Saturday, December 31, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot......

This has always been one of my favorite Dan Fogelberg songs, and it's appropriate to share as we bid adieu to another year. It's called "Same Old Lang Syne."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Memorable Sports Images of the Past Century

How many of these athletes can you identify? How many of these moments did you see yourself?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A white Christmas? Not just in my dreams!!

We had a white Christmas at the Finger farm this year, thanks to a winter storm that dropped at least 6" of snow in western Pawnee County.

That's Mom's estimate, at least. I suspect it was more like 8 or 9 inches, if for no other reason than there was still a nice blanket of the white stuff several days later:

I expected snow men and forts and a bounty of snowballs to have sprouted by the time I arrived late for Christmas Eve dinner Saturday afternoon. But the tykes were battling sniffles and coughs and were far more interested in what was under the tree than what was covering the ground outside.

I satisfied myself with a stroll or two through the snow, my footsteps crunching in the thin crusty layer at the top of the powder. I thought of my friend Amy, who responded to a snowstorm that hammered Minneapolis a winter or two ago by buying some cross-country skis. The homestead looked like a siren call to skiers - flat, open and covered with snow!

Somewhere, Dad had to be smiling about this snow storm, bringing desperately needed moisture to a parched region. He never complained about snow, unless it threatened livestock, because he knew what it would mean for the next growing season.

I remember many white Christmases as a child, but they've become less common in recent years. Then again, as Mom put it, "This winter is more like what we had years ago. It's like winter is winter again."

It's easy to feel that way when your Christmas is white.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Remembering those we have lost...... 2011, I offer this poignant music video.

I am not familiar with the music of Ryan Kelly. I think I need to change that.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Odpočívat v Pokoji, Vaclav Havel

I noted with sadness the news of Vaclav Havel's passing on Sunday.

The poet and playwright turned reluctant politician, whose stirring words ignited the embers of opposition to decades of oppressive Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia, culminating in the "Velvet Revolution" in 1989 as communism collapsed across Europe, has died at the age of 75.

Because my mother is of Czech heritage, I have always taken a special interest in what's going on in her ancestral home. I was particularly delighted when the Czechs finally shed the crippling yoke of Communism, and loved my time in Prague while overseas visiting my childhood friend Andy Colglazier in the autumn of 1992.

The writer in me was thrilled when the still-Communist Czech parliament elected Havel president in 1989, even though he was not really a politician. He gave voice to freedom in Czechoslovakia, though, and his words rallied thousands - so he was the natural choice.

He was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and earned numerous other accolades as well. One of them was the Philadelphia Liberty Medal.

I was in Philadelphia on July 4, 1994, with my friend Tammi, when Havel came to the city to receive the medal. We happened to be sight-seeing in the area when we came across the throng that surrounded Independence Hall, where Havel was about to depart after having accepted the honor and delivering an acceptance speech.

Maybe it was the journalist in me, but I instinctively worked my way to the front of the crowd, which was being kept at a healthy distance from the door - and the dignitaries - by grim-faced security.

As Havel emerged from the door, I immediately recognized him from pictures I had seen. I snapped a few quick, blurry photos. Then - and I'm still not sure what compelled me to do it - I yelled a greeting in Czech. Mind you, I know very little Bohemian - picked up from Mom when I was young - though I can read the language well enough that folks in Prague mistakenly thought I was fluent.

Havel apparently wasn't expecting to hear his native tongue shouted from the crowd. He glanced my way, almost startled, and hesitated. For a moment, I thought he might break away and come over to talk to me.

It was a thought that both pleased and petrified me. As I mentioned earlier, I know precious little Czech. But he continued to the waiting limousine and was whisked away.

It is one of my enduring memories of that trip to Philadelphia, New York and Gettysburg in the sultry summer of 1994.

Havel goes to his final resting place a hero in the Czech Republic. Voices of freedom always resonate, regardless of the language or the era.

A stroll through the mall

Hugs and smiles.

Hugs and tears.

They were within a few feet of each other as I walked into Towne West Mall on Saturday night. The air was electric on this final weekend before Christmas.

One woman was ecstatic as she bought a calendar featuring local firefighters, her face beaming as she embraced one of the calendar's "stars."

Just outside a casket store, another woman had tears sliding down her face as she hugged a friend. Obviously, one of them had just lost a loved one.

Even in the midst of holiday excitement, life - and death - go on. I thought of the profound dichotomy of their grief surrounded by almost a giddiness of gift purchasing. Amidst the joy, devastating loss.

As I continued my walk, dodging the shoppers surging pellmell as if on an urgent mission, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair watching wistfully as young children strapped into a bungee apparatus shriek with glee has they bounded high up into the air. She couldn't have been more than 35, and her eyes were a mix of wonder and longing.

Around another corner, I saw a man holding packages as he stood perhaps four feet from the entrance of a women's clothing store. You'd have thought an invisible force field was keeping him out, even though it was obvious family members were in there. But I could tell he wasn't about to enter that mysterious, unsettling jungle.

All around me, children were darting into and out of stores, their harried parents trying to keep track of them. One boy came running out of a store, turned sharply into my path and looked up at me, his startled face wearing the expression "What are you doing here?" You'd have thought we were standing in his living room.

One of the final sights that caught my eye before I left was that of an elderly couple, walking slowly, resolutely. They each held bags filled with purchases in their hands. I wondered how many Christmases they had celebrated together. I wondered how many they had left.

Their pace told me they realized the greatest gift they likely had ever been given was each other.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Photo from wartime Germany a poignant reflection of war's cost

They were somewhere in Germany, early in the spring of 1945. My father, Marvin, is the lanky lad on the far right, facing the camera, in both photos.

The dark-haired man on the left in each photo is Private Lester Dillard, of Pacolet, S.C.

Dad was the only person in each photo who would not be killed or gravely wounded on the front lines - and, based on what he would later share, I estimate he could or should have died about 7 times.

Private Dillard was killed on April 6, his family was told by the U.S. War  Department. Based on what my father shared and official accounts indicate, that would mean it was somewhere in western Germany. He was riding on a tank when another GI was thrown off the tank. The fallen soldier's rifle went off. The bullet struck Lester and killed him.

Dad was on a special mission behind enemy lines on the day Lester died. He was also riding a tank, as the American forces were racing to break up pockets of German resistance. The tank he was on took the corner of a cobblestone street too fast, skidded over a wall and into a deep ditch. The tank's long gun barrel jammed into the ground, bucking several soldiers off.

Dad would have been one of them, but as he flew up his shoulder hit the gun barrel. That smacked him back down on a grappling hook, crushing a testicle and fracturing a vertebra in his back. The back injury would leave him temporarily paralyzed several minutes later as he tried to push forward into a German city. It would also plague him for the rest of his life.

But Dad never mentioned one of his close buddies being killed by a dropped rifle on the mission behind enemy lines, so I am not sure where Lester Dillard died. I'm certain Dad would have talked about it had he known, because Lester was one of his six closest buddies in the outfit.

"We were closer than brothers," he often told me. "There wasn't anything we wouldn't do for each other."

I haven't been able to unearth where Lester was killed, and his family doesn't know, either. I still hope to discover the location, though.

The others in the photo were killed or gravely wounded on April 25 - just a couple of days after Dad collapsed with a bad case of pneumonia and was shipped back to the Army hospital in Nancy, France. He always told us the pneumonia came from the poison gas he inhaled as a result of a booby trap unleashed when he was clearing a building in Bamberg a few days before. His lungs, too, would never quite be the same.

Dad always blamed himself for not being there with his buddies when they were ambushed by snipers in the streets of Augsburg, a suburb of the Nazi stronghold of Nuremberg. "We'd been through a lot worse and made it out," he told me.

"That may have been God's way of saving your life," Mom told him.

I tend to agree with her.

Lester had a twin sister, Lizzie, back home in Pacolet. He was a good boy, she said, nice to folks and fun to be with. But time had dulled her memory so much, she told me late last year, that she barely remembered what he looked like.

When we unearthed these photos in the family archives, I hoped to get them scanned and sent quickly to Lizzie so she could see her brother again after so many years. Sadly, she died in October at the age of 92 before I could get the photos from my sister.

I suspect the twins are catching up with each other now.

At least her kinfolk will get to see Lester in what would turn out to be the final days of his life. Based on what Dad shared, he would have made them proud.

How's that again?

Not enough, clearly......

Friday, December 2, 2011

Curly returns - and settles in

Despite my initial fears that we would never see him again - K-156 is not kind to animals - Curly the stray Yorkiepoo returned to the porch just before nightfall in late October.

We never figured out where he had been for that long, cold day, but he had managed to make it back to the farm. Mom decided to feed Curly and Cocoa, the domineering cat who had spooked him into running, in different areas of the homestead to help keep the peace.

That seems to be working.

Mom would sneak a touch, a few strokes, each time Curly would arrive to eat. He would initially back away, but over time began to trust those hands. He would follow her out to the clothes line when she went to hang clothes. It was there she was able to first pet him for several minutes, checking his fir and his legs for any wounds, injuries or cockle burrs.

On Oct. 30, he was given his first bath. Afterwards, he was so happy he darted into every room of the house, yapping happily, as if to announce to the world that he was clean and happy. We grew up with a strict "no animals in the house" rule, but Mom was willing to bend it a bit for Curly.

She put a quilt in a box and placed it out on the front porch for Curly to sleep in, and would let him come inside for a few minutes at night before he was tucked into bed. He grew to love sitting on the loveseat next to Mom, dozing on a small pillow.

He has responded well to small children, allowing them to pet and hold him without complaint. But he's happiest around Mom. He jumps for joy when she lets him inside, his tail wagging furiously. He doesn't bark unless he wants something - usually to be let outside when he needs to relieve himself. If there have been any "accidents" indoors, I have not heard about them.

He is still guarded at times, especially if any adults other than Mom approach him quickly.

But he seems utterly thrilled to have found a home and a friend. He just seems so......grateful. Happy. Well-tempered. For weeks, Mom talked about finding him a better place to live. Someplace with young children who could play with him. But I could tell Curly was quite content at the farm.

Mom seems to be softening, too. When a sister talked to her about other places Curly could go, she said, "He's fine just where he is."

I think so, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Remembering Les Anderson

On one of my first days as a freshman at Wichita State University, I wandered into Wilner Auditorium in search of my faculty adviser. I had declared journalism as my major, so I was assigned to a journalism professor.

His name was Les Anderson. His office was about the size of a broom closet, and he didn't look that much older than me. He asked about my background, asked to look at my list of courses, said "That looks pretty good. Let's keep in touch." It was all so pleasant, so effortless I wondered if it really counted as a meeting with my adviser.

Little did I know how important a role he would play in my life, helping me grow as a person, a student and a journalist.

While I had declared journalism as a major, and had taken the class for three years at my high school, I knew precious little about what it involved. Pawnee Heights was such a small school we only published the "Tiger Times" once a month - using a mimeograph machine as our production device. That meant no photos, no graphics, no real layout. Just stencils and typed stories in narrow columns and lots of  lines and symbols to separate stories. We had one deadline a month. I wrote sports, sports and more sports, with the occasional news story thrown in there. Then again, the Honor Roll and school lunch menu were considered big news.

That's not to say our teacher wasn't good. Dana Hertel was a stickler on writing well and the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of a good journalism story. Even she wasn't convinced of my journalistic  acumen when I graduated, though.

I'd heard Les was a tough teacher, but I enjoyed his reporting class and began trying to get into every class he taught. As far as I was concerned, he was far and away the best instructor in the journalism program. Oh, my assignments always came back bleeding profusely, with suggested changes or paragraphs marked out as unnecessary. But I understood why he wrote what he did, and he was always full of encouragement.

He owned two weekly newspapers, and chose the best journalism students to work for him - so if he wanted you to work for him, he thought you were good. Sure enough, he asked if I'd be willing to write for the Ark Valley News and Maize This Week. His office was in Valley Center, so I did a lot of commuting for the next two school years. I routinely worked 60 hours a week, covering sports, city council meetings, school board meetings, breaking news -- seemingly everything in those two small towns. Les worked even harder than I did, between running his small farm outside of Valley, teaching at WSU and putting out the two papers.

I was so busy I soon found myself calculating how many classes I could afford to skip each week so I could keep up with all the work that needed to be done. A scholarship I had been awarded mandated that I take 15 credit hours and maintain a 3.15 GPA, so there were always plenty of classes on my schedule. I became adept at quickly making friends in classes and sharing notes so I could pass the courses. Back then, instructors didn't keep rigorous attendance records, or I'd have been sunk.

But working for Les taught me so much that the classes I missed never would have touched. He showed me how to deal with difficult personalities and challenging stories. He showed how you could get along with someone you disagreed with strongly. I can't think of a half-dozen times we argued over changes he made in stories I wrote, because it was easy to see why the changes were needed or simply made the story better.

Yet Les became more than my boss. He and his wife Nancy welcomed me into their young, growing family as one of their own. I was over to their house northwest of Valley Center countless times. The Andersons have numerous "Stan stories" that always give them a laugh. One of them was the night a blizzard was hammering the area and they told me to spend the night at their place rather than risk the drive back to Wichita.

It was snowing and blowing so hard I couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of the car, and when I got out to their place I saw these reflective red lights on a pole that marked their driveway (my parents had something similar). I thought the one light was the far end of the driveway, so I turned in front of it ---- and drove right into a huge snowdrift in the ditch. Les stood watching from a living room window of his house yelling “No! No! No!”

My car was stuck there for at least two days. I was embarrassed, and I still hear about that escapade to this day.

Then there was the time I stayed late to write a meeting story and started to drive home on a rainy December night. Temperatures were hovering just below freezing, and black ice had formed on asphalt and elevated surfaces.

The streets in Valley Center were OK, but 85th Street was a sheet of ice. My Le Mans coupe glided right off the highway into the ditch. There wasn’t a thing I could do to stop it. I walked back to Valley (mind you, it was 11 or 12 at night) and called Les from a pay phone. He picked me up and took me to his place. I slept on the living room floor in front of the fireplace that night, listening on the police scanner as the sheriff’s deputies who found my car were saying “Tell people to stay off the roads --- it’s incredibly slick out here.” “No kidding,” I told the scanner.

I played on softball teams and went to the fall festivals and learned Valley Center's characters and its personality. I had planned to keep working for Les through the summer after my senior year at WSU. I needed 3 more credits to graduate, so I would have to stick around through the fall. But Les called me one Sunday night and said there was an open slot in the WSU interview schedule for Eagle internships the next day. Could I throw together some clips and a resume and do the interview? It would look bad for WSU if there wasn’t enough interest in an Eagle internship to fill out their slate, he said.

So as a favor to him, I did just that. I was happy working for Les. Not really caring how it went, I just winged it. In hindsight, that may have been a blessing, because I was relaxed during the interview. To my surprise, they chose me for an internship with the Eagle. I told Les I was fine with it if he wanted me to keep working for him, but he said, “No, you take that internship. It’ll be good for you.”

 Of course, he was right. After my internship ended, I returned to working for Les while I took the one class I still needed to graduate. One December morning, the phone rang at the news office. It was an editor with the Salina Journal, wanting me to come up for an interview. He had called Les, saying he needed a cops reporter. Les suggested me. I later learned I had the job before I ever walked in the door. If Les said I was good, then that was all they needed to hear.

The Eagle hired me six months later, and I've been there ever since. But I would go to Valley Center often in those early years to visit Nancy, Les and the kids; renew acquaintances with Larry the Barber and Gary the Grocer and Lucy the Printer.

I grew up with a father who seemed to measure a person's worth according to their desire and ability to work on a farm. I never enjoyed farm life, feeling like it stifled my curiosity and intellect. Farm life didn't seem well suited for my interests and abilities.

Les was one of the first people I met who treated me as if I had gifts and abilities of value, not someone who was a burden or disappointment. Only those who have walked similar paths can know how liberating - even exhilarating - that is.

Over time, I became an annual visitor to his classrooms, talking about writing and reporting and stories I had done. He'd call or e-mail me about this or that, and it was always great to catch up with him. But he was always on the go, doing the work of three people. The way so many of my colleagues raved about Les, I knew he had been every bit the mentor and guide for them that he had been for me.

I was startled - but, upon reflection, not terribly surprised - when I learned he suffered a heart attack in December 2009. He was always so busy, pushing so hard, doing so much - for his church, for the paper, for his job at the university - that I long feared he would wear himself out.

Les dismissed it as a minor setback, but I could tell Nancy was worried when we talked about it later. Les began cutting back - at least, "cutting back" for Les. He still seemed to be so busy.

When I spoke to his "media" class at WSU in September, he was his usual warm, ingratiating self. But he looked tired. I fretted about his health.

News that WSU was endowing a scholarship in his name pleased me, and I vowed to attend a roast to raise money for the fund in late October. Something just kept pushing me to be there. It was a great night, and Les was showered with the love he so richly deserved.

It was great to see the spotlight shine on a man who spent so much of his life deflecting attention onto others, encouraging, molding, guiding....

I never dreamed that would be the last time I would get to see him.

The news came abruptly on a Saturday night in mid-November. It's still hard to believe that a man of such energy and enthusiasm had been taken from us so soon.

I'm grateful to have known and learned so much from him. I feel sad for those who never had the chance to meet him.

At the visitation the night before his funeral, I heard a high school classmate and longtime friend of Les' remark, "I never realized he did so much." But that was Les. It was never about him. It was about the students he was mentoring, or the group he was part of. He was the energy that kept things moving, the motivation that kept young people reaching, the force behind so many ideas that allowed us to see things in a way we hadn't before.

As I listening to others talk about Les' impact on their lives, it occurred to me that what drove them was to be the person Les realized they could be - and in so doing became more than even they had imagined. He stretched their horizons, broadened their dreams.

That's not just the definition of a good teacher, it's a hallmark of an effective leader: making those around you better, simply by being yourself.

If Kansas had a Mount Rushmore of journalism, it would be incomplete if Les wasn't included. I doubt Kansas has seen a small-town publisher of his caliber since William Allen White - and I'm sure Les could have taught White a lot, given the chance.

For all I know, they're having some of those conversations even now.

Rest well, Les. You've earned it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When seemingly harmless decisions open the door to tragedy

When I learned an award-winning, beloved teacher from Maize High had died in a zip-lining accident a few weeks ago, I was stunned. And angry.

She was home on maternity leave, and was fatally injured when she lost her grip on the handle bars of the zip line set up on a friend's property, falling 20 feet to the ground.

"How could she be so reckless? So careless?" I thought.

Especially with a 5-week-old baby at home, along with her older children and her husband of less than a year.

But then my thoughts turned to that April day in Utah about 15 years ago, when I was out visiting my youngest sister. Her husband wanted to show us where he took her on their first date - and where he would later propose.

It was in a park, but - this being the Salt Lake City area, surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains - the journey to that spot now fabled in family lore involved a hike. And rocks. And elevation.

Up, up, up the side of a rock face. It didn't seem that bad going up, even though there was no clear path marked - and also no fence or other protection on the edge.

I didn't realize how much trouble I was in until we started down.

Suddenly the "trail" looked more like a remarkably sheer rock face that quickly dropped 30 to 40 feet to the gurgling creek below. This flatlander had no experience at all with rock climbing, and I froze. I made the mistake of glancing down, which only heightened my fear.

"I'm going to die on my first day of vacation," I thought as I gripped the rocks, my legs feeling like cast iron.

I began praying fervently for calm, and clear-headedness, and divine assistance in figuring how and where to safely place each foot.

I was ashamed and embarrassed, because the other three in the group - my sister and her husband, and her best friend Colleen - were waiting for me to start down so they could follow. I painstakingly found foothold after foothold, gradually working down to where the terrain flattened out. It felt like it took hours, though in reality it was only a few minutes.

Once I had reached an area where I could comfortably stand on two feet, Allen and Colleen scampered down the same terrain as if they were billy goats who grew up on the side of the mountain. Hop, hop, foot plant, hop. Done. I felt like a complete idiot, until I realized Colleen had been born and raised in the area and Allen had lived there for years. My sister trailed behind, slowly picking her way as I had.

It was easy to see who was from Kansas in this group. But I also knew that one slip of the foot - or one misplaced step - could have easily resulted in a story about a Wichita journalist killed while vacationing in Utah.

And it silenced my internal criticism/questioning of why and how a tragic incident such as falling from a zip line could occur for someone who clearly had so much to offer and so many depending on her. Maybe she'd done it several times before and never had a problem. Maybe others egged her on, insisting she had nothing to worry about.

I later learned that the actual path to the point where Allen intended to take us was closed because snow still blocked the route, so he led us on another way to get there. It was a route not designed for public use, for what became obvious reasons. He'd had no trouble navigating it in the past, though, and presumed we wouldn't, either.

Fortunately, that lapse in judgement didn't harm anyone. But it so easily could have.

Monday, October 31, 2011

First snow of the season for Wichita?

There's an old fable that says the date on which a city receives its first snowfall tells you how many snows the coming winter will bring.

If it's true, then snowfall won't be commonplace in Wichita this winter. That is, if the forecast for snow flurries on Wednesday - All Souls Day, November 2 - proves accurate.

Then again, if the saying refers to measurable snowfall, then the wait figures to continue for Wichita. The flurries aren't likely to pile up late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

And, no, this photo wasn't taken in southern Kansas. It is just a nice shot of snow I came across. Makes me want to put on some snowshoes, go for a hike and then come back to a fireplace and some hot chocolate!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Introducing Curly

It probably seemed strange to get an "update" on Curly when he hadn't even been introduced here on my blog.

Mind you, I had written a blog post about the mixed-breed poodle with short black curly hair that mysteriously appeared at our farm in western Pawnee County about three weeks ago. I'd even attached a couple of photos.

But it's vanished, so I'll try again.

Something or someone had obviously abused Curly prior to his arrival. He didn't want Mom or me to touch him - or even get close. But somehow he knew this was a safe place to be, because he didn't leave.

He'd eat what Mom left for him, though he would wait for her to go before venturing near the dish. As the days passed, he would let her get closer and closer.

But me he didn't trust at all. He'd eye me from a distance, curious about what I was doing. He'd sleep in the sun on the front porch, and press his nose against the glass patio door, peering inside to see what we were doing.

He even had an awareness of how to pose for a camera, as shown by this photo I took as I left the farm after several days of rest and relaxation. He was about 20 feet away, staring off to the south. I called his name, and he turned to see me standing there with the camera. He plopped down into a shaft of light and looked right at the camera, as if to say, "How's this?"

It's pretty impossible not to grow fond of a pup like that. The question was how long he would stay - and whether he would ever let anyone get close to him again.

Curly takes off

An update on Curly, the mixed breed poodle that wandered onto our farm just a few days before I arrived for some rest and relaxation: He'd clearly been mistreated before he arrived, given the distance at which he kept Mom and me.

Though he wouldn't let us get close, he clearly wanted to stay. He'd sun himself on our front porch and press his face against the glass patio door to watch what we were doing inside. (There has been a longstanding "no pets inside the house" rule at the Finger farm, and that hasn't changed even in recent years)

He hungrily ate anything Mom would offer him - except dry dog food. Go figure.

Whenever I would venture someplace outside, he would follow ---- at a distance --- curious about what I was up to. He even tailed Mom on her various ventures. She began to invite him along whenever she went out to hang or retrieve clothes from the clothesline.

It was there he began to let her pet him. Mom took the opportunity to check his coat and legs for wounds or scars or stickers. She would talk to him, getting him used to the sound of her voice, using a soothing tone to comfort him.

One day, he followed her out to the mailbox, at her invitation. It's out next to K-156, a state highway that sees plenty of truck traffic and other heavy vehicles. Cocoa, the lone cat left on the farm --- it's her farm, she just lets Mom stay there --- also tagged along. She doesn't like Curly, seeing him as competition. She's shooed him away from the food bowl more than once, if for no other reason to let him know who's boss.

Well, while they were out at the mailbox a few days ago, Cocoa spooked Curly again ---- and this time he took off running. West, down K-156.

Mom yelled at him to come back, but he kept going.

She returned to the house, hoping to see him again soon. She worried that he would just keep on running.

I was more worried a truck would hit him, the driver unable to see or avoid that small black batch of curly fur ambling along a strange road. We had lost a number of family pets and other livestock - including Frosty Flyer, our best racing quarter horse, on Christmas Eve one year - so it was more than a possibility.

The hours passed, and still there was no sign of Curly. What had become of him?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stranger Danger: What if it had been someone else?

I was on one of my frequent early evening walks a few days ago when I turned onto a residential street near my apartment complex.

The sidewalks are in good shape, the animals well-behaved. It's a nice stretch of one of my most common routes.

On this day, it offered an unsettling surprise.

I saw the small boy on his tricycle riding on the driveway of his house. He couldn't have been more than 4. As I reached the mailbox next to the sidewalk, he rode up and stopped.

"Give me a hug," he said, reaching his arms up to show he meant it. "I'll stay on my bike."

While I had seen him before, I'd never talked to him or his parents. My heart skipped a beat at his request. While I was touched by his gesture, I also knew there was no way I could grant his request.

"I'm sorry, but no," I told him, slowing slightly so he could hear me.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because your parents don't know me," I told him. "But thank you."

"Oh," he replied.

I wanted to stop and tell him that he shouldn't ask for hugs from people he doesn't know. But I had visions of a parent looking out the window and seeing a man they don't know talking to their son. A call to 911, and suddenly I've got police officers questioning me about a perfectly innocent exchange that from a distance may have appeared to be sinister.

I kept walking, and I thought that would be the end of it. But he began following me down the block on his tricycle. We passed one house, then another. And another. I was about to stop and tell him "It would be better if you stayed close to your house" when he stopped and turned back on his own.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

And yet the incident scared me. What if he asked for a hug from someone else? Someone who turned out to be a predator?

Why wasn't a parent keeping an eye on their son? What's going on that such a young child is asking for hugs from total strangers passing by on the sidewalk?

He didn't appear to be malnourished or bruised. It was likely nothing more than an innocent request from a child who has no concept of the bad things that have happened to other children snatched from the street. It doesn't happen often, police have told me, but that doesn't mean it won't.

Perhaps I was just being paranoid - the result of covering too many tragic stories involving children for the Wichita Eagle.

Yet I found myself awfully tempted to walk up to that door and tell the parents it was time they had a talk with their son about the proper behavior to exhibit around strangers. It may just save them much grief some day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Social Security a Ponzi scheme? Hardly

Maybe Rick Perry didn't do his homework. Or maybe he was trying to score "catch phrase" points when, during one of the countless recent debates among Republican presidential candidates, he called Social Security "a Ponzi scheme."

Perhaps he should have added the phrase, "not intended to be a factual statement."

This isn't a partisan rant. It's just an effort to set the record straight.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, granting monthly support payments to those 65 and older, the life expectancy for those born that year was less than 62 years. While those who made it to 65 could expect to live another 12 years or so, barely more than half the males and just 60 percent of the females reached retirement age due to accidents, illnesses or other causes of death.

Social Security is running out of money because life expectancies have lengthened - and population surges such as the Baby Boom are aging into the system, even as the number of people paying into Social Security is shrinking due to declines in the size of families. There simply aren't enough people paying into FICA to offset what's going out to those already retired...or who will be within the next few years.

A Ponzi scheme is intentional fraud, an elaborate shell game designed to dupe investors. Social Security became a victim of several factors that converged into a costly conundrum.

Are reforms necessary? Without question. But to stain the program with a label associated with a criminal enterprise is either ineptitude in action or intellectual dishonesty on display.

Neither is acceptable - particularly from someone who wants to be president.

"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"

I've just returned from several days out at the farm.

I spent the time gathering information for the family history I'm writing, going for walks and just hanging out with my mother. I'm blessed with a strong relationship with her, and she welcomed the opportunity to just stay at home for a few days and veg. She's 85, yet she has been blessed with good health and is still able to get out and about quite well (despite hip replacement surgery and sciatic nerve issues in recent years), so for her to stay home for 3 straight days was noteworthy.

Someone new is staying out at the farm these days, too. He wandered in a day or two before I arrived, a mixed breed (looks like a poodle mixed with something else) who obviously was abused wherever he was before. He won't let us approach him, but he desperately wanted food, water and warmth. Mom has dubbed him "Curly" for his black, curly hair.

He keeps us at a distance, but liked to keep us in view most of the time. He also took to napping on the front porch, and just watching us through the patio door. (We have had a long-standing rule of no pets in the house....make sure they're taken care of, but none inside. I agree with that rule for many reasons).

Anyway, for all his stand-offishness, I had to chuckle when I took a picture of Curly just before I left the other day. He was looking at something out by the creek, away from me. But when I called his name, he turned, saw me with the camera, and plopped down on the grass in a beam of sunlight. As if he was posing.

See for yourself.

Mom's fussing already about who is going to take care of him when she's off on one of her jaunts to see family or friends - trips that can last several days. Curly may end up at my sister's house in rural Reno County, where she still has a young son and a teenage daughter at home.

We'll see. He's clearly fond of Mom already.....and that makes me smile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Letters from the war

As I sort through the dozens of letters Dad wrote home from Europe during World War II, I gather glimpses of different sides of him - sides that I, as a son, never saw once he returned home.

These are the letters of a son to his parents, of a man in love to his sweetheart, of a brother to the siblings back home on the farm. Different voices, but all from the same man.

In the midst of the carnage of war, he spends much time striving to calm the anxious hearts back home.

With death all around him, he talks frequently of life upon his return to Kansas. It can be easy to forget that he turned 21 in combat. Or that he was a classic foot soldier in so many ways, whose letters home reflected how much even the smallest things could matter when you're under fire in a strange land.

He wrote with enthusiasm about such things as a cup of fresh milk, a bottle or keg of beer, a home-cooked meal or a dry place to get some sleep.

This passage, in a letter dated Feb. 20, 1945 and written somewhere in France, made me laugh. He'd already been in the front lines for nearly a month:

I don't give a darn for their whiskey. They call it comish or schnapps. We use it in our cigarette lighters and it works as good as any fluid so you can see how strong it is."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The walls have ears

I spoke to a media class at Wichita State University today about how journalism has evolved in recent years. I was the one being taught, however, about how much society has changed in the past decade or so. I listened as the students talked before class started about who was texting whom, what they saw on Facebook, and whatever happened to the reviews of the last speaker, which had been posted online? It occurred to me that they would be reviewing my presentation as well ---- and that portions of them could end up online. That meant my audience wasn't just the 15 to 20 students in the classroom, but those who are on Facebook or Twitter (if anyone tweeted my comments) or some other form of social media. Would I say something off the cuff that might end up on Facebook and leave me red-faced later because its context had been stripped away? Talk about motivation to watch one's words....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaching girls to know the difference

"We need to teach our daughters to distinguish between a man who flatters her - and a man who compliments her. A man who spends money on her - and a man who invests in her. A man who views her as property - and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her - and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women - and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man...And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."

I don't know who wrote the above statement, but they nailed it. For years I've told friends the key to solving so many of society's ills would be for women to stop putting up with bad behavior from men - and for men to treat women with the respect, dignity and kindness they deserve.

But so many women seem to be willing to do almost anything not to be alone, and so many men view women as property, as play things to do with as they will.

Over the years, more than a dozen women have wanted to marry me - many simply because they didn't want to be alone. The ink on their divorce papers wasn't even dry yet. Others were simply a matter of bad timing or a "bad fit." Not that either of us was bad, just that we shouldn't marry each other. I haven't given up hope, though I'm sure others wonder if I'll ever "settle down." When the time is right and the person is right, I have faith it will happen.

I've always viewed relationships of all labels as investments. Over time, they'll bear great fruit and grow stronger. That takes effort, and not everyone wants to bother with that. Sometimes, you just have to "let go," and greet the next day...the next week...the next month.

But I've forged countless quality friendships along the way, and to me it seems the only wise way to go.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A harsh winter ahead?

After seeing the squirrels scurrying around like mad this afternoon, I'm suddenly suspecting it's going to be an early - and harsh - winter.

They were on a mission, and my intrusion didn't even disrupt their work. I was on one of my afternoon walks, and usually they high-tail it up a tree. But not today. They looked at me as if to say, "Get out of my way! I'm busy!"

I usually don't see this behavior from the squirrels for another few weeks. I hope I'm wrong, and the squirrels are just getting a jump on storing food up for winter (no pun intended).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What does Jesus look like?

That's a question many artists have attempted to answer through the centuries. I've just learned of one image that's earned a unique endorsement.

Akiana Kramarik, widely proclaimed a child prodigy as a painter and poet, painted this image of Jesus when she was 8 --- from visions she had had of heaven beginning at the age of 4. She's 15 now.

She's been featured on CNN, PBS and Oprah Winfrey's talk show, among others. I first learned of it when reading "Heaven is for Real," an account of the Burpo family of Imperial, Neb., after their young son Colton suffered a burst appendix and nearly died at the age of 3.

After his against-the-odds recovery, Colton began sharing bits and pieces about a trip to heaven and back. His accounts included seeing things he couldn't possibly have seen from the operating room, and seeing and talking to relatives who had died long before he was born.

One of the things his parents noticed was that whenever they came across a painting of Jesus, he would tell them that Jesus didn't look like that. There was always something wrong with it.

Until his father came across Akiana's painting "Prince of Peace: The Resurrection" in early 2007. It was included in a story about Akiana by CNN. Todd Burpo was struck by how similar Akiana's descriptions of Jesus and heaven were to what his son Colton had shared...and that she had grown up with parents who were atheists, never talked about God and had no television and few books in the house.

Todd called Colton down to the basement and showed him the image, asking, "What's wrong with this one?"

Colton looked at it in silence for a long time, his face serious.

Finally, he turned and said, "Dad, this one's right."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My NFL picks

The NFL season got under way Thursday, and hit full stride today. I haven't been as eager as many, perhaps because my Denver Broncos are deep in the throes of recovering from the dreadful McDaniels era.

Or it may simply be that I realize football isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

After all, opening weekend falls on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

But I've made pigskin prognostications for most of my life, so there's no reason to stop now. A strike wiped out the off-season and even early training camps, so there's even more unpredictability than normal as the 2011 season gets under way.

That means my chances of looking dumb with these picks are even better!


1. New England
2. Jets
3. Miami
4. Buffalo

1. Pittsburgh
2. Baltimore
3. Cleveland
4. Cincinnati

1. Houston
2. Indianapolis
3. Tennessee
4. Jacksonville

1. San Diego
2. Kansas City
3. Denver
4. Oakland


1. Philadelphia
2. Dallas
3. Giants
4. Washington

1. Green Bay
2. Chicago
3. Minnesota
4. Detroit

1. New Orleans
2. Atlanta
3. Tampa Bay
4. Carolina

1. St. Louis
2. Arizona
3. San Francisco
4. Seattle

Wild Cards
AFC: Jets, Baltimore
NFC: Atlanta, Dallas
Super Bowl: New England vs. Green Bay
Champion: Green Bay

Jack Buck's 9/11 poem

As a baseball fan, I found legendary St. Louis Cardinals sportscaster Jack Buck's poem touching and profound. Here it is. You'll see why.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sizing up Serie A

Purists will tell you the best soccer (or "football," as they call it almost everywhere except in the U.S.) is played in Italy, that the best tactics and technicians can be found in Serie A.

One of the more compelling arguments for that stance can be found in the World Cup, where Italy has become a world power - winning titles or at least advancing deep into the tournament every four years even when far more talented teams are knocked out. But that argument also seems sepia-toned in recent years, with Italian teams failing to impress in the Champions League or UEFA Cup (or its pale successor, the Europa League).

Perhaps the best way to sum up the Serie A this days can be found in words written recently by Soccernet's Roberto Gotta:

"Almost every year, a match-fixing scandal erupts, leading to point deductions, bans and a general feeling that what we see out on the pitch - especially results from March onwards - should not be trusted in its entirety. The Lega Serie A, the top-flight's governing body, is a fractious assortment of owners and directors who should be sued for improper use of the term 'league' by bona fide organisations like the NFL, as the clear goal of most of them is to create an uneven playing field and a financial divide with the others.
Most games are played in dilapidated, uncomfortable grounds where access is complicated by a general lack of advance information about something as simple as how to get a ticket..."

And yet people are drawn to Serie A, as if to see whether the football fashionistas can craft more sublime play - not unlike checking the runways of Milan to watch for the next stunning clothing trend.

So I'll offer my picks for Serie A this season, which seems to have more teams poised to pursue the prized Scudetto than in many years. At the bottom end of the table, this year's newly promoted teams offer intrigue of their own. And so, without further ado....

1. AC Milan - Milan ended Internazionale's 5-year reign as champions last season, and seem well-positioned to defend their title. With Pato, Ibrahimovic and Cassano up front and Seedorf and Ambrosini feeding them crosses, Milan has the firepower to trouble any back four.

2. Napoli - Shrewd acquisitions have strengthened a team that finished third last season, and Naples could celebrate its first title since the legendary Mardona strolled in the shadows of Mount Vesuvius. This is a team with real flair, but the title could be determined by the strength of the defense.

3. Internazionale - Dethroned and in disarray, no one seems to know what formations the 2010 Champions League winners will favor. Selling Samuel Eto'o to cut the wage bill can't help but make Inter fans fret. The team seems a step slower, too. But there's still a number of world-class players on the squad, though, so Inter can't be counted out.

4. Juventus - A new stadium and a bundle of new faces for the Old Lady of Italian soccer. But will all the changes bring a change in fortune for the titans from the Italian Alps? Historically, such dramatic change doesn't succeed quickly.

5. Roma - Just as Juventus fell on hard times in recent years (relatively speaking) for one of the nation's football giants, Roma appears ripe for a dip in form. A new owner, from America no less, and dissension in the playing staff are combining to drift a cloud over the team as the season gets under way.

6. Lazio - Rome's "other" team seems well-placed to finish higher in the table than their illustrious arch rivals.

7. Udinese - Shorn of much of the talent that earned Udinese a surprise Champions League spot last season, this team is a favorite among pundits to slip to mid-table mediocrity. But I'm reading that coach Francesco Guidolin has recruited wisely, and this could be a better team than expected.

8. Bologna - One of Italy's more successful teams years ago has re-established itself in the top flight. And the Bolognese seem primed for a climb up the table this season by adding quality depth.

9. Fiorentina - Gone are the heady days of the Champions League for the Viola. That won't please the fans, but free-spending ways have to be a thing of the past or the plunge into relegation territory that baffled observers recently won't be just an anomaly.

10. Genoa - An ambitious club that hasn't matched its expectations, Genoa has endured mid-table mediocrity - with the exception of one foray into the UEFA Cup - since returning to the top flight several years ago. There's little to suggest that will change this season, either.

11. Chievo Verona - Any team nicknamed the Flying Donkeys deserves a smile and a casual rooting interest. This team has done remarkably well living on a shoestring budget - having earned a Champions League and UEFA Cup spot despite having only been in the top flight for the first time in its history this decade. Nothing that dramatic this season, however.

12. Palermo - Key personnel losses could see Palermo dive to near the relegation places, particularly if backroom unrest isn't settled soon.

13. Parma - From here on down, relegation worries will linger. If someone were to tell me Parma is relegated, I wouldn't be surprised. They've been up and down more than once in the past decade.

14. Cesena - Remarkably managed to stay in Serie A last season after two consecutive promotions. I'm hard-pressed to remember the last time that happened. Some nice additions should keep the Seahorses in the top flight another year as well.

15. Catania - The Sicilian derbies with Palermo give the Serie A some of its strongest flavor. But Catania appears to be weaker this year, and for a team that has flirted often with relegation that spells trouble.

16. Siena - A promising coach and more steel in defense should do just enough to keep Siena from dropping straight back down to Serie B.

17. Cagliari - Masters at staving off the drop, Cagliari may not be so fortunate this year.

18. Lecce - They try to play attractive, attacking football, but that has led to an awful lot of goals given up on the counter-attack.

19. Novara - Like Cesena last year, reached Serie A after back-to-back promotions. They play attractive football, and may be helped by the fact that the bottom third of Serie A is filled with weak teams.

20. Atalanta - Starting in a 6-point hole due to match-fixing won't help what promised to be a challenging campaign at all. Reggina overcame it a few years ago, but that was swimming against the tide.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This "courting candle" has won my heart

It arrived as a gift from a friend of mine who is an accomplished cook.

A rather large, hefty box, and I was genuinely disappointed when it wasn't an assortment of treats she'd crafted in the kitchen.

It was, instead, this odd-looking contraption that resembled a lariat wrapped around a metal stand. Except the "lariat" wasn't strands of rope --- it was wax.

Google called it a "courting candle," which made for a few good-natured teases of my flustered friend. Back in the Middle Ages, candles such as this were used by a parent to time how long suitors could spend with their daughters. The "rope candle" was pulled through a clip, and the flame would burn down to the metal clasp and die out. Favored fellas were given more time. Unsatisfactory souls were given "the short end of the stick."

I had no such challenges facing me. But beeswax, my benevolent gift-bearer informed me, helps quell allergies. And I am entirely too familiar with allergies.

She loves her beeswax candles, and thought I'd appreciate them as well. She was right. When I'm feeling particularly irritated by the air on a given day, I pull up a longer stretch of the candle. If it hasn't been a bad day, I go with a shorter portion. The candles I have seem to have an aroma resembling vanilla ---- not pungent, not unpleasant. Just fine, thank you very much.

If anything, these candles are courting my nose. And I've learned a thing or three about them over the past several months. If you don't clear some space for the wick before you light it, you might need two or three matches to get the flame to take hold. Cupping your hands around the tiny wisp of flame in its early moments seems to help it take hold.

And until you hear the flame crackle, you don't know for sure that the flame won't die. Why that is, I have no idea. I've just learned that's how this candle seems to work. And darned if that clip that holds the rope candle in place doesn't also put it out. I guess by choking off the fuel supply for the flame.

I'm usually nodding off by the time the flame goes out, so it's a good thing the candle is self-extinguishing.....though subconsciously I must admit I don't fall asleep before the candle is out.

Give it a try sometime ---- you may find your heart....or your nose....won over by these unique candles.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"BC" on EWTN's "Life on the Rock"

Bishop James Conley of Denver (whom countless friends refer to as "BC") is featured in this episode of EWTN's "Life on the Rock."

Conley is the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Denver. I've known him for 20 years or so, when he was a priest in the Wichita diocese.

You'll find Bishop Conley at the 18th minute. I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage with then-Fr. Conley to Rome in 1994 - the year after World Youth Day was held in Denver. Conley invited me to go along because it was a large group of mostly women who had no experience of traveling in Europe. I had been to Europe before, and he knew that.

Everything fell quickly into place for me to be able to go, so I did. It was a marvelous experience. I'll share more from that trip in future blog posts. But it sounds like Bishop Conley celebrated daily "pilgrimage Masses" in Spain --- just as he did each morning of our pilgrimage in Rome. It added such depth and meaning to our journey, our experiences....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A musical interlude

Love this version of "Ain't No Sunshine." Love, love, love it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Some reassuring words about the path to holiness

"The soul that carries within itself the least appetite for worldly things bears more unseemliness and impurity in its journey to God than if it were troubled by all the hideous and annoying temptations and darknesses describable; for, so long as it does not consent to these temptations, a soul thus tried can approach God confidently, by doing the will of His Majesty, who proclaims: Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you [Mt. 11:28]."

Saint John of the Cross

There is solace in these words, for we all struggle more than we'd like...fall more often than we'd like....feel far from God much more than we'd like. Heaven knows I do.

I have heard that the road to holiness is filled with struggle, and these words echo that sentiment.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Prognosticating the Premier League

The English Premier League season kicked off this past weekend. It's the most televised professional soccer league in the world, with the highest ratings. Whether the soccer in the Premiership is better than the top leagues in Spain, Italy, France or Germany is a matter of debate (and preference for style of play).

I started following it about a decade ago when Fox Soccer Channel became part of my cable TV package, and I now have several soccer (or "football," as they - rightfully - call it) fans on my lists of followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook and readers of my weather blog for the Eagle.

It's amazing how markedly the service I received in France and Germany improved when the waiters learned I follow soccer and was aware of their local teams. Football as an international ice-breaker --- fancy that!

Anyway, just as I like to do for the NFL and MLB here in the USA, I make an effort to choose how I think teams will finish each season in the Premiership (and in the Championship, the next tier of English soccer). My friends overseas enjoy receiving them for the abundant laughs they invariably share from the list.

It is a challenge to make these predictions, because teams can still bring in new players (and let current ones go) up until Aug. 31 (think of MLB's trading deadline). That means a team's fortunes could still shift dramatically one way or the other in the coming weeks.

But it somehow seems wrong to wait until the teams have already played nearly 10 percent of their games before making picks and pretending to be wise, so here we go.

  1. Manchester United - the Yankees of the Prem, winners of 19 English titles - more than any other club; they also have an incredibly talented and deep squad and are well-positioned to make a run at 20.
  2. Manchester City - ManU's chief title rivals may be their "noisy neighbors" just across town. City is the wealthiest club in the world, thanks to their oil-rich owners, and have amassed the most talented squad in the league. But will they gel in time to win the title for the first time in more than 40 years?
  3. Chelsea - This London-based team has a weathy Russian owner who splashed barrels of cash several years ago to stack the squad (much like ManCity has done the past year or two) and brought home Prem titles and FA Cups. But that squad is aging now, and a new coach has to navigate the transition to a younger team while still chasing silverware. Tricky task, that.
  4. Liverpool - Once England's dominant soccer team, now eclipsed by ManU, Liverpool is relying on new American owner and old hero Kenny Dalglish as coach to mount another assault on the throne. Likely a year or two too soon.
  5. Tottenham - Another London club, the Hotspurs (think of an angry rooster) finished fourth two seasons ago and enjoyed their first taste of Champions League football (a competition among Europe's best teams, and the biggest tournament in European soccer). But they faded a bit last season and haven't spent much so far this summer.
  6. Arsenal - The "Gunners" just lost one of their best players and may lose another before the end of the month; known in recent years for playing pretty football but not winning trophies, Arsenal looks like it could struggle unless/until Coach Arsene Wenger can stem the bleeding.
  7. Everton - Liverpool's "other" team has a well-earned reputation for punching above its weight and finishing higher in the standings (or "table," as they refer to it overseas) than their resources suggest they should. But shoestrings and pixie dust only last so long, and the Toffees seem far more likely to tumble than to climb - particularly if the injury list grows long.
  8. Aston Villa - One of two teams in Birmingham, England's "second city," the Villans figure to settle near the top of the Prem's "second tier," which starts at about 7th place this year.
  9. Fulham - Another old London club has longtime American striker Clint Dempsey in its strike force. It also has a new manager, Martin Jol, who should steer the Cottagers to mid-table safety.
  10. Sunderland - After a late-season slump nearly sucked Sunderland into the relegation scrap, manager Steve Bruce brought in enough new players to field an entirely new set of starters. Expect an up-and-down season that'll land 'em right around the middle.
  11. West Brom - That's short for "West Bromwich Albion," a club in the western midlands dating back to 1888. A notorious "yo-yo" club (for its propensity to earn promotion to the Premiership only to be relegated back to the second division), the Baggies enjoyed their highest finish in the Prem last season. Manager Roy Hodgson looks to solidify West Brom this season, and for the first time in memory no one is predicting Brom to fall through the trapdoor this year.
  12. Stoke - The Potters had a storied season last year, making it all the way to the FA Cup final, which earned them a berth in the Europa League this year. The question is whether that competition will so tax a limited Stoke squad to the point they'll suffer in league play.
  13. Bolton - The Wanderers had one of their best-ever seasons in the Prem unfolding until a late-season fade. Now, with much of their firepower going elsewhere, they need to find goals from those who are left to avoid a scary slide down the table.
  14. Newcastle - A team in disarray, the Geordies would be favorites for the drop if it weren't for so many flawed teams elsewhere. This team needs more of everything, and those glory days of even 10 years ago seem a sepia-toned memory.
  15. Wolverhampton - The Wolves survived relegation by the faintest of margins last season, and figure to be in the relegation scrap again. I like their additions, however, and they have a decent shot at survival.
  16. QPR - Queen's Park Rangers looked a good bet for relegation before a new owner took charge one week into the season. With a few reinforcements, last season's Championship winners have a fighting chance to avoid an immediate return to the second tier.
  17. Norwich - The Canaries have a solid team for a squad just up from the Championship, and should be able to do enough to stay up this season.
  18. Swansea - A fun team to watch, but frailties in defense will be punished. The Swans should score goals, but they'll also give up a bundle.
  19. Wigan - It's hard to believe Wigan has stayed in the Prem for 7 years now. A late-season surge saved them in their annual brush with relegation last year, but I can't see it happening again. 
  20. Blackburn - Shady owners, a paper-thin squad, little talent, a clueless manager ---- Blackburn's going down.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rocco Palmo talks about why he started the blog "Whispers in the Loggia"

Who, you may ask, is Rocco Palmo? It's a fair question, and one I asked myself when the media liaison for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops suggested I talk to him for a story I was working on a story earlier this year about why so many priests from the Wichita diocese have been named bishops in recent years.

Palmo has a blog called Whispers in the Loggia, which takes a look at developments and issues within the Catholic Church. He was, indeed, a fascinating interview for my story. Trusted friends in the Church have told me some regard his blog as glorified gossip, and thus should be approached guardedly. But I still found it telling that the USCCB official respected Palmo and his blog enough to point me to them.

This television interview offers a glimpse of Palmo's personality and motivations for launching the blog. Watching it reminded me of my lengthy interview (and fact-checking call after the story was written). He's passionate and articulate about the Church and being Catholic, and for that I'll tip my hat.

An eminently avoidable tragedy

As most of you reading this blog likely already know, strong winds collapsed a stage at the Indiana State Fair this weekend, killing five and injuring dozens more. Here is video of the stage collapse, in case you haven't seen it.

Details of how this tragedy unfolded are still murky - separating fact from rumor always takes time in the aftermath. Strong winds have collapsed stages at outdoor events several times in the past few months, so this can't be dismissed as a freak of nature.

There's no excuse for organizers not to have access to the National Weather Service or a private forecasting service to receive detailed information about when and how severe weather may impact a given event. I've heard AccuWeather warned clients in Indianapolis of the gust front's arrival at least an hour before it arrived.

I'm reading that authorities were preparing to evacuate the stage and grandstand in anticipation of the strongest winds arriving at around 9:15 p.m. --- only the fatal gust front arrived nearly a half-hour before the National Weather Service predicted. Were authorities negligent in waiting so long? I have a feeling lawsuits will attempt to answer that question.

I've read that law enforcement officials at the fairgrounds were using radar imagery from their smartphones to help monitor conditions. That imagery may not have been sophisticated enough to show the gust front out in front of the strong thunderstorms. And even if they were, would the officials know enough about meteorology to recognize what that front looked like (or signified) on radar? Most folks aren't.

This year has been filled with far too many examples of people making poor choices when faced with severe weather...and paying an awfully high price for it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The E-trade baby loses everything

We've all seen those commercials of the cool, confident and classy....explaining the virtues of E-Trade. Well, in the wake of this latest round of Wall Street wobbles, the folks at College Humor have created a tongue-in-cheek commercial depicting the baby's reaction as the market takes a tumble. Well, actually, falls off a cliff.

I'm told E-Trade wasn't too happy about the fake commercial and yanked it off YouTube quickly. But here it is, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

An account of the riots in London

Rioters have ravaged London for the past three days, and reports now indicate the riots have spread to Birmingham and other cities in England. The original riots began in the Tottenham neighborhood of London over the police shooting of a man there.

The riots are being fueled by 20-somethings, I'm told by Twitter followers who live in the U.K. Here's an account of a mob striking at a restaurant in London. Scenes like this should send a shiver down the spine, because with economies wobbling you wonder how soon they could happen elsewhere - even here.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

This is a wait I don't mind......much

There was a long line waiting outside the confessional when I arrived at church Saturday afternoon, at about 3:20 p.m. I wanted to go to confession, too, so I took my place at the back of the line.

There were at least a half-dozen people in front of me, and I knew that it could be a close call to get in before it was time for Mass. Some people take only a few minutes for confession....others can take a half hour.

Confession is difficult for most non-Catholics to understand, let alone appreciate. Many Catholics also struggle with this sacrament, mortified at the thought of confessing their sins to a priest --- a priest who likely knows them if they are regular Mass participants.

But I have found frequent confessions to be an integral part of not just practicing my faith, but living my life well. There is something indisputably cleansing and healing about an honest, heartfelt act of confession, and the graces that come from it easily outweigh any human hesitancy about partaking.

I have heard critics say they don't need a priest inside a box to forgive their sins; they can just speak directly to God and get it that way. And while I always encourage people to foster a personal relationship with God, and to talk to Him regularly --- and, yes, asked for His forgiveness while at home or driving or just about my day-to-day affairs --- there's no substitute for the actual sacrament. I'm no theologian, so I can't give a definitive explanation as to why, but I imagine has to do with the fact that the sacrament itself brings special graces because it is a gift bestowed by Christ to his flock via the priest (and articulated in the New Testament).

It's not the confessional itself, because I've known priests who heard confessions at campgrounds, at music festivals, even inside a popular Wichita bar one night (a woman discovered that a priest was with our group after a wedding, and asked if he would hear her confession....he naturally agreed).

I know I'm at my best as a person when I'm able to make it to confession regularly. And that's why I wasn't too upset when I saw so many people in that line on Saturday. If it means so much to me, I can only hope it enriches them as well.

I've heard it said an important measure of a parish's spiritual health is how long the lines are for confession ---- the longer the better. It means the flock is partaking of the sacraments. And I've always thought of confession as a vital one for a person's spiritual and emotional health.

Yes, as the afternoon melted away and the line barely budged as Mass time neared, I fretted periodically that I would not make it in time. If someone's in there for a long time, I figure they really needed it.

I know I have been in there for lengthy spells, often because the priest is discussing something he wanted to ask me -- or because he simply wanted to hear how I've been. After one longer-than-I-realized chat, an elderly woman in line touched my arm and said, "We were getting worried about you." I couldn't help but chuckle.

One particular confession Saturday took more than 15 minutes, and I was resigned to not making it before Mass started. But, with about five minutes to spare, I was able to step inside. There were two others behind me, so I was efficient. No matter how fast or slow you go, however, it has to be honest and genuinely heartfelt, or it won't matter.

To the priest's credit, he waited and heard their confessions, too - even though it meant Mass started a bit late. I'm sure anyone there who has stood at the back of a long line for confession wasn't particularly trouble by that.

In fact, I was grateful he started Mass late, for the sake of those at the end of the line.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It was just another drive home to the farm - until....

.....I slowed to make the turn north onto U.S. 281 from westbound U.S. 50. 

With the changes in speed limits and the deterioration of 4th Street Road from Hutchinson to Stafford County, I found trips home went better by taking K-96 to U.S. 50 nearly to St. John, then U.S. 281 north to K-19 into Larned.

And that's just what I did a couple of Fridays ago, on my way to a few days at the farm and Rozel's 125th anniversary celebration. I noticed the sedan at the stop sign, but didn't think much of it as I closed in on the corner and prepared to turn. Surely they knew better than to come north through the intersection with U.S. 50 until I had finished my turn.

I was wrong.

The sedan pulled out from the stop sign, surprising me. I stood on my brakes to come to a stop, fearing he would hit me if I made the turn.

He never got that far. A truck pulling a trailer slammed nearly full speed into the front passenger door of the sedan, sending it flying into the northwest ditch.

There was a woman in the passenger seat. I found out later her name is Em.

"I could see the look on her face just before we hit them," the wife of the truck driver told me as we watched emergency crews using the Jaws of Life to cut open the passenger door. I had pulled off to the side of the road after turning onto U.S. 281.

"Are you calling 911?" I asked another driver who had also witnessed the collision.

"Yes! Yes I have!" she answered, her voice shaky.

There was nothing the truck driver could have done to avoid the collision. I waited for traffic to part and walked over to the sedan to see what, if anything, I could do for them. Another man had the same idea. Em hadn't been wearing her seat belt, and she was thrown sideways - pinned between the steering column and the driver's legs.

He sat behind the wheel in shock, unsure what to do. The other man who approached the car with me pried open the driver's door and gently tugged him out, hoping it would free up enough room for Em to get out. But she was still pinned.

The car was hissing, the odor of antifreeze strong. I watched for sparks and sniffed for the odor of leaking fuel, praying a fire wouldn't start. Explosions after car crashes are actually pretty rare, but a fire with Em trapped in the car would have grim consequences.

I walked over to the truck when I saw the wife of the driver climb out of the cab.

"Are you OK?" I asked her. "Is anyone in your truck hurt?"

"No, we're fine," she said, obviously shaken, staring at the sedan.

We watched as law enforcement officers arrived and immediately tried to render aid.

"I could see the expression on her face just before we hit," the truck driver's wife said sadly.

Surprise. Fear. Helplessness.

As I returned to the sedan, I noticed Em kept trying to rise up from under the steering wheel.

"No, no," the law enforcement officer next to her said. "Stay down. Stay down."

He didn't want her to further injure herself trying to pull herself free.

The driver, a 30-year-old man I later learned was likely her son, was placed on a stretcher and taken to the first ambulance. He seemed shaken, but - remarkably - not seriously hurt.

Efforts to free Em through the driver's side were proving useless, so the Jaws of Life was brought out.Within minutes, the ambulance crew told the law enforcement officers to notify Wichita and have a medical helicopter launched. She was in bad shape, and needed to get to Wichita quickly. They would meet the helicopter in Stafford.

I gave my witness statement to a St. John police officer, and they told me a sheriff's deputy would be in touch if they needed more information. Em's wails of agony as they wheeled her to the second ambulance on a gurney cut through the muggy summer afternoon.

I had feared the worst when I saw the collision and realized there was a passenger where the truck hit. Her cries were a bit of good news to me, actually, because I knew she was still alive.

The day after I returned to Wichita, I learned from the Kansas Highway Patrol that Em was at St. Francis. A hospital spokeswoman told me she was still alive, but in critical condition. I could tell her recovery was not a foregone conclusion --- but at least she was still fighting for life.

They had been on just another drive, on just another summer day...until that fateful Friday moment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A moment of silence, please......

........well, actually, more than a moment, if you will.

I watched the opening of the All Star Game tonight. I thought it fitting and touching that they held a moment of silence for the victims of the assassination attempt on Congressman Gabrielle Giffords.

It lasted less than 10 seconds. In fact, it seemed like they couldn't get it over with fast enough.

Which, to me, defeats the purpose.

When European sports hold a moment of silence, it's a full minute.

Of silence.

Of quiet.

Of stillness.

It's as if they actually have time to reflect on whomever the "moment" is honoring. Isn't that the point of these tributes?

When you zip through them in a few seconds, there's no time for any reflection. But I fear most Americans actually prefer that.

Don't make me think. Don't make me feel. Don't make me veer from my self-absorbed, attention-deflected existence. Don't tell me anything that's a downer.

In fact, that last sentence may be the key: We want to go through the motions of honoring someone, without actually being depressing about it.

And that's depressing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

8,000 pages

Here are a few photos of the crate of papers documenting the case for canonization for Fr. Emil Kapaun, taken at the "closing Mass" for the diocesan portion of the investigation.

It was so hot during the Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that it wasn't easy to get the wax to cool enough to imprint the seal. I'm glad I didn't wear my black suit!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why It's Important for the Wichita Eagle to run the stories on Fr. Emil Kapaun

I've been reading a lot of criticism of the Eagle recently for its decision to run stories about the review process currently under way to determine whether Father Emil Kapaun (he pronounced it Ka-PAWN) is worthy of being declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

Kapaun was born on a farm outside Pilsen in Marion County and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita. He went on to serve as an Army chaplain in both World War II and the Korean War. It was for his fearless yet humble exploits in the Korean War - in combat and later in a prisoner-of-war camp - that Kapaun is best remembered.

I won't go into those acts of bravery, courage, selflessness and unyielding faith here. You can read Roy Wenzl's stories on the Eagle's website, and draw your own conclusions.

Critics have accused the Eagle of promoting Kapaun's cause, of being an adjunct of the Catholic Church. But they miss the point of the stories entirely. Only two people born in America have ever been declared saints by the Catholic Church (a Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, who died in 1680, was declared a saint in 1980).

The Church's process for canonization is incredibly thorough and time-consuming --- and for good reason. By declaring someone a saint, the Church is stating that the person is unquestionably in Heaven, and worthy of the highest honor the Church on earth can bestow.

Kapaun has already been declared a "Servant of God" by the Church, and before he can be declared "Blessed" (one step below sainthood) a miracle must be verified. Another miracle must then occur (a healing, for instance, in which no earthly explanation for it can be found) for the candidate to be canonized).

In Kapaun's case, three alleged miracles have occurred - in Kansas, no less - and their "cases" are so strong they are being submitted to the Vatican for consideration. The Vatican official overseeing the gathering of documentation has stated each of the alleged miracles is compelling.

Though it took a lot of time and effort on Roy's part, he was finally able to convince all three families to share their stories of the incidents and healings that comprise the alleged miracles. To not tell those stories would be akin to saying a soldier was being considered for the Medal of Honor but not detailing the incident that prompted the consideration.

That would be an injustice to readers everywhere --- not just Eagle subscribers.

Kapaun's story is of a simple Kansas farm boy who yearned to be a priest and from his humble origins went on to live a life that continues to deeply move countless people more than a half-century after his death.

It's a story that should inspire people of all walks of faith, no matter where they live, because it demonstrates how even those with the most ordinary of backgrounds can make a profound difference in the world by how they live their life.

That has a universal resonance to it, and is yet another reason Kapaun's story deserves ---- no, needs ---- to be told.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Do I Learn God's Will for my Life?

It's a natural question for those who believe in God and want to live a life consistent with His teachings. I know I consistently seek God's will for my life. Not just my vocation, but His will in almost every choice of consequence.

No....not what to have for lunch. Or whether I should go to bed at 10 or 11.

But I have sought His will on whether to pursue writing opportunities or whether to pursue certain relationships (or end them); and, of course, whether to take various jobs that presented themselves. To me, it's a natural extension - nay, a fundamental part - of living a faith-centered life.

It's not political (no matter what some talking heads may say), nor is it an afterthought. It's part and parcel of my decision-making process. I came across this blogpost on how to discern God's will while coming to a decision or while enduring challenges in life. It is compelling reading, so I thought I would share it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fe Fi Fo Fum!

Jack and the told by a wee lad.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A view from the top of the World Trade Center

While browsing videos of Depeche Mode, I came across this piece shot atop the World Trade Center in 1990 as a promotion for their song "Enjoy the Silence."

It's poignant to see those towers again......

It also brought back memories of an April night in southern California, windows down, "Enjoy the Silence" blasting on the rental car's radio as I returned from Hollywood to Connie's apartment. It was clear the end was near, and there was little left to say.

 So I did what the song suggested: Enjoy the silence.

Celebrating too soon

And now a story from the nether regions of Italian soccer. It seems the goalkeeper from the team Dro was so intent on celebrating a missed penalty kick in the playoff to secure promotion to the next level that he didn't bother to pay attention to the bouncing orb.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sleepless summer nights

Strange how, on some nights, you simply can't fall asleep.

It's happened to me tonight. I have the next two days off, so I can't say I'm stressing about work. Then again, since this will be Monday, maybe my brain is subconsciously preparing for a work week that won't start just yet for me. I don't know.

So I have made some hot tea....decaf, of the hope that it will help me nod off.

Along the way I have prayed, reflected, pondered friendships....let my mind drift wherever it wanted to go in the hope that I would eventually arrive at eine gute schlafe. A good sleep.

Summer nights can do that to me. They're warm, inviting, alluring in how comfortable they can feel after a long, hot day.

Yes, it's Memorial Day weekend, but today sure had "summer" stamped on it with temperatures in the 90s and a blasting south wind I usually feel in July.

Maybe that's why I can't sleep --- because my body is sensing that shift in the seasons. Already.

Spring, we barely had a chance to get acquainted. Come back soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This is why all tornado warnings should be taken seriously

This video captures the formation and growth of the Joplin tornado. As you will be able to see, it goes from a harmless-looking rope to a massive wedge within a minute or two.

The Hoisington tornado in 2001 was like that, too; touchdown to monster in moments.