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The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Samurai's Heart

by Walt Mussell

Giveaway ends January 08, 2018.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Football

My wife has put up with me watching football for years.

I've tended to be a college football follower so it's been a good year for me as my beloved Auburn Tigers are this year's SEC Champions and playing for the National Championship. However, good or bad, my wife has put up with me.

However, this post has nothing to do with college football.

It's Monday night, December 27, and I'm watching the Falcons play the Saints.

The most amazing thing is that my wife is watching the game, too. She's even cheering them on.
In 15+ years of marriage, I've never seen her like this

It's not to say my wife has become a total football fan. She could pretty much still care less about the NFL in general. But after a season of watching our son play football, living and dying with our 8-year old's season, she's picked up on football as well.

And she's become a Falcons fan.

Granted, our 8-year old takes it a little more seriously. He can name many of the players just by their numbers. My wife is a long way from that.

But my wife now wants to watch football, at least occasionally.

It's a start.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Littlest Actor

Every family has a story that keeps on giving, one that will be retold for the rest of their days. This is ours. And while I have run it on previous Christmases, I hope you won't mind if I run it again. It occurred a few years ago, when we lived in Oregon. May you Christmas worship time be memorable to you.

Every Christmas Eve, my wife and I take our sons to the children’s service at our church. The service includes a kids’ pageant and our boys seem to pay closer attention than they do during the typical church service. Also, we feel that attending Mass on Christmas Eve provides a wonderful way to begin the holiday. After the service is over, we go out to dinner to the one place open on Christmas Eve, a Chinese restaurant. While my wife and I believe every family Christmas is special, we cannot conceive that any will be more memorable than this one.

It was to be a big night as our older son, Andrew, was finally old enough to participate in the Christmas pageant. He enjoyed two rehearsals and getting into costume, admirably playing the role of a shepherd. Because church seating at Christmas is limited and we wanted to take pictures, we arrived almost an hour early to get a seat up front.

We knew it would be difficult to keep our pre-school age son, Christopher, seated for the long service and the time before it. Therefore, my wife saved our seats while I played with Christopher and kept him entertained. When it was close to time, I corralled him and took him to our seats; he sat on my wife’s lap and anxiously looked for his older brother and the start of the show.

Just before the beginning of the pageant, the stuffy air in the crowded church became a little more unbearable than usual. As there were several babies in the immediate vicinity, my wife and I both thought one of them must have needed changing. Catching the odor, Christopher said aloud, “What’s that smell?” He turned around, looked at his Mom, and said, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!”

We did our best to quiet him down, while the people around us were suppressing their laughter. He continued on, repeating the words, “That’s disgusting! Mommy, you stink! Mommy, go to the bathroom!” Eventually, Christopher quieted down and the pageant began.

After Mass ended, we walked to the car, buckled the kids in, and drove away. On the way to the Chinese restaurant, my wife and I discussed the incident. She realized that the words Christopher used in church were the same ones she had used with him during his potty training. Also, we were convinced one of the babies close to us during the service must have had a poopy diaper or probably just passed gas. We chuckled about it.

However, our little guy provided the last laugh. Overhearing the discussion, Christopher, with the smile that only a young child can produce, piped up with one more comment, “Oh, in church? That was me.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daddy's Little Teacher

“Daddy, can I have miso soup and rice for lunch?”

It was Sunday morning and we were nearly home after attending Sunday school. We would get an hour or so to relax before heading back to church for services. My eight-year old, starving, requested his favorite meal.

“We’ll see,” I said.

I laughed inwardly at his request. It’s not that the request is funny. All kids have a favorite dish of some kind. My kids are no different. However, as my wife is Japanese, she has cooked Japanese food for our kids since they were babies. Their favorite dishes are a slew of items that none of their friends have ever heard of. My 8-year old once invited one of the neighbor kids for miso and rice. (For some reason, the little boy declined.)

My son loves miso soup so much that he follows his Mom around the kitchen whenever she makes it. However, with me doing the honors this Sunday morning, he decided I needed a little help.

We started the rice, tossing a couple of cupfuls in the rice cooker, prepping it, and getting it going. Then it was time for the soup.

“Ok, Daddy. Here’s the pot. Boil some water. Once it boils, we need to put in the fish stock and the miso.” He then retrieved both items from the fridge. “We need a spoonful of this” he added pointing to the stock. “And three spoonfuls of miso.”

“Alright,” I said, letting him take the lead.

As the water came to a boil, my son searched the room. “Dad, we need tofu.”

I checked the fridge and pulled some out. I prepared to cut it when my son stopped me. “Dad, Mom always lets me do it.”

“OK. What should we do?”

“We put it on a small cut-thingy—“

“You mean a cutting board?”

Yes, a cutting board.”

I grabbed a cutting board from a drawer under the stove and handed it to him whereby he dumped the tofu onto the board. “Now, Dad, we do it this way so we can scrape it off the board into the soup with a knife after we cut it.”

I nodded and let him demonstrate. He sliced the tofu into chunks and then checked the pot. “OK, water’s boiling.” He added the fish stock and stirred, making sure it was mixed, then added the tofu. “We let it cook a little, then we add the miso.”

I’d been an observer most of the time. I saw no reason to change. Two huge spoonfuls of miso later, he made an announcement. “Dad, we need to taste it.”

We each had a spoonful. “Good job,” I said.

“Da-a-ad, it’s too salty.”

My wife entered the kitchen at that moment and tasted it herself, and concurred with Julian Child, adding more water to it and suggesting we cook it longer. Finally, he pronounced it ready.

The rice cooker beeped and we sat down for lunch. My little chef, impressed with himself, ate heartily.

“And that’s how you make miso soup,” he said.

I thanked him, recalling days long ago when he was much younger. Maybe one day I’ll actually tell him that I used to make miso soup for him on days when my wife was due home late from the office.

Nah, I’ll leave it like this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Spritz of Lemon

For the second time in two weeks, I started drinking water with a spritz of lemon in the morning.

I started it the day after Thanksgiving, when I got up, still stuffed from the previous day, and immediately glommed onto that headline on msn.com about to ensure that the Thanksgiving meal isn’t a permanent fixture to your body.

The first recommendation was water with lemon. Apparently, it helps detoxify your body and clean it out. I’d never heard of that before but was willing to try anything.

However, no matter what you’re willing to try, you still have to step on the scale. It took me nearly six days before I finally willed my body back onto that digital time bomb that always sounds like it’s on its last circuit. When I looked down at it, I was pleasantly surprised. I was back to where I’d started the week before Thanksgiving.

Then came this past weekend.

My wife and younger son went to a Santa Claus Christmas party at my younger sister’s. It’s an annual event. Each year, however, it’s always missing a few dads, the fathers whose alma mater is playing in the SEC Championship.

It’s not that the dads go to the game. However, it’s impossible to watch a football game with a lot of young children running around. I had a couple of friends over. My wife fixed a spread for us.

And by the next day I was drinking the lemon water again.

I know there are various events throughout the Christmas season. And I’ll have a few more days to pig out. There will also be the Christmas day feast as well as various wonderful gatherings with plates of food everywhere and me wondering if I’m going to have pull the fat jeans off the shelf in my closet.

It’s unavoidable. I’ve yet to possess the willpower to push myself away from the table. I would try to exercise more, but with the temperature dropping, my outside activity will grow more limited. At my annual physical last January, my doctor looked at me and asked. “Are you getting enough exercise? Have you tried walking more?”

“Doc,” I said, “it’s ten degrees outside. How much walking are you doing?”

She conceded the point.

So, readers, what are you doing? How are you fighting the holiday pounds now that joyous Christmas season is upon us?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One More Game

I'm late posting today. I'm just dead tired.

Three down. One to go.

In defeating South Carolina in what was the most lopsided game in SEC Championship history, we finished off our “third” championship in three straight games. The victory over Georgia made us SEC Western Division champions. The victory over Alabama gave us the mythical championship within the state of Alabama (as well as undefeated regular season which no pundit predicted would happen this year). Our second win over USC gave us the SEC Championship.

And now one game remains.

For so many years, things have gone wrong to deny us a shot at the national title. Pat Dye got close four times, but never got over the hump. The two years that stand out the most are ’83 and ’87. In ’83, Auburn faced what is probably the most difficult schedule in its history and went 11-1 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Michigan. However, Miami, a team who’d faced a far weaker schedule than Auburn and was ranked below Auburn, got a shot at that year’s giant, Nebraska. They played them in what was a home game in the Orange Bowl, beat them 31-30, and leapt over Auburn into the championship slot.

In ’87, we lost at LSU 7-6 in the earthquake game. We’d been in the RZ twice in the first half, but could only muster field goals. Late in the 4th quarter, it came back to bite us. And there have been others, I don’t have to recite them. We all know them.

Now we have our shot.

I am putting the cart before the proverbial horse. The announcement hasn’t been made. That will occur tonight. But with four straight national champions coming out of the SEC, only the most monumental of lobbying and turnarounds could keep Auburn out of Glendale this year.

And there are those who still say we should be disqualified. They cite the Cam Newton scandal as an aberration that will taint things if Auburn wins. The Big 10 and the Big 12 have been lobbying hard against Auburn. Let’s recognize that for what it is. In the Big 10’s case, it’s the realization that if Auburn is taken out of the equation, then a 1-loss Big 10 team might prevail over an undefeated TCU team. For the Big 12, it’s about trying to stay relevant when your conference is falling apart.

As for this game, I admit I was a little nervous. South Carolina has exorcised a lot of demons this season. They wanted to exorcise one more. They were playing well. (I felt less nervous when Lee Corso and Lou Holtz picked the Gamecocks, but that’s to be expected.)

When Auburn started looking to do a repeat of Alabama’s performance in the Iron Bowl, dropping sure TD passes and having plays called back, I got nervous when the score got close at 21-14.

And then Newton and Auburn delivered a 1st half Hail Mary that will live forever in Auburn lore. Such was the dagger in the heart of USC’s momentum. When they missed a FG to open the 2nd half, the game could have been called then.

We will head into the next 37 days with no wanting Auburn to me. The Reggie Bush scandal still fresh with everyone, pundits have hoped for Auburn to get beat somewhere. The pundits celebrated with Georgia’s and Alabama’s early game leads. “No one wants a repeat of Southern Cal,” so they condemn Auburn.

Yes, supposedly the incident about Cecil Newton should have vacated Auburn’s wins. Yet, how do you square it with Auburn having done nothing wrong yet getting punished.

It looks like the NCAA chose absolution over an absolute.

Nobody wants Auburn to beat Oregon except Auburn fans. That’s okay. It’s been that way for many of Auburn’s games this year.

Does it matter?When Southern Cal was stripped of the title this year, the same pundits screaming for Auburn’s head on a plate this year are the ones who said that awarding the 2004 title to Auburn shouldn’t be done. They say that Southern Cal was still the best team and Auburn wouldn’t have beaten them anyway.

Win the game, Auburn. Win the game in Glendale. Beat the Ducks.

And nothing else will matter.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Carols

Do you have most and least favorite Christmas carols?

I do. My favorites are “The Christmas Carol” and “O Holy Night.” I never tire of hearing these songs, regardless of who performs them. Carrie Underwood did a version of O Hoy Night in her Christmas album that is fantastic. I also like the song “Santa Baby,” but I’m particular about the artist. I always thought after hearing the Eartha Kitt version that it should have been retired. Macy Gray changed my mind on that. There are also songs I don’t like. “Last Christmas” grates on me. I also don’t like Toyland, but that was because I always thought it sad. I never understood what it meant until I grew up.

My wife is fond of particular artists. She really likes Carrie Underwood and also the latest Christmas music from Glee. As for songs, The First Noel holds a special place in her heart. We were at my aunt’s in North Carolina and my wife saw a decoration or garnet and gold with the four letters: E-L-O-N. As it was Christmas, she rearranged the letters to spell “N-O-E-L.” My aunt laughed and then reminded my wife of her longtime association with Elon University and that the school’s colors are garnet and gold.

There’s a new song that got my goat over the weekend. It’s “Christmas Is” by Run DMC. My boys first heard the song in the movie “Jingle All The Way.” (It’s the background music that plays when Schwarzenegger goes into a back alley warehouse or bad Santas and hot children toys. It is a funny movie. How many movies do you know that pair Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad?) I have the song on one of the Christmas CDs that I play in my car. The kids like the music.

However, my eight-year old has started picking up some of the lyrics.

I don’t have anything against Run DMC. And the lyrics aren’t dirty. It’s just that he now walks around the house rapping “Give up the dough. Give up the dough. Give up the dough on Christmas Yo.”

So I ask the same question as I started with.

What are your most and least favorite Christmas carols? I’d love to know.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Auburn vs. Alabama Recap

It’s a shame for a writer to say this, but I’m still at a loss for words.

I can’t find any superlatives that adequately describe Auburn’s win over Alabama.

I don’t know if I ever will.

When the game opened with Alabama scoring a TD, I thought it was business as usual. When Auburn went three-and-out, I thought about last year’s game when Auburn had opened up 14-0 lead early. In that game, Auburn stopped Alabama a second time and started with acceptable field position. Then Chris Todd missed two wide open receivers and allowed Alabama to catch its breath.

The same thing essentially happened here. Alabama faced a 4th-and 19 after a sack of McElroy.

And then the most bogus celebration penalty in the history of college football, designed to send Nick Fairley a message. The “message” resulted in another Alabama TD and a 21-0 first quarter score.

From there, I started thinking about another game, the one where Auburn jumped out with four straight scores and then cruised to victory. (The post-game quote from Brody Croyle was that Alabama won the final three quarters, still one of the stupidest post-game comments I’ve eve heard.)

But with Auburn having no first downs and Alabama continuing to drive, I actually had doubts.

It’s the reason I’m still in shock.

Prior to today, Auburn had come back from double digit deficits. Each time, though, they trailed at home. Today, they were down 24-0 in Bryant-Denny stadium to last year’s national champion, a team coached by the one of the best coaches in the game.

And Auburn could have folded. Two Alabama fumbles in the red zone took away probable Alabama scores.

After making it a 24-21 game and getting a crucial stop, Auburn could have lost it when Quindarius Carr fumbled after not calling for the fair catch. They held Alabama to a field goal and kept it down to one score difference. And then Auburn finally took the lead after that.

I was on the proverbial pins-and-needles after that. I kept hoping we’d get another score and get up eight points like we were against South Carolina. I knew we were one busted play from an Alabama FG. And, on the 25th anniversary of what is known as the kick, I didn’t want that.

And as the final whistle sounded, and with it an Auburn victory, I breathed a sigh and realized that the kick may be a good metaphor. For this win was a dagger that stabbed our arch rival.

But converting on 4th and 16 with less than a minute to go is a lot easier than coming back from 24-0.

This was simply the biggest Auburn Iron Bowl victory ever.
-> More important than Punt Bama Punt
-> More important than 1989.
-> More important than the 14-13 upset in 1949 after losing 55-0 the previous season and coming into the game a huge underdog.

Given the 24-0 deficit with what was on the line, no other Iron Bowl victory compares to this one for Auburn.

However, it could all be for naught.

Throughout 2010, Auburn has been good at finishing the game.

Now Auburn needs to finish the season.

War Eagle!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Scooter's Tale

We tossed out my 8-year old’s scooter last Tuesday.

It was a sad but necessary event, precipitated by a dark evening, a long commute, and a Dad’s one-time failure to see what toys were laying in the driveway on said dark evening.

So how could I miss a scooter you might be asking? Well, our driveway and garage are at an acute angle and my wife’s car is already in the garage when I get home. Given that it’s a tight turn and fit, I’ve always found it easier to back in via the driveway when I get home to park quickly in my spot in the garage.

Back to the now damaged scooter.

I brought my son outside to show him what happened, then reminded him of how often I’d warned him about leaving stuff in the driveway and that I’d run over something someday. Mad as I feared the car might have been damaged, I banished him to his room after dinner was over.

I examined the car and found it to be okay. No scratches that I could see and the tire hadn’t hit anything sharp. I then turned my attention to the scooter. It really was wrecked. The scooter’s platform was now at a worse angle than our driveway and garage. As I examined the scooter further, I wondered if its destruction wasn’t punishment enough.

The scooter had lived a good life. It had belonged to my older son and then passed to my younger one when my older son outgrew it. However, over a year ago it fell apart. (Two boys back-to-back. What toy stands a chance?) After leaving the pieces in the garage for several months, I received an ultimatum from my DW. Fix it or toss it.

I chose to fix it.

And my younger son was a happy boy. He rode it to the pool all summer, to his friends houses in the neighborhood, and always took it to the park when his brother had a baseball game. He especially liked taking it up a small hill in a cul-de-sac in our neighborhood, coming down as fast as he could. And yes there were a few mishaps and scrapes along the way. Fortunately, nothing broken.

So, with those memories in mind, I considered repairing it again. My wife delivered another ultimatum. Either fix it or throw it by the next time the garbage is picked up. She didn’t want to see the pieces sitting in the garage again for several more months.

I thought about ways to repair it but eventually concluded bending metal was a bit beyond me and the tools I had. I placed it out with the garbage Monday evening to be taken away on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday morning, I took my son to school. The scooter was gone when I returned.

I went in the house and told my wife. “The scooter’s gone.”

“Of course, the trash people picked it up.”
“No, the scooter’s gone. The trash hasn’t been picked up yet. Someone with the ability to fix that thing took it.”
“Oh. Good. I’d rather somebody use it than it get tossed into a landfill.”

I agreed.

And I smiled at the thought of another little boy getting as much joy out of that scooter as my sons had.

So has anyone reading this ever had similar incidents to the above? Have you run over a treasured toy? Has someone taken stuff from your garbage because they could use it? I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Love and Football Collide

I normally try to keep my posts here and my posts on my football blog separate. The two don’t intersect too often

This past weekend was the exception.

Having turned my kids into Auburn fans, I need to take them to an Auburn game when the chance arises. On this most recent Saturday, it did. The boys were excited. It was their first time to attend a game since the contest against Washington State in 2006.

They weren’t disappointed.

Neither was I

We arrived in Auburn on a Friday evening and headed to the massive tailgate across from the art museum. My cousin Katherine had an RV set up amongst the sea of RVs near campus and planned to hang out there for the weekend with her son and some good friends. We gorged ourselves on hot dogs and chips before calling it, heading out to my cousin’s place where we spent the night. It took awhile for my kids to finally relax. (My cousin has a pool table. There was no way they weren’t going to play a couple of games.) Finally, they nodded off to sleep and allowed my wife and me to do the same.

As Saturday unfolded, I admit I had more on my mind than just the game. (There’s the scandal involving Auburn’s QB that has kept my attention.) However, none of it came close to just being able to watch a game with my boys. We headed to the tailgate where my wife would spend the afternoon with my cousin and her friends. (My cousin had no plans to attend the game. She just likes tailgating.) And when kickoff became two and a half hours away, I knew it was time for the boys and I to go.

Now I know that sounds like a long time. We were only a thirty minute walk from the stadium at best. But, it’s one thing to go to a game. It’s another to soak in the atmosphere.

One particular tradition I wanted to share with my boys was Tiger Walk. Approximately two hours prior to the game, the football team walks from the athletic dorm to the stadium. The cheerleaders are there. A subset of the band is there. And thousands of fans line the path. My younger son in particular wanted to see two people: Aubie (the Auburn mascot) and Cam Newton.

He got to do both. As the picture below shows, he got to meet Aubie.


And, as the players walked through the crowd, he low-fived Cam Newton, the man whose smile will one day grace toothpaste commercials on all the networks.

From there, we headed to Toomer’s Drugs for lemonade, another Auburn tradition. Though a souvenir shop now, it was a pharmacy for many years. Inside the place, I took them to the back of the store and showed them the picture on the wall of their great-great uncle, Mac Lipscomb, who bought the business from Mr. Toomer himself and ran it for decades before retiring.

And then we went to the game.
When it comes to college football, the only thing better than watching a big game is watching it with your children. To enjoy their fascination as the eagle flies out and lands at mid-field, to enjoy their anticipation as the band takes the field, and then enjoy their amazement as jets do a flyover during the National Anthem.

“Dad, that was loud,” my son said.

“I could only smile back and agree.

With a victory, we celebrated and then headed back to the park to meet my wife and head home to Atlanta. For the second time in two nights, I tried to get the kids to get over their excitement and get some sleep. And for the second time in two nights, I failed miserably.

I know my kids won’t forget this trip.

Neither will I.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Auburn vs. Georgia Recap

Posting later than usual today. It was a late night. Instead of watching the game on TV, I traveled with the fam to Auburn to see the team in person, taking my excited boys to their first Auburn game in awhile.

They weren’t disappointed.

Neither was I

We arrived Friday evening and headed to the massive tailgate across from the art museum. My cousin Katherine had an RV set up amongst the sea of RVs and planned to hang out there for the weekend with her son and some good friends. We gorged ourselves on hot dogs and chips before calling it, heading out to my cousin’s place where we spent the night.

Of course, while I was there, I followed the latest news on the Cam Newton saga. Supposedly, a source claimed that Cecil admitted to talking with Mississippi State about money. Another unnamed source. Another story with accusations. Everybody claims their source is reliable. The problem is you don’t know who to believe anymore.

But as Saturday unfolded, I was reminded of, as the creed goes, why I believe in Auburn and love it.

From taking my son’s to Tiger Walk where they high-fived with Aubie and low-fived with Cam to a Toomer’s lemonade where I showed them the picture on the wall of their great-great uncle, Mac Lipscomb, who bought the business from Mr. Toomer himself and ran it for decades before retiring. I re-introduced my sons to the Auburn I loved.



And then we went to the game.

When it comes to college football, the only thing better than watching a big game is watching it with your children. To enjoy their fascination as the eagle flies out and lands at mid-field, to enjoy their anticipation as the band takes the field, and then enjoy their amazement as jets do a flyover during the National Anthem.

“Dad, that was loud,” my son said.

“I could only smile back and agree.

The first drive opened as we expected with an opening TD, but nothing seemed to go right after that. The dropped pass on a sure TD that would have tied the game at 14-all showed how badly we were out of sorts. I could almost CBS announcers talking about the Newton saga and how it must be getting to Auburn. But with two scores in the second quarter, to tie it up, I counted my blessings and said to my kids, “I hope that was the bad half.”

I was relieved when Chizik’s gamble worked to open the second half. And fromt here, the momentum finally seemed to shift Auburn’s way. I finally relaxed when Georgia kicked a field goal. I knew we’d have the game in the bag once we got up two scores. And when Georgia took a knee to end it, I celebrated. Our first SEC Western Division championship in six years was a reality. We still have higher things to play for, but we can relax and enjoy the moment, punctuated by memories of Michael Dyer breaking Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record and watching Bo Jackson congratulate him on the big screen when it was announced.

But there were some negatives.

Our defense still has a lot of trouble stopping anyone, though admittedly they only allowed only 10 points after the first quarter. You can’t blame them for the interception that was returned to the Auburn 9. However, you can blame them for having UGA third and 16 in the third quarter and allowing a first down. You can also blame them for having UGA 4th and 1 and allowing a huge TD pass.

Our punting team still needs work. On what had to be the best punt of the year, Auburn could have pinned UGA at the 1. Instead, our players lost the ball and allowed it to slip into the end zone. Georgia went on to score on that drive.

TV timeouts are really long when you’re in the stadium. It’s almost a momentum killer.

Reviews are frustrating when you can’t see all the camera angles that are provided on TV. I don’t know what the official rules are, but Auburn doesn’t show a replay on the Jumbotron until the ruling on the field is confirmed or overturned.

Auburn did allow some of its frustrations to show, as evidenced by the taunting from the Georgia players. Taunting that was visible to everyone except the referees, allowed Auburn to get hit with a personal foul for responding to it. And then Auburn got two players tossed at the end. Those players will have to miss the first half of the Alabama game. I’m thankful to Mark Richt for taking a knee at the end. We couldn’t afford to lose another defender.

With the game over, I enjoyed the jubilation, took the kids to McDonald’s, and then we all headed home to Atlanta. On the way home, I tried to get my kids to take a nap. I also tried to explain the NCAA to my wife. I was successful at neither.

All I can say is. War Cam Eagle. Nothing is proven. If the NCAA finds Cam ineligible and decides to vacate Auburn’s season, let Auburn’s record for the season be 0-0.

And everyone will know who was the best.

I end today with a picture of the sunset. No reason. It just looked nice.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An Unanswered Prayer

Part II

I lied a bit last week.

I told my younger son last week that we don’t pray for wins in sporting events.

I’m a parent. I want to see my kids succeed. I want to see their teams succeed.

Last week, I talked about my younger son’s team losing in playoffs.

This week, it’s my older son.

On the same day that my younger son’s team lost in the playoffs in football, my older son’s team lost in the playoffs in baseball. Seeded #4, they led the #1 seed in the final inning by a score of 3-1. I was praying hard. Praying that they’d pull it out. But the good play and bit of luck that had taken them this far dropped off at the end and they lost the game 4-3 to end the season

And it had been a difficult season for my teenager.

Moving up to the next league had been a bigger challenge than he thought. Heavier bat. Bigger field. Yet still blessed with the same unathletic genes of his father. Like every kid he likes to hit. Every time he steps up to the plate, I hope that he does

A long time ago, I developed a habit. Every time my one of my kids goes to bat, I cross myself like any good Catholic. I try not to be overt about it, though my wife has noticed it on occasion.

With my son’s struggles early on in pony, I think my fingers were working OT. Still, he struck out often. For the first four games, he got one foul ball and put one ball into play. He also got one walk.

He was depressed about his performance. He hates not hitting. Even more, he hates losing. Both were happening.

As the season continued, things got a little better. More foul balls. More balls in play. The team won a couple.

But still no hits. Yet, he kept trying.

Somewhere late, he finally put aluminum on the ball and made it to first. I was ecstatic for him. More foul balls and a couple more hits. His team finished fourth in the league out of five teams.

With the playoffs, my son’s team opened on a Friday night against the #5 team. Entering the last inning, they were down 3-2. My son came up second in the last inning with a man on first. He got his second hit of the night. His first hit had given them an RBI. Three batters later, he would cross home plate with the winning run. It was his first two-hit game of the season. He received the game ball.

So, when they lost to the #1 seed the following day, I was as heartbroken then as euphoric the night before. My prayers for one more game had gone unanswered.

With the game over, the two teams lined up for the customary awarding of the season t-shirt to the team whose season was over. Each kid gets his name called and the coach says something nice. When it got to my son’s turn, the coach called out “And to the hero of last night’s game…”

My prayers for winning that day had gone unanswered. However, my prayers all season had finally been met.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Scandal Promotes Book Release

This week, given that Auburn was playing Chattanooga and the W was never in doubt, I’d planned to post a funny Top Ten list related to Cam Newton.

Then the scandal broke and it seemed out of place.

In trying to look at this objectively, I concentrated on what few facts are known publicly.

FACT: The NCAA knew about this in January.
FACT: Auburn was told of this in July.
FACT: The Newtons turned over all financial and phone records to Auburn.

So what can we take from the above?

Auburn had time to investigate and it let Cam Newton play.

This story has been known to Auburn, the SEC, and the NCAA since before the season started.

The only impropriety is that two former Mississippi State players were somehow involved in trying to sell Cameron Newton’s services to Mississippi State. And Mississippi State did the right thing in reporting. No one can link the agents to Auburn or to Cam Newton’s recruitment to Auburn.

It may be that Cam Newton wanted to go to Mississippi State, but the hint of impropriety led Newton to Auburn.

But nothing else.

If Auburn knew anything, Newton wouldn’t have stepped on the field. Auburn is too anal otherwise.

So what does this have to do with a book release?

Well, in honor of the lying agents who created this scandal, I’d like to tell you about a new book being released by my good friend and debut author, Amy Atwell.

The book, which can be bought in any e-book format, is appropriately called, Lying Eyes.

A cover and blurb are below,

No-nonsense jewelry designer Iris Fortune yearns for a normal life. But life as Vegas magician Cosmo Fortune's daughter is anything but normal, especially since dear old Dad is also a scam artist. When Cosmo's latest scheme goes awry and he pulls a real-life disappearing act, Iris is left holding the bag.


Now Iris must be a master of illusion—play the poised partner to her politician fiancĂ© while trying to save her father and stay out of reach of Mickey Kincaid, the sexy thief who claims he's only after her jewels.

Detective Kincaid is deep undercover and seeks Iris out because of her connection to Cosmo—he never expected to be so drawn to her. While working with Iris to find the elusive con man, Mickey learns a killer has Iris in his sights, and he must do everything he can to save her, without blowing his cover.

Mickey's put his life on the line before, but never his heart—and now he's not sure which is more dangerous...

So, don’t buy the crap that the lying agents are spewing.

Do buy the book Lying Eyes.

And click here to be taken to Amy’s website.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Unanswered Prayer?

Part One.

“Daddy, the blessing didn’t get answered.”

My younger son’s tears continued to flow as we sat on the couch. His football season was over. In the second round of the playoffs, his team, the 8-year old Mill Creek Hawks* lost to the top seed team in the tourney, Parkview, 39-6. The loss dropped the team to 7-3 on the season.

His reference to the “blessing” referred to the previous Sunday. He’d worn his football jersey to church on Sunday, the day after his team won in the first round of the playoffs. Knowing he was facing the #1 seed, he wanted to show his team spirit and get a little extra help. After the service was over, we went up to the priest and explained the situation. He provided a blessing and also blessed my older son as well, whose team was also going to the playoffs last week. (My son’s team was the Phillies. There was no way he wearing a Phillies jersey into church.)

“Yes, it did,” I told my son. “The prayer was answered.”

“Dad, we lost.”

“I didn’t ask for you to win. I asked for a blessing for safety. The priest added one for sportsmanship.”

“What do you mean?”

I looked into his eyes. What was coming wasn’t an easy lesson. “You don’t ask God to help you win. You ask God to keep you and all the other players safe. You ask God to allow you to play your best.”

My son looked back at me. He was still sad but didn’t say anything. I knew that I needed to explain further. “Football is a dangerous sport but you wanted to play. People get hurt playing football. You don’t want see it happen but it’s a fact of the game.”

“I hurt my knee.”

“Do you want some ice for it?”

He thought for a second. “No.”

“Then you didn’t hurt it that badly. Listen to me. Did you have a good time this season?”

The answer came without hesitation. “Yes.”

“Do you want to play football next year?”

Again no hesitation. “Yes.”

“Then that’s all that matters. You’re safe. You had fun.”

My son’s tears had finally dried up, yet he still hadn’t quite understood what I said. And I don’t know if a couple of days perspective has helped. Maybe one day he will.

At the same time, I knew it was the truth. My two biggest concerns were that he have fun and that he be safe. And even though it was towards the end of the season when I asked for the blessing for him, I knew I’d been saying it every time he stepped onto the field.

And I admit I still wanted him to win.

But my prayers had been answered.

* There are actually three 8-year old teams in the Mill Creek area. All three are called the Mill Creek Hawks.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Auburn - Ole Miss postgame

Well…Auburn will be #1 in the BCS when it’s released on Sunday evening. We survived the #1 jinx, though at this writing I wonder if Oregon will avoid it. When I began to relax, I thought about turning it to watch the Oregon-USC game. However, I talked myself out of it. Watching Auburn play like this is a joy to behold.

However as I look back on the game (and wonder if Cam Newton’s first endorsement will be for Chapstick®), I realize that this was the most relaxed I’d been in a while.

It started with the usual weirdness. Ole Miss came out in the gray jerseys as some sort of symbolic, spiritual statement. First time they’ve ever worn gray jerseys. Teams do this regularly. Georgia brought out the all black jerseys awhile back in a game where they upset Auburn. Auburn has occasionally worn orange jerseys and has pretty much sucked when they did it. (Side note: Oregon could never wear special jerseys as they pretty much act like the caricature of the spoiled rich girl who never wants to wear the same outfit twice.)

But back to game.

Cameron Newton had 45 rushing yards on the ground. For the average QB, that’s a good night. Cam Newton is not an average QB. He’s a Heisman candidate, one-man team, Superman plus, excess other superlatives individual.

So what’s he doing looking like a typical QB?

He’s showing he can play a typical game.

He’s showing the rest of the world what only Auburn fans seem to realize at the moment. Auburn is not a one-man team.

Yes, Cam Newton is a great player. He’s a special player. He’s a one-of-a-kind player. He’s already breaking all records running, throwing (TDs), and tonight he even showed he can catch a pass.

Yet, against Ole Miss, Auburn showed it can run a conventional game and still pick up 300+ yards rushing, with nearly 200 yards by freshman RB.

It showed that it’s experienced offensive line can open holes for whomever is running.

It showed that the defense, which bends a lot, can stop someone on a 4th and inches play.

It showed that our special teams is dangerous and capable.

In short, it showed that Auburn can play a complete game and gave Auburn’s remaining opponents something to worry about…that Auburn is a good TEAM.

War Eagle and Happy Halloween!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Worth A Smile

A little bit of disclosure about myself. I attended Auburn University.

For those of you that pay attention to college football, Auburn had an important game last Saturday. (For those of you that don’t know, Auburn, unbeaten and in the Top Ten in the nation, faced LSU, also unbeaten and in the Top Ten in the nation. Auburn won and is now the #1 team in the nation in the poll that determines who plays for the championship at the end of the season.)

Usually, I’m hard to reach mentally when Auburn is on TV.

Saturday was a different story.

We had a tiring family day this past Saturday. We opened it up at 9:00 a.m. with my older son’s fall baseball team playing the final game of their regular season. My son’s team won 7-6, stranding the tying runner at third base after he reached there with less than two outs. My older son went 1-3 on the day, thrown out at second when he tried to stretch his single into a double.

When that game ended, we headed to another location in Gwinnett County for the first round of the playoffs for my younger son’s football team. My son’s team trailed 14-13 at the half but had an awesome third quarter to finish with a 47-27 victory.

So what does this have to do with Auburn vs. LSU?

I missed the first part of the Auburn – LSU game because of the end of my son’s game. No big deal. Any parent would have done the same. Had I even had a second thought about paying more attention to the TV game than my son’s, I should be criticized, chided, lampooned. Pick your verb.

It was what we did Saturday night that drew gasps from friends.

You see, we had tickets for Saturday night’s hockey game between the Gwinnett Gladiators and the Florida Everblades. The tickets were about center ice down low and my younger son loves hockey. With them dropping the puck at 7:00, we left a little after 6:00 to give us time to be there for the start. In other words, I left during the third quarter.

Granted, I wasn’t completely cut off from it. A friend of mine texted me with updates on the game throughout the 4th quarter. I went nuts when I found out Auburn won. Still though, my younger son loves hockey. And the smile on his face, along with the Gladiators win, made missing the 4th quarter worthwhile.

As I read this, I think it sounds a little shameless. I did what a dad is supposed to do.

But sometimes it’s nice when little choices in life remind of us what’s really important.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Perfect Day

We had a tiring family day on Saturday.

We opened it up at 9:00 a.m. with my older son’s fall baseball team, the Pony League Phillies, playing the final game of their regular season. They were playing the top team in their league. My son’s team, who has had a difficult season, opened up a 7-0 lead before holding on at the end 7-6. They stranded the tying runner at third and managed to strike out two to ensure that he didn’t make it home. My older son went 1-3, thrown out at second when he tried to stretch his single into a double.

When that game ended, we headed to another location in Gwinnett County for the first round of the playoffs for my younger son’s football team. It was the first round of the playoffs and my son’s football team, the Mill Creek Hawks, were playing the Grayson Rams. With my son’s team being the lower seed, it was an away game. They trailed 14-13 at the half but had an awesome third quarter to finish with a 47-27 victory. The win sent my son’s team into the quarterfinals where they will face the top seed in Gwinnett County in another away game.

So what does this have to do with Auburn vs. LSU?

As much as I love to watch my Auburn Tigers, sometimes life provides you with other opportunities. And as my son’s football game started over thirty minutes late, I knew I wouldn’t get back even to my car radio for the start of the Auburn-LSU game. 3:30. 4:00, the clock continued to run. Still, I wanted to share my son’s joy more than anything else.

When I finally did flip on the radio, it was already Auburn 7, LSU 0. I drove home, catching both the LSU and Auburn field goals. It was the sometime in the 2nd quarter. Unfortunately, I did catch LSU’s TD at the end of the half.

But our day wasn’t over yet.

You see, we had tickets for last night’s Gwinnett Gladiators hockey game against the Florida Everblades. The tickets were about center ice down low and my younger son loves hockey. With them dropping the puck at 7:00, we left a little after 6:00 to give us time to be there for the start. I heard LSU’s 17-17 tying TD in the parking lot at Gwinnett Arena. A friend of mine texted me updates on the Auburn game throughout the 4th quarter. I went nuts with the news of the win.

And then the Gladiators made it a perfect night, defeating the Everblades 5-2. The smile on my younger son’s face made missing the 4th quarter worthwhile.

I will catch the complete game somehow on replay later this week. I’m curious as to how a player can be stopped and carried back seven or eight yards for a loss.

But, for now, I’ll just remember how much I enjoyed my day with my family.

War Eagle!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Doing The Right Thing?

After dropping my older son off at a function about a week ago, I took the brief time I had before picking him up to run some errands. My first stop was my bank as I needed to make a deposit.

I parked outside and walked toward the ATM. Someone was already there, so I maintained a respectful distance as the man completed his transaction. Finished, he left the machine and walked toward me. We said our casual acknowledgements as we passed, though neither of us was really listening, just being courteous as the sidewalk to the ATM allowed little room to get around each other.

I inserted my card and pulled out the checks when I noticed a card lying on the bottom portion of the ATM tray. I picked it up and read the name, assuming it belonged to the man who’d just left. I turned to see if I could catch him, but his black truck was speeding out into the street. I caught part of his license plate but little else.

OK. So what now?

Had it been me, I would have eventually noticed that my card was gone. However, I doubt I would have realized it while I was driving. Being that the person who’d left his card was a male, I figured he wouldn’t either. Still, I waited a few minutes. No one returned.

I could have left it where I found it but knew that wasn’t a good idea. A number of people would visit that ATM that evening. And while I like to think that the world is good, I know the chance exists that some less than honest person will pick up the card.

The best thing to do, I reasoned, would be to drop the card in a night deposit box of some kind. I looked for one but didn’t see any. Next, I looked at my ATM receipt and called the customer service number on it. After dealing with the bank’s IVR (Interactive Voice Response), I finally got to the right department, only to get the recorded message that said the department was closed and that I should call back during normal business hours.

I thought about putting it back right there. It wasn’t my problem. I’d made a good faith effort and come up empty. But I’d worked in a bank before, handling business customers, and had often dealt with situations where customers or their family members had been defrauded. It’s not a fun process.

I looked at the front door and saw another number printed on it in big white letters. The security number for break-ins. What did I have to lose? I called them and explained and asked if they knew a place where I could put this away. They didn’t but transferred me to another number. Unfortunately, it was another group who couldn’t help. I wasn’t the card owner. They were prohibited.

I turned the card over and saw a new customer service number, at least one I hadn’t tried. After navigating that system, I finally got a live sympathetic body. Unfortunately, it was the credit card group. She couldn’t help. I was holding a debit card. And while she could give me the number of the correct department, she couldn’t transfer me directly. She suggested I slip it through the door. I said that might set off the motion sensors, at which point I would have to wait for the police. And though they would probably believe what happened, it would be a long night either way.

So, at that point, I gave up. I could have the called the debit card group, but I was done. Instead, I placed the card near the front door, in a place only an employee (or as bank robber) would notice. Hopefully, someone saw it in the morning.

So what would you have done? Would you have called the debit card group? Would you have done what I did? Would you have given up earlier? I’d really like to know.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Auburn vs. Arkansas Wrap-Up

When Arkansas tool the lead on Auburn in the second half, my wife commented that Auburn’s games are kind of like our 8-year old son’s football games. My son’s team led for most of the game, only to surrender the lead with three minutes left in the 4th quarter, going down 18-14.

My wife had no idea how prescient she would be.

My son’s team fumbled the ball away twice in the 4th quarter, one of them deep in their own territory as the other team picked up the ball and ran for a score.

And then I watched as Auburn ran a fumble back for a TD and then picked up two interceptions. And somewhere in the 4th quarter, I finally relaxed (and enjoyed a wonderful dinner).

Still, the fumbles were controversial. I’ve already seen the AP story about how Auburn and the replay officials combined to beat Arkansas. Let's face it. Auburn got slammed by the replay booth as well over that spot of the football on the 4th and six that Arkansas "converted" in the second half . Given the history Auburn has experienced this season alone with phantom pass interference calls (pick any game), it was about time that Auburn had some things go their way.

It was better, though, for Auburn to remove this particular monkey off their back. (Despite the “basketball score” jokes peppered all over Twitter.)

Auburn hadn’t beaten Arkansas in since 2007 and seemed to always lay an egg against Arkansas in big years. And while I don’t think we’ll go undefeated, this game still worried me more than any other. In no other game this year will Auburn face an offense so well designed to exploit Auburn’s defensive weaknesses. No other team has QBs like Arkansas combined with a comparable receiver corps.

But we came through it. We survived another week in the SEC. We even scored the most points in the history of an SEC game and the most points we’ve scored on an SEC team in 40 years. And forget what AP says, we WON the game.

Next week, LSU (expected to be undefeated) comes into Auburn. We’ve lost three straight to LSU.

I don’t expect us to lose a fourth one.

One of the realities of an afternoon game is the evening highlights. You know you're going to see the game replays throughout the evening as you enjoy what else is going on in college football.

I'm looking forward to a nice rest of the evening.

War Eagle!!!!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When Brothers Meet Brothers

Before I start, I’d like to congratulate Bobby Cox and the Braves on an exciting season. In the end, the injuries from the season were just too great to overcome: Chipper, Prado, Medlin, Jurrjens, Wagner, and the list goes on.

Now back to the post.

Sometimes, I bring it on myself.

Admittedly, I’m a history buff and I put that in my kids. Occasionally ever, sometimes I overdo and then my kids drive me nuts. Such was the case this weekend.

On Monday, we drove up to Toccoa, Georgia to see the Stephens County Historical Museum. For those of you who don’t recognize Toccoa (my eight-year old kept calling it Taco, Georgia), it was the beginning training area for paratroopers during WWII. If you’ve seen the movie “Band of Brothers,” it’s the location of the first thirty minutes of Episode One.

I’ve known we were about an hour from the area and I’d longed to see it. I thought my boys might enjoy it, too. So, with them out of school for Columbus Day, I took Monday off. To prepare them, I even pulled out my copy of Band of Brothers and watched Episode One with them.

I learned a lot going up there.
1) Toccoa is a nice town full of friendly people.
2) The museum is small, but the military portion of it is quite interesting. One of the items they have is a stable from England, which shows how many GIs were housed when they trained in England.
3) There’s very little left of what was once there.
4) Toccoa Falls, located at Toccoa Falls College, was an unexpected benefit to the drive up there.

Granted, it was just a training facility. The government ended its use in 1945 and then sold it to a private company, making it a judicious use of public money. (There’s a rarity for you.) A monument remains. You can climb to the top of Currahee, the mountain they ran up each day.

So where do my kids get overzealous?

It was a lot of fun when my kids would grab me and say. “Daddy, come see this. Daddy, come see this.”

But now they want to watch the rest of Band of Brothers...in a row.

I’m not sure I can take nine straight hours of questions from my kids.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Auburn vs. Kentucky Wrap-Up

I tweeted last night right after the game that “The Prilosec commercial just before Byrum's field goal was appropriate.”

It’s also Auburn football.

Part of me was hoping for an easy evening. In the old days, a match-up against Kentucky was considered a breather. And while some Auburn games with Kentucky were close, there was never any doubt. (Sort of like when Kentucky plays us in basketball.)

Yet, I knew that was a forlorn hope at best. At my younger son’s football game earlier in the day. I was sitting in front of a fellow Dad and UCLA grad. Of course, we talked football. He thought Auburn should handle Kentucky easily. I gently explained it to him. If an Auburn game is on, heartburn is a given. I’m convinced that the god of Auburn football makes a commission on every tablet of Nexium. As a friend of mine commented on Twitter recently, “being an Auburn fan has taken years off my life.”

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

No. I don’t mean that I’m this happy with the additional gray hairs I accumulate each week. I’m also losing my hair, too Eventually I’ll go completely gray and go bald. I just mean I’d rather be an Auburn Tiger than anything else.

So what did we learn this week?

Between last season and this season, we had enough gas in he tank to finish the game. We started that final drive at our own 6-yard line after that had to be one of the dumbest, ill-advised hand-offs on a kick return that anyone has ever seen. We survived.

This time last year, we had a loss to Arkansas in a game that we weren’t really in. We survived.

After falling behind early by double digits twice this year and coming back, we went up by double digits and gave that up. We survived.

We gained over 500 yards for the sixth time this season. (Cam Newton picked up over 400 yards.) We survived.

We won our second road game of the season by three points. We survived.

And we advanced.

And that’s good enough for this week.

Next week is Arkansas. We owe them like we owed Kentucky.

War Eagle!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to Properly Demote A Seal

For a long time, my 8-year old son has slept with three stuffed animals: a seal, a dog, and a teddy bear. Being the creative sort, he gave them unconventional names. The seal was called “Seal-y.” The dog was “Puppy.” The bear was “Bear-y Bear.” (OK. Maybe they're not that original.)

However, a few nights ago, I got a surprise when I tucked him in.

“Dad, I don’t want to sleep with Sealy anymore.”

‘Why not? You love Sealy.”

“Well, I’m eight now and growing up. It’s time to put Sealy away.”

I was stunned. The trio of animals had been his friends for so long. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Do you really want to break up the group?”

He nodded. “Yes, it’s time. I’ll put Sealy away now. When I turn 10, I’ll put away Puppy. When I’m 12, then I’ll put away Beary Bear.”

I asked again if he was sure and he confirmed he was, so I picked up Sealy and held it up to my son, who gave it a last kiss. I then put Sealy on the other bed in his room, staring at his former charge from a distance.

I went back downstairs and told my wife the news. Sealy had been demoted. She was as stunned as I. However, we figured it was only matter of time. The little guy was getting bigger.

The following night, I put Sealy on the other bed again, said goodnight, and tucked him in. It was a sad time.

The following night I got home late. He was already in bed. When I went to check on him, I got a shock. Sealy was back with the trio.

Since that night, Sealy has continued to be a part of the group. It’s as if the growing up has been forgotten.

And I’m happy to have him be little just a little while longer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wisconsin Grad Admits Michigan Loyalty

Normally, I would fill this space with a review of the Auburn – ULM game. However, given the final score of 52-3, I‘d like to do something else instead.

There are some things in life that, like watching college football, bring great pleasure. One of them is reading a good book. I’ve recently finished a wonderful book called The Preacher’s Bride. The book is the debut work of University of Wisconsin graduate, Jody Hedlund. A blurb (taken from the publisher’s website) is below.

In 1650s England, a young Puritan maiden is on a mission to save the baby of her newly widowed preacher--whether her assistance is wanted or not. Always ready to help those in need, Elizabeth Whitbred ignores preacher John Costin's protests of her aid. She's even willing to risk her lone marriage prospect to help the little family.

Yet Elizabeth's new role as nanny takes a dangerous turn when John's boldness from the pulpit makes him a target of political and religious leaders. As the preacher's enemies become desperate to silence him, they draw Elizabeth into a deadly web of deception. Finding herself in more danger than she ever bargained for, she's more determined than ever to save the child--and man--she's come to love.

The characters in the book are fictional, but are based on the real life of John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. With this story, Jody Hedlund brings an interesting perspective to the history of Bunyan by focusing on the story of his wife, Elizabeth, and the internal conflicts she faced.

However, as I have discovered, Ms. Hedlund is no stranger to internal conflict. The author did do her graduate work at Wisconsin, having attended undergrad at a place that doesn’t play football (Taylor University in Indiana). However, when pressed, the author admitted a deep secret.

She and her family are die hard Michigan fans.

I tried to put in a call to Bucky Badger, whose publicist said that Bucky is canceling his push-up promotional tour for the book, but will reconsider it when he travels to Ann Arbor in November. He promises to even read the book himself to make his decision.

I predict he’ll change his mind.

A copy of the cover is below. Click here to be taken to Jody’s blog.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Great Book. A Great Time

One of the pleasures in life is reading a good book. I’m having that pleasure right now.

I’ve recently acquired a book titled The Preacher’s Bride. The book is the debut novel of author Jody Hedlund, a fantastic writer from the Michigan area. A blurb (taken from the publisher’s website) is below.

In 1650s England, a young Puritan maiden is on a mission to save the baby of her newly widowed preacher--whether her assistance is wanted or not. Always ready to help those in need, Elizabeth Whitbred ignores preacher John Costin's protests of her aid. She's even willing to risk her lone marriage prospect to help the little family.

Yet Elizabeth's new role as nanny takes a dangerous turn when John's boldness from the pulpit makes him a target of political and religious leaders. As the preacher's enemies become desperate to silence him, they draw Elizabeth into a deadly web of deception. Finding herself in more danger than she ever bargained for, she's more determined than ever to save the child--and man--she's come to love.

The characters in the book are fictional, but are based on the real life of John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. With this story, Jody Hedlund brings an interesting perspective to the history of Bunyon by focusing on the story of his wife, Elizabeth. I first experienced Bunyan's work when I lived in Japan. However, as much as I'd heard about him, I'd never considered the perspective of the person who supported him. Until now.

I have to admit that I’m still a short ways from the end of The Preacher's Bride, but I've been enjoying every word. A copy of the cover is below. Click here to be taken to Jody’s blog.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Auburn vs. South Carolina Post Game

I was wrong.

I said both in pre-game post and in preview back in the summer that South Carolina would beat Auburn. And, as I watched the first half, I figured that Auburn must have read my blog. With two fumbles in the first half, TOs that USC converted into 13 points, Auburn had decided to beat itself.

With the negative TO performance from the Clemson game, I realized that by the halftime of this game we’d gone at least six quarters without a takeaway. However, there was a huge difference. Clemson wiped the field with us pretty much in the first half before we finally asserted ourselves in the third quarter. How was this game different? We actually led USC in total yards at the first half, with three times as many rushing yards.

And as I watched Auburn play, I began to realize one thing. I’d undersold our boys. We were outplaying South Carolina. We just couldn’t put them away. That’s what happens when you give a team a short field.

So what do we know from today’s game?

1) We have a senior-laden defense, with some good freshman
2) Wes Byrum can have an off night.
3) We should question sometimes why we give Mario Fannin the ball.
4) We have a coaching staff that can make adjustments at halftime.
5) We can actually beat the spread.

But what we really know is that this team doesn’t get down on itself. For the second week in a row, we got down by double digits and came back. And that bodes well for out self-confidence.

But my heart can’t take much more of this.

War Eagle!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Auburn - South Carolina Preview

For the fourth straight time this year, Auburn will go into a game against an undefeated team.

Ok. I admit that’s not saying much. Arkansas State hadn’t played anyone. Mississippi State had beaten only Memphis. Clemson had wins against two nobodies.

But South Carolina comes in 3-0 with an SEC win over UGA and a ranking higher than ours, at least in one poll. Auburn is ahead of USC in the other. And the pundits are taking notice.

A lot of discussion has revolved around Auburn’s failure to make a Tiger out of South Carolina’s true freshman RB, Lattimore. With Dyer and Lattimore in the backfield, people speculate that Auburn could have printed Championship t-shirts both two and three years from now.

That may be putting the cart before the horse, but there’s no doubt that each back provides his team an opportunity to win the game. A combined backfield with the two of them would have been devastating.

But to whom is the game more important? Though both teams can have good seasons, neither is expected to contend for the championship and definitely not the national title. However, what impact will it have on the divisional race?

This game will likely not decide the SEC East. There are many who feel that the SEC East champion will have at least three losses. Though Florida was expected to dominate, the general consensus was that the teams would beat other up. The West has seen years like that, when three losses still didn’t knock a team out, leaving head-to-head as the deciding factor over which school went. However, this year the West is different. The champion there will likely have one loss and many would be surprised at two. There is less room for error. There is more to lose.

In my preseason speculation, I said Auburn would drop this game. I still would not be surprised if they did. Marcus Lattimore has been excellent this season and will likely be so this weekend. The downside is that USC is one dimensional. If Auburn can stop Lattimore, than USC has little else to fall back on. However, if Spurrier schemes and run Lattimore as a feint, Auburn may bite and find themselves in the same hole that they did with Clemson.

Like last week, this game will not be pretty. I just hope it will be a win.

By the way, the undefeated opponent streak will not continue as ULM is 0-2, including a 34-20 loss to Arkansas State.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coach

My kids love to play team sports.

You may have guessed that from some of the earlier posts. My older son is playing Pony League fall baseball. My younger son is playing football. They’re both having fun. (My younger son is likely having more fun as his team is undefeated.)

However, most of the time, I’ve watched from the sidelines. I’ve kept a scorebook. Being athletically inept when I was kid, I learned to take the one of Dirty Harry mantra, “A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations.”

However, as the coach of my son’s baseball team announced that he would have a harried schedule and needed all the help he could get, I did the one thing I never expected to do. I signed up to be an assistant coach.

My son told me that the idea of me on the field freaked him out. I told him to get over it. However, I set low expectations in advance. I can definitely keep the book and can get on the field to run the bench if needed. And it really doesn’t take much to do soft tosses with a kid in a batting cage.

However, with the other assistant coaches out for a game one Tuesday evening, I faced having to actually get on the field and handle first base. And when the game was over and obligatory “good game” handshakes were exchanged, I fist bumped with the kids and the shook the home plate umpire’s hand.

And he called me “Coach.”

I have to admit I was caught off guard. I glanced left and right without turning my head, but I knew he was talking to me. It was weird feeling. It just didn’t fit. But, I accepted it and left the field.

I’ve been called coach once since and I handled it a little better. Though I may never get used to the term, I at least wasn’t surprised.

Now if I could only get used to getting on the field.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Auburn vs. Clemson 2010 Post Mortem

This is appropriately a post morten. We were nearly dead.

As the old saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

On Saturday night, we were lucky.

The evening started with us at my sister’s having burgers. A cousin and her daughter were visiting .We hadn’t seen them in a while. I caught that less than memorable first quarter while I was there. We looked like crap.

With my wife having a girls night out planned (and my cousin, sister, and another woman joining), I had to leave in the middle of the second quarter, go with her to pick up her friend, and then take them to the bar where they planned to spend the evening. The way the second quarter went, being my wife’s designated driver was the only thing that kept me from wanting to down something myself to erase what was going on in that first half.

I can’t remember when I’ve seen/heard such a pathetic display of Auburn football.

And then we kicked off the second, like we seem to kick off a lot of seconds. With mistakes. And despite taking the lead in the 3rd quarter, we continued to make mistakes. The refs rewrote the definition on what pass interference means. I never knew it was possible to call pass interference without actual contact occurring.

Still, many of things that were going on were of our own making. We fought valiantly to take the lead at 24-17. Yet, the way we played, I counted us lucky that we made it into overtime. Given that Clemson’s receivers couldn’t hang on to the football, I count ourselves lucky that we won.

But, in the good category, our guys fought hard. That was one of the hardest hitting games I’ve ever seen. I’m convinced that we’ll be seeing that hit to Kyle Parker for the rest of the season, the same way we did a few years ago against LSU. And I’m surprised we weren’t called for more late hits than we got flagged for.

But a win is a win. We’re 3-0. And given the way we’ve played the last two weeks, we’ve been fortunate. We are one caught pass each week from being 1-2.

Until next week. Until South Carolina. Until the heart-wrenching roller-coaster that is Auburn football.

War Eagle!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Church of the Chocolate Sprinkle

One of out most important days in our church occurred last Sunday, at least for my 8-year old son. It wasn’t Easter. It wasn’t Christmas (though this day is particular popular). It wasn’t even the infamous “nudge Sunday” where family members deliver polite elbows to the ribs as the pastor discusses the gospel reading about how you should treat other family members.

It was doughnut Sunday.

Nearly every Sunday, around the time when Sunday school begins for a new year, my church begins serving coffee and doughnuts in the narthex. It’s meant to serve as an opportunity for parishioners to get to know each other after the service or just relax for a few minutes before heading home.

For my younger son, though, it’s something else. Being eight, he doesn’t quite get into church, but he does enjoy Sunday school. Part of the reason is he has friends in the class and he likes being with the other kids.

But another part is definitely the doughnuts.

This summer, when he realized that Sunday school was about to start, he looked at me and asked, ‘Dad, when are the doughnuts coming back?”

“After Labor Day,” I responded.

So, he counted down the Sundays until it was time This past Sunday, he was ready early. We arrived fifteen minutes prior to the start of class. He drooled about the doughnuts (thankfully not either on them or over them) picked up a nice chocolate one with sprinkles and some chocolate milk to wash it down with.

And enjoyed a few minutes of quality time with his Dad.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Typical Auburn football: Gut wrenching to the end

I am at least satiated for a moment to get out of Starkville with a win. My alma mater at this time has a lot in common with my 8-year old son’s team. They’re 2-0 and they both fumble a lot.

So what else did we learn from this.

1) Our defense can come through. They bent but didn’t break last night.
2) Our offense has some warts. They could have put it away with a number of scoring opportunities, but they couldn’t convert anything in the 2nd half. This also goes to when they had it about 3rd and 1 with under two minutes to go and all they needed was a first down. They blew the opportunity.
3) Our special teams has some serious work to do.
4) We have “two minute” issues. We can only score within two minutes when there’s more than two minutes to go. There’s no reason why we don’t try to score a field goal at the end of the first half.
5) The “Cowbell Compromise” is worthless until it starts affecting the team’s play on the field.

One of my tweeps wrote last night “Being an Auburn fan has taken years off my life.” I concurred. I kept thinking Auburn was finally going to drive a stake into the vampiric resurrection that was MSU last night. Didn’t happen until the end. Was concerned it might go into OT. Was concerned we could possibly lose. Was concerned that I was watching a repeat of Auburn-Northwestern with just a lower score.

Nope. I was watching football. In the present. And it’s just like it’s always been in the past. Gut wrenching. Nail biting. Heart thumping. It’s the reason Auburn fans are so good at dealing with stress.

However, now that the game is over, we can sit back and watch all the games on Saturday and relax for a change.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Little Things

I took my younger son to football practice last night. Despite it being Labor Day (and all the Dads wanting to get home to eat quickly and watch the Boise State-Virginia Tech game), just about every one was there.

The topic of conversation, though, was the miracle finish from the weekend. My son’s team, in their weekly game, took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, taking a 7-0 lead. However, the game turned into a defensive struggle. At the half, the score was still 7-0. At the end of the third, it was 7-6 and late in the 4th quarter, my son’s team surrendered the lead.

Trailing 12-7 with the opponent needing to run only one more play, it looked bleak. However, the defense stood up the runner and the ball got loose. One of our players picked up the ball and ran it back for a TD. The final score was 13-12.

It was bedlam. I can’t remember a more exciting ending. Granted, I’m a parent, so I’ll always say that about games my kids are in.

But more than the game, though, is the enjoyment I get out of watching my kids play.

My son is enjoying football. That much is obvious. He looks forward to practice and to games.

But what I’ve noticed more is the way he expresses it. He loves his Legos. He loves to draw. And he’s used both to try to explain the game to me. He’s pulled out his sketchbook and drawn up the plays, showing me what he needs to do.

“Dad, on this play, I’m a pulling guard.”

“OK. Show me how it goes. Who do you hit?”

However, his drawings don’t seem to be enough for him. He also takes his Legos and puts them one a board, diagramming the same plays. (They’re easier to follow on paper, but it’s funny to watch a Lego Darth Vader as wide receiver.)

He shows me what he’s supposed to do and excited about it. Though, when he’s in action, he never seems to get the player he’s supposed to hit before the play is blown dead. I tell him he needs to be more aggressive.

He’s getting it.

I’m just glad he has fun while doing it;

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One In The Books

According to he weather reports, it was supposed to be in the 50s on Saturday night. I was looking forward to that. It‘s been so hot of late that a cool night was welcome and an excellent start to the college football season.

However, by halftime, I was looking at something I didn’t expect, Auburn’s point total to exceed the temperature.

But with Auburn having scored 35 points by the end of the first half, I was thinking:

1) We have a new QB and he’s good.
2) We have an improved offense and it’s better.
3) We have a kicker who can kick to the end zone, which beats that pooch kick garbage we seem the thrive on.
4) We have a suspect defense and that’s a problem.

I originally thought Arkansas State wouldn’t score that much, I knew they’d beaten Texas A&M and had given Iowa all they could handle last year. At the same time, they’d also been blown out by Nebraska. And I’d expected more of the same.

Until our defense plays better, I should know better. They gave up too many big plays.

However, after three straight fumbles, I began to wonder about the offense, too. And though the third one was overturned on review, I wondered if any team with the talent to match Arkansas State’s enthusiasm would blow the offense off the field.

I needn’t have worried. Auburn bucked up and held on.

Final: Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26

Only a few days to rest before they travel to Starkville to play Mississippi State.

War Eagle!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Dacula Miracle

It had been a nervous day at Dacula Park. My son’s team, the Mill Creek Hawks, had taken the opening and marched down the field, scoring on a 20-yard pass on 4th and 5. However, after that we hadn’t done much. Still, the other team didn’t pick up a first down the first half and we led 7-0 at halftime.

The second half, though, it was a different story. We continued to have trouble moving the ball, while the other team, the Dacula Falcons, were ripping off larger gains. They finally broke the plane of the end zone late in the third. However, a missed extra point left the game 7-6.

Finally, we began to make progress, but a promising drive stalled in the red zone. The Falcons took over and drove the field, scoring again to make it 12-7.

We had one drive left.

And we made progress.

With the clock ticking away, we picked up two first downs and made it to the red zone. However, it was not to be. And with about two minutes to go, we turned it over on downs. The only option was to hold them and hope they would run their plays quickly. However, with the Falcons facing third down and only having to take a knee, it looked hopeless.

The Falcons, though, ran a play. And when the ball squirted loose, one of my son’s teammates picked it up and ran it for a TD.

Mill Creek Hawks 13, Dacula Falcons 12.

And so it ended.

My sister Jeanne and her family made it to the game, with my nephews seeming to enjoy it. They especially like my wife’s shaker, a water bottle with beans inside. My nephews shook it hard toward the end of the game. One of them may even believe that he caused the fumble.

We’re not going to correct him.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Season Has Begun

The final score was a thrill for at least half the parents watching.

Mill Creek Hawks 40, Brookwood Broncos 14.

My 8-year old son’s football team opened the first of the 8-game season with a victory. And though the score seems lopsided, it was a little scary at first. The Hawks took the opening kickoff and took but a few plays to score. The point after conversion was missed and my son’s team led 6-0. However, the opposing team scored on their first play from scrimmage and then led 7-6 after they made their conversion. Two plays later, the Hawks found the end zone: 13-7. Another two plays later, the Broncos found the end zone 14-13. Mistakes on the kickoff and then on the first play led to the ball changing hands twice before my son’s team found its groove. They led 27-14 at the half and then picked up two more scores in the second half.

I was proud of my son and the way he played. After two practice games where he looked lackluster, I saw him block and tackle other kids in game situations. It’s his first year to play football and he’s getting the hang of it. I know he enjoyed the game. He’s already looking at the schedule, trying to figure out who they play next.

However, I’m also proud of my older son.

My older son, now 13, has started fall baseball. He loves the game and will continue to play as long as he can. I like to go with him to his practices, because I know how much fun he has. However, on Saturday, he had a practice that started before my younger son’s game ended. And, as much as I wanted to go to his practice, I didn’t want to miss my younger son’s first game or leave it early.

But we had an option.

The practice field for baseball is a short walk from where we live. So, we asked him to go by himself. We armed him with a cell phone, a whistle, and a way to get in and out of the house. I knew he’d get to the field fine.

Still, I called the house a few times that morning to make sure. Called to check that he was okay. When I realized that the football game was going to start late, I called him and told him that he would need to walk home. I called to make sure that he arrived at the field. And, when his practice was over and we were still on the way home, I called to let him know that we were headed back. (We arrived close to the same time.)

He had a baseball scrimmage game on Sunday. I was there, keeping the book for his team and cheering loud. The game didn’t go particularly well. But my son drew a walk and scored his team’s only run. I was as proud of him as I was my younger son.

Both my boys are growing up.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Auburn's Biggest Problem: A Lack of Sex Appeal

This summer has seen USC stripped of its 2004 titles. AP took it away a few months ago. The Football Writers Association of America stripped USC last week. And when some Auburn fans hoped that these organizations might award Auburn the National Title, they were disappointed that these organizations have chosen not to make a decision.

Yes, these organizations had a chance to make a call and as the old Steve Martin joke goes, they decided to “punt on first down.” Oklahoma wouldn’t have their loss if they hadn’t played USC. Yes, Auburn was 13-0, but it didn’t have the opportunity. Utah was 13-0 and had a good team. All the arguments for leaving 2004 a blank are out there.

The truth I, though, Auburn was never going to get it.

In 2004, with several teams undefeated, the powers that be chose two of them to play for the title. And Auburn wasn’t in the mix. Cries of an anti-SEC bias rang throughout the South, charges ESPN and others vehemently denied.

There was no anti-SEC bias in 2004. It was a pro-money bias.

You had four universities with undefeated seasons: Utah was out of the discussion due to the conference they played in. That left Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma. Two of these teams had been #1 and #2 the entire season, though Auburn did actually tie Oklahoma for the #2 spot one week in November. In the end, someone was going to be left out. Auburn got cited for its weak non-conference schedule and got left out. That’s garbage. The reason is what I call Auburn’s lack of sex appeal.

Certain universities have an image and that image translates into ratings. It mostly goes with being a perceived “old” power, even if that power has faded. A USC-Oklahoma clash for the title translates into bigger ratings for advertisers then either of those two schools and a match-up with Auburn. And there’s no getting around that. Could Auburn have competed with USC that day? Many of the detractors say that Auburn wouldn’t have had a chance. However, given the SEC’s run of BCS championships, you have to go back a ways to find a year when the SEC lost the title game. One-loss. Two losses. Hasn’t mattered. The SEC walked away with the title.

Money talked. USC and Oklahoma played. Had there been a way to make a profit out of it, I’m sure the AP and the FWAA would have found a way to declare a national champion.

This lack of appeal hurts us on the other side, too. We’ve been good for many years. Unfortunately, this means we’ll never be the trendy conference pick. If a no-power team from a power conference has its lightning year, the analysts jump all over it because it’s fun. I agree. It makes for a heartwarming story. Watching the Auburn-Northwestern game last year, I found myself wondering if it was possible for the analysts to be any more pro-Northwestern. Someone told me later that ESPN used its ESPN-Chicago group to do the game. (That explains it, I thought.)

There are other teams that have this same appeal problem. Michigan State comes to mind. Swap Auburn with Michigan State in 2004 (assuming Michigan State had a 13-0 year that year) and the same thing would have happened.

This “appeal” issue has been around for a while. In 1983, Auburn went 11-1 against what had to be one of the toughest schedules in history, a year in which all non-conference foes were ranked. The homecoming opponent that year, Maryland, was ranked in the Top 10. However, Auburn sat in the #3 slot with Nebraska and Texas #1 and #2 (and Aubunrn having lost to Texas early in the season). When both those teams lost, Auburn hoped to be #3, but discovered that Miami had vaulted them from the #4 spot, having beaten Nebraska in what was for the Hurricanes a home game. Nebraska, with its one loss, dropped to second. Auburn stayed at #3.

An analyst, I think it was Ivan Maisel, once referred to Auburn as the Boston Red Sox of college football in terms of respect. He made this comment prior to the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series in nearly a century. Since then, the Rd Sox have gained that measure of respect they needed.

So it will have to be for Auburn. It will come down to Auburn not having a year where they are as good as the other teams. It will come down to a year where Auburn proves they are markedly better than the others teams. Only then will they have the right to play for the Championship.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Cup of Coffee meets a Child in China

My friend and fellow blogger C.J. Redwine is trying to adopt a little girl from China. Though originally schedule for 2005, this process has now gone on for five years.

Finally, there is an end in sight, but it will cost $8,000. C.J. has asked her friends to help her raise the money. It what she officially titles “Skip a Starbuck’s Day,” C.J. is asking people to forgo one daily visit to their favorite coffee shop and donate the money to help her bring home her daughter. C.J.’s story is below. I hope you will check it out.

From C.J. Redwine…
We had three biological boys in four years and then I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had a hysterectomy and while I mourned the fact that I couldn't have any more biological children, I was certain our family wasn't finished. My husband wasn't so sure. :) I'd talked about adopting and I always saw us with a little girl from China. He came up with a ton of reasons why now wasn't the right time to adopt. Then, on Mother's Day of 2005, he leaned over to me in church and said, "We have a daughter in China. We need to start the adoption proceedings to bring her home." I adjusted to this unexpected news (we hadn't discussed adoption for months) in about 15 seconds. :)

The next day, we began researching adoption and we picked out her name: Johanna Faith. Johanna means God's Gracious Gift and Faith is what it is taking to bring her home. We signed up with Chinese Children Adoption International agency based out of Colorado. We completed our stateside paperwork and homestudy within a few months, sent off our dossier to China with the understanding that it would be a 6-8 month wait, and eagerly planned to bring our daughter home. Soon, though, we began to hear rumors that the wait time was extending. Then we heard that the government had cracked down on orphanages who were receiving money from the state but who weren't keeping all of their beds full and the wait slowed to a crawl. Our dreams of having her home for Christmas were dashed. And then our dreams for having her home in time for summer were dashed as well. Before we knew it, another Christmas had passed and we were still waiting. Meanwhile, the Olympics were coming to Beijing, and the word was most adoption processes would stop altogether because China didn't want unfavorable international attention on their orphanages.

As the wait stretched from 8 months to three years, I struggled with depression. I could hardly bear Christmas, because she wasn't yet there. I shut the door of her bedroom and left it closed because I couldn't bear to walk past it in the hall. It hurt to think about having a child out there whom I couldn't protect. Couldn't love. Couldn't save. Three years became four with no real change. Our homestudy expired. Our immigration petition expired. Three times. Our fingerprints expired. Four times. And China raised the orphanage and court fees by thousands while we waited. Suddenly, the cushion of money we'd fundraised at the start of this process was almost gone and China was picking up speed in their child match program.

In September, it will be five years since we officially started our adoption process to bring Johanna home. We expect to receive her picture, information, and permission to travel sometime by the middle of September.

I opened her bedroom door for the first time in 3 1/2 years.

And we need to raise 8k to cover travel and the cash required to pay the orphanage for Johanna's freedom.

Please click on the picture below to be taken to C.J.’s website. Some wonderful prizes have been donated. The overall post is educational. The feeling is better than an espresso shot.