Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some vegetable stew on a snowy day

Idle thoughts as a blanket of snow covers the heartland......

Kansas meets Kansas State at Manhattan tonight in perhaps the biggest game in the heated rivalry since the Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament on their way to the national championship in 1988.

Bramlage Coliseum has even been dubbed "The Octagon of Doom,'' for the size and noisiness of its crowds. It's one of the best home-court advantages in the country, writers (and some coaches) are saying.

Sorry, I don't buy it. Frankly, until this year (and a couple seasons ago, when K-State rode Michael Beasley and Bill Walker to its first NCAA tournament in many years), Bramlage was the Octagon of Gloom. About the only guaranteed sell-out was the KU game, thanks to Jayhawk fans who would venture the 40 miles from Lawrence.

Even this season there have been open seats at many games....and it's not like Bramlage seats 25,000. It's just a bit bigger than Wichita State's Koch Arena, if I remember correctly.

Don't get me wrong: I'm certain the atmosphere tonight will be electric, and the fans will do everything they can to help a strong K-State team knock off a KU team that will climb back to #1 in the polls if they leave Manhattan with a victory.

But I'm not going to buy into the "Octagon of Doom" moniker for another season or two. Such titles aren't earned in a game or three. Like good wine, they need to stand the test of time to wear that label.

* * *

I couldn't help but smile when I was watching an episode of "NCIS: Los Angeles" last night.

Was it just a coincidence that two longtime cast members of the now defunct series "The Unit" were in the same episode? I doubt it.

Audrey Marie Anderson, who played "Kim Brown," and Michael Irby, who played Charles Grey, a member of "The Unit," were both in the episode of "NCIS: LA" that saw Chris O'Donnell's character, Callen, reprise a deep-under-cover personna from years before. Irby's role was a distinct departure from his stint as a counter-terrorism soldier on "The Unit."

I was always a fan of Anderson, and I hope to see her back on television regularly.

* * *

About 6 inches of snow fell in Wichita Thursday night and Friday, and it almost seemed strange. Not that it snowed. But that it snowed so......calmly.

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that snow falls sideways in Kansas. Look no further back than Christmas Eve for the heaviest snow of the season to date that brought with it blizzard-force winds.

This latest snow was a powdery affair, with the flurries casually drifting down and coating the landscape almost aimlessly. It was remarkable to watch, when I had a few moments over the course of a very long and very busy day at work.

Here's to more snowfalls like that.

* * *

No surprise why national media's getting such a bum rap from so many folks I talk to these days.

National Public Radio sent a reporter to town to cover at least a portion of the trial for Scott Roeder, who shot and killed abortion provider George Tiller last May. Yet when they reported on Roeder's conviction on Friday, they repeatedly said the trial was in Kansas City.

Really, NPR?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why'd she have to mention hail???

Last July, an old friend returned to Wichita for a visit with family. She goes by Sr. Sophia Grace now, but we knew her then as Kim Huschka.

She worked for WeatherData as a meteorologist before entering a convent in Ohio, where she is working her way through the novitiate process. She loves it there, and I'm convinced she has a legitimate calling to the religious life.

But while we were at a cookout one evening, she mentioned she missed Kansas thunderstorms - particularly hail. They just don't have storms like that in Ohio, she said.

Within a half-hour, thunderstorms fired up and massive hail struck downtown Wichita and neighborhoods just west of downtown.

Including mine. My car was totalled.

I joked with Sr. Sophia that God must love her very much to put on a show like that for her.

I spotted this photo of her with the young children of friends we used to hang out with not that long ago....and thus this little story.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Me and Bob Feller

I watched an interview of legendary Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller on the MLB Network the other night. Feller is in the Hall of Fame, won nearly 250 games during a career that went from the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s, and would have had even more impressive statistics had he not lost four years to World War II, when he served on a battleship in the Navy.

He's over 90 now, still remarkably sharp, and talked about how he grew to love baseball as a kid in a small Iowa farm town. He read The Sporting News every week, listened to ball games on the radio, and read whatever newspapers he could get his hands on.
And it hit me: Bob Feller and I had a remarkably similar way of following baseball as a child, even though we grew up a half-century apart.

The papers we received at the Finger farm had few or no box scores, so I subscribed to The Sporting News. That magazine was a "luxury" I gave myself with money I earned from the humble wages we earned working on the farm. Along with the magazine, I would buy the baseball guides and player registers from The Sporting News. I absorbed those box scores as if there was going to be a test on them some day, reading accounts of games that might as well have been played on Mars.

Sure, we had a television, but games were on the air once a week - on Saturday afternoons. That was the same as not being on the TV at all. Saturday afternoons were always filled with work somewhere on the farm, no matter what time of year it was. The radio was my primary source for "live" baseball: The Royals on KVGB out of Great Bend, the Twins on KSTP in the Twin Cities on clear summer nights, or the Rangers in Texas on WBAP in Fort Worth.

Mind you, I was a fan of the Indians even then (blame Sudden Sam McDowell, not Bob Feller), so as I tuned in whatever game I could get on a scratchy AM radio, I had one ear listening for the Tribe score. Most of the time, they seemed to lose. But it's funny how the next day you'd find yourself hoping they'd nab a win somehow. Youth is remarkably resilient that way...and if you're lucky, you never lose that.

It would have been great to see Rapid Robert Feller pitch in his heyday. His fastball was clocked at nearly 108 in the 1940s. That's faster than Nolan Ryan, widely considered the hardest thrower of his era. I dare say it's faster than any pitcher in history.

I guess I'll have to ask my friends on the online Indians fan chat group who have seen a few more summers than I have what it was like to see Feller pitch. It'll be fun to hear their stories.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some vegetable stew....

Saw an English teacher tweet "Wendsday" for the day of the week. And I don't think she was joking. Sigh.


This may be Wichita State's most athletic basketball team in 30 years....since I was in school there. Jeez, I feel old. But the Shockers this year have the kind of athleticism that reminds me of Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, Aubrey Sherrod and Xavier McDaniel.


KU has the players to win another national title. It's only a question of whether they will play cohesively enough consistently enough to cut down the nets.


This looks like the best Kansas State team since the Hartman era. A strong NCAA run appears likely. Texas looked like a team upon which the crown of "best team in the country" rested most uncomfortably.


What a startling start to 2010 for natural disasters and severe weather. A national cold snap not seen in at least 3 decades. A 7.0 earthquake that devastates Haiti's capitol, followed up 8 days later by a 6.1. Hard for me to call a tremblor that strong a mere "aftershock." Tornadoes that rake the Los Angeles metropolitan area. And we're barely past the midway point of JANUARY.


A Republican wins a Senate seat in Massachusetts? That hadn't happened in nearly 50 years. If the Democrats don't recognize that as a shot across the bow from voters - an early referendum on Obama's first year in office - the mid-term elections will be painful for them.

But both parties need to wake up. All the squabbling in D.C. sounds like children brawling on the playground...or firefighters arguing about the best way to use the water hoses while the orphanage is burning, with the children still inside.


The earthquake in Haiti, the tornadoes in SoCal and now (today) in northern Texas, the traffic pile-up that killed a 3-year-old near Kansas City --- all reminders of how suddenly tragedy can redefine our lives.

It seems so often we get caught up in what we don't have, when we should be focusing on what we DO have - so we can appreciate it more fully. Granted, that's a flaw of human nature, but it's something we should all try to be better at.

The outpouring of support for Haiti is moving, because it tells me that our reservoir of compassion hasn't run dry. If it ever does, we'll be in real trouble.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Tap, Tap, Tap on the Sidewalk

As I was preparing to turn from Douglas onto Rock Island next to the Wichita Eagle building on the way to work this morning...this gray, chilly, fog-shrouded morning...I saw a man just finish crossing Rock Island and reach the sidewalk, heading west.

He had on dark sunglasses, a battered navy blue hat, what looked like faded overalls and well-worn shoes. And he had a cane with him, which told me the sunglasses were more than just an affectation.

With my radio turned off, and the federal holiday making for sparse traffic downtown, I could hear him making his way down the sidewalk.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

He strode with the purposefulness of someone who long ago grew used to letting his cane lead the way. He did not look down or appear uncertain.

I found myself wondering what he could "see" that those of us with sight miss. His answers, I'm sure, would be profound.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ray and Fay

Thursday was the birthday for the other set of twins in the class of '79 at Pawnee Heights. I found myself wondering (perhaps for the first time, remarkably) what the odds are for a class of 28 students to have two sets of twins in it...and how many other classes of that size had two sets of twins in it.

Ray and Fay were two of the nicest people you could meet anywhere. Yes, they were shy, but (like most shy people) once they felt comfortable with you they opened up.

They both still live out in central Kansas; in fact, I think Ray now lives in the house where he grew up. Fay teaches at our old high school. She admitted to me the summer before she started that job that she feared it would be too strange to teach there after having matriculated there, but she told me late in that school year that it had gone well.

Ironically, their mother and my father dated for a while in high school, and Mom has told me more than once that after she met Dad she was convinced those two would marry and she'd never have a chance to date him. Obviously, things worked out differently.

I've never asked Ray and Fay if they have the uniquely strong connection many twins have. Heck, I'm not sure if Steve and I have it, although we do seem to be able to get more said with fewer words than most people. It's as if we know what the other will say even before they say it, and we just advance the conversation accordingly.

But more on that another time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti's heartache

I don't know how you can look at the images emerging from Haiti and not feel a panoply of emotions.

Shock. Sadness. Almost numbness, when I think about the horrendous loss of life from the earthquake and what the recovery effort will require.

When devastation is that complete, recovery comes in small steps. Shelter. Food. Water. Sanitation. Identifying and burying the dead.

The steps have to be small, or the task becomes overwhelming.

I don't have any patience for the chirping of folks such as Pat Robertson, who says Haiti's being punished for something that happened a couple hundred years ago. Haiti needs healing, not hot air.

The irony is that in the Bible, it was a long-held belief among Jews that when bad things happened to people it was God punishing them for sins - quite possibly the sins of their fathers. But Jesus preached that sometimes bad things just happen, and it's not meant as punishment for the victims.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying "Preach the gospel always. If absolutely necessary, use words."

Haiti doesn't need scoldings. It needs help.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A bookstore closes

Any time a bookstore closes, I feel a sense of sadness. One more outpost for the intellect, one more corner of creativity, slides into the abyss.

Granted, this was a Waldenbooks tucked into a corner of a large shopping mall - not exactly The Little Bookstore Around the Corner swallowed by the massive bookstore chains. Perhaps that's why my sense of disappointment quickly gave way to the bargain hunter in me when I saw the signs announcing that everything in the store was 50% to 70% off.

So after getting a couple of laps in around the interior of the mall as per my physical therapy instructions, I started ruminatin' over what remained on the well-picked-over bookshelves. About 20 minutes later, I walked out with seven selections. Mind you, I fought off the temptation to nab a half-dozen more.

My choices:

Rain Gods, by James Lee Burke

Burke was my creative writing prof at Wichita State University in the spring of 1980, and he's become a world-class novelist. I'll pick up anything he writes, because he writes with such grace and power. Some of his passages are positively lyrical, and reading him seems to encourage me to turn loose of the reins in my own writing, and let the muse gallop.


Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving

I've heard strong reviews for Irving's latest novel. It joins two other Irving books on my shelf: The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. Both of those books have garnered wide acclaim, though both rambled endlessly at times and left me feeling disatisfied at the end. Still, I'll give a man considered by many a literary giant of the 20th Century another go - especially at 50% off.


The Given Day,
by Dennis Lehane

I'm not familiar with the author, but the premise of the book - two families grappling with a changing America just after the end of World War I - intrigued me.


by Marilynne Robinson

It won the Pulitzer Prize. I want to see why.


Light from Heaven,
by Jan Karon

The finale of the beloved At Home in Mitford series. I've gotten most, if not all, of those books for Mom, so it was a no-brainer to add this one to her collection. I've been told by some who have read my fiction novel that it compares favorably to Karon's works. Given how well the Mitford series has done, that's high praise.


The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perotta

I've read some of Perotta's essays, and I was intrigued by the plot of this book. Again, at 50% off, I thought, "Why not?"


The Scarpetta Factor,
by Patricia Cornwell

I have a couple of Cornwell books in my collection at home, and liked the premise for this book, if for no other reason than I've found myself interviewed by national media types in connection with major breaking stories as well (as the main character apparently is in this book, according to the dust jacket).

And there you have it. Of course, now I need to figure out how to make room for them on my bookshelves, which are overflowing as it is. But that's a task for another day.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Oh Christmas tree.....

......well, I have taken down my Christmas tree for 2009.....earlier than normal (I wait 'til the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6) but I needed to make room for the replacing of my patio screen door, which was shredded by the Great July Hail Storm of 2009.

I have an artificial tree, and it looks pretty nice for a fake fir. Someday, perhaps, when I have a house with a sizable room in it, I'll be tempted to put up a real tree again. This'll do for now, tho.

An empty canvas

It's a new year.......not a new decade, as so many people suggest.....but at the moment 2010 is an empty canvas awaiting the painter's brush.....a field of newfallen snow poised for the first footprints.

What will the portrait of this year look like when the brush is placed back in the easel for the last time 364 days from now? Will it be one we want to hang on the wall, or put in the corner of the garage with other years we'd rather not think about?

That, of course, is a trick of the mind. Our years are not separate entities, but a collage of sights, sounds, experiences and events.

Nevertheless, a sense of curiosity is unavoidable ---- and good, for that matter.

I realize I haven't been blogging as much in recent months. Part of that is I'm so busy with work these days. I'm also trying to get some writing done on the family history.

But primarily it's because when I've had an inspiration for a blogpost I haven't been in a position to write it; or it's something I decide not to do for a variety of reasons.

I'll try to devise methods which allow me to store those ideas and tap into them when time allows.

In the meantime, here's wishing you a wonderful New Year!