Streaming from my consciousness

I’m on vacation.

And refreshed. Somehow amid all the chaos today of trying to layout pages and crank out stories for the holiday weekend. But then again, that’s fun for me.

And for a December afternoon in the upper Midwest, the weather couldn’t be more beautiful -- and warmer. … Arriving home to a quiet house, I smiled at every one of the new lot of Christmas cards in the mailbox today. I did a Sudoku puzzle. I cleaned the week-long stack of newspapers from the kitchen table. I talked to Kates, who’s on her way home from having lunch with her best friend in Chi-town.
And now I’m reflecting at the chaos (and random thoughts and experiences) that characterized the last couple weeks …

* * *
Until today, it had been freaking cold. …Some notoriously wrong weathermen had called for another ‘batten-down-the-hatches-pack-the-women-and-children’ snowstorm. But no more snow. Just freaking cold. Ugh.

At least I can laugh about it … Listening again the other day to everybody’s favorite morning show, Eric & Kathy were discussing the fundamentals of joke delivery and having people call in to tell jokes. …One middle-aged woman phoned in with this joke: Sex is like snow. You never know how long it’s going to last or how much you’re going to get. Sure the joke is funny, but the real punch line was that when the woman finished telling the joke, she burst out laughing. And Eric & Kathy had the woman tell the joke like four times! She burst out laughing, almost more hysterical, every time she told the joke. …I’m driving to work and laughing so hard I’m having trouble breathing.

What a great way to start a day. Laughing.

* * *
The other day I had Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile’ playing in my car stereo. And as I pulled up to an intersection, a coach bus was stopped at the light across from me. It’s sign in the windshield -- you know the one that usually gives the destination -- simply read ‘SMILE.’

Now that made me smile.

* * *
Like a page straight out of college apartment journals, Kates and I ordered Chinese delivery two nights in a row to begin this week. It wasn’t so much that we placed the exact same order of Chinese food two nights in row, it was that both orders were made on a whim because we were hungry, too lazy to cook anything and it was late at night …

But would life be without a couple random moments, and good Chinese food, here and there?

* * *
I was driving by myself and flipping through the radio stations (of course!) and stopped, oddly, on Nickelback’s ‘Photograph’ … and I turned it up a little and started wailing.

A few lines into it, I cracked a smile and realized what I was doing. Kates can't stand the song and lets me know it every time we hear it. I can’t deny though, the song is catching on with me. The lyrics are pretty cool, and it’s got a sweet melody. Plus, I can tell you from an interview I did with the gang a couple years ago that Chad Kroeger and the guys are stand-up men.

But seriously, what’s up with the eye-wincing, grainy voice?!

* * *
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Why We Love... Ellen Pompeo

... because she's cute, she's a talented actress and she's one of the stars of 'Grey's Anatomy' (best show on TV).

Anyway, Ellen fans, Amazon.com has a list of cool Ellen trivia that might surprise you...


Good reads

Still haven't seen 'King Kong' ... and now I'm back to being not sure I want to. Friends and colleagues who saw it over the weekend all moaned about how long it was ... But, hey, with The Washinton Post's tips, I might be able to get through it ...

* * *
It's been an exciting and depressing baseball offseason all in one. But at least not all the talk this year is focused on steroids ...

Still I cringed when the rumors started flying after the season ended that Johnny Damon was interested in going to play for the Yankees and held my breath that he would come to his senses ...

Then it happened today. Ugh.

And from Sports Illustrated's Morning call:

The Cold War between the Yankees and Red Sox went nuclear last night. Acting boldly as the hour approached midnight, the Yankees agreed with centerfielder Johnny Damon on a four-year, $52-million contract. Damon needed only to pass his physical to consecrate the deal. The move is perhaps the fiercest yet in what many consider baseball's best rivalry. Damon had become a bearded cult figure in Boston. His grand slam against New York in the second inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series--his first of two homers in the
game--solidified the greatest comeback in playoff history. Now he will suit up, clean-shaven, for what many in Boston consider the evil empire. (His first game back at Fenway Park would be May 1.) Damon hit .316 in 2005 with 10 home runs and 75 RBIs. He has scored at least 100 runs in each of his eight seasons. "A good leadoff hitter is tough to find," Damon told WBZ-TV in Boston last night, "and I think that New York just found the best leadoff hitter in the game." The signing is a double blow for the Red Sox. Losing Damon is one thing. Losing him to hated New York, which needed a centerfielder and a leadoff man, may be something the Red Sox cannot overcome. (
More ...)

Aw, who cares about the Red Sox and the Yankees anymore. I'm a lot more excited to watch the action unfolding in Detroit with Jim Leyland and in Los Angeles with Nomar and the rebuilt Dodgers ...

* * *
Talk about a shocker this week when John Spencer died. As if 'West Wing' wasn't suffering enough ... should be interesting to see how it all plays out ...



Is it just me, or has Dave been ON FIRE since his bout with Oprah a couple weeks ago ...

Night after night, the shows have been laugh-out-loud-for-several-minutes-straight funny, and the chemistry between Dave and his guests has been wildly entertaining. Last night it was hand surgery and Jim Carrey on the show. Tonight, it was a HA-larious conversation with Bonnie Hunt and her nursing years ...

And speaking of Bonnie Hunt and Jim Carrey, I started reading the reviews for 'Cheaper by the Dozen 2' and 'Fun With Dick & Jane' today. Sadly, they were dissappointing ... Too bad because I thought the first 'Cheaper' with Hunt and the gang was pretty decent (albeit, not great). Plus all 12 of the children came back for the second, which adds Eugene Levy and Carmen Electra... C'mon, it can't be THAT bad!?... and the trailers for 'Dick & Jane' with the physical comedy of Carrey and Tea Leoni make it look pretty darn comical...

I guess it's better that the critics lower are hopes and then, after seeing the movies, we end up thinking they were better than we had anticipated ...

About heaven ...

The last of our Christmas cards were mailed today. And the last of my Christmas shopping was finished tonight.

Not before I saw my car’s life flash before my eyes … My car and I were parked behind an SUV, waiting patiently for a turn at the drive-up ATM. The young woman in the SUV finished her transaction AND THEN STARTED BACKING UP!

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” I yelled (as if she could hear me) and started punching my horn.

To no avail. She kept backing up until we both heard that deflating crunch of car hitting car.

My jaw dropped. And SHE began to pull away. … And it appeared as though she would escape, until I laid on my horn again, and she stopped just short of the parking lot exit. Rolled down her window and stuck her head out the window, looking at me blankly.

I went to the front of my car, inspected it. And found no damage. If only there were words -- but I didn’t have any. I shook my head in disgust at SUV Woman and waved her off.

“Uh, sorry,” she said, and drove off faster than you can say … well, whatever you would say.

* * *
Tonight, I arrived home (I’m a bachelor for the next 24 hours … Kates is spending the night with her mom), parked myself in the living room, flipped on the tube and watched ‘According to Jim’ (HA-larious as always! … but also quite heart-warming tonight … ) while enjoying a Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger …

I wrapped presents…

And I took a trip to ‘Heaven.’

Of course, fascinating and interesting are the easiest ways to describe tonight’s Barbara Walters special: ‘Heaven -- Where Is It? How Do We Get There?’ For all the over-hyped and hollow special reports that appear on TV these days I was leery going in, but this one delivered -- I thought -- by presenting an array of opinions, perspectives and observations without shoving a specific belief down the audience’s throat.

Phone calls and chores distracted me from focusing on much of the second half of the show, but it’s an awesome feeling to imagine, as one interviewee said, fishing with Hemingway or learning to paint from Michelangelo. Or looking the way we want to look. Or roaming from place to place without fear or worry. And reuniting with the lost loved ones who I think of almost daily.

For me, the special inspired me to wonder even harder, and even more comfortably, about heaven. And be even more committed to living ‘a decent’ and full life.

… kind of like a quote (from a source I can’t seem to find) I came across yesterday: “Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO HOO what a ride!’”

A few of the reviews I found worth reading ...
a NY Daily News: Walters looks to stars for 'Heaven'
a Barbara Walters embarks on a spiritual journey in 'Heaven'
a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Walters' quest falls a bit short of heaven
a NY Times: What to Expect When Expecting Heaven
a And obscenely cynical, but an entertaining read nonetheless for the wide-open-minded, from the Sun-Times: Where is heaven? In the jeans ... er, genes


Miracle on State Street 7

Months of waiting and anticipation gone by, Friday was the night -- Miracle on State Street 7 at the historic Chicago Theatre, presented by 101.9 The Mix, featuring The Fray, Alanis Morissette and Ben Folds ...

I took the day off to relax, while Kates celebrated her last day of work in 2005. ...By about 2:30 p.m. I was parked in front of her school ready to help pack up her classroom (...as if having summers off isn't a nice enough perk of being a teacher, you should see all the teachers coming out of the school with laundry baskets full of gifts from their students.)

By 3:30, we were off, cruising down I-94 to Chicago. Rush hour traffic was hardly a problem and we were spinning into the theater district shortly after 4:30. ... Our parking pass validated, we strolled down Michigan Avenue to Bennigan's and grabbed a table for two. Kates had the tortilla soup and salad, I had the Mediterranean Chicken...

Blistering cold, Michigan Avenue Christmas decorations and all, this was definitely a night to suck up everything life could offer. From dinner, we found a Starbucks -- I had the hot caramel apple cider, Kates had the white chocolate mocha -- and then crossed the street to Millennium Park and watched the ice skaters -- if only we had time to join them ...

A pit stop at Borders and some light reading later, we merged with the crowds (which by the way was an older, more affluent and behaved crowd -- a defining and pleasant difference from the immature teenies that flood Summerfest every year) entering the Chicago Theatre and were ushered to our seats on the floor level. ... The theater couldn't have looked more perfect. Add to its ornate decorum, the stage was set for The Fray with a huge, glowing 'Miracle on State Street' backdrop that morphed from shades of green to purple to blue to red and came complete with giant snowflake-shaped illuminations. Kates just smiled as we entered. I let out an excited, sinister laugh ...

Before we knew it, Eric, Kathy & Tommy Lee were appearing on the stage, attempting to warm the crowd and introducing the acts ... Although it remains as much a mystery to me as it was before the concert why Tommy Lee was picked to host the show. Despite some prodding from the DJs, he never did take off his shirt. He was on the stage for maybe 10 minutes the entire night and never said anything mildly interesting or amusing, or really coherent for that matter. And he didn't appear to be at all interested in the bands that were playing ...

Nonetheless. The Fray led off the show and were ... Predictable? In an attempt to have some familiarity with their work, I downloaded their latest album shortly after buying the tickets. But found nothing to be overly excited about. ...Their sound could be compared to a Coldplay or REM, I guess, and 'Over My Head' is getting good radio play for obvious reasons. But I haven't been able to get over lead singer Isaac Slade's whiny, nasally, Rufus Wainwright-like voice. (We saw Rufus two summers ago -- interesting enough, before another Ben Folds performance. Rufus is a good piano player, perhaps, but we couldn't stand him then, and still can't ...) ... Based off my listens to the Fray's album, their performance was as much as I could expect. Slade was positioned front and center, sitting at his keyboard with his bandmates strumming their guitars and falling in behind him. Their set lasted about 30 minutes and featured five or six songs (which ones, I couldn't tell you because I haven't learned the names of all of them yet -- but I can tell you they were all from their latest album...). The music was good, and they finished --to no surprise -- with 'Over My Head.'

It kind of hurts to say it, but that was largely the theme for the rest of the show -- predictable. Good music. But nothing to blow you away.

Another bit by Eric, Kathy and Tommy and out came Alanis -- and with gold-colored frizzy hair to match her gold top! She went right into to 'Hands Clean' and followed with 'You Learn,' 'All I Really Want,' and of course 'Crazy' -- which sounded way better as a live cover then her recorded album version. ... Finally the energy level was upped a little bit when the band's last 'Crazy' cord streamed right into 'You Oughta Know.' The crowd sang along nearly drowning out Alanis. ... Then the crowd REALLY did drown out Alanis when she ended with 'Ironic' -- hearing the crowd sing at the top of their lungs and the cool guitar arrangement to back it, that one song was possibly my favorite moment of the entire show. ... But she too played for barely 30 minutes and left us saying, 'Too short, too short, too short.'

Ben would be better, right? Sort of. ... My eighth time seeing him, I know exactly what to expect and can still be surprised. The quality of the music aside, more and more, it's like reuniting with an old friend. You just sit back and pick up where you left off ... But, much like Alanis, I found the choice of music a bit odd. He led off with 'Bitches Ain't S**t.' -- humorous and fun, yes. But hardly the upbeat, energizer he usually leads with. He followed with 'Gone' and then 'Zak and Sara' -- one of those that always make me smile and never grows old. 'Still Fighting It,' 'Bastard' and 'Landed' were there too.

Midway through, and true to form, Ben announced he would play a Christmas song. The obvious thought is 'Lonely Christmas Eve' off the Grinch soundtrack. But he tells the crowd instead he will play a song he originally wrote for the movie and was deemed 'unacceptable.' He rolled into its jazzy, pounding intro, and then, of course, stopped to tell more of the story -- that his inspiration for the song was some guy who broke into a restaurant to steal money and died when he fell on a fryer -- or something like that. My attention kind of drifted off the during the story ... and aside from hearing Ben play the piano, I don't recall the song being all that memorable either.

There was 'The Ascent of Stan' and then 'Narcolepsy.' ... If there was anything surprising about Ben's performance, this was it for me. Never a big fan of 'Narcolepsy,' which is arguably his darkest and loudest tune, I found Friday night's performance of it, um, awesomely rambunctious. (I don't know, that's the first description that came to mind.) The piano roared on it and the band accompaniment was tight and together. Period.

'Not the Same' came next, and, as always, featured all of the cool crowd interaction and harmonies the song typically evokes. In fact, as Ben was teaching each of the parts to the crowd, he remarked it was the best he had heard. ... Ha!

Next the fast-paced, piano pounding One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces. And then it was over. ...No 'Army'? No 'Philosophy'? No 'Rockin the Suburbs'? Not even (thankfully) 'Brick'? This time, the performance lasted barely 45 minutes. And again, too short, too short, too short.

Not perfect. Nothing extraordinary ... But. Sigh. A very enjoyable night.


You go Royals!

So I'm sipping my Russian tea, watching Sportscenter and I saw this scroll across the bottom line -- 'Royals sign Mientkiewicz, Grudzielanek, Elarton, Bako.' My eyebrows raised, I said 'wow.' ...

Say what you will about these guys nearing the end of their careers or lack of productivity at times, but they're all strong leaders and veterans who have played on some darn good teams in their careers. Mientkewicz, of course, with the World Series Red Sox; Bako and Grudzielanek (Cheese state native!) were both keys for the Cubs -- and it still baffles me why the Cardinals didn't hold on to Grudzy.

These guys know what's it like to win and these moves do good for my sweet spot for the Royals ...

(on another subject ...while surfing for news on the above story I found this baseball blog: http://griddle.baseballtoaster.com/ ... Have fun people.


So I had a dream this morning ...

I dreamt that I was reporter (for what paper or magazine, I never really figured out ...) on a special assignment to 'investigate' and review 'King Kong. ...For some reason this all took place in my former small hometown of Lake Mills on a sunny Sunday ...

The dream, as I remember it, began with me driving through the town and wanting to drive through my old neighborhood and past my old house, which is often the case when I visit there. But as I drove onto my old street and passed through the neighborhood, the houses I remembered were now gargatuan three-story, four-story Victorian monstrosities with their white and light yellow paint chipping away.

Then I was driving down the town's Main Street toward downtown. My purpose, it was made known, was to get to Greenwoods Bank to get some cash so I could see the movie. When I arrived in the downtown area, I found myself walking down this steep marble staircase onto a boulevard and park area that was bustling with people (none of this, of course, actually exists in Lake Mills) and towering over me was the Greenwoods Bank. I remember trying to ask people whether the bank was open, and thinking it would be odd if it was ... but hey, this whole dream was odd.

I went inside. Now I was suddenly dressed in a beige trenchcoat, wearing red latex gloves and carrying a black briefcase. I passed a security screening and followed a man into the lobby. But suddenly the man turned around -- and it was Matthew Broderick dressed as Inspector Gadget -- also carrying a brief case. He looked at me up and down curiously and snarled 'What're you doing here?!' Then I stuttered out, 'I'm here to investigate 'King Kong.' ... Apparently the answered sufficed because he went one way and I went the other.

The bright lights and '70s bank decor I remember inside Greenwoods was now a dimly lit lobby area that looked more like a mall then a bank. I looked to my left inside another room and saw several of my co-workers and their significant others getting tickets to the movies at a series of teller windows.

Meanwhile, my purpose was no longer to get cash. I took a seat at a desk area -- across from Russell Crowe -- and, without any direction, began filling out this grueling, multipage survey (the kind you get in high school asking about your drug or sexual activity, or as a professional you get asking about your health risks...). Russell and I struck up a coversation -- about, what I don't remember -- and in the background I could hear my editors uttering the same frustated feelings I was having about filling out this stupid survey when all we wanted to do was see the movie ...

And then I woke up.

There were other parts of this dream that are coming back to me that featured my father and driving through my college town and going to a movie rental store (We picked out the most recent 'Star Wars' movie, but my dad frowned on that) ...but I'm not remembering where these pieces fit with the larger dream ...

Interpretations anyone?


More good reads ...

During the hectic offseason that is baseball...
a Astros didn't want to get burned again ... As usual I agree with just about everything Mr. Rosenthal has to say. He's a good man.
a Rice, Dawson look awfully good now ... a great column from Bernie Lincicome of the Rocky Mountain News about the Hall of Fame voting. Again -- agreed. (Why would I post it otherwise?)
a A change of philosophy for Beane? ... This week the Oakland A's took hold of Milton Bradley, and I say 'have fun with that project!' Thank God, the Cubs backed off.

Music ...
a Mraz makes it look EZ on 'Mr. A-Z'
a Fall Out Boy takes pop route to rock success ... So just this week a colleague was researching a story about this band he'd heard of called Fallout Boy. I hadn't heard of them -- yet -- but they're from Illinois and the word was that they played here A LOT several years ago. That same night, I'm driving home and on the radio is a cool song by some kind of pop-punk band. The song ends and the DJ tells me 'that was Fallout Boy.' ...I smile and kind of shake my head. And the next day it seems like everybody is suddenly talking about Fallout Boy.

Movie stuff ...
a Aping a classic ... an interesting story about Peter Jackson's lust for 'King Kong,' and that makes you want to root for him even more ...

a The Many Sins of Casting the First 'Stone' ... For all the trailers I've seen, 'Family Stone' looks pretty decent to me. And I really like everyone who stars in it, including the adorable Sarah Jessica Parker ... All of that's why this review from the Washington Post made me laugh and laugh -- because the guy had nothing -- actually it's infinitely beyond nothing -- good to say about the movie. Moreso, the review just made me want to meet this Stephen Hunter guy and try to figure out what some of these grumpy old movie critics are made of ...

And finally for newspaper and history buffs ... Newspapers show the world, say couple who saved some (and a related Web site)


The true meanings of Christmas

This post is almost as long overdue as it will be long. But a couple weeks ago, amid the stress of chasing down entertainment stories, driving cross-county in a nasty freezing rain and barely making it on time to back-to back interviews, I got a couple doses of the what Christmas is really all about. To some people it might have been an overwhelming amount of God-talk to digest in one night. For me, it couldn’t have been more refreshing …

First, I met a family who, as only a journalist can understand, will go down as one of those that will have a lifelong impact on you. This family of four, which included the young couple’s vivacious daughters and intelligent daughters, has been through more, especially in the last couple years than few people can imagine. The girls’ father, Greg, in October had his seventh transplant -- that’s five kidneys and two livers. … Up until the transplant, Greg was basically clinging to life, and his wife was actually praying he might die and find a better place in heaven. But instead, the family relentless prayers brought a new life for Greg and -- even though they had to give up a lot, including sell their house -- -- they have everything to be thankful for this Christmas …

The story (although slightly edited for length and the purposes of this blog) I wrote appears here …

Listen to Greg talk about the last few years of his life and it seems as though he’s accumulated a lifetime’s worth of wisdom.

At only 36 years old, he’s witnessed the faithfulness and steadfast love of a spouse that some people don’t experience in 50 years of marriage. The adversity he’s faced is shaping his 9 and 11-year-old daughters’ characters even now. And he’s discovered the importance of having a generous church family who was always willing to help his family.

They’re things that only a man who’s faced the kind of adversity he has might understand. They’re things that only a man who received his seventh organ transplant in October might understand.

"Some people are like, ‘Are you crazy? Seven transplants,’" says Greg’s wife of 13 years, Maggie. "Surely people are going to say, ‘How can you say you believe in God when he’s had seven? What, weren’t the first two good enough? You know, couldn’t get it right the first time?’ But it’s just an example of God is willing to give opportunity after opportunity. Chance, after chance. As long as we have breath left, there’s always going to be a chance."

Greg’s problems, of course, started at a young age with kidney failure. By the time a team of physicians met him a few years ago, he already had sustained four failed kidneys and been on dialysis.

"Clearly he’s not your average transplant patient," Greg‘s doctor said. "Most patients only require one."

As a child Greg began suffering from ureteral reflux, a condition that occurs when the valve between the ureters and the bladder does not work properly, allowing urine to flow backward from the bladder and into the kidneys. At age 10, he had to undergo reconstructive bladder surgery and doctors assured him he would be on dialysis someday.

Dialysis began for Greg six years later in 1985 and by early 1987, he had received three kidney transplants. Kidney No. 4 came in 1995 and he continued dialysis.

Then, in 2003, Greg underwent his fifth kidney transplant, in addition to receiving his first liver transplant. His new kidney worked fantastically and he no longer needed dialysis. But the liver caused problems that made him sicker than he’d ever been.

He acquired hepatitis B and developed cirrhosis, a condition that occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy cells and causes the liver to fail. Additionally, Greg began developing constant infections in his bile ducts.

Doctors tried to correct the problem by inserting several drains in his bile ducts, but the infections only got worse. The problems forced Greg to check into the hospital more than 15 times during 2004 and 2005, and he spent much of that time in the intensive care unit.

Worse, he went into septic shock, a severe condition occurring when overwhelming infections limit blood flow. The brain, heart, kidneys and liver may even cease functioning.

"There were like three months of in and out of the hospital and being on antibiotics like five times a day," Maggie said. "Late to bed, early to rise. It was kind of this bad marathon."
Greg admits now there were times he thought of giving up. He believed death was so imminent he bought journals, which he planned to write in and leave for his daughters.

Maggie actually prayed Greg might die in hopes that he would no longer suffer.

"I actually hoped and prayed and said, ‘OK, look, will you please take him?’ because I knew what was in store for him," Maggie said. "It’s horrible to be completely powerless to do anything. There’s no relief. There’s nowhere to run to, there’s nothing you can do. You just have to suck it up and just keep going until something breaks."

Several times, doctors thought they had controlled the infections and sent Greg home, only to return days or weeks later, Franco said. There was no technology available to fix the bile ducts without having to remove the liver.

"So the decision was rather easy to make," the doctor said. "We knew we could provide a better quality of life than he was having."

On Oct. 27, a new liver was delivered after the son of another patient at the same clinic, who also was suffering from cirrhosis, died in an industrial accident.

"It kind of closes the circle in that here’s a patient who may some day require a transplant and in this time when his son passes away he remembered the importance of organ donation and donates (his son’s) organs to another patient he doesn’t know," the doctor said. "Nonetheless it’s quite noble and good on his part to remember how important organ donation is."

Today, Greg will again ingest 30 pills, taken from a pallet of 17 different medications. But that doesn’t compare to what he’s already dealt with.

"Compared to being hooked up to a machine, or dead, I’ll take the pills," he said.

Now he can look forward to oil painting and woodworking. He’s anxious to be active again in his church. And he and his family already are buzzing about traveling and watching sunrises again.

"I’m glad I went through what I went through because I wouldn’t be who I am today," Stricker said. "My character has been sharpened and challenged and who I am as a person has been confronted. So yes, it was difficult and I don’t want to go through it again, but I wouldn’t change it because I’ve known a nearness to God, that I think only people who suffer get to know."

The entire experience also makes this Christmas season more special for the family, Greg said, recalling John 3:16. "The most well-known bible verse is ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son -- " Greg said, his voice trailing off and allowing his 11-year-old to complete the verse.

"That whoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," the youngster said, squished into a living room chair with her little sister. "How can you forget it?"

Flashing a smile that’s full of pride, Greg continues, "The bottom line is he gave his son for us and I’m grateful for that above all else. Somebody gave their son and daughter that I could have life again through this transplant."

* * *
From meeting Greg and his family, I rushed about 30 miles west along the rural country roads of our county and arrived about 30 minutes late to the OakVue Farm. Waiting for me inside the farmhouse were about 40 family and friends of the host, whom we’ll call ‘Farmer Ed.’ …You see all of them have been actually acting out the Christmas story for 15 years and we’ll be doing it again this year.

Their story (again edited) appears here -- and Ed’s first quote could not have been said better …

For 15 years people attending the living nativity at OakVue Farm have discovered two things: anything can happen and they’ll see an inspirational portrayal of the story behind Christmas.

Now in its 16th year, Ed, his wife, and a cast of nearly 50 family members, friends and volunteers, are preparing to share the Christmas story again. The group will present their living nativity four times Friday and Saturday, with hot chocolate and cookies served afterward.

"In the day and age when Christ is being taken out of everything, they want to do away with Christmas, you can’t play Christmas carols and all that -- this is one place that will never happen, ‘cause it’s our place," Ed said. "That’s why we keep doing it."

While some area families have made it a holiday tradition to see the living nativity, attendance continues to increase, reaching 800 people. A log Ed’s family keep is filled with audience comments like "What a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season" and "I want the children to always remember this and not just Santa and presents."

The nativity has even attracted people visiting from several surrounding states and even countries like Germany, Australia, Jamaica, Peru and Canada.

"We’ve had people calling asking ‘Are you going to do it because my family’s coming?’" Ed said. "We get people that come out to this thing, that might not even go to a church."

Set in a barn on the farm, the 35-40 minute program involves family members and friends portraying Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, angels, shepherds, wise men and King Herod to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. A narrator also reads bible passages, a choir sings Christmas hymns and live animals stir in the barn.

Although, the animals have been known to try upstaging their castmates. Chickens have run into the audience and even unplugged the star one year. Another year, a goat got loose and last year a donkey wouldn’t move.

One woman who participates in the nativity as choir members said they enjoy the nativity for the lessons it teaches her four young children, including a 5-year-old daughter who has begun begging to be an angel.

"I think this is the real meaning of Christmas," the woman said. "We did this before we had kids and now we have four. And it’s so nice for them to see that Christmas is not about what presents you get, but it’s about God left heaven to be born in a dirty stable, a dirty cold stable, and how he did that for us."

* * *
And finally …

“What To Get Jesus For Christmas” by John Sumwalt, a United Methodist pastor, a writer, the author of Shining Moments: Visions Of The Holy In Ordinary lives, and my father-in-law.

Fox News Anchor, John Gibson, author of "The War On Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought," has done all of us Jesus followers a great favor, although surely not in the way he intended. By bringing these so called "attacks on Christmas" to the fore, Gibson has helped us to see clearly that all of these “the sky is falling” clich├ęs and rumors of Christmas wars have less merit than we thought. When Gibson gushes, “It is no longer permissible to wish anyone Merry Christmas,” one wonders about the reliability of his sources. Do you know anyone who has been arrested, chastised, demoted or fired for saying Merry Christmas? If this “political correctness” taboo were rampant in the U.S., you would think all of us would know someone who had been harassed by the “Christmas police” or at least know someone who knows someone who has been spirited off to some “secular humanist” torture chamber and forced to watch all of the dread Michael Moore movies.

Yes, there are plenty of horror stories of crimes against Christmas that are recycled daily in ever increasingly shrill tones by radio and TV shock talkers who fill the airways with their Chicken Little patter. And to be sure there are some school boards, city officials, and corporations that have foolishly implemented rigid rules regarding Christmas symbols, and as Gibson reports, “even the colors red and green.” Anyone who would ban the colors red and green in a silly attempt to stamp out Christmas deserves to be ridiculed in a “war on Christmas” book. But, “a carefully organized conspiracy... a cabal of secularists, so called humanists, trial lawyers, cultural relativists, and liberal guilt wracked Christians?” Come on John, get out of the studio and take a look; the sky is not falling!

I write this as one who is a radical, conservative, evangelical follower of Jesus. As such, I am committed to living by the fundamental root meaning of Jesus’ teachings and conserving the ancient truths of the scriptures as he did when he confronted the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. I was raised in a conservative evangelical church where I learned to study the Bible diligently, to seek in every way to live as Jesus did, to seek to be loving and kind and generous in all of my relationships, as Jesus was. I want to stand firm against those evils that Jesus condemned and to rise up with hot anger against those same injustices and idolatries that incurred his rage. Gibson, though raised outside the church, claims to have been “taught to respect people’s religious practices,” and that he is uncomfortable with “those who mock and denigrate religion,” makes a curious exception when he declares “Some institutional backers of the war on Christmas are Christian churches such as the United Church of Christ (UCC) who celebrate Jesus Christ's humanity and leave the room when the discussion turns to his divinity.” It just isn’t true, as almost any of their 1.3 million members could have told him, or as a quick check of their Web site reveals: the preamble to the UCC constitution refers to Jesus “as the Son of God."

There is at least one thing, though, that Gibson is honest with himself and his readers about; many of the fiercest combatants resisting what they believe to be a vast anti-Christmas insurgency are not church goers, but “secularists” for whom Christmas is an “American holiday of a higher rank than, say, Super Bowl Sunday, but still secular.” The trappings of Christmas are dear to their hearts, but they have no need for Jesus who is the “reason for the season.” Those Christmas crusaders who are avid followers of Jesus often speak in angry tones, referring to anyone who disagrees with them as “messengers of Satan” or “the anti-Christ.” Nicholas Kristoff wrote: “Theirs is a religion of denouncing others not loving them.” They are demanding boycotts of stores with employees who say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. What happened to “love does not insist on it’s own way but bears all things, and endures all things?” Have we forgotten that Jesus said, “Love your enemies and bless those who curse you?” Over the centuries it has been extraordinary love that has drawn people to the church. During the plagues in the dark ages, when everyone else was putting the sick and dying out into the streets, Christians were taking them into their homes.

Even if John Gibson and all of those who support his views were proven to be absolutely correct that “A free expression of Christmas in this age is fast becoming impossible,” it would amount to little more than a tempest in a communion cup, because Jesus wouldn't care. The scuffles over the proper expressions of Christmas are piddly concerns compared to the sufferings of the poor in America and around the world.

I’m with Mel Wheatley who writes in Christmas Is for Celebrating, “Some people have been greatly disturbed lest we lose Christ out of Christmas. I am concerned lest we lose Christ in Christmas.” I think the early Christians would be shocked by our modern celebrations of Christmas, both the materialistic orgy emphasized in the secular world and the sentimental “all is calm all is bright mentality” in many churches. “The earliest Christian writer, the Apostle Paul, makes no mention of Christmas. Christians in the first several centuries of the church knew nothing of the Christmas traditions that are so popular today, most of which were adapted from pagan celebrations many centuries later. If Jesus was ever concerned about how his birthday should be celebrated or talked about, it was never recorded in the Gospels.

If we are serious about celebrating Christmas in a way that would give Jesus joy on his birthday, we would do what he did: feed the hungry, dine with outcasts, heal the sick, support the rights of women and foreigners, care for prostitutes, the mentally ill and the homeless, cleanse the corruption in our modern temples, set prisoners free, help the blind to see, hold the rich accountable for sharing their abundance with the poor, and put a stop to executions, perhaps inviting those who are without sin to make the first injection as Jesus did. It is a long list and well documented in the Gospels.

Instead of going to war over “Happy Holidays,” we could select one item from Jesus’ list and get him something he wants for Christmas this year. Perhaps it should be a gift that liberals and conservatives from red and blue states could easily agree upon. How about a war on disease? That would be the perfect gift for a healer.

Americans have given generously in response to the Tsunami that took 200,000 lives last Christmas and recently to several hundred thousand Katrina evacuees. Why don't we all give 1 percent of our Christmas budgets to do something about saving the 165,000 throughout the world who die of malaria every month, and the 140,000 of diarrhea and the 240,000 of AIDS? Even $5 from every American would go a long way toward eradicating these perennial killers. It isn’t really very much considering the piles of expensive presents that will be under most of our whatever-you-want-to-call-them trees. But then it is the thought that counts. Merry Christmas, Jesus! Or should it be Happy Hanukkah? After all he is Jewish.


Sent to me by a friend with the headline: 'All I want for Christmas ...'

Good reads ...

Last night after Kates arrived home from work and we prepared to sit down for 'How I Met Your Mother' (...which was a rerun, but still HA-larious by the way), she told me she had heard a promo on the radio for (cue majestic angel chorus) 'Coldplay' on 'Austin City Limits' starting this Saturday, Dec. 17. (Check your listings) ... Aw yeah!

Better yet, Michael Stipe, of REM, will make a guest appearance and join the band for a rendition of one of my all-time favroite REM tunes, 'Nightswimming.' ... can I get another aw yeah!
"It's a tremendous honor to play Austin City Limits, one of the grandest music showcases anywhere in the world," said Chris Martin, lead vocalist, Coldplay. "It's a humbling experience knowing that we're sharing the same stage as performers like Johnny Cash and Neil Young who have had such a big influence on us as a band."
... Get more of the details here, and check up for further shows here.
Entertainment reads ...
a I've never been a big 'Simpsons' fan, but I think learning to say 'D'oh!' in Arabic would be fun.
a Eurythmics come back from the vaults with real treasures ... I've never been a huge Eurythmics fan either, but I do like a few of their songs, and for that this story made me smile.
a ABC says West Coast will no longer have "stale news" in evening ... ah, good for the West Coast, I guess.
a Peter Jackson creates a satisfyingly sure-handed update of a movie classic ... Ok! Ok! I admit it! ...I want to see King Kong. I thought the trailers looked like as thought it would be another horribly overhyped bust. But I've read too many good reviews in the last few days to make me think otherwise ...

Baseball reads ...
Here's more on the Red Sox decision to hire two GMs ...
And what is fast becoming one of favorites sources for baseball info and of course the Red Sox, The Providence Journal offers two very interesting (and comical) perspectives on the mess that is the Red Sox these days...
Also see:
Sacramento Bee/Mark Kreidler: Fine signing, but all hinges on Mr. Bonds ... who I wish would do Hank Aaron and anyone who has any minute passion for baseball a favor and retire.
Baltimore Sun: Orioles may be left with one option: Deal Tejada ... And I say 'Please deal him to the Cubs!'
Many at home with cheating ... if you can make it through the entire thing, an interesting (and comical) anthology of home advantages (ahem... cheating) in sports. And who knew? Apparently baseball is notorious for it.
...And in the amazing category: Skydiver survives fall, gets baby surprise

Author of false Wikipedia entry apologizes

I linked to a story in my 'good reads' last week from USA Today regarding a false Wikipedia entry for John Seigenthaler Sr., and the subsequent debate about online references.

Well, here's the follow-up about the dummy who posted the false material. Why on Earth ....!?


When Willy meets Charlie

If 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' was a classic, I missed the boat ...

Remember, I was deprived of movies as a kid. And then as I grew older I had no interest in seeing 'Willy Wonka' and I never did see it. ... On the contrary, I could hardly wait to see Tim Burton's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' this summer. And when we did see that, I loved every moment.

Tonight I realized why I never had any interest in the original. Add to that, I'm writing this entry without watching the last 10 minutes of it ...

On my lunch break today, I was flipping through channels and caught a commercial on ABC Family promoting a showing tonight of the orginal film with Gene Wilder. Now with an open mind and something to compare, I decided to tune in.

For what it's worth, Gene Wilder's performance in the original is adequate at best, and it's the only thing I found remotely intriguing to watch. Still Johnny Depp added so much more depth to the character. And while the blond-haired, blue eyed Willy may have been cute in the orginal, I didn't find myself feeling anywhere near as sympathetic for him as I did the more scraggly Willy in the new version.

Ugh. ... Tim Burton's version is soooooooooooo much better. Flat out. The updated version is so much more imaginative. The acting is better. The music is cooler. And the chocolate is thicker.

A day with the President

For anyone who didn't catch it, the NBC Nightly News tonight aired an interesting, and at times, fascinating broadcast that featured Brian Williams spending the day with President Bush...

You can view the interviews and the newscast here.

More striking to me were not the answers that Bush gave to several of Williams' questions (some of his answers were quite real, but there were others that exemplified the same gun-ho attitude and ignorance he seems to always have about the mess in Iraq), but the aura that only the President of the United States can portray. It's the fact that he's one of the most powerful individuals in the world, and while we are constantly criticizing him, you have to admire his leadership abilities and the burden he must bear for our country. It's certainly a job I wouldn't want.

It's the same feeling that I had in September 2004 when on a sunny afternoon Bush and his motorcade pulled into our fair city and stopped at a popular, family-owned deli. I didn't get to talk to him and I saw more of his coach bus and the Secret Service than I did of Bush. Several people denounced any bit of excitement about the event, but on that day I couldn't side with them. I lived it up to the fullest and thought, how many people can say they've even stood in the presence of the President? I can. And I think that's pretty cool.

PUBLISHED IN KENOSHA NEWS, Sept. 2004 -- When news of a presidential motorcade passing through the city filtered this week rumors of a stop at Tenuta’s began to fly.

At about 3:15 p.m. Friday, those rumors became truth as seven buses, including one carrying president George W. Bush, slowed to a stop in front of the popular delicatessen and liquor store on 52nd Street.

"Nobody flat out said it would happen and even to the end nobody knew for sure," said Tenuta’s owner Chris Tenuta Friday night, hours after the visit. "There were probably more rumors out on the street than we were told. We were never told or never given any inkling that something was happening."

Either way, Tenuta’s sign scrolled the message "WELCOME TO KENOSHA MR. PRESIDENT!!" and hundreds of people had packed the storefront by about 1 p.m. Friday, waving American flags and Bush-Cheney campaign signs.

While the smell of Italian sausages emitted from a store window, the crowd and anticipation swelled. At about 2:30 p.m., Kenosha police began blocking off side streets and officers warned the crowd that a clear street meant the president would be passing through within about 20 minutes.

About 45 minutes later, cheers erupted from the crowd as a helicopter began circling overhead. Within moments dozens of Secret Service men began streaming from SUVs onto the roadway and another official led a bomb-sniffing dog around the store’s perimeter, giving the appearance that a presidential stop was imminent.

Moments later, motorcycles and police squads sped by with their lights flashing. And the motorcade, headed by two red, white and blue buses with the slogan "A safer world, a more hopeful America," slowed to stop in front of Tenuta’s. Chants of "Four more years" and "We want Bush" sounded from the crowd and one woman screamed, "George, we love you!"

When the president stepped off the bus, local police were among the first to greet him.

"He went right to me and he said, ‘Thank you, you do a nice job," said Lt. Jane Finley. "… Really, I was awestruck. It was very impressive. He was soft-spoken and very kind."
Police Chief Dan Wade said he too was impressed with Bush.

"It was quite an honor," Wade said of shaking the President’s hand. "All I told him was ‘Mr. President, keep the world safe for my granddaughter, Maddie,’ and he said, ‘You got it partner.’"
Bush also greeted numerous residents lucky enough to be standing outside the store, including

Louise Greco, 66, who was like a giggling teenager when the motorcade left and she recounted her presidential kiss. As Bush passed her, Greco said, she assured him he would win over the voters in Wisconsin. Bush replied hopefully and kissed Greco on the right cheek.

Eric Morgan, 30, decided to stop at Tenuta’s only because the police blockade stopped him from going directly home after work. While his mother and son had been waiting for hours across the street, Morgan arrived at Tenuta’s with the motorcade and still managed to shake the President’s hand.

"It was just kind of weird," Morgan said. "I didn’t know what to really think or say or do. It was like watching a movie or the news. You see it all the time, but until you’re right there. I couldn’t settle down after I left."

And never mind that 13-year-old Elizabeth Clark has already met the pope. She was equally starstruck by a hug from Bush.

"Wow, I was like out of breath," she said. "It was so amazing."

Inside Tenuta’s, the President greeted about 40 people, including employees and about 10 customers who Secret Servicemen couldn’t hustle out of the store. Bush declined to try any of the store’s popular food, but he did take time to greet almost everyone inside.

"He took the time to say hi to everybody," Tenuta said. "Most people he gave an autograph and stopped to talk to each person personally and he discussed different things with them."

Spotting one man wearing a Chicago Cubs cap and another sporting a Chicago White Sox hat, Bush briefly discussed some baseball philosophy. However, no one put the president on the spot regarding political issues or policies. In all, Bush was inside the store for about 10 minutes.

"It was probably one of the few chances I’ll ever get to be that close to the president and I had my children with me," Tenuta said. "For him to come in and be as a personal as he was and take the time out. It’s once in a lifetime."

But while the visit for Tenuta’s family and others in front of the store became the chance of a lifetime, the experience quickly turned into the bust of a lifetime for the majority of the crowd.

At about 3:10 p.m., several minutes before the motorcade arrived, police ordered the mass of people crowding the Tenuta’s storefront to the north side of 52nd Street. The arriving motorcade subsequently blocked almost all views of Tenuta’s and the president stepping off the bus.

"We didn’t come to see the bus," said one elderly woman.

Secret Servicemen and police officers fanned out along the street’s north side, offering hope that Bush might come to the other side of the buses, but he never appeared.

"We waited here for two hours — not even an acknowledgement or a wave," said Rose Thome, a 58-year-old woman. "This group has really been a friendly Kenosha. But it’s a shame he didn’t stop and wave."

Boston Red Sox news

And this makes the Red Sox better off how???

Red Sox name co-GMs


Have I mentioned that 'Grey's Anatomy' is the best show on TV?

It makes you smile. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to dance. It even makes you want to just lay underneath a Christmas tree.

The Notre Dame Observer offers more good reasons to watch ...

King James as a family man

If you weren't tuned into a football game this afternoon, you probably didn't see 'The LeBrons.'

For more, go to nikebasketball.com ... Click on 'meet the Lebrons.' Then click on 'view the TV spots,' select 'Glory Days' and enjoy ...

What can't this guy do!?

Cardiac 'Cats? Not on this day

It wasn't meant to be, I guess.

Course I'm biased. But when Northwest plays, I've learned over the years never to count them out until the last second has ticked away. Yesterday was no different. Sure they were down with just a couple minutes left in the game, but there were no reasons to believe the Bearcats couldn't upset the No. 1-ranked Lakers.

Josh Lamberson was playing the game of a lifetime, effortlessly tossing passes and moving the 'Cats up the field. Tight end Mike Peterson and the receiving corps were catching the passes and moving with them. Xavier Omon was mixing in some good runs. And the Northwest defense had kept Grand Valley State in check most of the day.

So when the Bearcats took the ball down 21-17 late in the fourth quarter, there was no doubt they'd end up at the end zone before the game was over. They did ... but a well-thrown Lamberson pass to back of the end zone was dropped with about 20 seconds left.

When it looked as though the winning pass would surely be caught, Kates and I jumped from out seats, shrieking in celebration ... then the pass was dropped and I ended up sprawled over our coffee table, sighing in agony.

A sack on Lamberson put the 'Cats back further and then Lamberson connected with Raphael Robinson with no time left the clock, but Robinson couldn't spin into the end zone and it was all over.

No, there's no use in crying over spilled milk. I called my dad, who also had been watching, to talk about the game. And then we went on with our nights. ... But thanks again, Mel Tjeerdsma and the Bearcats, for another thrilling game, a great season, bringing back some great memories and making me, once again, proud to be a Bearcat.

ALSO: Check out this story at the Kansas City Star about the Bearcats' week leading up to the championship game and a great set of photos by Mike Ransdell -- a former colleague, a Northwest alum and one of the best photographers I know. He also took the photo above.


It's game day baby!

Live in Ben's world

Oh, Ben Folds fans, we have yet another reason to rejoice and be thankful for yet another stellar release.

The latest DVD, 'Live in Perth' came out this week, and if you don’t have it yet -- buy it!

Like all of the Ben Folds releases in this age of the Internet, I ordered my copy of ‘Live in Perth’ the day it was announced in an email alert. I waited eagerly and watched the mailbox each day when I arrived home. And then when it arrived on Friday, ripped it open faster than Ralphie ripped open his Red-Rider BB gun.

I answered some email, watched the nightly news and then nuked some cheeseburger Hot Pockets before finally popping in the DVD and taking a seat. I should’ve know better. … Barely a few bites into my supper, my jaw dropped -- just like my fork, clanking on my plate below.

This show, if you don’t know already, features Ben performing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. … It begins with a rush of notes from the symphony. Then, on a perfect cue, Ben enters, sits down at his baby grand and begins banging away with the symphony on ‘Zak and Sara.’

The arrangement is refreshing and mind-blowing, while the performance as a whole is, in one word, mesmerizing. Laughing in amazement, I wanted to stand up and just keep on clapping. And my supper was quickly growing cold.

After more great performances of ‘Smoke’ and ‘Fred Jones Part 2,’ and some cool interaction with the crowd, Ben and the symphony storm into ‘Steven’s Last Night in Town.’ Arguably my favorite song on the disc, the tune is as jazzy as ever, backed with impressive brass and string playing.

‘Boxing’ is good, and an arrangement of ‘Annie Waits,’ with its blaring brass and chimes, seems fit for a performance in the grandest cathedral on Easter Sunday.

The show is edited and filmed as if it originally aired as a PBS special, and there's no extra features on it. But none of that hinders the whole package ... If there’s anything wrong with the concert, it’s that the show does seem to wear a little bit in the second half with mellow songs like ‘Brick,’ ‘Evaporated,’ and ‘Lullabye’ (Hey, I’m not saying these songs are in any way bad, though…), and some darker arrangements, including one for ‘Narcolepsy.’ And while, Ben does get the crowd involved, albeit a little, during the always memorable ‘Not the Same’ -- another interactive crowd pleaser, ‘Army,’ and the concert mainstay 'Philosophy' are glaringly absent. (C’mon, how cool would it have been to hear symphony arrangements of THOSE songs!?)

Much of that is forgotten, though, when Ben does the encore and a fan -- it had to happen at some point -- yells ‘Rock This Bitch.’ In classic Ben form, he comes up with yet another version on the spot and, yes, even gets the orchestra involved.

If you haven’t been turned on to Ben Folds’ talents before, buy this disc and I guarantee -- you’ll be turned on now.

* * *

This time next week, I will be in Ben's midst ...

Fans of Eric, Kathy and the gang at 101.9 WTMX The Mix, which presents the annual bash, have been hearing about this show for weeks. This year’s show will feature guest emcee Tommy Lee with performances from The Fray, a "special" (in other words, acoustic?) set from Alanis Morissette and headliner Ben Folds -- and it’s all at the beautiful, historic and legendary Chicago Theatre.

Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster and the Chicago Theatre Box Office, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting LaRabida Children’s Hospital, located on Chicago’s lakeshore.

Ticket prices range from $50 to $75 though the box office. Although a check of eBay showed tickets available for as high as $399 (that's two tickets in the pit section... although there were no bids).

Now, if you’re thinking the lineup looks a little 1998, I’ll forgive you. But the fact remains Folds and Morissette are still pumping out good records and both are beginning to catch new fans with more recent releases.

Morissette, an icon of the ‘90s pop/rock music scene, just released a collection of her greatest hits, which of course includes "You Oughta Know," "Uninvited" (from the City of Angels movie soundtrack), "Hands Clean," and her biggest-selling hit, "Ironic." Additionally, the collection includes her dance cover of the Seal hit "Crazy," which is gaining moderate radio play.

Keeping in mind all of the hits the Canadian singer/songwriter/actress has churned out and this summer’s refreshing acoustic version of her smash album "Jagged Little Pill," the set by Alanis is sure to be a holiday treat.

The piano-pounding Folds, meanwhile, is still riding the success of his most recent solo album, "Songs For Silverman," which he released last spring. Since then he’s put out a set of revamped "Silverman" songs and interviews exclusively for iTunes and made an appearance on PBS’ legendary "Austin City Limits" series, and now of course has released the live DVD of his two-night stand last March with the 83-piece Western Australia Symphony Orchestra.

Aside from the witty lyrics and edgy jazz-meets-rock music, any Folds concert is an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Often compared to early Elton John or Billy Joel, Folds’ set lists combine his new music with long-standing favorites from his days leading the Ben Folds Five trio. Folds himself will beg you to sing along, even directing the audience for crowd-pleasers like "Army" and "Not the Same."

But as a prelude to Morissette and Folds, we get The Fray, a band critics are saying we’re sure to hear more from.

The Denver-based foursome formed in 2002 and, according to the band’s official Web site, has earned a loyal grassroots following with its uplifting melodic pop-rock songs and soaring vocals. The band signed with Epic Records in 2004 and released their debut album "How To Save A Life" in September.

The Fray’s style, again according to the band’s Web site, is "a sophisticated, emotional blend of tinkling pianos, acoustic and electric guitars, and gently insistent rhythms."

The bottom line? If you can’t find something to enjoy at this show -- now that would be a Miracle on State Street.

* * *

In other Ben news ...

Here's a nice story I dug up during an Internet surf a couple weeks ago: Singer-pianist keeps rockin' the suburbs despite terrorist attacks.

Also, if you haven't checked out his web site lately, go there and look at the pictures section. There's a lot of cool new photos from Ben and some alternate album covers for 'Songs For Silverman.'


Good reads.

Five Deer Leap to Deaths From W.Va. Garage ...Here we go again! The Animal Kingdom has got to be reeling about this. After the summer's tragic sheep deaths, animal suicides are climbing at an alarming rate ...

It's online, but is it true? ... an interesting spin from USA Today on the Wikipedia concept. I caught onto the site several months ago and it has since become one of my favorite Web sites out there. Seriously, I can spend hours on it just typing in random people, terms or whatever, and learn a ton of things I didn't know before or hadn't thought about. In my opinion, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has definitely achieved his goal of putting all the world's knowledge in one place, but, yes, you do have to take it with a grain of salt ...

When murder hits the blogosphere ... A few more reasons to be mindful of the Internet's public domain ... but the more gripping isssue is where anyone gets crazy ideas like these two teens, I'll never understand.

Back Atop the Charts, Her Way ... Admittedly, I was (I still am) a fan of pre-breakdown Mariah. ... but I also was one of the people who scoffed at the idea she could return to her previous popularity after the epic breakdown and bomb that was 'Glitter.' I can't say I see what most people have in her new release this year, but this story may convince you to believe she really is one of the all-time greats ...

Review: 'King Kong' ...After my rant the other day about how blah Kong looked, this review actually makes it sound worthwhile to see ...

In a puzzling development, kakuro beckons ... great. As if my morning Sudoku wasn't addicting enough. Another puzzle for me to spend hours on. Although, I'm not a math man ... so maybe not.

Baseball fever

I can't remember a season of winter baseball meetings this interesting -- and in some ways this wacky ...

The swap meet once again defied all logic and several teams still have many questions to answer.

As for the home teams, the more I think about Juan Pierre joining the Cubs this year, the more excited I get. He's not Rafael Furcal or Johnny Damon, but he should provide a spark the team didn't have last year. ... Further north though, it seems no one I talk to can understand what the Brewers were thinking in giving away Lyle Overbay. Sure, they got a couple prospect arms, but, for some unknown reason, the Brewers seem starstruck by Prince Fielder and none of us can figure out why...

And so Tejada wants out of Baltimore. It's sad, yes, that another superstar who not to long ago was shining with a new contract is now whining about wanting to play on a winner, But really, can you blame him? I agree with a lot of Baltimore fans that it's more of an Angelos problem ...

Plus, he’s old and expensive, but he’s still The Rocket ... Riiiiiiiiiight. Only Newsday would write a column like this. But I said it when the season was over. And I'm still saying it. Roger should just retire.


Southwest plane skids off runway at Midway

... Nothing like a big news story in Chicago. All the new stations break into regular programming and broadcast updates like crazy for the rest of the night.

Being in the news business so I can appreciate all the work that goes into it and the exhiliration that comes with breaking the story. Besides, there wasn't much else worth watching on TV tonight anyway ...