...the latent respect that rose again for firefighters and policemen.
...that picture of the Statue of Liberty with Manhattan burning in the background.
...the silence in our town's skies (DFW keeps jet noise almost a constant hum in our community, which is very close to the north entrance) for a couple of days. It was creepy.
...watching the same cable news stories late into the evening even though there was really nothing new to report. I couldn't take my eyes off it. quickly the phrases "Ground Zero," "Terror Alert Level," "Dirty Bombs," "South Tower," "North Tower," "Global War on Terrorism," and "Al Qaeda" stayed in my conscience.


2,749 names that all mean something to somebody more than a list of names on a sheet of paper.

I have not forgotten.

Nor will I ever.

Has it really been six years?

*Diner pauses all day for a moment of silence in memoriam*

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh, And It's Raining, Too


Do I ever have a case of the Mondays.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that I'm such a creature of habit that when the newspaper isn't out when I go to pick it up, I'm reminded of my grandfather, who would stand in his driveway and wait until the paperboy (back when they had those) showed up around 5:45AM and would lecture him that if he wanted the afternoon paper (back when towns had two competing papers), he'd subscribe to that one.
...speaking of newspapers, did anybody else notice how much the Dallas Morning News "Religion" section every Saturday has gone downhill since they moved it from its own section to the last two pages of the "Metro" section?
...did anybody else notice that the local Texas Rangers are 29-26 since the All-Star break? Or, from a season low of 19 games below .500, they've now moved to within 7 games of .500 and are one game out of 3rd place in the division?
...that my diet/exercise program has really been encouraging as at the end of the first six-week "cycle" (I'll take next week off from weights and only do cardio) I've lost 18 pounds. So, I'm about halfway toward my weight loss goal.
...that I'm pretty amazed at myself for going the longest without breaking my New Year's Resolution. This year, I decided to stop drinking carbonated beverages. Haven't had one since New Year's Eve.
...that it's pretty funny watching your dog sniffing near the edge of the neighbor's yard and their sprinkler system comes on unexpectedly and he goes on a dead sprint all the way into the house.
...that after watching Auburn's first two games (one win, one OT loss last night) I might have to revise my prediction to 7-5. They really don't look like a good football team but it's hard to tell if it's because they've played two teams that will go to bowl games this year or because they haven't played well. It's likely a combination of both, but they should get better in the next two weeks with some easier teams coming on the schedule.
...that we started a pretty good set of class offerings in our adult Christian education department at church this week and I've been pretty pleased with the turnout so far. We might want to delay the start of things next year a week or two because people are still learning their schedules as school only started two weeks ago. We're used to having four weeks before we launched and people were already in their grooves. Now it looks like they're still trying to figure out their grooves if the phrase, "Oh, yeah. That did start this week, didn't it? I totally forgot we'd signed up for that but will be there next week." is any indication.
...that the Cowboys start tonight and I've got to set the DVR.
...that I have little sympathy for the families of illegal immigrants who have lived here 8 or 10 years and get caught on some sort of travel violation or the like. The news here has about a family per month like that with stories like that, where they've been living here on an expired tourist visa for 13 years and their kids don't know any other homeland so deportation is unfair. Now, the immigration laws might need reform or whatever (and yes, I know it's a complicated issue), but if you're here on an expired tourist visa and all that jazz, well, deportation it is, lady. No matter how sad. The state isn't doing that to your kids, you did that to your kids. That's the deal.
...that the weather anchors on newscasts seem pretty excited that a cold front is coming in from Canada and should lower temperatures by 20 degrees next week. I'm surprised they're not telling us to stock up on bread and milk just in case it gets a little icy with that wind chill pushing us into the lower 60's.
...that we've got our first open-house this week for Kid1's art school and I'm actually kind of excited about it.
...that I'm thinking of doing a top-10 list of meaningful music videos of all-time. Obviously, I'm not thinking about Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (which was good as art, but not particularly meaningful to people), but more along the lines of Blind Melon's "No Rain." Great song. Great video with a meaningful message...I can't tell you how I can't wait to use this video in a class of parents to explain how we all have to "find our own tribe of bees." This video would be in my top 10 for meaning...any suggestions for that list?
...that when my hair is at this stage of growth--that point where it's long enough to donate but to do so now would cause me to look like George Washington on the dollar bill after the shearing--and knowing that I've got about six more months of keeping it this long, well, I begin to think of donating it and just going back to a regular haircut. But then I remember my friend Liz telling me that she really liked it long and that I should never put our congregation through the growing out phase ever again.
...that I'm amazed at our 5 O' Clock Worship service has transformed over time. It's really grown into a service that's friendly for the whole family and if anybody didn't like it at first, maybe it's time for a re-visit. I knew it'd take 6 months or so to get it up and running, but I'm not sure everybody else knew that. I really like the scaled-down worship and intimate feel even though so many people are coming.
...that my reading is still sporadic and I have no idea how to get past that. When I have the time to sit and read for pleasure I'm usually too tired to focus.
...that this time next month I'll be hanging out with Margaux. This excites me.
...that I need to get on with my day. There's MUCH to do.