Best of 2010

The year of 2010 started with an arrival and then a goodbye. From the start this year was full of adventure, and twists and turns. 

The first part of the year was loaded with anxious and  frustrating moments. From the early weeks of our seperation, to Valentine's Day, to Father's Day.

We filled our nights and weekends with Skype calls and once-a-month reunions -- in January, February, March, April when Phoebe turned 2, in May for the wedding of the year and again the next weekend, though it took somewhat of a miracle.

In the meantime, apartment living wasn't bad. ... But the winter was worse than any I'd experienced in Wisconsin.

Kates landed a teaching job in April, but our house hunting troubles were just beginning.

By June, we were settling into a duplex and Phoebe was settling into a new room with a big bed. We did a lot of reflecting on the last five years. We closed on our house in K-Town. On my birthday, we made the long haul to The 'Ville.

Phoebe grew up from a toddler just learning her ABCs to a delightful, babbling little girl. She had her first meeting with Santa ... and I guess we could say she found Jesus. ... But our summer will be remembered most for one thing: The surgery. Ah, the joys of parenthood.

During the fall, we took in fireworks and football. And football. Thanksgiving in Branson. And football. And football.

It was a year of adjustments.

* * *
In sports ...

Mark McGwire finally came clean. Hockey was the extent of my Olympics experience -- but it was so worth it.

The NCAA tournament was as thrilling and depressing as ever -- from the maddening good first round to Kansas' stunning loss to Northern Iowa to an epic K-State-Xavier game. And then there was Monday. We said goodbye to John Wooden, too.

When baseball season arrived, I kept up with following my old teams and got reaquainted with the Royals, especially when Ned Yost took over. There was that near-perfect game in Detroit. There was that glorious Sunday night in sports. The National League won an all-star game and the Cubs seemed to lose more than games.

In August, I picked the Rangers and Phillies as my World Series favorites. Instead we got the Rangers-Giants and the Giants won it -- with Edgar Renteria's help, no less. ... I took in a glorious doubleheader in Kansas City. I could only hope the Royals have a future as glorious as their past. Then they went and handed Zack Greinke to the Brewers.

The Blackhawks took the Stanley Cup. LeBron went to South Beach. We said goodbye to Ron Santo.

* * *
In music ...

The Grammy's dazzled and frustrated me as usual -- and delivered an unforgettable Pink performance. ... "Fireflies" left me mesmerized. ... As did Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn, and Neko Case.
Songs of the year go to One Republic and OK Go, Sara Bareilles, and Bruno Mars,

The music I love also caused some slight depression -- which I dubbed my "Summertime Blues." We missed The Weepies, among several other favorites. ... But, I did make my annual pilgrimmage to Summerfest and The Weepies blessed us with another wonderful album. I also got to see The Hunts.

* * *

In entertainment ...

We had to adjust to life without DVR, and there was the late night TV fracas. Betty White hosted SNL. We said goodbye to 'My Boys.' SNL and Katy Perry parodied Sesamegate.

Lost. The final season blew my mind from beginning to middle to end. And afterward.

Inception did the same. For weeks afteward.

Our TV blew up. But we were captivated by "The Sing-Off."

I found a workplace that embraced social media and fell deeper in love with it along the way.

* * *

Through it all, we found inspiration in the highs and lows, and we dug in. And to paraphrase The Weepies singing one of our all-time favorite lyrics and melodies: The world spun madly on.



I've been brainstorming and thinking about this post -- to coincide with my new design -- for months.

My initial idea was to base it on the start of a new academic year and the students' return to school, a reflective post I've traditionally written around Labor Day. Then I was going to base it on the second weekend of October, the one-year anniversary of The Dream and the beginnings of this infamous adventure. Then I was going to base it on daylight savings time. Then I was going to base it on the one-year anniversary of my job interview. ...

The fact I didn't make any of those deadlines serves as a perfect illustration of how this last year has gone for us. Almost nothing has gone the way we imagined or hoped it might. From selling our house for a loss. To our summer stint in the hospital. To our troubles finding a house in The 'Ville. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would have toured 40 houses and still be renting at this point.

The question has been asked of us over and over this year, in any number of ways: How are things going? How are you liking it? How are you settling in?

The answer consistently has been: “We’re doing … well.”

I'm as happy as I've ever been as a working adult. From the beginning of our adventure, I was struck by the vigor and energy of my new environment. There's a commitment to excellence that is so refreshing. I get to work with an enormously talented team of people. We listen to and respect each other, and our collaborations have been fruitful. I’m treated like a valuable part of the team and my opinions are heard.

There are elements of my work now that are more intense, more demanding, more consuming and more stressful than my years of newspaper reporting. As I’ve told numerous friends and colleagues, I may be busier on a daily basis now than I was in the newsroom. But the work is far more fulfilling and it doesn’t wreak nearly the emotional havoc on me that crime reporting did. It’s an entirely different kind of stress. It’s a fun kind of stress, a stress that I'm glad to take on.

It's interesting that a year ago, my mind overflowed with knowledge of uniform crime reporting, fatal car crashes, balloon-style construction and how it fueled house fires, grisly domestic violence incidents, drunken driving laws, Taser use, drug behavior and gang activity. ... Now, I find myself discussing student success, retention, innovation and graduation rates. I'm learning about pedagogy, benchmarks and analytics. It's both refreshing and nerve-racking.

And instead of interacting with cops and firefighters on a daily basis, most of my interactions now are with students and teachers -- two of my favorites kinds of people. (Though my years as a crime reporter gave me a profound respect for emergency workers.)

Having some of my former professors as colleagues now is a bit weird but also very cool. Most of them had very positive impacts on me and continue that trend today. Some, whose classes I did poorly in because I didn‘t put forth the necessary effort, I’m seeing in new light now and wish I could have a do-over. And there are others who I had no clue existed when I was a student, but I’m fully appreciating what they bring to the table now. … The same could be said for several of my former college classmates who, like me, have returned to serve the University.

I'm overjoyed to have a job that allows me to teach and have an impact on students, to visit their classes, talk with them and share my knowledge and experiences. Their stories and drive impress me every day.

Then you add in the benefits of working in academia -- from the campus food court, to the fitness facilities to the vacation time -- and the natural surroundings of what is arguably one of the most beautiful and well-maintained campuses in the country, and my history with this place, there are days I can't help but pinch myself and break into a wide smile, thinking, How did I get here?

From the day we set foot in The 'Ville, people here have been extraordinarily welcoming and have gone out of their way to help us settle in. Our new church family has been a huge part of that, and we couldn’t be happier about the friendships we’ve begun to build.

People have told us repeatedly what a great place The ‘Ville is to raise a family, and we’ve found that to be true, as well. From our almost nightly walks to the neighborhood parks during the summer, to the Saturday football games this fall, and the community meals each Wednesday night at our church. Trick-or-treating at the lake and campground outside of town was another highlight. Opportunities for family bonding have been bountiful.

And though we’ve discovered more drawbacks to living in a rural, small town than we anticipated, being part of a college town has an upside. It adds unique cultural and entertainment elements to the town that give it a city feel. … There are concerts and musicals and art shows and athletic events. I saw the choir perform last spring at the magnificent basilica outside of town, and I attended the school’s large production of “The Music Man.” This fall I saw The Hunt Family perform in concert, and I’ve listened to numerous lectures, including Shawn Johnson, whom I had the chance to meet a few weeks ago. Heck, we celebrated the beginning of the school year by watching fireworks light up the campus.

We feel very privileged to have landed where we did.

But not everything is peachy keen. There have plenty of hiccups and burdens to bare along the way. The gut-wrenching move in late June. The above-mentioned hospital stay. Then the start of the school year hit us like a tsunami, and Kates and I just now feel like we’re settling in.

We’re infinitely exhausted and sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a break in sight.

Kates has made enormous sacrifices. Sure, she’s teaching the same grade she’s taught for the last nine years. But any similarities to her previous life stop there. … She’s had to adjust to an entirely different curriculum, a different set of policies and procedures. She’s gone from having her very own classroom to teaching in an open space with four other teachers, each of whom are responsible for teaching 20-some students of their own. She’s taken a heavy pay cut; she has fewer days off and no spring break. She’s taken on more responsibilities than were expected at her previous school, including lunch and recess duties.

There are times both of us miss the union protections and benefits we enjoyed at our previous workplaces -- though those protections also meant some unfavorable restrictions on what we could do in our jobs. That played a role in me wanting to escape.

Phoebe’s daycare. Well, it’s legal, and we feel comfortable with the supervision she receives; Phoebe adores the college kids who assist and play with her at the center each day. … But it lacks the charm and structure of her previous caretaker. The classrooms have a pig pen feeling to them and we worry at times that Phoebe is regressing in her learning.

The housing crisis has been well-documented. The nation's and our own. Forty houses toured. They’re either overpriced, or they need far more work than we’re willing to take on, or they’re in less-than-ideal locations. Only a few have appealed to us enough that we’ve considered placing offers, and none of those offers have panned out. … The housing search has worn on us more than anything. There's a feeling that The ’Ville won't truly feel like home until we have a place to call our own.

People also ask if we miss our families, or we’re homesick. The weekends are hardest -- when, if we still lived in K-Town, we might have been meeting them for dinner, a family gathering or a ball game. The distance forced us to miss two weddings in recent months.

But it’s not just our families. We miss our old doctors. Our old radio stations. Kates misses her old hair stylist. The variety that generally comes with city life and the feeling that you don’t have to travel far to get it. … Now our nearest city -- meaning Target, Menards, Culver's, Kohl's, a mall -- is a 40-minute drive.

We’re trying mightily to find a balance between work and leisure. Upon every bump, I’m second-guessing this adventure and shouldering a load of guilt for proposing it. For leading the charge and for removing us from our familial nest in Wisconsin. ... Then Kates reminds me we're in this together and she was just as much a part of the decision as I.

We reflect on where we came from and the bumps we've overcome, and we maintain we needed to make this move to learn and grow and experiences new things. There was a time we couldn't fathom leaving K-Town; we built so many wonderful memories and friendships there ...

But things changed.

And in a few years, it's very likely we'll look back at all of this and sigh with wonder at how we made it through.

Like a column I read recently in the Chicago Tribune recently. The headline said it all: 'Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now'.


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and yours ...

In honor of 2010 and my affection for social media, I give you the Story of the Nativity 2.0 ...


Christmas games

I left my office last evening, and I'm away from my job until 2011. ... Well, sort of. I will be packing some material to read and things to write in my suitcase.

But I'm free for the holidays. ... I love working in academia!

In the midst of running laps around the house this morning, packing suitcases, finishing laundry and cleaning, I caught an interview with Phil Jackson on Sportscenter and his thoughts about the NBA scheduling games on Christmas day ...

An issue that's always perplexed me, too.

Phil says ...
"It's like Christian holidays don't mean to them anything any more. Just go out and play and entertain the TV. It's really weird, but it is what it is. We have to go to work and make the best of it. ... It's going to be Christmas, and you're going to have little kids putting batteries in toys and putting their Christmas presents together. There's all kinds of crazy stuff going on, and now your head has got to get focused on the game, in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day."
Amen, Phil.


What fall TV?

Kates and I had settled into the fourth season of “Mad Men.” And we were excited to dive back into other longtime favorites. “The Office.” “30 Rock.” “Big Bang Theory.” “How I Met Your Mother.” “Grey’s Anatomy.” And “Modern Family” ... We were hooked on all of those shows from the moments we saw early spring promotions, stuck with them like glue from the pilots and introduced several of them to our friends. (Kates and I have long had a knack for sniffing out the quality shows before the bandwagon fills up, thank you very much. ...)

We had the DVR back. We were so looking forward to a new TV season.

Then our TV blew up

Our entire television-watching schedule was thrown out of whack. We lost track of shows. And now we’re so far out of the loop on TV, our grandmothers could put us to shame. ... We can only hope to catch up on them via Hulu or DVD.

Sure, we pulled an old TV out of storage. But we've yet to get the DVR working again. That's mostly a result of me being too busy too figure it out, not a lack of trying.

Then again, I guess it's not a total loss. Based on accounts of friends, the little TV we did watch -- and what I've read -- this season was a dud. ... I tried watching “Ordinary Family” and thought the pilot was horribly cheesy.

The only new show we really were getting into was "Better With You." But much of that stemmed from our admiration for the cast and especially seeing Josh Cooke and Jennifer Finnigan together again. (Oh "Committed," how little time we had with thee ... )

This month, we’re working our way back. Starting with “The Sing Off.” … Funny, “The Sing Off” seemed to be the show everybody was talking about last year around this time. But that also was around the time the chaos was just beginning in our lives. We caught the finale, but didn't have near the emotional investment of other viewers.

It’s no secret what I think of Ben Folds. As a long time Boyz II Men fan, I’ve always had an admiration for Shawn Stockman’s work, too. … Nicole Scherzinger -- she’s fun to look at.

Their critiques are refreshingly thoughtful, genuine, honest and credible. I love that they actually offer technical advice and speak the lingo. Can you imagine any of the judges on that Fox-show-we-won’t-be-watching-this-season discussing the merits of a performer's tones, reverb and syncopation?

The trio of judges on "Sing-Off" doesn't dumb it down for viewers. Their egos don't blur the performances. ... And they don't take themselves too seriously. When you have Ben Folds talking about "birth control music" and Shawn Stockman having musical orgasms (and I thought I was a crazy person for being prone to musical orgasms ... ) it makes the show far more entertaining for everyone.

As for the performers, Committed was top-notch from the beginning with their Boyz II Men-esque harmonies. “Apologize” was my favorite performances from them.

The Backbeats. I didn't get their debut performance of "If I Were A Boy" and thought they should have gone on the first episode, but they grew on me each week. I thought their performance of "Love Shack" rocked. And while I can't stand Lady Gaga, I even enjoyed the Backbeats' Lady Gaga medley.

Gone too soon: Groove For Thought. Their take on "Cool Like That" was arguably one of the best of the season, and I loved the jazzy Take 6 vibe they offered. I could listen to that stuff all day.

Other notables: The Whiffenpoofs: “Grace Kelly,” Street Corner Symphony: “Hey Soul Sister,” Men of Note: “For the Longest Time,” Eleventh Hour: “Just the Way You Are.”

Also worth watching: Season 1 winner Nota performing “I Got a Feelin’.”

The other groups, although sometimes charming and enjoyable, didn't make much of an impression on me. ... Don't get me started on Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town. Yes, they've got a great story. That's nice. They didn't belong on the show.

The group performances can be breath-taking and they're devoid of the kooky choreography that the Fox-show-we-won’t-be-watching-this-season has become known for. Oh, and they actually sing. ... Check out "Use Somebody."

The buzz surrounding the show has been strong. The performances have been grand. Thus the news that we might see a third season next year comes as no surprise.

For more, check out EW's always amusing (and spot-on) reviews ...
Night one: Singing, swinging, and Lachey pun bringing!
Night two: Sing On!
Night three: Embrace the cheese, please!
Night four: 'Why does this have to be a competition?'
'The Sing-Off' finale recap: And the winner is...


Good morning, Mr. Grienke

Well the 2011 seasons for the Brewers and Royals certainly got more interesting over the weekend.

We were getting ready for church yesterday when I logged on to check my morning news. And the Twitter-verse began to pop.

Royals trade Greinke to Brewers, the alerts said.

Awww yeah.

Within minutes I was watching the collective cheers of my Brewers-fan friends and the collective moans of my Royals-fan friends play out in Social Media World. Then my Royals-fan friends began asking for my thoughts about the prospects the Brewers sent to Kansas City in the deal.

My take was fairly simple: It’s hard to say. It seems to me that Alcides Escobar is a guy who was overhyped and may not amount to much. The others appear to have weaknesses as well.

I was pleased to see the Brewers get Yuniesky Betancourt in the deal also. But my interest in him stems solely from his stellar night in that once-in-a-lifetime doubleheader I experienced in August. Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of the guy until that night.

Time will tell. As much as I would looove to see the Brewers put it all together this year and make a deep run in the playoffs, I’m fully aware those hopes could be shattered the moment Greinke, Ryan Braun, or any of Milwaukee’s other key players goes down. Let’s also not forget the Brewers have a first-year manager at the helm, and a longer-than-we’d-like adjustment period could follow.

One more story stemming from yesterday's trade: I have a colleague whose teenage daughter is a big Royals fan, and with that a huge Greinke fan. So when my friend got the news alert on her phone Sunday morning that Greinke had been traded, she decided to forward it via text message to her daughter, who was still sleeping, and waited for her screams as signal that she was awake. … A few minutes later from the teenager’s bedroom: "What!? Are you kidding me!? What are the Royals doing!?"

Here’s some good reads …
a Brewers elevate to National League contenders by trading for Greinke
a Without Greinke, we’re Royal blue
a Greinke likes new digs with Brewers
a Joe Posnanski: The Greinke Trade

Update: 1.4.2010
Here's a good read by a former colleagues about how Milwaukee media covered the Greinke trade: Scooped by an amateur.


The holiday concert

So we attended Phoebe's first holiday concert tonight.

It had all the makings of being the event of the year in our household. Phoebe was so ready. She had been practicing the songs at her daycare for weeks, and she was singing them to us during evenings at home.

The other night we couldn't keep from giggling as we overheard her little voice singing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" while she laid in bed.

She even taught us a couple songs -- the cutest song being  "At Christmas Time," sung to the tune of "Wheels on the Bus."

The lights on the tree go blink, blink, blink,
Blink, blink, blink,
Blink, blink, blink.
The lights on the tree go blink, blink, blink
At Christmas time.

The snow on the ground goes crunch, crunch, crunch,
Crunch, crunch, crunch,
Crunch, crunch, crunch,
The snow on the ground goes crunch, crunch, crunch,
At Christmas time.

The reindeer on the roof go tap, tap, tap,
Tap, tap, tap,
Tap, tap, tap,
The reindeer on the roof go tap, tap, tap,
At Christmas time.

So tonight was the night. Kates dressed Phoebe in a flowing purple dress and did her hair. And after a brief tantrum and fight to get her coat on, she was ready to go.

The concert took place at a small church downtown. Two and 3-year-olds were crawling all over the sanctuary. It took a good 15 minutes, probably more, for the caretakers to get all of the children lined up in rows on the altar steps. ... Just when they got close, another one would make a break for it.

Finally, the concert began ... And Kates and I sat eager to see Phoebe perform.

But she didn't sing a word. She just stood on the step, quiet and stone-faced with her hands in her mouth. She stayed that way for each of the three songs her class performed.


When the last song ended, a man dressed in a Santa suit burst through the doors.

Then Phoebe's face lit up. And to her delight, the man walked in front of Phoebe and sat down beside her.

She had a prime position to be first in line for the right to sit on the Santa's lap ... until the other children bombarded the Santa and Phoebe slowly ended up at the back of the pack. Small boys worked their way in front of her to get closer to Santa, but Phoebe hardly batted an eye, which made it the saddest and cutest thing to watch all at once.

Phoebe was patient. And eventually she got her turn. She told Santa she wanted Play-doh for Christmas.


We do more with less, and we’re stressed ...

Oh yeah, I'm feelin' it.

Facebook stories

So Mark Zuckerberg is Time magazine's Person of the Year.

You would think there's someone more deserving. But as The Onion so eloquently writes, you've gotta hand it to the guy. (I snicker every time I think of that headline.)

And to think I was initially skeptical of Facebook when I logged on for the first time. I thought MySpace was going to be forever.

Facebook is not for everyone. I get that. And I'm becoming more convinced that the people who don't get it probably never will. ... I still find the world of Facebook so fascinating.
This year, Facebook — now minus the the — added its 550 millionth member. One out of every dozen people on the planet has a Facebook account. They speak 75 languages and collectively lavish more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month. Last month the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views. Its membership is currently growing at a rate of about 700,000 people a day.
What I love most about Facebook is the way it's simplified my ability to stay connected with friends from my childhood, my youth and my college days, former and current coworkers, teachers and family members. And its ability to enhance those relationships.

I'm not the guy on Facebook playing Farmville and Mafia Wars and all of the other silly games that plug newsfeeds and turn some users' profiles into carnival stands. I've never accepted a single request to join those games. I pride myself on being able to pick out the spam and won't click on anything that appears suspicious. I limit my groups to legitimate causes and things that truly interest me, not what's trendy. Same goes for my Facebook friends. I won't accept a request from anyone I don't have an open, personal relationship with.

Growing up, I had the unique and wonderful experience of having two childhoods. One in Wisconsin and another in Kansas. I had no idea back then, but the transition from one to another occurred at such an age in my life that both eras played a significant roles in my life.

I was old enough that I could hold on to my memories of my elementary years in Wisconsin and not so old that my youth in Kansas barely mattered. I'm developing similar sentiments now that we're a year into our Missouri residency and I look back at the early years of my adulthood in K-Town.

This post is turning into one of my classic ramblings.

My point is: Facebook has allowed me to connect with friends from my recent and distant past, all in one virtual universe. This week I reconnected with yet another childhood friend. A person of whom I have fond childhood memories, and I'd wondered all these years what became of her. Turns out she's doing well, raising a beautiful family, appears as bubbly as a I remember her, and she now has a Missouri connection.

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I enjoy people and dialogue, whether I'm creating it or monitoring it. I embrace the past because it's shaped who I am today and who I will be in the future. As I've said about Facebook all along: You'll get out of it what you put into it.

It’s also a log of the ups and downs of our daily lives. I love the days when my newsfeed lights up with joyous status updates referring to the same exciting game I'm watching, almost as though you're in the same living room. … Or there are the days we reach out and rally around our Facebook friends when tragedy strikes. I’ve found myself in the latter situation twice in recent weeks.

Along those lines, two heart-wrenching stories I read this week that involve Facebook in varied ways are having a big impact on my thinking. ...

The first tells the story of a new mother and father who shared their horribly tragic circumstances on Facebook. A Facebook story: A mother's joy and a family's sorrow.

The second makes only a mention of Facebook -- but even the mention of it, and the role it played in this woman’s story, I think, shows the applications place in our culture. That and the fact that I learned of the story when an old reporter friend of mine who works at the Register posted it on her Facebook page. It's three parts, but it's worth reading every word. Eric's last wishes.

Connect with friends.

(Updated 1.3.2010)
Here's some other worthy reads ...
aHomeless man in D.C. uses Facebook, social media to advocate for others like him
aThe death of email as we know it? Not so fast
aFacebook passes Google as most popular site on the Internet, two measures show


Goodbye, Bob Feller

Ron Santo a couple weeks ago. … And now Bob Feller.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have met and shaken hands with a half-dozen hall of famers during the last few years. And now within a couple weeks of each other, two of them are gone.

The news of Feller’s death immediately took me back to the day I met him at a signing session in 2006. Feller graciously engaged me in conversation while signing a baseball and inscribing a photo for me. He posed with me for a picture, too.

Good reads …
a Bob Ryan: Feller: Hard and fast
aJoe Posnanski: RIP Bob Feller

The Phantastic Phillies

I love, love, that the Phillies wound up with Cliff Lee ...

I followed the Cliff Lee saga with great interest this offseason, and remained fairly certain he would turn down the Yankees' big money to stay with the Rangers ...

Then the tweets started flowing late last night that the Phillies had slipped in and were about to make a deal with Mr. Lee. ... I ate it up.

Now the question is: Can the Phillies foursome remain healthy and consistent enough to propel Philadelphia to another pennant?

I love this, too: The Beast from the East

Stinkin' ginkgos

I read an amusing story in the Tribune this week about ginkgo berries and the "large, squishy, yellow-and-brown fruit that, when split open, smell like a cross between cat vomit and ripe dog feces."

I'd never heard of the infamous ginkgo tree until I had a junior high school biology teacher who talked enthusiastically of their unique foliage and beauty on several occassions. Having a gingko tree on your property was an honor and privilege, it seemed after listening to her. The way she talked about them, she made everyone in our class want one.

Yeah, my attitude about them changed when I had the privilege of walking past one during my trips to and from my car each day on our campus this fall. As far as I can tell, it's my first live encounter with a gingko tree.

Seriously. The "large, squishy, yellow-and-brown fruit that, when split open, smell like a cross between cat vomit and ripe dog feces." And the days when that smell lingers on my shoes planted under my desk are not pleasant.

But. I'd rather not have the tree cut down.


The official end of fall

So our beloved Bearcats lost last night.

No championship game this year. No road trip to Alabama.


Things were looking so good, too. With all of their dramatics these last few weeks, they had us thinking this was another team of destiny.

Despite the bone-freezing temperatures in Minnesota -- game-time temp was nine degrees with a wind chill of 15 below -- the 'Cats appeared to be playing tightly.

Then an interception late in the game. And they missed a splendid opportunity to sack the opposing quarterback and put the game away on a 4th-and-2 with 4:12 left in the game. The quarterback instead eluded would-be tacklers and ran 34 yards for a touchdown. Which ultimately put the game away for his team. We lost 17-13.

The loss aside, it's been a thrilling season -- and a welcome distraction in our challenging fall.

To appease our fans who couldn't make the trek to Minnesota for last night's game, the school hosted a watch party in our student union. Big screen TVs. Snacks. Door prizes. And vouchers for meal deals at the Papa John's Pizza downstairs.

When I arrived to help set up about a half hour before game time, there was a large crowd waiting outside the door. As the game got underway, we estimated about 350 people crammed into the room.

And what an atmosphere. There was nowhere else I would have wanted to watch the game. ... Students were leading chants and cheers, and mimicking the pep band's songs, as if we were at our stadium a short walk away. The crowd erupted in cheers when our players had a good play, and they roared with boos and jeers when we didn't.

Kates and Phoebe -- dressed in their Bearcat gear -- joined me shortly after the game started and jumped right into the party. ... During those final minutes, we were holding on to our hats -- and hearts -- just as tightly as everyone else in the room while the Cardiac 'Cats tried to pin down one more comeback.

But it wasn't meant to be. Dejection set it.

The fans quickly filed from the room, and we hung around to help with the cleanup.

Then we bundled ourselves, wrapped Phoebe like a mitten in her blanket and pushed into the parking lot. With the first snow of the season blowing around us and a wicked cold wind slamming our faces, we hurried to our cars and head home.

The fall is over. Winter is officially here.


Remembering 'Inception'

The whole 'Inception' trip certainly goes down as one of my highlights of 2010 ...

Check out this video featuring the dream action unfolding in real-time. ... I sat jaw-agape as I watched it and sounded a laugh of approval when it finished.


Fa la la la la

So we decorated for Christmas this weekend.


Not that I don’t enjoy decorating for Christmas. It’s that it always ends up being so stressful …

Decorating for Christmas means I have to pull back-breaking loads of boxes from our storage shelves. And disagreements always ensue about which decorations we should put up and where we should put them.

Actually, it wasn’t so bad this year. I chalk that up to having a smaller place to decorate.

I decorated my office Friday …

Phoebe decorated the living room floor ...

And here’s the essence of our decorating at home this year. We decided to put up a smaller tree because we don’t have as much space. Next to the smaller TV that we pulled out of storage to replace the one that exploded.


Game day

When Phoebe awoke Thursday morning, the first words out of her mouth were “I go to Bearcat game today!”

“No, Phoebe. The game isn’t until Saturday.”

“No! I go to da Bearcat game today!”

I couldn’t be prouder of the way Phoebe has taken to the Bearcats this season. Football rules in this town, and she’s fitting right in. Kates is coming around, too.

Wherever you went in The ‘Ville this week, the buzz centered on the big game today. Reserved tickets to the game sold out within hours, leaving only standing room. The teachers at Phoebe’s daycare were teaching the B-E-A-R-C-A-T-S cheer to the kids during snack time this week. Schools and offices told their people to wear Bearcat green Friday, and every other person at the chili supper we attended last night was sporting Bearcat green -- Kates, Phoebe and I included.

Take a look at the daily report card the daycare sent home with Phoebe yesterday.

The buzz was so loud, in part, because we were going up against our conference rivals to the south in a third-round playoff game. Their first-year coach had once been an assistant for our team and helped build them into the powerhouse they are today. Now he had his new team challenging our team’s stake as the region’s best.

The buzz was so loud, in part, because our regular season meeting, on their turf, went down to a heart-racing, game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock. We won it 17-16, handing them their only regular season loss. Some said we were lucky to win the game.

Our house finally started stirring around 9 this morning. We were slow to get to breakfast … and then we started putting on the layers. The forecast: In the 30s with gusty winds. Wonderful.

Still at our place around noon, we could hear the public address system and music from the stadium a few blocks away. … We decided to forego the pregame activities. We didn’t want to spend more time outdoors than we needed to, not to mention the challenges a 2-year-old adds to the equation.

We arrived at the stadium about a half hour before kickoff and joined the steady stream of fans walking to their seats. Our seats, some of the last reserved seats available, unfortunately, were on one of the end zones, across the aisle from the opponent’s fan section. In fact, many of the opponent’s fans had spilled into our section and surrounded us. A daunting situation, but we didn’t hide our allegiance and cheered just as loud as they did.

It must’ve worked. Our beloved Bearcats scored a touchdown on their first drive and never trailed in the game -- a welcome change from the last several games, which have hinged on fourth quarter comebacks and necessary defensive stops down the stretch, thus resurrecting their Cardiac ‘Cats nickname. Our team won the game 37-20 and is again among the playoffs’ final four.

As for Phoebe, the girl never quit. She gladly ate from a box of popcorn, sans mittens, throughout the first quarter while sitting on Kates’ lap. She huddled between us under a blanket for most of the second quarter. And she spent halftime bouncing on my knees to the beat of the marching band’s performance. … With the game in hand late in the fourth quarter and Phoebe becoming increasingly antsy, we decided to head for the exit. That provoked a mini tantrum, only until we stopped to watch the game’s final two minutes from the gate.

Sticking to her game day routine, Phoebe was zonked out in her car seat within minutes of us leaving the parking lot.


The day Ron Santo died

Phoebe refused to get out of bed this morning. Then she refused to get dressed. For several minutes she was running around the house with no pants on. Then she was running around with her coat on -- but still no pants. When we finally convinced her she needed to wear pants, and I was going to help her put them on, Phoebe threw a fit because she wanted Kates, who already was running late to work, to help her put them on. We got the pants on and, in our rush to leave the house, probably would have forgotten our keys and locked ourselves out had I not already started the cars.

Our chaotic daily morning routine resumed. I delivered Phoebe to her daycare and began my drive toward campus thinking about my to-do list for the day. The stories I needed to write. The meetings I need to prepare for and attend. The phone calls I needed to make. The e-mails I needed to respond. I was thankful it was Friday and anxiously awaiting the next big football game tomorrow.

This morning, I happened to be listening to the radio. Usually, I drive to campus with my iPod plugged in and then tune into Eric & Kathy online when I settle in my office.

I was driving along our picturesque University Drive when the DJ read the news …

Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo has died.

I gasped loudly. And drove the rest of the route to my office building in a daze. It was as if my world stopped. All of a sudden, nothing else seemed to matter.

I was speechless. And shocked. I couldn’t imagine following the Cubs without Ron Santo.

I’ve said it so many times: Few things gave me more enjoyment than working in our yard in K-Town while I listened to Pat and Ron call Cubs games … Even last spring, after our move, I vowed to tune into as many of their broadcasts as I could online; I painted Phoebe’s new room while listening to a Cubs game.

I'll miss the countless hours I spent laughing with him on the radio or laughing at him. ... Or the afternoons Kates and I spent driving and listening to the broadcasts -- and the ways Kates rolled her eyes or laughed right along with me at Ron's antics.

From the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh ...
"Smooth, Santo wasn't. That was part of his on-air charm. You didn't listen to the "Pat and Ron Show'' (featuring the most patient play-by-play man in the business, Pat Hughes) necessarily for Santo's acumen. You listened to hear two guys who genuinely liked each other make baseball sound as much fun as it was when we were kids."
From the Chicago Sun-Times' Rick Morrissey ...
"He didn’t need to rip players. You didn’t have to read into anything he was saying. More so than the actual words, his tone said it all. “Gosh!” or “Jeez!’’ was followed by unintelligible grumbling and then, finally, deep depression. He didn’t live and breathe Cubs. He radiated Cubs."
From ESPN Chicago ...
"It was kind of like sitting in a room with my uncle, only the guy screaming and yelling doesn't know that a million people are listening to him."
I won’t be the first, or the last, to say Ron Santo was the ultimate Cub. He was one of the greatest players to wear the uniform and one of the franchise’s most beloved fans. … He should be in the Hall of Fame.

I’ll forever cherish the afternoons and evenings I spent listening to him on the radio and, especially, the day I got to tell him that in person.

I've been reading all of the Santo-related tweets, status updates, blogs and tributes with great interest today -- and scavenging YouTube for some of his best performances. Just to hear him again.

I'll miss you, Ron.

Check out these photos from Wrigley today.

Good reads (updated 1.4.2011)...
a Chicago Breaking Sports: Rogers: Remembering Ron Santo
a CSN Chicago: Cubs legend Ron Santo dies at age 70
a Daily Herald: Tough and caring, Santo had it all
a Daily Herald: This old Cub was the real thing
a ESPN: Why isn't Ron Santo in the Hall of Fame?
a ESPN: Most underrated 3B: Ron Santo
a ESPN Chicago: Remembering a childhood hero, friend
a Desipio: So long, Big Boy
a Joe Posnanski: The Greatest Player Not in the Hall
a Washington Post: Ron Santo's play, then broadcasting, comforted Cubs fans for decades
a Chicago Tribune: 10 defining Ron Santo moments
a David Kaplan: A Tribute To Ron Santo: Audio Edition Part II
a WGN: Pat Huges at Ron Santo's funeral
a Daily Herald: Ron Santo's last gift to his family

From YouTube ...
a "This Old Cub" theatrical trailer
a Classic Ron Santo and Pat Hughes
a Ron Santo Is Crazy (But Funny)
a Carlos Zambrano no hitter Pat and Ron call
a Ron Santo: Take me out to the ballgame


Status updates

I couldn’t have kept up with changing my Facebook status tonight if I wanted to …

… is feeling discouraged again about the house hunt. Again.

… has a lot of work to do.

… is watching "The Santa Clause" for the second time tonight. Phoebe made me do it.

… watched Lebron James’ return to Cleveland for about two minutes. Then I realized the Jayhawks are playing UCLA tonight in a much more appealing game.

… saw a trailer for “Little Fockers” and could barely stop laughing for almost five minutes afterward.

… renewed my love for KU basketball tonight.


What will winter bring?

I try not to put too much stock into weather forecasts. "I'll believe it when I see it," has long been my mantra when it comes to the weather.

After coming through such a mild fall -- Thank you, Missouri! -- I stand optimistic that we won't have a repeat of last winter...

Then I read this ...
" ... the Farmers’ Almanac predicts 'cold and very snowy' conditions for northern Missouri and northeastern Kansas. AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting service, puts Missouri and Kansas in a 'wintry battle zone' between the 'heaviest snow' to the north and 'not much winter' to the south."


Brett Favre

I've maintained this season that the fact the Vikings had to send players to Mississippi to convince Brett Favre to return for another season was the ultimate indicator of how things would play out in Minnesota.

Tim Dahlberg said it all about Favre, Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings in his column this week: Desperate coaches like Childress don't last. ... Dan Shaughnessy had a good one about Favre a few weeks ago as well.

I'm finished discussing Brett Favre.

Food court flash mob

Compliments of my friend Laura. Let the Christmas season begin ...



As we arrive and pass these annual milestones on the calendar, I’m repeatedly saying to myself, What a difference a year makes. We spent the Thanksgiving weekend last year at The Farm, agonizing until we were sick about the life-changing decision that lay in front of us. This year, as a result of that decision, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the Ozarks of Missouri.

Kates and I didn’t have to go to work on Wednesday, and no one stirred in our house until almost 10 a.m. Which has to be a record for The Missouri Era. … Within a couple hours we had our bags packed and the car loaded. And we were leaving The ‘Ville. Funny, in Wisconsin everybody talks about "heading north" for vacations and holidays; now the popular phrase is "heading south."

Little did we know we’d be driving through tornadoes to get there. We drove through not one, but two blinding, torrential rainstorms that I think are the new benchmark for Hardest Storms To Drive Through … Ever, beating out what became known as the Ingrid Michaelson Storm in Milwaukee last year. Again, I felt like I was navigating the Edmund Fitzgerald. … Somehow, Kates and I have a knack for finding such storms on our road trips, including the one we drove through a couple weeks ago to get to Kansas City.

No fear. I blasted through the storm. And we made it to our destination just fine.

After checking into our accommodations for the weekend, we reunited with my family at Joel and Stephanie’s new home. Some good old-fashioned Wisconsin brats for supper. While Phoebe and Sophia renewed their bond, watching Nickelodeon over plates of cut-up grapes and hot dogs. And Freddie just sat in his hi-chair and smiled. Endlessly.
* * *

Thursday we slept past 8 and indulged in the hotel’s continental breakfast. Then Phoebe camped in front of the television in our room and provided the play-by-play of every balloon passing through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade -- from "Snoofy" to Buzz. I’ve never been a big fan of the holiday parades, but watching it this year with Phoebe added a new dimension to the annual spectacle.

Outside, we had gone from 73 degrees the night before to 36 degrees, with a mixture of sleet and snow falling from the sky. Such is winter in Missouri.

We were back at Joel and Stephanie’s for the afternoon. We watched football and conversed while Phoebe and Sophia ran laps in their Disney dress-up clothes and butterfly wings.

One of the best things about visiting Joel’s and Stephanie’s house is their meals, and they delivered another delicious one for Thanksgiving. From the Ina Garten recipe book, they laid out a Thanksgiving buffet that included herb-roasted turkey breasts, green beans, cranberry relish, sweet potato casserole and pear-apple sauce. We were joined for dinner by member's of Stephanie’s family, and the room was filled with fun conversation.

Eventually, the goodbyes began. We wished Mom and Dad safe travels as they were returning to Wisconsin the next day. … And we played a fun game of Are you staying, or going with us? with Phoebe. We had given her the option of having a sleep-over with Sophia, but she soon decided to come back to the hotel with us.

Phoebe was asleep less than halfway into the five minute drive back to the hotel. Kates carried her limp body up to our room, and we laid her on the bed without a sound -- complete with the pink tutu she refused to take off when we left Sophia.

I went downstairs for a dip in the hot tub, while Kates sat in bed reading.

That was Thanksgiving Day.
* * *
Friday, we maintained our morning vacation routine. Slept in. Continental breakfast. But on this morning, there was a brilliant sun shining into our room.

After making ourselves look presentable, we were heading down U.S. 65 once more toward Joel’s and Stephanie’s place. In our strange upside down adult world, Uncle Joel, my little brother, agreed to watch Phoebe for the day, thus allowing Phoebe and Sophia -- the 2-year-old duo -- a full day of fantasy play and dress-up. … As usual, Phoebe clung to us and begged us not to leave until finally Kates and I distracted her long enough for us to creep through the door. As usual, we heard her screaming and running to the door while we headed for the car. By all accounts the screaming lasts only a few seconds before she’s off and playing, which is exactly what Joel texted to us a few minutes later as Kates and I drove to Branson.

Without a kiddo in tow, Kates and I spent the entire day in historic downtown Branson, joyously walking the sidewalks, breathing the crisp fall air and slipping in and out of the stores that appealed to us. Kates got to treat herself to a Starbucks coffee and lovingly pulled me into one too many jewelry stores. Both of us hunted for treasures within the numerous antique store booths; holding us back, however, was our tight budget and the lack of permanent housing to inspire us. And all of the vinyl records that appealed to me were outrageously overpriced.

We enjoyed a home-cooked lunch -- a taco salad for me and a patty melt for Kates -- at The Shack CafĂ©. We delighted in strolling through the aisles of Dick’s 5 & 10 -- a colorful array of everything. And we had fun filling a paper bag of old-fashioned candy at the Old Fashioned Candy Store. …

But, for a glorified historic downtown, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Our trips to Stillwater, Minn., and Galena, Ill., seemed to offer so much more in scenery and variety.

By late afternoon, we ventured down the hill to Branson Landing, a picturesque and modern outdoor shopping center in its own right. The atmosphere was bright and festive. A tall Christmas tree stood at the main entrance to the shopping center, Holiday music was blaring over loud speakers and the Landing’s trademark fountains were attracting eyes. … We explored a few stories in search of Christmas gifts, but came up empty.

We never made it to the classic Branson strip. Around 5 p.m., we had had enough and decided we needed to rescue Phoebe -- or Joel, depending on your perspective.

Back at their house, it turned out Joel had survived. He’d done just fine. … We downed some Thanksgiving leftovers with him and enjoyed each other’s company while the kids continued playing.

Stephanie completed her workday and joined us later. The goodbyes began shortly after that. … We were halfway out the door when Phoebe stopped in her tracks and said with wide eyes, “Wait! I give Unco Joe a hug n’ kiss!” She whipped around, ran to hug him and planted one of her trademark open mouth kisses on him before rejoining Kates and I.

For the second night in a row, Phoebe fell asleep less than halfway into our drive back to the hotel. Kates carried her to our room, and we laid her on the bed without a sound … I went downstairs for a dip in the hot tub, while Kates sat in bed reading.
* * *
This morning we were packed and on our way back to The ‘Ville by 11 a.m. We cruised toward Kansas City and made a pit stop at a Flying J -- where we filled up on caffeine, Phoebe walked up and down the store aisles picking out snacks, and we met a trucker from Janesville with whom we exchanged our Wisconsin knowledge and connections.

Around 3 p.m. we were nearing home and I was overjoyed to finally be within range of receiving the Bearcat football game on the radio. Lo and behold, our boys were trailing in the fourth quarter again, but staying within range -- a scenario we’ve witnessed the last four weeks and grew accustomed to long ago.

In this afternoon’s playoff game, they were down by as many as 10 points with 10 minutes left in the game, but a ‘Cats touchdown closed the score to 31-28. As the minutes waned and our heart rates increased, the defenses held tight.

With about four minutes in the game, the ‘Cats took the ball for a do-or-die possession and drove 80 yards downfield. They scored the game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds left, just as we’d arrived back in town and were traveling down Main Street. The silence in our vehicle was broken by loud cheers and pumping fists. Classic ’Cats football.

A few minutes later we were parked in our driveway, waiting out the final seconds, a hail mary pass and confirmation that the ‘Cats won the game. Smiles abounded.

“I guess we’re going to a football game next weekend!” Kates said.

Yes, we are.


Parental guidance

Kates and I can relate to the lyrics in these two videos. The first came to me compliments of my friend Trisha; I stumbled across the second in the related viewings ... which also included the epic "Swagger Wagon." Totally worth watching again.

Rare tornadoes

So our former home region was victimized by another rare tornado yesterday.

This time it was a November day on which temperatures were in the 60s. I followed the whole thing from my desk yesterday afternoon as the Tweets, status updates and news reports dominated by TweetDeck.

Really!? Again!? I thought. ... There's been a handful of them the last couple years. And anyone who was around during those freaky, and yet oh-so fascinating, January tornadoes, had to be thinking the same thing. Those were fun times.

So this morning, my good friend and former news partner in crime, Laura, sent this message to me:
Hey – Happy Tuesday after a(nother) rare tornado. Rare tornadoes are getting boring.

Cookie Monster auditions for SNL

I would totally watch.


Missing the AMAs

This is the best example yet of how upside down my life is today, compared to a year ago ...

I had no idea the American Music Awards were last night.

Kates and I didn't realize what we were missing until we began getting ready for bed, a few minutes before 10 p.m. mind you -- again, upside down. I turned on the TV to catch some of the local news and we caught the New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys, or should I say NKOTBSB (Seriously!?) wrapping up the show with their spectacle of a performance.

I might be more sad about missing the AMAs if every headline I saw about the awards today didn't have Justin Bieber within it.

Between that and my absentee viewing this year, it's no wonder ratings were down.


November 17

I’m in reflection mode again today.

It was a year ago today that I hopped on a plane for Missouri for a whirlwind tour of The ‘Ville and flew back to Wisconsin that night.

I had received the call for the interview a couple weeks earlier, from an administrative assistant who explained to me the interview had to be Nov. 17, a Tuesday. No other days would work.

Fortunately, I had one vacation day left for the year. The problem I faced, though, was getting the day off approved. My employer had a policy that vacation days had to be requested at least three weeks in advance. So I tried trading for a day off with a couple co-workers. When that didn‘t work, my only hope was to tell my editor “something came up” and hope he agreed to give me the day off. Luckily, he did.

No one at my workplace knew why I needed the day off or where I was heading except for a close friend, my partner in crime on the 5 a.m. shift. Outside of work, only Kates, our parents and a couple more close friends were aware of my travel plans.

On interview day, I awoke at like 4 a.m., which wasn’t any different from the woeful 5 a.m. shift I was working during that era. I dressed in my business suit and made the early morning trek to General Mitchell Airport. Where I people watched. Daydreamed. And shot this photo of the sunrise

I arrived in Kansas City during the late morning hours, picked up a rental car and headed to The ‘Ville, where it was colder that day than it was in K-Town. The ‘Ville also was getting its first of many, many snowfalls last winter. Compare that to today’s weather: sunny, clear and mild.

I grabbed a quick lunch at a Taco Bell and then took a drive to explore the town. Kates also had scouted the real estate online and gave me a list of addresses she wanted me to review. One of those houses turned out to be the first one we toured when our house hunts officially began last spring. Another, now known as No. 29, was a house we’re still pining over but are weary of its location.

Then at around 1:30 in the afternoon, I was heading to campus and finding my way back into the Administration Building. Up the grand staircase and toward the east wing. To the university relations office. Where I got reacquainted with Gina, who I’d soon be referring to as the office glue and who offered me unbelievable support and assistance from that day on.

Around 2 p.m. I was sitting around the conference room table with Gina and the rest of the players who within a couple months would become my trusted coworkers and friends. I could tell that day they would be an awesome team to work with.

Another interview followed with a group of professors and administrators. Looking back and thinking about the people around that table, just like the people who were in that first interview, it’s amazing to think about the roles each of them have played in my first year.

When the interview process finished around 4, I began my walk out of the Administration Building. I'll never forget walking down the grand staircase, seeing the students bustling through the main corridor and thinking, This is where I want to be! 

Soon I was driving back to Kansas City to catch my flight back to Milwaukee. I caught it, and after a busy, mentally-draining day, arrived home shortly after 10 p.m. I’ll never forget the image of coming through our door to find Kates sitting on the couch, waiting for me, grading papers and anxious to hear about my day. I was confused and unsure at that point.

The next morning, Rob Thomas sang to me when I started up my car.

I was back at work at 5 a.m. the next morning.

A week later, I was offered the job. A week after that I accepted it. And the adventure began.


Then again ...

I, too, watched the Twitter-verse explode this morning with excited Tweets about the Beatles catalogue finally being available on iTunes. For more of the story click here.

My reaction was: Eh.

The Chicago Tribune wrote it best this morning ...
"This isn't for the die-hards. We bought the revamped stereo CD reissues a year ago. ... What you don't hear is the kind of gushing that accompanied last year's reissue of the entire Beatles catalog in its first major upgrade/ remastering since 1987. Then, the talk was all about the immediacy of the recordings, how you felt like you were in the studio with the band."
Pretty much. That was fun. Hence, my ultimate Beatles playlist.

Painting the classic red Wrigley Field marquee purple, on the other hand, just seems very, very wrong.

Update 11.22.2010

Speaking of wrong ...

Here are a couple good reads about the "unique" football game played at Wrigley over the weekend ... I'm sorry I missed it.
a Danger of Wrigley end zone was obvious from start
a Whatever we saw at Wrigley, it was worth seeing

Back to good. Here's more of the Beatles ...
a The 50 Best Beatles Covers of All Time