Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vacation Wrap Up

Random observations from our trip to the Bay Area:

I'm sure it doesn't have the same effect on his parents (especially after being up several times in the night feeding him and such), but when you see your 7 month-old nephew George come down the stairs in his mom's arms and when he smiles very big at the sight of you, well, that's pretty great. Even when his first move is to try to grab your glasses, which you easily dodge, but then the other hand grabs your hair.

When your 2-year-old niece says, "Uncle Brent, help!" Well, there's not much more going on important on this earth than finding rocks while digging in the dirt. Or getting in the makeshift house done-up with fabric draped over chairs. Or "painting" on the AquaDoodle. Or picking lemons off the tree in the backyard. Or helping her back up her "bike." Or watching Dora the Explorer. Or reading the book.

Kid toys have gotten significantly cooler and more awesome over the years. So have the other accoutrements such as strollers, diaper bags, car seats, etc.

The Higher-Order Life-Liver Sister Jilly (who claimed that she needs a new nickname now that she can't even get out to see a movie in her current station in life) still does the little things with excellence. Even with everything going on involving feeding schedules and such, there are still fresh flowers on the dinner table...not to mention a home-cooked meal AROUND that very table every night. Nice wines enhancing said dinner. Nice mix of Southern Hospitality and West-Coast Sensibility. The Thanksgiving spread was especially noteworthy. She may not see the latest films, but in my way of thinking, if you start sentences with, "Life's too short not to use the fine china..." well, you're still Higher-Order.

The Barnstorming Brother-in-Law Shane introduced us to his family's holiday dinner tradition (I'm not sure precisely how long it's been going on): Scratch-off lottery tickets after the dessert! Shane was muttering to himself just before dinner started, "Where did I put them? Here? No. Oh, yeah. Here they are." Then there were tickets at every place setting. After dinner everybody updated each other on winnings and losings. Total outlay for the tickets: $20. Total winnings: $20, plus a free ticket. Not too shabby this year, although he did mention that might be the best year thus far.

Dignan, the Higher-Order Canine, who's been around for a decade has had his life altered significantly in two years. He was likely the saddest to see the McKinney's leave as now there were four dog-loving folks around to side up to and get petted. He took full advantage. We obliged. Side note: He HATES the U.P.S. guy but sleeps through the trash guys. I find this peculiar.

This is the way to do lunch: Outside, in 70 degree weather, at the Ferry Building. A burger on sourdough bread. At Taylor's Automatic Refresher:

Got to see former occupant of the guest room a couple of hours later (he was coincidentally at the Ferry Building) with offspring Mary-Judah and Killian. Mary-Judah couldn't have looked more like a kid should look in San Francisco. A six-year-old with dreadlocks. I loved it. Killian couldn't have looked more natural in a big city, a four-year-old just navigating sidewalks and not a care in the world. I loved that, too. We'd gotten to see the pierced and tattooed mom Kristen a couple of days before that at the Night of Writing Dangerously (a gathering of all the writers in various cities attempting to write a novel during NaNoWriMo)...time flies on these kinds of trips and you never get to spend as much time with friends as you want...but it was good to get the time we did!

I've never really paid much attention to satellite radio before this trip...but the Higher-Order Barnstorming has it in their kitchen going most all day. Every time you'd walk through the kitchen you'd catch yourself saying, "Hey. Good song!" They had this feature in their cars, too. You'd catch yourself saying, "Hey. Good song!" there, too. Jilly said, "Brent, pre-programmed channel 6 is the regular 80's station, but if that song sucks, just hit number 2. That's the alternative 80's station. They always have the good songs."

Kid1 made my favorite dessert in her repertoire: The peanut-butter pie. Time/oven constraints prevented the homemade apple or it would've been the dessert quinella. She also finished a novel while she was there. Not even kidding. Over 50,000 words. She participated in National Novel Writer's Month and, well, won. Jill had jokingly asked Kelsey to do something impossibly demanding and Shane laughingly said, "Sure, Jill. She's a full time student trying to get into a good college and working on finishing her novel. Why not add that to her plate?"

Here's how you know it's love: Jilly asked, "Brent, promise me you'll get Shane out of the house to go see a movie tonight. He could use a little break." The next day, Shane says, "You know, Brent, Jill could really use a break. Make her go with you to go see a movie tonight." Neither happened because they sleep is their highest priority at present, but the sentiment is nice.

When Liz (a.k.a. "Aunt Sucker" due to two realities: Her close relationship with Jilly, and her propensity to give in to whatever desire Jill's nieces/children may want) notes my entire family's ability to sing along with Blues Clues, Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, etc. and asks, "How do you know all these?" Well, she's obviously not aware of the longevity of children's television shows, the insane amount of repetition parents endure of children's television shows, or downright catchiness of all the songs on children's television shows. You catch yourself singing them at random appropriate times, like Blues Clues' "We just got a letter...wonder who it's from" when the mailman comes.

When we left it was drizzling and foggy. I wanted to stay another day to enjoy it.

It's very hard leaving when a two-year-old asks you to stay to watch Dora. Or a 7-month-old smiles and reaches for your wife. Or a 466-month-old tells your wife she wishes you and your wife could move closer. And it's drizzling and foggy and your barnstorming brother-in-law starts out his day by saying he's "going down to Monterrey to bring back a student's plane because he can't fly in the fog yet."

If you do have to leave...and the higher-order life-liver upgrades your seats using miles to first-class on a 767 and the seats fully lay down to make a serious bed, well, I can vouch for the reality that does NOT suck...well, that's the way to leave.

Even if you didn't really want to leave.
The Moral Victory?

"Only the strong survive. But the strong still get their ass whipped."--Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, yesterday, after his Crimson Tide scored in the last minute to win against arch-rival Auburn, 26-21.

In 1981 in college football, Auburn was floundering. They'd hired a new coach the year before, a little known coach at Wyoming who'd played football at Georgia--Pat Dye. Didn't have Auburn roots. Didn't have experience. Referred to his new employer at The University of Auburn in his initial press conference. He redeemed himself minutes later after he was asked, "How long will it take to beat Alabama?" (The Crimson Tide had beaten Auburn 7 straight years)

"60 minutes." The now famous reply.

In Pat Dye's next 10 seasons, Auburn would be a serious contender in the Southeastern Conference, 60 minutes at a time, 11 times a year.

But it all started with a loss.

See, Auburn lost at home to Tennessee in 1980 (Pat Dye's first season) 42-0.

The next year, at Tennessee, the Volunteers were leading 10-7 with a minute to play. Auburn had the ball inside the Vol 10-yard-line and had 3 plays to get a TD to win. They fumbled. Tennessee recovered. Tennessee won.

Auburn lost.

And this 34-second speech lives in Auburn lore:

They lost.

But that undermanned team sent a message: The Auburn Tigers were going to be back. Sooner rather than later.

Yesterday, when #2 ranked Alabama scored that touchdown in the last minute, but Auburn's 31-yard pass into the end zone on the game's final play, I thought of that 1981 team.

So, yeah. Auburn lost.

And the Tiger fans and players are saying we should never settle for "moral victories," even if they're acknowledged by the opposing team's coach.

I suppose they have a point.

But how about settling for the reality that we now have every reason to believe that the Auburn Tigers are going to be back. Sooner rather than later.

I can't believe no sports writer in the Deep South made this connection before I did, either.

It's so obvious.

And, just like that team gave us Tiger fans hope (it didn't hurt that a recruit named Bo Jackson was on board, either), yesterday's team gives us hope again (and it doesn't hurt that a recruit named Michael Dyer committed to Auburn, either)...

...because we've seen this before.

Pity the team Auburn faces in a bowl game this year, and fasten your seatbelts in 2010.

You heard it here first.
Your Peanut Butter Fell Into My Chocolate

I'm not much for passing along videos.

But I am joyfully fascinated by muppets.

And, Bohemian Rhapsody is a classic, especially for those of us who rode around in cars in 1983 (think of that scene in Wayne's's funny because it's true).

Combine the two...and, well:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Vacation, Day 1

Best start to the day: Pastor Mike gave us a ride to the airport for the 6:30am check-in time. He arrived with coffee and donut holes. You can tell he's a granddad.

Biggest worry that I had all day: If my iPod battery would last long enough to finish the movie I was watching. This reality allowed me to get into vacation mode much more quickly than normal. My kids even commented that "Dad becomes 'Vacation Dad' much faster when we take airplanes.'"

On the plane: Watched one movie, one comedy special, and one tv show and finished the book I was well into. That, my friends, is one productive plane ride.

Gotta wait: I knew coming in that the stunning Miss Margaux, as a 2-year-old, takes a little time to warm up to visitors.

Worthwhile wait: After that little time to warm up, it was a full-blown overdose of Blues Clues, Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer interspersed with coloring, playing with farm animals, and building a playhouse.

Easiest observation: George is huge...and his charm/smile is bigger than his size.

Uncle Shane Clueing me In: There's a channel on his satellite provider that's called NFL Red Zone or something like that. Basically, it's a team of people who watch all the NFL games and then show you the most exciting bits at that moment. In effect, it's channel-surfing with other people showing you what you need to know. Sure, there's some laziness to it, but how else can you see the Cowboy's touchdown, followed by the game-winning field goal in Kansas City, followed by the field goal in New York? Awesome.

Already been downtown: Yep. Drove across the Bay Bridge and back twice. To take Kelsey to the Night of Writing Dangerously with Pierced and Tattooed Kristin (it's for aspiring novelists to encourage and challenge each other for the National Novel Writer's Month--it's kind of a big deal in literary circles, and there was dinner and prizes and crowns given out for various achievements involving word counts). The view coming over the bridge and into SF from the East Bay is pretty cool, and watching the streetcars go up and down California Street at night is nice, too. For some reason, big cities are way better than some mountain retreat or whatever, at least for me.

Plan for today: It involves a walk to the park. We need to dress warmly. It's chilly and sunny and just what the doctor ordered for me. Sweet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diner Football Picks, Week 12

This is really embarrassing.

2-8 last week. That's 9 of 11 weeks that have been losing records--unprecedented, man. And with a season record of 34-64-2...well, why even bother?

BECAUSE THEY'RE PLAYING THE GAMES! Hurray for Minor League Football and the pageantry and passion therein! On to this week's picks, with some fun rivalry games...

Ohio State at Michigan (+12): Remember when this was a marquee game that settled the Big 10 championship. Well, that's already been settled and the Buckeyes are going back to Pasadena to play in a Rose Bowl game that won't mean a thing...but that means they can relax while the sharks have started to swirl around Rich Rodriquez again in Ann Arbor. Michigan could have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 5 decades. I don't know how much fight the Wolverines have left in them. Diner Prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan 13.

California (+7) at Stanford: I can't get the image out of my head that Stanford is an average team that rises up and beats big names once a year. And I always think Cal is better than they are. But Stanford has beaten a top 10 team two weeks in a row...and even if those teams might've been overrated at the time that's still a good accomplishment. But how much emotion can they generate three weeks in a row, even in a rivalry game. For their sake, it's good they're at home. I think Stanford wins in a close one. Diner Prediction: Stanford 31, California 27.

L.S.U. (+3.5) at Ole Miss: The enigma that is Ole Miss continues. How are they a favorite against an 8-2 L.S.U. team? Well, they have a lot to play for (a win gets them to a nice New Year's Day bowl) while L.S.U. struggled last week but they played their back up quarterback. Injuries play a part. And, well, after McCluster cranked it up last week, they've started playing like people thought they would. This will come down to quarterback it's a toss up. I'm thinking I like the odds of Snead/McCluster better than the nicked up Jefferson. Diner Prediction: Ole Miss 21, L.S.U. 17.

Oregon at Arizona (+6): The Pac 10 champion likely coming from this game? Who would've thought that before the season? Arizona plays good defense, and Erickson always has great talent from junior colleges and gets one year out of them before they flunk out...but Oregon is a better team top to bottom, and I think they will use being on the road to fuel the fire and try to get to the Rose Bowl. Although my heart wants Arizona to win because they've never been to the Rose, I just think the better team wins. Diner Prediction: Oregon 31, Arizona 24.

Oklahoma at Texas Tech (+5): Which OU team shows up? The one that has the talent and capability to blow out any Big 12 team or the one that can't find their footing in bigger games? The rumor mill is starting to crank up again about Leach, which makes Tech fans crazy because, well, let's be honest, he's a perfect fit in Lubbock. Of course, it's starting to about Stoops, too, to Notre Dame. But they still have to play the game, and this year the Red Raiders can't settle on a quarterback. OU has more depth, even with all their injuries. I like OU. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Texas Tech 27.

Penn State at Michigan State (+3): So much for the Nittany Lions to play for, including a shot at a BCS bowl. A share of the Big 10 championship. But Darryl Clark disappears in the big games and is wildly inconsistent. Injuries at running back and wide receiver don't help, either. But Michigan State always seems to get it together after losing 2 or 3 early games and is usually playing their best football right at the end. This one may come down to special teams play, and I think that's where Michigan State will have the edge in a close one at home. Diner Prediction: Michigan State 24, Penn State 23.

Baylor (+7.5) at Texas A&M: This game is the Big 12's national offering this week. Not even kidding. As I've said before, every BCS conference has great teams at the top, it's the strength at the bottom that makes the conference tough. Neither of these teams scare anybody, but I really like Texas A&M's quarterback. He's young, but he'll get there, and with the Aggies at home--even though they're focusing on Texas coming to town next week, they'll have enough to win and cover against a Baylor team without their best player. Diner Prediction: Texas A&M 28, Baylor 17.

Kansas (+26.5) at Texas: The Longhorns are starting to show a mean streak against the Big 12, man. They step on the field with purpose and intensity. Muschamp's defense doesn't make mistakes until they start emptying the bench, which seems to be their objective these days. They jump on teams early and the games are over by halftime. With Kansas' coach in trouble (and I'm not talking about his health) I don't think they'll offer much resistance. Diner Prediction: Texas 45, Kansas 17.

Harvard at Yale (no line): I've always had a romance with Ivy League football, because it's seems to be the pure essence of what college football should be: You put a sign out front announcing that football tryouts are that afternoon and the students that go there and are interested make up the team. Now, we all know that's not really how it works out, but I like the idea that it is at least more pure than the BCS conferences. Sure, the quality of football isn't so great--there are 4 teams in Texas 5A classification that could go unbeaten in the Ivy League every year--but they've played this game 125 times before, the Bowl is sold out in Connecticut and the Crimson are in town. It's on TV, and I'll watch some of it. But, the reality is that Harvard is still playing for first place and Yale has struggled. Diner Prediction: Harvard 26, Yale 17.

T.C.U. at Wyoming (+31): I'm of the belief that football teams can only have so many weeks of emotional highs and T.C.U. is coming off their biggest game of the last 40 years. (Best sign at GameDay last weekend: "Hey Big 12, Still feel good about taking Baylor over us?") They'll go on the road and sleepwalk through a game against a team that gave a sleepwalking Texas team fits for a half. The Frogs will pull away in the 2nd half, but give me the points in a let-down game. Diner Prediction: T.C.U. 38, Wyoming 10.

So, head to Vegas and bet the opposite, patrons!

Friday, November 20, 2009


I was gonna do football picks but my day has already started off negative.


I don't want to talk about it.

Maybe tomorrow.

For now, I'll be listening to the Them Crooked Vultures CD.

And waiting to get the heck out of this town for vacation. Much needed.


...right now...

...very much wanted.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FloMo Diaries, Installment 4: Functional Boxes

*I mentioned earlier that I was inspired by an idea David Byrne (co-founder of the great Talking Heads) had. He bought a bike and cycled around the various places his artistic life took him and write a book about what he noticed. Taking a page out of that book, I've started writing down nuances of my suburban culture of Flower Mound, Texas, as I meander through in car, on feet or in coffee shops. For a few weeks, anyway.*

To get started, let's listen to a song, shall we? Once you get to the player, click on "season 1" and then hit the "play" icon so you can hear the song Little Boxes. On the show "Weeds," they used to have lots of famous bands/singers do a "cover" of this song, but this is the original version by Malvina Reynolds (copyright 1962 Schroder Music Company, renewed 1990).

Once, when I visited the Hopi Nation, my guide told me that one of the characteristics of their tribe was how verbal and relational they were. He mentioned this was because of the limited inhabitable land (described as an "island of Hopi surrounded by a sea of Navajo") required that they build small homes close together to fit everyone in. By contrast, the Navajo were comparatively quiet and isolated, given they have 26 million square miles to spread out their tribe. Their different geography and necessary architecture (the Hopi build villages on mesas, while the Navajo tend to spread out self-sustaining farms in the lowlands) affected their collective lifestyles.

Then, I noticed that the Dutch do the same thing. See, their entire country is below sea level (we had to ride our bikes uphill to get to the beach). Towns were built on the higher lands in the country, generally with a town square with lots of shops and restaurants, usually with living spaces above these. The farms then became the norm the further you get from town. Because the living spaces were small and compact, most evenings people would simply go to the town square and "grab a terrace" to visit with friends and neighbors. There were bike racks everywhere downtown, too (another unique function of their architecture was their system of bicycle paths). Even the Dutch national soccer team's (who wears orange colors in honor of the House of Orange--a family instrumental in Dutch history) unique style of play is a function of their collective lifestyle: Close teammate support in tight areas. Their short passes in small areas has given them the nickname The Clockwork Orange. Their geography and necessary architecture affects their collective lifestyle to such a degree that they way they play soccer is influenced.

I grew up in the suburbs of Alabama and we had our own unique geography. Our suburb was at the top of Shades Mountain, which, well, is really only about 900 feet tall but covered a lot of area. Lots of steep hills and if you drive along Shades Crest Road you get a nice view of the valley. This terrain allowed for some unique design and architecture, like...

...nobody had swimming pools in our neighborhood. Too much rock underneath, so there was a community pool that most homeowners purchased a "bond" to go swimming and play tennis. Most summer days were spent there by everybody that couldn't drive and the people that drove them there.

...everybody had a one-car garage. This meant that most of the folks parked in the driveway, and generally got home at the same time.

...we all had chain-link fences.

...the average home in our neighborhood was on two levels, with about 1,600 square feet.

Now, this may not sound like a whole lot of anything. But when you mix all that stuff together you get something like this: We knew every single on of our neighbors. On every side. And across the street. This was because you'd see the Graingers out in the yard when Lex got home. You knew when the Whitlock's kids and grandkids were over because you saw them chatting on the back deck. When you were grilling out, the neighbors were letting their dog out, they'd stop to chat. In fact, you'd put in a gate on the mutual fence you shared so the little kids wouldn't have to climb over to play. You'd have to apologize to Mr. Key for hopping his fence to get the baseball you'd hit over it when he caught you. And, even a cluster of 10-year-old boys enjoyed the sight of Pam Stokes (community college student/cheerleader for the local pro football team) and her friends getting some sun at Shades Cliff Community Pool. The members of the local steel worker's union did as well, although the conversation among their wives was probably somewhat different.

Did you catch all that? A few things like a front porch, a chain link fence, long driveways, and big yards more or less forced community interaction.

See, in our neighborhood, all the homes are designed with two-car garages. There are no front porches, only front doors. This actually allows for you to come home from work and not be seen by any neighbors.

Add to that, everybody has a 6-foot tall wooden privacy fence. Just the name tells you what it's for, and they're pretty effective. We do see our back-door neighbor's kid when she's at the top of their pool slide and she waves. They see our kids in short bursts when they hop and down on the trampoline.

We have small front yards and landscape them in such a way that they look nice and require minimal effort to maintain. Most people hire others to do it...and I don't blame them. The weather isn't too conducive to an enjoyable experience even for those who enjoy yard work. They do look nice, but throwing a football around on them isn't going to happen unless you have a four-year-old. Which our neighbors do...but we don't see them. We do hear them playing occasionally on the other side of the privacy fence.

So, right off the bat, our architecture limits social interaction and in some ways encourages a social phenomenon called "cacooning." Where you stay in your cacoon and watch movies and all.

There are some other unique features that have some side effects, too.

Like there are things called "Homeowner's Associations" where they create agreements designed to protect property values. It's a nice idea for the benefit of the collective (although, interestingly, most of these same folks decry anything political that might look like "socialism."). You know, you gotta keep your yard mowed (some of the more affluent ones actually include landscaping in the annual fee--which keeps everyone from even being seen in the front yard) or get your trash/recycle bins hidden and inside on the right days or certain colors of paint can't be used or no treehouses in the front yard or where you can put a basketball goal. All that kind of stuff. I've heard horror stories of some that are way too controlling, but generally speaking, they're helpful to keep property values steady.

I saw one subdivision that actually advertised on signage as they were building homes to sell: "Come by and choose one of our 6 unique floor plans." I don't think they grasped the irony of their own sign, considering they were planning on building around 300 homes. The average home in Flower Mound (of which there are nearly 17,000) has 3,000 square feet and the median home price hovers right around $300,000. Yeah. Not for the McKinney's, though. The one of 17,000 we purchased doesn't quite hit average or medians. Occupational hazard.

Some of the subdivisions now include a pool and tennis courts in their homeowner's association fees. One even has a small water park. I'd imagine there are still some dads ogling the college girls and their wives having the same conversations our parents had about the college girls and their friends hanging out there.

Have you noticed what our intersections of major roads are like these days? There's usually a grocery store anchor tenant in the strip mall. With a drug store on one corner. A bank or two on the other. Some fast-food establishments surrounding all of it. A pizza delivery place. A coffee shop. A mechanic as well. In addition to all of them being the same, well, umm, the design on these establishments? A functional rectangle. Just rows and lines for efficiency and low cost.

Because our yards are so small, our community does have a lot of parks. Although they aren't so much for playing as they are for organized sports for kids. There are lots of downsides to everything being overseen and organized by adults, but one benefit is that these have generally replaced the front porch. You bring a chair and hang out with the other parents of the kids on your team while practice goes on.

We have a good little affluent life here in Flower Mound. I'll take it...

...especially when compared to the other options that are out there, man.

But think about the words to that song you listened to...

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

We need to be aware of the downsides of this affluence and homogeneity and teach them that sometimes architecture should inspire you rather than be limited to 6 floor plans of functional boxes...

...that success is about more than becoming a doctor and a lawyer or a business executive...

...that childhood should be about more than video games in your cacoon and organized soccer team practice...

..that the goal of going to a university shouldn't be to come back and live comfortably in your 3,000 square foot quarter million dollar functional box...

...that life is about more than golf as a hobby...

...that the stuff you fill up that functional box with purchased at a retail establishment will never make you happy...

...that knowing your neighbors is a good thing...

...I could go on.

You get my point, right?

That if architecture and geography can be powerful enough to influence how a nation plays soccer, well, it can be powerful enough to influence how we think...

...and dream...

...and get inspiration...



...about what really matters in life.

So, keep a level head out there, kids. That song is provocative and powerful for a reason.

P.S. Maybe this isn't as funny as at first glance...

courtesy Baby Blues comic, by Kirkman & Scott and King Features Syndicate

(click on image to see it larger)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Diner Football Picks, Week 11

2-8 last week.




This season: 32-56-2.


On with this week's picks. There's nothing more to say.

Auburn (+4.5) at Georgia: Auburn's putting 450 yards up each week (230 passing, 220 rushing) and scoring about 35 a game. Georgia has been struggling on defense and their offense has been hit and miss...but the matchup favors Georgia because their receivers are athletic and Auburn's defense has been giving up a lot of points and had key injuries, requiring guys playing out of position and young guys getting their first game experience. There should be a lot of big plays and lots of scoring. The last team to have the ball will have a chance to win it or lose it on that drive. In a game like that, favor the home team to win. Diner Prediction: Georgia 35, Auburn 31.

Alabama at Mississippi State (+12.5): A lot has been made about Alabama lack of red zone punch. A lot has been made about how the Bulldogs gave Florida a fight in Starkville. People are calling this a "trap" game because Alabama locked up an SEC Western championship the first week of November. But the Gators don't have a Mark Ingram, who will wear on you in the 4th quarter. My guess is that it'll be close at the half. But the Alabama running game will take control of the game when depth becomes a factor. Diner Prediction: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 10.

Florida at South Carolina (+17.5): The Gamecocks are beginning their annual November fade. The Gators throttled Georgia and then just went sleepwalking last week against Vanderbilt. That's probably the very best thing that could've happened to Urban Meyer reason to talk about focus and getting back on track. My guess is that Tebow and company will be anxious to get after Spurrier, even if nobody is really talking about that. I don't think South Carolina is ready for the marquee game on CBS. If it were at night, I'd take the points. But it isn't at night. Diner Prediction: Florida 38, South Carolina 20.

Texas A&M (+20) at Oklahoma: The Aggies going to Norman? Yeah. They haven't won there in like the last 10 trips. And, yes, Oklahoma looked dreadful offensively against Nebraska last weekend. But Jerrod Johnson needs a little more experience before he becomes a big-time player in this conference. A&M's defense isn't nearly what Nebraska's is under Pellini and OU at home should be able to take care of business and coast. I think a late, meaningless TD keeps them from covering the spread, though. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Texas A&M 24.

Texas Tech (+4) at Oklahoma State: I've always said the Texas Tech can plug and play their quarterbacks. That happens for sure between seasons--they always find somebody else to run the system. It's even happened well between games when one quarterback gets hurt and they have a week to practice in the system. This week, Leach says he has "co-#1" quarterbacks. I'm not convinced this can work in the game because so much depends on rhythm. And Oklahoma State can run, too. They're in second place in the Big 12 South for a reason. This should be a very close game, though. Take the home team looking for revenge to win, but I like Tech to cover. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma State 33, Texas Tech 30

Notre Dame (+7) at Pittsburgh: Pitt is off to an 8-1 record, the likes of which hasn't been seen there since a guy named Dan Marino was running the show. Notre Dame fell out of the top 25 last week losing to Navy. Notre Dame has played tough teams close all season, but I think they're demoralized now that they don't have a shot at a BCS bowl. Not to mention that those close games against teams in the top 10 have been losses the last 8 times. I think Pitt is better (even if overrated) than Notre Dame by a lot more than one touchdown, but Notre Dame will hang tough...making it closer than it should be. Diner Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Notre Dame 16.

Stanford (+10.5) at U.S.C.: Whenever I think about this game I think about the big upset two years ago--Pete Carroll's only home loss in 5 years. And Stanford has been playing very good football, while U.S.C. stunk it up last week in a win over Arizona State. U.S.C. is 28-0 in November under Pete Carroll, too. There's no question in my mind U.S.C. will win, the question is by how much. I think they want to redeem themselves after last week. Diner Prediction: U.S.C. 28, Stanford 17.

Iowa (+17) at Ohio State: Stanzi's out, and Iowa is going to have to go with Vandenburg. The Horseshoe is a tough place to get your start. And that's too bad for Iowa, because their undefeated/national championship hopes went by the wayside last week against a very average Northwestern team. I don't think the Hawkeyes can score enough to win, and if they aren't scoring, they're giving Pryor too many chances to get points. If he can avoid throwing interceptions, they'll romp. They'll win, anyway. Diner Prediction: Ohio State 28, Iowa 10.

Florida State (+5) at Wake Forest: FSU's Christian Ponder is out for the season and untested E.J. Manuel is running the show. My guess is that is a tough place to take over the reigns of a team that is struggling to get bowl eligible. Fischer has had to scale back to playbook and you don't have to know a whole lot about Wake Forest. You just have to know that winning on the road requires good quarterback play. It's a coin flip to see whether or not the Seminoles will get it against a defense that took a good Georgia Tech team to overtime last week. Diner Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Florida State 23

Utah (+20) at T.C.U.: The town of Fort Worth has gone absolutely nuts over this one--all the buildings downtown are going to lit with purple lighting. ESPN GameDay is going to be at a MOUNTAIN WEST game, for crying out loud. But Gary Patterson has been quietly going about the business of assembling a strong football team, so much so that the Horned Frogs and their new/ugly uniforms for this occasion are a 3-TD favorite against a team that has plenty of good athletes. Revenge is a factor, and Patterson can say all he wants about just trying to get out of there with a win, but I think he wants style points just in case somebody falters at the top of the BCS. Diner Prediction: T.C.U. 35, Utah 17.

Well, there you have it, patrons. Thanks for waiting a day!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Slight Delay

I'm sure many of you stopped by to check on the football picks for the weekend (although I can't imagine why with my picks going 2-8 last week against the spread, continuing the season-long abysmal effort) and maybe some of you were wondering about the next installment of the FloMo Diaries (yes, there are a couple of more coming)...

...but the football picks will be delayed a day (and the Diary entry will be coming maybe Monday) because, well...

I was here last night:


Son Volt at the Granada (with Retrophisch, who took the photos).

Let me simply say that they didn't disappoint...

...and, well...

...when they played Afterglow 61 and Jukebox of Steel...

...our Tribe could learn a lot about what it means to play music that has meaning with great passion from those boys. Those 6 minutes were transcendent. The rest of the show was very good, too. I need more nights like that in my life.

And, yes, I got a t-shirt, which will move into heavy rotation with my Social Distortion shirt from the same venue a few years back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Couple Of Other Quotes

I missed a page of notes and forgot these quotes from the conference yesterday...

From Mark Batterson:

"I wonder if the church does to people what zoos do to animals."

Followed by...

"I wonder if Christians do to God what zoos do to animals.
Thoughts On LeadNow

I had the chance to attend a ministry conference last weekend at the last minute. Turns out my friend/co-worker Mikey couldn't attend because his plans changed at the last minute and I could juggle some things and make it happen.

The ticket was free.

The conference was 20 minutes from my house.

There were speakers I liked and had read their books.

So, I went...and here are scattered thoughts pulled from my notes:

On Irving Bible Church's building: I'm a big fan of function driving building design, and they do it well there. Lots of comfortable places to sit. Lots of plugs near those comfortable places to sit. Classrooms were all multi-purpose. Not a lot spent on decor...but well done, and all the graphics/logos/posters were all done by and for a younger demographic. Free wi-fi throughout the building is a nice touch, too. You could tell a lot about their church by the "feel" of it when you walked in...and it felt comfortable, welcoming and they want people interacting. And learning. IBC was just simply the building used by the LeadNow group hosting the conference.

In case you want to check out the organization and what they're trying to do, you can see it here, at RightNow.Org. It says that they were trying to "ignite a movement" to develop "a culture of service," "launching small groups to action," and "connecting your people to those in need." If you're wondering, they did their very best to hit all those targets during the three days. They knew what they were trying to accomplish with the time and it was evident that everything that went on had a reason for it.

Now, before I get into the various thought-provokers, I'd like to add one of my own. Each main session started out with a very hip and with-it worship band leading a worship set. The host church had an array of lighting & stage decor & video enhancement that set a mood. Here's what I mean: The lead singer came out to full-lights and led the group in singing/clapping. Very high energy and contemporary worship. By the third song, the song was an old hymn with a new arrangement, the room darkened with scanning spotlights randomly scanning the crowd. A mixture of loud music interspersed with quiet a cappela. The words were about Jesus' name, and, while they were black and white on the video screens, the various names of Jesus in Scripture were then scrolling in different fonts covering the entire back walls of the auditorium, about 50 feet high. Candles were lit, of course. My guess is that many churches follow this order of worship and similar use of media...

...and there's no question in my mind that the worship leaders were sincere, the band was excellent, the songs were chosen to connect with every age-group represented, the singing was truly participatory...I thought it was a genuine worship experience. I just couldn't shake the thought that most of our churches are pretty much doing what youth groups were doing 10 to 15 years ago. It looked like every youth group in America from the mid-1990's.

Just so you know, the trends now are stripping all that down. Kind of like when grunge came along after the excess of Michael Jackson. Well, we've kept the candles.

I wonder if I go to a conference in 2020, if it'll be a flannel-wearing, unshaven worship leader with a guitar and a djimbe drum with only candles as lighting...with little to no media in use at all.

Anyway, on to various quotes (and random commentary if applicable):

The first speaker spoke on what most speakers at conferences like this speak about: Some variation on the theme of the pastor's spiritual life and how it needs to be authentic and growing. In this case, Tim Ross asked the question, "If they [your congregation] follow you, will they get to Christ?" Always an appropriate question. He said this that I thought was beautiful, "My fear is that the next generation will fall short of Christ because they settled for us."

He also said that leaders need to be honest, open and transparent. He viewed this as a contrast to previous generations of pastors who always tried to be "perfect" before their people. I agree, but I often get concerned that when speakers say honest, open, and transparent, they always highlight the sins. The Christian life needs balance and we should also share our joys, triumphs, successes. Sometimes we don't celebrate enough.

I then went to a breakout session where Tim said this, "You're problem is that you're trying to live right, when all Christ ever asked you to do was die right." He's on to something with that, don't you think?

The next main session was led by George Barna, the Christian researcher. He gave us a lot of research on the state of the church right now in America, and he pretty much let us know we're in big trouble. I won't bore you with all those (even though he highlighted the importance of children and youth ministries), but here's what he said that leapt out at me: "Success in church is usually measured by attendance, number of staffers, square footage, class/program offerings and, of course, finances. Jesus didn't die for any of those things. YOU WILL GET WHAT YOU MEASURE." (emphasis mine)

Now, my presumption is that we're in this to see lives transformed. That the end result will be love. Fruit of the Spirit. Etc. If that's the case, how do you measure that? If we get what we measure, how do we make accurate evaluations in individuals? I wish he'd spent some time telling us how to measure love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and all that jazz. It'll be a good challenge to think that through.

Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love (which I recommend, as long as you skip chapters 4 & 5, which I think would lead to arrested spiritual development if followed through to their logical ends), started off with this little molotov cocktail: "Churches in Texas have a weird church/cultural thing. Nobody tells you what they really think. They say the right things, but they don't line up their actions." Interesting observation about the Bible Belt from someone not in it.

His basic premise was that if you decide to make your church servants for the next generation, you'll experience various trials. A theme that ran through all the speakers was to embrace conflict and expect it. Chan's take was that conflict requires us to be drawn to Christ, "Why would we need a Comforter if we're pretty comfortable?" I was taken aback by Chan's humility and loving spirit. I really enjoyed his time with us.

Then I got to hear Donald Miller--yes, the Blue Like Jazz guy--a couple of times. He spoke on how people make movies by developing the story. Naturally, it's about us as characters trying to write our story better. It's his new book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. Like Chan, he talked about how conflict actually drives a story and how important it is. Interestingly, he used the example of Adam, in the garden, pre-Fall of humanity, having conflict because he was alone...there was not a helper suitable for him.

Interestingly, I learned more and was provoked more from the writers at this conference than I was by the theologians.

One speaker talked about the importance of dying to yourself. Talks like this to pastors always make me check-out mentally. It's more or less in the job description. But it never hurts to be reminded of this fact.

At this point, one of the additions to the worship set was "spoken word/slam" poetry. In my mind, this is beautiful when it's done well. It was.

Another theme was how we need to get out of our comfort zones...that we need to give up our lattes and cable television and such to help out the world. Guilt-motivation was a big player--and this always rings hollow to me. Kind of like when a parent says something about eating all your food because kids are starving in Africa.

Interestingly, the speakers saying this are wearing shoes that go for over $100. Jackets for $250. The speakers would mention that they had a date night or bikes for their kids. There seems to be a drive to bash affluence, whereas Scripture seems to talk about being content in whatever your circumstances happen to be (Paul knew what it was like to have plenty, right? He also knew poverty.) There are proverbs that talk about enjoying the fruit of your labor. Affluence isn't a reason to be guilty, although at this conference it sure felt like it. There should be a balance between compassion and wealth...but it's all about your attitude. Suburban folks have needs, too, speakers.

Finally, one last quote that another author, Susan Isaacs, said to the pastors (she got it from a 12-step program) that really provoked my thinking, "You're only as sick as your secrets." Wow.

Well, there's plenty to pour over the coffee today, kids. Have at it!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Kid1's Latest Article

As many of you know, Kid1 is a Student Voice for the Dallas Morning News. It's what she wants to do at this stage of her life, writing for a she does it now to prepare. Anyway, pretty proud of her for not shying away from controversy in today's main opinion on the Op-Ed page:

The headline in the actual paper reads Texas has it all wrong. With a friend's pregnancy test in hand, I rethought sex-ed, says Kelsey McKinney


Of course, the last time she had an article in the paper the city government got involved and changed traffic patterns for safety.

Uh-oh. :)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Diner Football Picks, Week 10

4-6 last week against the point spread.
30-48-2 for the season against the point spread.

At this point in the season, my record is what it is. There's nothing I can do but go forward from here and play for pride...and try to make up for it during the bowl season (after last year's pretty darn impressive season AND bowl season, well, I expected more of myself. Let's be honest, here, too. YOU expected more of me, didn't you?).

But it's a new week, and we'll give it our best shot...even with most of the SEC either getting their weeks off or their homecoming games played.:

L.S.U. (+7.5) at Alabama: How do you win intense rivalry games? Strong running game. A quarterback who minimizes mistakes. Better-than-average special teams play. Most importantly, a fierce defense. Alabama has all these things. L.S.U. looks like they could have all these things, but too many questions about their running game, and their quarterback keep me from thinking they can win on the road. The line started at 9, so the money was chasing the Tigers...and it'll be close all the way. I just like Bama at home in this one. They find ways to win this season. Diner Prediction: Alabama 20, L.S.U. 16.

Oklahoma at Nebraska (+5.5): Remember when this was a huge game? This season it's one of those rivalry games that will have to suffice by showing highlights of Switzer and Osbourne and tear-away jerseys, though. I like the way Nebraska has played defense as of late, but Landry Jones keeps throwing touchdowns and OU is stacked with talent. What worries me is that they haven't seemed to gel with all the injuries, but I believe with Nebraska's main running back dinged up it might be a long day in Lincoln for the Huskers. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 28, Nebraska 14.

Ohio State (+3.5) at Penn State: I think this is another one of those rivalry games that'll play out like Alabama and L.S.U. There's a lot at stake...and two very good defenses that have their work cut out for them going against Clark and Pryor. It should be low scoring and tight, and that's where the home field makes a big difference, as does the ability of the quarterback to make wise decisions with the football. Clark is better than Pryor at that. Diner Prediction: Penn State 20, Ohio State 14.

Oregon State (+7) at California: For some reason, I always overrate Cal. And, I'm tempted to think that they'll win this one going away, with simply having more talent than the Beavers. However, the Beavers always seem like the beat somebody they shouldn't, get on a roll, and wind their way into some minor bowl game. This doesn't look any different to I think Cal wins, but it's closer than the oddsmakers think even with Cal at home. Diner Prediction: California 28, Oregon State 23.

South Carolina (+7) at Arkansas: Arkansas has won only 1 SEC game. South Carolina was looking GREAT until they got manhandled by a Tennessee team wearing the ugliest black jerseys with their traditional orange that hasn't manhandled anybody no matter what color jerseys they wear. The problem for the Gamecocks has been turnovers, and the problem for Arkansas has been inconsistency. If Mallet's on, they're tough to beat. So, the question is whether or not the Gamecocks can hang on to the ball. In my mind, the odds are better that their defense stifles Mallet than Arkansas counting on turnovers. Diner Prediction: South Carolina 31, Arkansas 28.

Florida State (+8.5) at Clemson: This is another case of which team shows up: The Seminole team that plays strong defense against North Carolina or the one that gives up a gazillion points against Georgia Tech? Same for Clemson...they've been a question mark all season, too. Christian Ponder is dinged up with bad ribs. Clemson's coming off a big win against Miami and they're at home. I'm hoping that'll be enough to cover the spread. Diner Prediction: Clemson 38, Florida State 28.

Oregon at Stanford (+6.5): Oregon is a different team at home than they are on the road. They're better than Stanford, but they're coming off a game where so much went right at home on national television and they have all the feel-good vibes of gaining control of the Pac-10. The problem is that these are the kinds of games that Stanford thrives on. I think the Ducks have a little bit of a hangover and the Cardinal makes it tough, but a late score covers on the road. Diner Prediction: Oregon 35, Stanford 24.

U.S.C. at Arizona State (+10.5): In this one, you don't need to know anything other than U.S.C. is coming off a loss on national television that will keep them from winning their first Pac-10 title in 6 years. No Roses? No hope for the Sun Devils. This will get ugly in Tempe. Diner Prediction: U.S.C. 42, Arizona State 21.

Kansas at Kansas State (+3): Reesling got benched? Wow. And Kansas dug themselves a nice little hole by going down 21-0 to Oklahoma last week. The difference in this game is the direction of the two teams. Kansas was seen as talented but now their stock has dropped (see Ole Miss) and Kansas State can grab control of the Big 12 North (I know, that's like wining Texas District 6-5A, but still) by winning at home. Bill Snyder knows how to get that done, and I think his Wildcats will.Diner Prediction: Kansas State 28, Kansas 20.

Texas A&M at Colorado (+3): Which Aggie team shows up? The one that dismantled Texas Tech or the one that couldn't stop Kansas State? While The Buffs are pretty good in Boulder when the weather turns cold, I think they have very bad matchup problems with this team. The Buffs can't stop the run, and now that Jerrod Johnson is starting to figure it out (they did VERY well against a decent Iowa State defense) and the Ags can let the run set up the pass, they'll have a lot more success against Colorado than most people think. Diner Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Colorado 21.

There you have it, patrons. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Yep. That About Sums It Up.

I don't know if you watch the television show The Big Bang Theory. It's a sitcom involving the lives of four genius research scientists at a university in Los Angeles...the biggest laughs revolve around the nerdish pursuits of these brilliant characters, such as Star Wars, Star Trek (they've actually played Boggle in Klingon), comic books and all that.

Generally, Sheldon is the most compulsive and also the most knowledgeable about all the other characters' specialties. He lives with Leonard...who dates Penny who lives across the hall. She's normal, pretty, and moved to L.A. from Nebraska and waits tables in between acting classes and auditions.

Since she's from Nebraska, she likes to watch college football on Saturday, and Leonard felt like she was embarrassed to introduce him to her friends because he didn't know anything about football. So, Leonard decides to learn by watching a game with Howard and taking notes. He starts to ask questions while Sheldon is typing on the computer away from the television. This exchange happened...

...and it was funny to me not because of the football banter, but because I live in Texas. So, Diner patrons from Texas, doesn't the following about sum it up?

Leonard: What is this "sack" statistic they keep putting up there?
Sheldon: It's football nomenclature for when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Leonard: Huh. (looking through Football for Dummies) Scrimmage...Scrimmage...
Sheldon: The line of scrimmage is the imaginary transverse line that separates the offense from the defense.
Leonard: Oh.
Howard: Sheldon knows football?
Leonard: Apparently.
Howard: I mean, Quidditch sure, but, football?
Leonard: Sheldon, how do you know this stuff?
Sheldon: I grew up in Texas. Football is ubiquitous in Texas. Pro football. College football. High school football. Pee wee football. In fact, every form of football except the original: European football...which most Texans believe to be a commie plot.
Leonard: Unbelievable.
Sheldon: If you're interested, I also know all about frying meat that isn't chicken as if it were chicken.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

If This Is You...

They're out there.

That's for sure.

Talk to any youth pastor, coach, teacher, or anyone else who works with young people. Yet, I've never had a parent say that they were one, and when told that they might be one, well, they ramped up their game to become even more of one.

But, now, it's ramped up to college deans...

...and the new term, an upgrade (or, rather, downgrade) from "helicopter parents" is "Black Hawk Down parents." Not even kidding.

Don't be afraid to pick up Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow's November 3 column entitled "Helicopter Parents, Return To Base.

And, take heed.