Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hear ye, hear ye

At long last, Casey's Column is now equipped with audio.
Now you can listen to the blog wherever you are, and you don't even have to click the great audio button I once spent several hours making.
What is this new development, and how do you take advantage of it?
Keep reading, or listening, to find out.

If you are especially observant -- or really drawn to new buttons on Web sites -- you may have noticed the small, but great-looking button labeled "Listen Now" neatly tucked beneath the title of this and every other post published on this blog.
Some of you might have even taken some initiative and clicked it.
If you are one of those people, the I-wonder-what-this-button-does crowd, you are undoubtedly hearing a voice, and the voice you are now hearing is reading the same words you are, in a semi-human, semi-robot tone.
Your ears are being treated to this grand experience thanks to a great Web site called Odiogo.com.
Odiogo is a free service that converts written text, such as Casey's Column, into audio files which can be listened to straight from the blog, added to iTunes or simply downloaded to your personal MP3 player.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to this service, and what kind of newly-employed journalist would I be if I didn't report both of them to you?

Here are the advantages I have noticed since enabling audio content on my blog 30 minutes ago:

1. I finally have an audio function.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that I was determined to become a star in the blogging universe, and to do this I knew I needed to have good content, but I also needed a way to get my writing to more people in today's on-the-go generation.
So, I sat out to turn my blog into a podcast, which would be accessible whenever and wherever people wanted to listen.
I had some experience in podcasting before I began writing this blog, and I knew the work that went into it.
I made a nice audio button using Photoshop, and a new page to store my podcasts on the site.
Then, I promised you, the readers, I would record my blog posts and publish them there for you to listen to at your convenience.
It was then I remembered the work that goes into making and maintaining a quality podcast, which is why the Audio page on this site is still barren.
However, as of tonight, I have made good on my promise to provide portable content, and it was easier than I thought.

2. Odiogo is free, and takes almost no effort on my part.

The service costs me nothing, which is great since I don't start my new job until next month.
Once I signed up for Odiogo by entering my blog and e-mail addresses, I was given the code for the Odiogo button, which I added to my blog.
Then, it was done.
Now, each time I post, the words are converted into an audio file and an on-site player is automatically placed underneath the title.

Those advantages alone are worth signing up, but I have noticed some disadvantages as well.

1. The voice is semi-robotic, and some of the words aren't pronounced correctly.

Unfortunately, the voice reading the words I have written is not my own, and sounds somewhat like the gold robot from Star Wars.
Yes, I know his name, but I didn't think the voice would be able to say it.
The voice also struggles pronouncing certain names and words properly.
For example, I once wrote about the man who now plays quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
When I listened to the post today, the voice pronounced his name "favor," and I realized in order for the name to be read correctly, as in Farve, I had to spell it F A R V E, which is annoying, incorrect and offensive to football fans everywhere, including myself.
I couldn't even add proper punctuation to indicate spelling because you would have heard the word "dash" between each letter, which is annoying, incorrect and offensive to listeners everywhere, including myself.

2. Listening to the post doesn't always guarantee the full experience.

Most bloggers write with a certain style or feeling, and sometimes the voice doesn't translate that style as well as hearing a human read, or reading for yourself.
Also, some bloggers post pictures in their blogs, or links that make what they've written more understandable.
When you listen to a blog, you miss that information.
I encourage you to listen to the posts when you need to save time, but always come back and read them if you don't understand something, because chances are good the information you need is in the post, but lost in translation.

I am happy to finally be able to offer an audio version of my blog that is easy for both me, the author, and you, the reader or listener.
I hope this proves to be an enjoyable way for you to keep up with the blog.
Be sure to come back, because you never know what you're gonna hear.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A good story for bad days

I'm not sure why but I have had an unusually long string of bad days lately.
I didn't believe it was possible, but today I found out there is some truth to the old saying that no matter how bad things get, there's always someone worse off than you.

I was almost certain I could easily disprove that statement using evidence from the past week alone, so I decided to ask a friend of mine what songs he would recommend to someone who was fairly sure they were on the way to breaking the record for the most bad days in a row.
He gave me quite a few songs, which helped a little, but something else happened while we were contemplating life via Facebook chat.
I was reminded no matter how long my seemingly endless streak of bad days drones on, I'll never be as bad off as Job.
For those who may not know his story, Job is the man whose record I am unfortunately chasing, but fortunately will never come close to.
Job's biography can be read in the book of the Bible that bears his name, but for time sake I'll just hit the lowlights highlights.
Job was a very wealthy man.
Satan thought he could make Job curse God by causing horrible things to happen to him.
God let him try, and in one day...Satan saw he couldn't get to Job through his wealth, so he asked God to let him cause Job pain.
God let him try, and in one day...
This went on and on -- for 42 chapters -- but Job didn't curse God, though he did eventually start asking Him some interesting questions, and got some even more interesting answers, but that's another story.
The point is, Job had some rough days, and he got through them and came out of them in better shape than he was before.
So, I choose to look at my seemingly never-ending string of bad days as a chance to grow, and, when they are over, I'll be better for having gone through them.
While I'm waiting for the string to stop stretching, I'll just listen to those songs my friend recommended.
I think I'll call them the Job mix.
Read more!

Monday, October 12, 2009

On typing and tests

This is weird, and I don't know what to think about it.
I am typing this post with a new keyboard in an effort to improve my typing speed, so I can, in turn, improve my prospects for employment.
There are several things wrong with this situation -- none of which are likely to get better as a result of this new contraption -- which I will explain as soon as I find the backspace key.
My situation is as follows:

* I have a four-year degree from a reputable university whose football team occasionally plays on ESPN, and, according to its advertising campaign, has several outstanding alumni, including a NASA astronaut and DeMarcus Ware.
* It took me almost five years to get said four-year degree, which is doing me little good right now since jobs in my field of study are either nonexistent or located in Barrow, Alaska.
* So, I searched high and low for alternate means of employment, and found what would be a good job with benefits and a nice chair.

This sounds great, I know, and it would be if I weren't required to pass a typing test.
I have tried on three separate occasions to pass the required test, which consists of re-typing as many fabricated business letters word-for-word as one can in a five-minute period.
Sounds easy, right?
It probably would be if I could type with a little more speed than it would take to mail a letter from Alabama to North Dakota using the Pony Express.
I've failed the test three times and counting so far, and -- to the facilitator's shock and amazement -- have managed to get worse each time.
So, grasping at straws, I switched keyboards.
I am trying to get used to the new one, but I don't think it will help, and here's why.

1. Some of the keys, namely the letters, are huge.
This would have been perfect if I were Paul Bunyan or Mr. Magoo.

2. The keys are loud.
Every time I use this keyboard it sounds like I am breaking up a parking lot with a jackhammer instead of typing a sentence.

3. Some of the keys are smaller, and in the wrong place.
Every time I try to hit "Shift" to use a capital letter, my cursor winds up in the "Labels for this post" box, costing me valuable time.
Presently, I have accidentally hit "Tab" 156,665,434 times, and it has taken me an episode of "Gilmore Girls," two episodes of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and half an episode of "That 70's Show" to type this post.

Wait a minute, it usually takes all those and two episodes of "That 70's Show" for me to type a post.
Maybe this thing helps after all.

Read more!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pigskin Points: Week Two

Week two of college football is in the books, and an intriguing story was written between the yard lines.

A Tale of Two Freshmen

Chapter One

One program is in the best of times, one is in the worst.
One is in an age of glory, the other in an age of questions.
The times -- as always -- are uncertain, but one program can see a clear path ahead, while the other is just able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The first program is, of course, USC.
The classic stalwart, USC is one of the standards of the game, and has been a sure bet to be in the title hunt since Pete Carroll's arrival in Pasadena.
The other is Michigan.
A once-proud program filled with tradition and passion, Michigan has fallen on hard times in recent years.
Long-time head coach Lloyd Carr left in 2007 after the Wolverines finished 9-4.
Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez away from West Virginia, and things were looking up in the Big House.
They wouldn't look that way for long.
The decline was swift and terrible.
The Wolverines went 3-9 in Rich Rod's first year as the head Michigan man, the worst record in the program's 129-year history.
Then came the off-season.
And the questions.
And the emotions.
Now, however, the season is two weeks old and the Wolverines are 2-0, thanks in large part to a man named Tate Forcier.
Forcier happens to be Michigan's quarterback, and he also happens to be the first of the two freshmen in our tale.
The Wolverines desperately needed a win against rival Notre Dame to prove to fans and opponents alike they are, in fact, on their way back.
The entire team made that happen Saturday, besting the Irish 38-34, and Forcier proved he has what it takes to strap on one of the most classic helmets in football and butt heads with anybody.
Forcier had a good day throwing the football, completing 23-33 passes.
Two of them went for touchdowns, including the game-winning five-yard toss to Greg Mathews.
Forcier was unflappable on the final drive.
He's a freshman, who, -- in that moment -- played not like a senior, but like a pro.
Now, at least for a week, Big Blue is back.

Chapter Two

Matt Barkley is apparently USC's present-day version of the Trojan horse.
The Trojans infiltrated the walls of Ohio State's Horseshoe and rode the freshman quarterback to a huge win.
Before the game, Barkley said he was ready for the test and up to the challenge.
Afterword he admitted he was nervous.
If he was, he didn't play like it when it counted.
Comparing present players to those of the past is not uncommon, but it is sometimes difficult to see where those comparisons come from.
After Saturday, it's safe to say people have yet another reason to compare Barkley to a certain Hall-of-Famer.
There are similarities, you know.
The confidence.
The poise.
The talent.
Now there's one more to add to the list.
In the first road game of his college career, in front of thousands upon thousands of hostile fans, Barkley engineered a Drive of his own.
With his back to the Buckeye student section, from the shadow of his own end-zone, Barkley and the Trojans began a classic series that ended when Stafon Johnson walked into the end-zone without being so much as grazed by a Buckeye.
The Trojans converted the two-point try and then the defense stifled Terrelle Pryor's attempt at a game-winning drive.
The night belonged to Barkley and the Trojans, and surely there will be many more like it to come.

On Saturday, two freshmen proved they were ready, willing and able to lead their teams.
In doing so, they each accomplished a far, far better thing than anyone expected -- except them.


If you've been looking for a good college football blog to keep you up-to-date on everything happening on the gridiron this season, look no farther than 4th and Goal.
4th and Goal is a comprehensive college football smorgasbord, complete with the weekly AP Poll, predictions for games and things learned each week.
It's full of useful information, insights and opinions from a man who knows what he's talking about.
If you don't believe me, just look at his Upset Calls record so far.
4th and Goal will be updated frequently, so be sure to check back often, and stayed tuned next week for the third edition of Pigskin Points.
Read more!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pigskin Points: Week One

The moment has passed, the day has dawned and gone.
Football season has officially begun, and what an opening week it was. Handshakes and brawls, underdogs and upsets, week one had it all. Here are some of my observations from the first weekend of meaningful football.
1. Greg Paulus is a freak of nature.

The former Duke point guard traded sneakers for shoulder pads Saturday, and nearly did something remarkable.
If not for a heartbreaking interception in overtime, Paulus would have led the Syracuse Orange to a victory in his first football game since he won the New York state title in 2004.
That's right, Paulus nearly led a team that finished a paltry 3-9 a year ago to a win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who will make a serious run for a Big Ten title thanks to the seemingly deadly combination of quarterback Adam Webber and wideout Eric Dekker.
Syracuse may have lost Saturday, but something else happened, too.
As Paulus and the rest of the Orange walked into the locker room, fans applauded their efforts.
The paper bags have come off their heads, and they have begun to see the light at the end of the Syracuse Dark Ages.
The mixture of a new coach and a new quarterback who plays like a point guard has ignited a spark in the once-proud program.
Sure, it was only one game, and we are talking about Syracuse.
Sure, it was apparent Paulus had grown used to facing defenses comprised of five men waving their arms in his face instead of 11 men trying to plow him into the ground and leave cleat marks on his chest.
Paulus was rusty, but who wouldn't be?
The fact he can return to football and play at such a competitive level after four years away from the game is commendable, and it will be an interesting storyline in an already interesting season.

2. Sportsmanship handshakes will not be tolerated.
I'll start this point by saying I am 100 percent in favor of anything having to do with sportsmanship in any area of athletic competition.
That said, there are certain things -- like the new mandated pre-game handshake -- that begin with good intentions, but end with an astonishing example of irony.
Thursday night, in just the second game of the 2009 season -- and the second one showcasing the sportsmanship handshake -- Boise State bested Oregon and removed what was probably its biggest obstacle to another undefeated season and perhaps a berth in the BCS.
The win was an important one for the Broncos, but it was overshadowed by some unfortunate post-game actions.
Boise State defensive end Byron Hout was sent buckling to his knees after Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount landed a punishing right cross to his jaw.
Blount then unleashed a flurry of punches upon his own teammates, who were trying to restrain him.
The scuffle got worse after the play was repeatedly showed on the jumbotron in Boise, angering fans.
The fans began to taunt Blount as he headed toward the locker room, and Blount suddenly vaulted toward the stands before being dragged away by an Oregon assistant and a policeman.
Blount apologized after the game, and later called Boise State to apologize to Hout and Boise State head coach Chris Petersen.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly suspended Blount for the rest of the season, but allowed him to practice with the team.
Petersen said the team dealt with Hout privately, but he was not suspended.
I think Hout should have been suspended for at least a game, because there's no room for the particular type of talk on the football field or anywhere else for that matter.
However, his actions did not warrant the punch he took.
Being a sore winner is forgivable.
What Blount did was inexcusable.
He embarrassed himself, his school, his team and his coach, who was making his collegiate coaching debut after serving several years as the Ducks' offensive coordinator.
Some have said the incident will overshadow anything Kelly is able to accomplish at Oregon, but I applaud the way he handled the situation.
He acted swiftly and severely, but refused to "kick (Blount) out on the street."
Blount was allowed to keep his scholarship and continue to practice with the Ducks.
Kelly said his decision not to remove the running back from the program completely was an effort to help Blount turn his life around and be part of something structured.
I have nothing but respect for Kelly after hearing him say those words, and I wish him nothing but the best as the Duck's coach.
I wish Blount the best as well, but it is possible Thursday's incident might generate even more consequences for the Oregon running back.
An NFL scout told Todd McShay, an ESPN draft expert, Blount's actions may have rendered him undraftable.
Blount is an obvious talent on the field, but I hope he can get his act together off of it.
After all, as he has surely found out, there's more to life than football.

3. The SEC is on fire, the ACC is melting.
This weekend once again proves what everybody already knew.
The SEC once again is one of the best, if not the best, conferences in football.
SEC teams went 11-1 in the first week.
Georgia suffered the lone setback, a 24-10 loss at the hands of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater.
The Bulldogs offense appeared to be in a weakened state, much like the immune system of senior quarterback Joe Cox, who battled flu-like symptoms all week before making his first start.
The Cowboys were strong on both sides of the ball, and look like they might be a force in the Big XII this year.
Alabama racked up 498 yards of offense and looked good in the final quarter of its 34-24 win Virginia Tech, although it will have to block better and stop shooting itself in the foot, or it might to be a long year in Tuscaloosa once the Tide reaches conference play.
Auburn had little trouble beating Louisiana Tech 37-13 in the opening game of the Gene Chizik era, and Lane Kiffin enjoyed a 63-7 thumping of Western Kentucky in his first game on Rocky Top.
The ACC, on the other hand, enjoyed very little about the first week of the 2009 season.
The conference had a dismal 4-6 record last week, and two of those losses came at the hands of FCS teams.
Virginia was upended by William and Mary, and Duke was bitten by the Richmond Spiders.
Virginia head coach Al Grough's seat is hotter than a desert in July, and Duke is well on its way to fulfilling everybody's expectations.
Even the football players are counting down the days until basketball season begins.
Virgina Tech turned in a gutsy performance against Alabama, despite giving up 498 yards of offense to the Tide.
If you asked me to size up the ACC following the first week of the season, I'd have to say it appears to be a three-horse race.

Here are the bests and worsts of college football week one:


VIRGINIA loses to WILLIAM & MARY 26-14
I picked this game as the worst upset not to offend the Tribe, they gave great effort and deserved the victory.
However, no one saw this one coming.
Duke was also upset by an FCS team, but that's not nearly as unexpected.
One game into the 2009 season, the Cavilers are on the way to a disappointing year.
Let's hope they can rebound, or they'll be rebuilding in no time.



The Gators were a 73-point favorite going into the contest, and yet someone chose to air it on television.
This was, as expected, a beatdown of epic proportions, and I believe another game, a closer game, would have been more interesting to see than a huge blowout.
I understand the Gators are number one, and TV time comes with the lofty ranking.
I also understand the desire to watch a former Heisman winner and arguably one of the best players to ever play the college game throw touchdown passes like he was tossing beanbags and run over linebackers and safeties like they were cardboard cutouts, but that's what SportsCenter is for.
Tim Tebow left the game after the first quarter, and the Gators squeaked by the Buccaneers 62-3.


This one's a tie.
Notre Dame and Charlie Weiss needed a good performance to kick off the season, and that's exactly what they got against Nevada.
The Irish won 35-0, and may be a little better than last year.
We'll find out in a hurry, when they play Michigan in week two.
The Wolverines were probably anxious to take the field following a drama-filled off-season complete with investigations into how head coach Rich Rodriguez runs his program.
Maybe it was the chance to wipe the slate clean and forget last year's abysmal 3-9 record, the worst in school history.
Whatever the reason, Michigan got off to a good start this season, thumping Western Michigan 31-7.
These two teams will tangle in Ann Arbor Saturday, so something's gotta give.


This was a great one throughout, and the finish didn't disappoint either.
However, I have a question for the Navy coaching staff.
Why in the world would you, Navy, attempt a pass on a two-point conversion to tie a game in the waning seconds?
You boast one of the best option offenses since the straight wishbone, and you threw a pass on that play?
Sure, everybody in the stadium knows what you're doing when you run, but they sure have a heck of a time stopping it.
Your quarterback, Ricky Dobbs, can throw, that's for sure, but you have a running offense.
Please use it from now on, especially when you need two yards to tie a game in the Horseshoe.
My heart sunk when Dobbs lofted that pass toward what he thought was a waiting Midshipman in the end-zone, but turned out to be two Buckeyes, one of which picked the ball off and took it to the house to seal your fate.
Close, but no cigar.



When it rains, it pours.
Oklahoma lost its first game and its Heisman-winning quarterback on the same day last week, and now comes the news the Sooners must do without go-to tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Gresham's season is done before it started.
He underwent season-ending surgery before he could attempt to win the championship he wanted.
Bradford, on the other hand, should return from his sprained shoulder within two to four weeks, and that return couldnt come soon enough for the Sooners.
BYU vaulted to number nine after the upset, and has a chip on its shoulder.
The Cougars are looking for respect, and if they keep playing like they did Saturday they just might get it.
The Cougars are a strong football team, and they are on the prowl for a much-coveted spot in the BCS.



The last game of Kickoff Week 2009 was a classic rivalry game, and one that will be talked about and remembered for some time.
The game see-sawed back and forth several times, and was not decided until the final play.
This game was so good I recommend you watch the highlights for yourself.
What a finish.
The one thing I didn't understand -- and this wasn't included in the highlight reel, so you'll have to take my word for it -- is why FSU tried to shuffle players in and out of the game with forty-nine seconds left without taking a timeout.
When Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder finally took the next snap, there were just nineteen seconds remaining.
That's thirty seconds of wasted time, and it turned out Florida State really needed that time.
It was not to be for them Monday, but watch out for the Seminoles later on this year.
Earlier I said the ACC looked like a three-horse race.
Here are the other two thoroughbreds, and they're leading the way out of the gates.



They're calling it the Collision in Columbus, and here are some reasons you won't want to miss it.
1. Ohio State will be fueled by the revenge factor.

The Buckeyes took a 35-3 thrashing in L.A. Colosseum last season, and they didn't like it.
Look for them to be fired up as they go for a win in the Horseshoe.

2. USC's Matt Barkley makes his road debut.

For the first time in history, the Trojans starting quarterback is a freshman.
He looked sharp in USC's season-opening win over San Jose State last week, but they're not Ohio State.
It's going to be loud and hostile, and it'll be interesting to see if Barkley can maintain the poise he showed last week.
Welcome to big-time college football, kid.


The best college football article I have read this week is ESPN.com columnist Pat Forde's "Forde Yard Dash."
Better known as The Dash, Forde goes through the 40 biggest headlines in college football.
This week's Dash has an interesting breakdown of conferences, plus Forde's latest Dashette.

Enjoy the games this week, and stop by later for next week's Pigskin Points.

Read more!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Football Fever: Diagnosis and case number one

I'm sick -- and I'm not just talking about the cold I've had for a week(The one that attacked me in the night with enough ferocity to kill a lesser man and slightly harm Chuck Norris).
I'm talking about Football Fever.
Football Fever is a condition I have suffered from since childhood.
It's main symptom is an uncontrollable desire for any and all information relating to football, and it usually lasts from the time recruiting information starts pouring in in January until toe meets leather sometime in late August or early September.
At the moment I sit here typing this post, there happens to be 16 days, eight hours and 12 minutes until Alabama kicks off its 2009 season against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome.
I've got it bad.
I've got such a bad case this year I've started keeping up with the NFL preseason to pass the time until the college season starts, which leads me to my first issue.
Brett is back.
It's gotten so out of hand I'm pretty sure that's all I need to say, but, in case it isn't, I'll explain what I mean.
Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
He's tough as nails, and the fact he has started 269 consecutive games proves it.
He is the league's all-time leader in touchdown passes, and he has one Super Bowl victory to his credit.
Favre turns 40 this year, though, and is coming off one of the toughest injuries of his career -- a torn bicep in his throwing arm -- which he had repaired in the off-season.
He also has been known to develop football fever.
Unlike me, Favre can actually do something about it, and he has -- twice.
He played 17 years in the NFL -- 16 for the Green Bay Packers -- before retiring.
Then the fever struck, and, after a tumultuous off season, Favre piloted the New York Jets last year before retiring again.
Then, while helping high school players in his home state of Mississippi, the fever struck once more.
Now Favre is a Viking, and everyone from Chris Carter to Fran Tarkenton has an opinion about it.
I have an opinion, too.
Let the man play, and stop complaining about it.
The only people who have semi-legitimate gripes with Favre wearing purple this season are the two quarterbacks he pushed farther down the depth chart when he stepped on the practice field.
Obviously both Favre and the Vikings feel he can compete, or he wouldn't be there.
Minnesota has a good chance to go far this season.
They have a good defense, a solid offensive line that will keep Favre on his feet for the most part while opening gaping holes for a guy named Adrian Peterson, and we all know what that means.
Favre has the luxury of a good running game to take the pressure off of his arm, and the Vikings have the luxury of a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer under center.
They won with Tavaris Jackson last year, and they'll do it again this year with Favre.
Then we'll see who's complaining.
Read more!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mid-summer mail

I just finished watching the All-Star game, and while I wait for the second half the ridiculously long baseball season to begin I came across some letters expressing several concerns with some questionable aspects of the game.

Dear Braves Front Office,
I have been a Braves fan all my life, and as such I feel it is my duty to express my displeasure with some things that have happened in and around the organization lately.
I realize you had a few shake-ups not too long ago.
I also realize I have absolutely no idea how to run a baseball team, but I ask you to hear me out.
Y'all have hurt my feelings one too many times, and I can no longer sit idly by while my team continues its decent toward the bottom of the division -- a place once reserved exclusively for the Nationals.
I am highly perturbed at the trading of Jeff Francoeur.
The issue I have is not with the fact he was traded, but where he was dealt.
Why, for Pete's sake, did y'all trade him to the Mets?
Did the fact one of our mascots looks like Mr. Met make y'all think we owed them something?
Think about this for half a second, and I'm sure you'll see why I'm a little upset.
That's right, the Mets are a division rival, for cryin' out loud!
We have to play them a whole heck of a lot, and if y'all haven't noticed, he's blistering the ball, and will most likely blister our butts when he pays us a visit.
Thanks a lot.
One more thing, what in the world is going on with the bullpen?
We could have gotten a solid arm in there, so maybe we'd stop blowing leads like a lotto winner blows cash, but nope, y'all had to go and get a man who's had his share of bad luck with the Braves.
No offense to Ryan Church -- I'm glad he's on board -- I just think we could have traded for a guy who can hold a lead.
I say put John Smoltz back in the pen -- oh wait, we can't.
Anybody seen Mark Wohlers?
Tired of Terrible Trades

Dear Tim Lincecum,
As you well know, a 98 mile-per-hour fastball can get you a lot, even if you weigh 170 pounds and your nickname is Tiny Tim.
It can secure a second All-Star selection in as many years.
It can also get you a stint as Sports Illustrated's cover boy.
It can get you a cool statue.
It can get you a very large sum of money.
However, there is apparently one thing an excellent heater cannot get you -- a haircut.
Your Barber

Dear Justin Upton,
We'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for helping us carry on what has become a tradition.
You see, when you turned the wrong way on that fly ball in the eighth inning, hit the wall and watched Curtis Granderson run like somebody was chasing him, you allowed the go-ahead run to reach third base.
It was promptly brought home on a sac-fly, and the All-Star game was over.
We would have probably been better off not coming out of the dugout again, seeing as they had what's-his-name on the mound.
He's so good, they let him wear Jackie Robinson's number.
We didn't have a chance.
So what if we still don't know what it's like to win an All-Star game that counts, at least some of us will get room service for most of the World Series.
Thanks again for helping preserve our 13-year losing streak!
Sincerely Yours,
The National League

Dear Congress,
Find something better to do, like fixing the economy or reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and stay out of my sport.
You do your job, I'll try to do mine,
Bud Selig

Dear Dodgers,
How was I supposed to know those pills and patches that made me shop a lot and sob uncontrollably while watching "The Notebook" over and over were on the banned substances list?
I was just me being me.
Manny Ramirez

Dear Hall of Fame Committee,
My bloody sock will probably end up in Cooperstown, so you might as well let me in too.
Pretty please?
Waiting by the phone,
Curt Shilling

Dear Major League Baseball,
Thank you for letting me show what an awesome man I am Monday night in your little Legends-Celebrity softball game.
You should make me manager next year.
Obviously, I do a heck of a lot better job than that skinny Mike from the radio.
It was my heroic, motivational speech that got the team going and brought them back from the jaws of certain defeat, when it appeared we would lose to the other Mike who lost all that weight on NutriSystem.
Also, have one of your teams take a look at that rapper, I believe his name is Nelly.
Holy crap, did you see that catch he made?
You should really sign him up.
He might even be able to help that team that can't even spell its own name.
Oh yeah, and put that little dancing Olympian on my team.
I'm so proud of her, she makes me want to do cartwheels.
If you don't put her on my team I really will pick one of those chairs up and throw it, but I promise I won't hit the umpire.
Robert (Bob) Knight
General. Motivatior. Hero.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fireworks and fire ants

Since I'm sure nobody wants to hear about the time I ate cabbage soup, or the time my buddy flipped my golf cart or the time I got broadsided at 65 miles-an-hour, rolled my truck three times and landed upside-down in a ditch, I won't tell you about those just yet.
I will tell you about something a little less life-threatening, but almost as memorable.
I learned yet another valuable lesson recently.
Most of the time change is good, but some things are better left alone.
July Fourth is a big deal in my family. Like most of you probably do, we have certain traditions. I have been taking part in said traditions since six months before I was born, (Yes, I said six. I got tired of being curled up in a belly all day, so I jumped the gun a little) and I look forward to them every year.
If you could see me, you'd probably guess right off the bat that one of our traditions involves eating, and you'd be right. Every year, our family and friends gather at Nana and Paw-paw's pool house and enjoy an Independence Day meal. Then we hit the pool just long enough to require a whole bottle of Aloe Vera to put out the fire on our skin before the annual Freedom Fest fireworks show at Fort Rucker starts.
You can set your watch to my family perched on a hillside in the backyard, looking up at the sky and unleashing a veritable chorus of "Ooohh"s and "Aaahh"s every time there's a big, smiley-faced firecracker.
This happens every year, without fail. Once we even had bleachers.
This year, however, was different.
For the first time in my twenty-three years, somebody at Fort Rucker decided to throw America's birthday party a day early, and Freedom Fest was held on the third of July instead of the Fourth. For the life of me I still can't figure out why they did that, but I should have known it wouldn't lead to anything good.
Friday rolled around, and, like proud Americans filled with unbridled patriotism, we all pretended it was the Fourth while we ate hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and sausage and tried to forget it was only the third.
I was so upset at Fort Rucker for moving the Fourth to the third, I elected not to swim and sat inside the pool house with the women, who were busily cleaning out the refrigerator.
Normally, any time the refrigerator is open and stuff is being taken from it, I am a happy man. When the barbecue sauce is sharing a shelf with a batch of penicillin, some mold that resembles a small Chia Pet and mayonnaise with hair longer than Lily Munster's, even I draw the line.
I did see a jar of chocolate chips sitting on the table, and it cheered me up a little -- until I tasted the chips and realized they came out of the same refrigerator and were, in fact, older than Lily Munster.
I bolted out the door faster than a scalded jackrabbit, spat out the tainted chocolate chips and sat by the pool and listened to Daddy try to read a hilarious e-mail about a guy who got his wife a pocket-taser for their anniversary until it was announced we would say the blessing and eat.
After I had my fill, I went back out by the pool. It wasn't long before I grew tired of watching everyone else have fun and decided to go home and get my bathing suit.
This seemingly insignificant task turned out to be more than I bargained for because someone cleaned the house and moved my bathing suit from it's ordained spot on the floor of the bathroom. When I finally finished ransacking the house in search of a suitable replacement for my bathing suit, thirty minutes had passed and Mama's laundry room looked like the Tasmanian Devil had taken up residence in it.
I shut the door and hoped she wouldn't notice until I had successfully acquired a passport and left the country, then put on my swimming shoes and returned to my grandparents' house.
I swam for all of ten minutes before everyone went to grab a seat on the hill, despite the fact the fireworks could have been easily viewed from the deep end of the pool.
I sat my chair up on the left end of the front row and prepared to watch the show, which -- per usual manner -- started ten minutes late.
I was just beginning to "Oooohh" and "Aaahhh" on key when half the fire ants in Southeast Alabama decided to crawl into a hole in my swimming shoe and make a meal out of my left big toe.
Now, I know God has a reason, purpose and plan for everything, but I sure wish He'd clue me in on what He was thinking when He made fire ants. I hate fire ants, and I'm pretty sure they'd be an effective form of torture if we ever come across Bin-Laden.
I danced a jig trying to get those ants out of my shoe. I even hit them with my cane once or twice, but all I did was hurt myself while they gnawed my big toe until they eventually exploded, at which time the remaining half of the fire-ant population entered my shoe. The second wave finished off my toe and half my foot before I finally cleared them out in time for the grand finale.
I enjoyed the fireworks as much as one can when he's got ants in his shoes, but I didn't get to enjoy the finale.
Nobody did.
The finale was supposed to be a barrage of fireworks so colorfully amazing they would be almost impossible to top next year.
We all heard the booms, but nobody saw what happened until we picked up the paper the next morning.
Apparently the fireworks, which were supposed to ascend halfway to Heaven before bursting forth in all their colorful-finale glory, went sideways into a parking lot across the street.
Amazingly, only seven people were hurt, and only three of them needed a band-aid.
For my sake -- and for the sake of those poor, unfortunate souls who may choose to watch from the celebration from the parking lot -- I hope the folks at Fort Rucker move America's birthday party back to America's birthday.
If not, I hope they get a shoe full of fire ants.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Books with no pages

I'm doing this so Mama Kat doesn't yell at me for not doing my homework for fun.
Here are some book titles that were scrapped seconds after I thought of them and realized somebody will make real reality TV and Brussels sprouts that taste good before I'd be able to come up with the first page.

Skinny Fat Man
This one came about early one morning when, somehow, despite being awake before the roosters, I was in a good mood. The premise revolved around a main character who, by sudden epiphany, came to the realization that his image could be manipulated with his own mind, and was not dependent upon the way others viewed him - as he previously thought. He was at once a six-foot-two specimen of a man with a money tree in his back yard and a stomach upon which he could, and sometimes did, wash his clothes.
Women everywhere fell at his feet, and they did so because of his rugged charm and irresistible personality, not because of the money tree in his yard. He was walking on air, and nothing could bring him down.
Suddenly, without warning, something happened that caused both his journey to the top of the world and my journey to the top of the best-seller list to come to an abrupt end.
I went and walked by the mirror.

How to Understand a Yankee
I was recently thinking about a vacation my family took to Pennsylvania when I was in the fifth grade.
One particular conversation I remember having with a lady I'll call Yankee Waitress inspired me to write a guide to help Southerners overcome the language barrier they're sure to encounter once they cross the Mason-Dixon line.
This very same conversation, which I have included below, served to remind me the reason such a helpful book has not yet been written is the fact it simply cannot be done.
Yankee Waitress:" Whatwouldyouliketodrink?"
Fifth-Grade Me: "Ma'am?"
(At this point, Yankee Waitress appeared slightly offended and shocked that Fifth-Grade Me had called her ma'am. Apparently, she thought I was calling her old.)
YW: "Whatwouldyouliketodrinksir?"
FGM: "Ma'am?"
(Now Yankee Waitress was losing patience. Fifth-Grade Me knew this because Mama had lost her patience with him before. He also new such circumstances rarely turned out good for him, so he panicked. Straining to remember the standard order of questions asked every time he sat down at a restaurant in Alabama, Fifth-Grade Me took a shot in the dark.)
FGM: "Do y'all have sweet tea?"
YW: "BAHAHAHAHAHA. Whatisthat? Wehavesodapop."
YW: "Isaidwehavesodapop."
(Having never heard of a drink called Sodapop before, Fifth-Grade Me said the only thing he could think of.)
FGM: "No thank you, ma'am. Can you please bring me a Coke?"

Front Row Baptist
It is a well-known fact in Baptist churches that nobody is allowed to sit on the front pew.
Years ago, somebody on the Committee Formed on Behalf of the Pews Committee made a motion in business meeting that sitting on the front pew should be outlawed.
After much arguing discussion about having always sat on the front pews before, the motion finally carried.
It was put into the doctrine and by-laws at the next National Baptist Convention of America meeting, and nobody has sat on front pew since, for fear they would incur Heaven's wrath and fire and brimstone would rain down upon them.
In fact, we no longer sit on the first three pews.
Those are now roped off as a splash zone, you know, in case the preacher gets riled.
If you accidentally sit on one of them, you'd better move back fast - or grab an umbrella.
We have become so accustomed to the back row we even go to sleep during the sermon sometimes, usually at the moment the preacher stops holding our attention and starts sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher.
Heck, we might not even come without the promise of dinner on the grounds, complete with fried chicken and biscuits.
We back-row Baptists go ballistic if we're not out of there by noon so we can beat the Methodists to the buffet and still get home in time to catch the race and the Braves' game.
Hey, somebody should put that in the by-laws.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

BamaJam: Day One

Time for another weekly assignment from Mama Kat. I've been away from the blog for a while, but I'm gonna bend the rules a little and explain what's kept me away for the past few days.
Last weekend, for three long, fun-filled days, my sleepy, map-dot hometown became a music Mecca -- a destination sought after by thousands upon thousands of people from 47 states and several countries -- and I was right in the middle of it.
I love country music. I love other kinds of music as well, but country music strikes a special chord because it's easy for me to relate to the messages in a lot of the songs.
When I heard the lineup for this year's BamaJam Music and Arts Festival, I knew I wouldn't be able to pass it up. I went to the inaugural BamaJam last year, so I knew a good bit about what to expect, but this year's outing surpassed my expectations by a country mile or two.
I had a hard time forking over the money for a three-day pass at first, but rationalized the purchase by reminding myself this would be the only time in my life talents like Taylor Swift, Brooks and Dunn, Kid Rock and Alan Jackson would be on stage a mere 15 minutes from my front porch.
I purchased the ticket, which coincidentally came with 10 dollars worth of free gas, and my excitement began to build as Thursday rapidly approached.
When the first day of BamaJam finally dawned, I went to the bank, rubbed half a bottle of sunscreen on my arms and face, put on the polarized sunglasses I bought from the Bass Pro Shop, threw a folding chair for me and one for my cousin in the back of my truck, and headed out as fast my four-cylinder engine would allow.
I was forced to slow down when we got to town, however, and by the time we turned on highway 167, traffic slowed to a crawl. Some time later, we reached the gravel road that marked the entrance to the 800-acre festival site. When we finally pulled into the field that served as the parking lot, my spirits were almost as high as the black cloud that loomed overhead. The threat of rain wasn't enough to deter the massive crowd that was already there, and it sure wasn't enough to dampen my mood.
We reached the main stage -- which was at the bottom of sloping hills that acted like a bowl for stadium seating -- and, since we were thirty minutes early for the first concert, we were able to stake claim to a prime spot about fifty yards away and just a little left of center stage. I became rather acquainted with our little spot, because I stayed right there for the next eight hours or so.
The weather wasn't bad, but my cousin figured we should wet our whistles anyway to keep from having to make an unscheduled visit to the medical tent, and I was glad when she returned with two eight-ounce glasses of lemonade. I drank mine sparingly to prevent an unscheduled visit to the Porta-Potty.
Forty-five minutes after we arrived, the opening act, Alabama's own Jamey Johnson hit the stage.
If you've never heard of Johnson or his music, you're missing out.
Sure, he looks a little like Grizzly Adams, but the man can sing.
He's got a voice deeper than a well, and his last album's got more hits than Google.
He stood on that stage, easily won the crowd over with his raw, unpolished sound and had us singing along to every song, even after he broke a string on his favorite guitar, Old Maple, and was forced to switch to another anonymous one before he continued belting out his hour-long set.
Luke Bryan took the stage next and the crowd, which continued to grow in anticipation of Taylor Swift's show later that night, swayed along to several of his catchy songs about what his friends told him when he couldn't remember how he got home from the club last night, the vehicles he created memories in growing up and his ability to grow his own groceries.
Then we got to see John Anderson, and he was amazing.
His unique voice was as good last Thursday as it has ever been, and the 55-year-old legend put on a top-notch show. He sang crowd-pleasing number-one hits like Swingin', Black Sheep and Straight Tequila Night, and his performance was as good as Money in the Bank.
Near the end of his show he was joined onstage by Johnson and George Jones, who crooned He Stopped Loving Her Today, much to the crowd's delight.
Night was beginning to fall, and, by the time Blake Shelton took the stage, so was the rain.
I had seen Shelton before, and I knew a rainstorm wouldn't slow him down.
I was right.
Maybe he had a little less Bud Light sweet tea to drink before the show or maybe it was the fact that, like Johnson, his latest album is full of great songs, but Thursday night was the best Blake Shelton concert I've been to, and I've been to three.
One thing that makes a Blake Shelton show enjoyable (besides the songs) is the amount of time he interacts with the fans. He tells stories and jokes, regularly converses with the audience. For example, he saw someone waving a flag with a picture of Hank Williams, Jr. on it and said, "Hey, that gives me an idea." Then he launched into his version of If Heaven Ain't a lot Like Dixie.
Then, pretending to draw a blank on what song came next, jumped right into a much less annoying more entertaining version of the FreeCreditReport.com jingle.
Thankfully, the rain let up soon after Shelton was finished, and everyone waited on pins and needles for Taylor Swift to close out the night.
Say what you want about her, but Taylor Swift deserves respect as a songwriter and a performer. She is extremely talented, and she proved it Thursday night.
Not only did she sing like there was no tomorrow, but she put on one heck of a show.
She danced and sang her way around an elaborate set like a seasoned veteran twice her age, and the only pauses were the six times she changed clothes while we watched transitional video packages.
The show was more than a concert, it was a production.
She took elements from her videos and incorporated them into her stage performance using multiple set backgrounds, background dancers and costumes.
For example, the video for her song Love Story is set mostly in medieval times, so she came out in a long dress, the background was a castle like the one in the video and the dancers were dressed like court jesters and people at a ball.
It was about this time I realized my attempts to woo Taylor were bound to fail.
I swear we made eye contact once, but I was unable to get to her because of the mass of pre-teen girls in "Hey Taylor" tee-shirts screaming her name and singing along.
We stayed through the first song of the encore, just to make absolutely sure she hadn't noticed me and, as a result, was now uncontrollably and irrevocably smitten.
Unfortunately for her me she had not, so we made our way toward the exits.
I would like to take this opportunity say if you're ever at one of Swift's shows, whatever you do, don't leave early.
Apparently, I missed her performance of Should've Said No, which involves falling water that spells a word while she stands in the middle of it.
I have been kicking myself for days for that, and I am simply trying to save you the pain and regret, because I care.
Aside from my missing that last song and the fact that my failure to reach her might have cost Taylor Swift the chance at another love story, day one of BamaJam was an unforgettable one, but it wasn't the last.
Day two held more surprises, and a situation I almost didn't get out of, but you'll have to come back tomorrow (or the next day) to read about them.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Teller of Dreams

I am a teller of visions and dreams.
Sometimes what you see means more than it seems.

From the time I was a lad,
It was clear that Yahweh had
A special plan in store for me
Though I knew not what it would be.
The people of Judah angered Him
With pagan worship and idle whims
Despite His warnings through the prophets’ shouts
His chosen people chose to tune Him out.
Over a score three battles waged
And Yahweh’s anger against us raged.
The walls of our city tumbled down
And Solomon’s Temple burned to the ground.
I, along with Judah’s throng,
Was exiled off to Babylon.
For 70 years they worked and slaved,
And prayed for the day they would be saved.
But Yahweh’s favor shone on me,
And a certain other three.
We were given cups and rings
And asked to dine with the King.
The Lord’s commands we strove to keep
And the King’s food we would not eat.
Ten days passed and of the guests
My friends and I were nourished best.
Just for keeping His commands
The Lord led me to understand
Visions and dreams that other men
Simply could not comprehend.
Two years later the King called on me
To describe for him a troubling dream.
A statue with a head of gold
And parts of other metals told
Of kingdoms that would rule the land
Until the end of the age of man.
Without a hand a stone broke way
And crushed the feet of iron and clay.
The statue crumbled and was then
Carried afar upon the wind.
When it was gone the stone spread out,
And all at once became a mount.
The mount was large and all its girth
Was big enough to fill the Earth.
Yaweh placed the King over the entire world,
Every man, woman, young boy and girl.
One day, The Lord said his kingdom would fall
And the arrogant King did not like that at all.
He made his own statue, entirely of gold,
To show off his power and riches untold.
The people were told when they heard music play,
To fall down and worship, whether night or day.
One day my friends heard the trumpet sound,
But to the gold statue they would not bow down.
Their outright defiance drew the King’s ire,
And he had them thrown into the furnace and fire.
The King thought the fire would burn up the three,
But when he looked in four men he did see.
When the King saw the fourth in with them,
He quickly pulled the men out again.
The King then exclaimed, “At first there were but three,
Surely your God has delivered thee.”
Some years later, a new King did rise,
And his kingdom was also great in its size.
“I shall have a feast,” he said with a nod,
And he drank from the cups of the house of God.
At that moment, in the presence of all,
A Man’s hand appeared and wrote on the wall.
Then the King began shaking, and his face turned pale,
For what the words said he could not tell.
I was called in, to see what they saw,
And I calmly read the words on the wall.
“The words of the message that Yahweh did send,
Mean that your reign has come to an end.
Your kingdom will split on this very night,
And your great disregard,
Will cost you your life.”
Many more visions were given to me,
Many great things for my eyes to see.
Once again I saw the empires of man,
And watched them all crumble as if they were sand.
In one great vision I saw four beasts,
Which stood for the empires of West and East.
My eyes did watch them rise and fall,
But the fifth one I saw surpassed them all.
There, with all of the world in His gaze,
On a great throne sat Yahweh, the Ancient of Days.
The world stood to meet Him, one after one,
And there before Yahweh the books were undone.
Then I saw the Son of Man,
Coming in clouds, with scars on his hands.
He ruled the kingdom forever more,
And the lips of all people sang praise to the Lord.
The kingdom that Yahweh sets up on that day
Is the one that shall never pass away.

Take careful heed of the words you read here,
Surely the time of my vision draws near.
For life in this world is riddled with strife,
A child kills his father, and a man leaves his wife.
It is puzzling to me how can it be,
That a man kills a baby,
But dies for a tree?
The Earth is torn apart by war
Floods and tornadoes occur by the score.
Through all of the pain there is one thing that is true,
The great voice of Yahweh still calls to you.
In His infinite wisdom, God made a way
For you to be with Him on that final day.
The One I saw as the Son of Man,
The One you call Jesus, with scars on his hands,
When the time was right He hung on a tree,
And died in your place, so you could be free.
He rose again and ascended on High,
Where He sits on His throne by Yahweh’s side.
Live your life for Him and trust Him today,
For He is the Life, the Truth and the Way.

Now you have read and looked on my words,
The message of them your heart has heard.
Do you still wonder just who I am?
I am but an ordinary man.
True, I was an advisor to Kings,
But you know me as Daniel, the teller of dreams.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fire up the DeLorean

It's Wednesday again, and this week's writers' workshop has me thinking of a simpler time when my biggest problems were multiplication tables. It was the best of times without the worst, and I can't wait to get back. Climb in, sit back and hold on because, in the words of Dr. Emmett Brown, "If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious --"
Here we are, in about 1990. That's Pap-paw, opening the camper on his brown pickup truck and shoving two of his expertly-rigged fishing poles in until the end of the rods strike the truck bed with a thud. He's packed the long poles this time, so he leaves the camper window ajar while the corks sway in the gentle afternoon breeze. I haven't seen him since he died of pancreatic cancer in August of 1993, but he looks just like I remember, healthy and smiling.
That high-pitched squeal you hear is five-year-old me, relaxing in the front seat, singing along with the Oak Ridge Boys' "Elvira" and waiting anxiously to hit the road. In a minute, Pap-paw will chuckle at my feeble attempt to hit the low, rumbling, "Giddy Up, Oom Poppa Omm Poppa Mow Mow" line at the end of the chorus.
Told you.
He'd be proud to know I can occasionally hit it now.
He'll manage to compose himself before long, and holler a short goodbye to Mam-maw, who's perched on the doorstep waving.
By the time we pull up at the lake Pap-paw and I have listened to the whole Oak Ridge Boys tape, and I've asked him 200 questions like, "How come you ain't got no hair on the top of your head?", "Did you ever spank Mama when she was a kid?" and "Can I have another hard candy?"
Hard candy was the name we gave Werther's Original caramels, and I still say they're in a deadlock with M&Ms for best candy ever.
I'm still pouring a never-ending stream of questions from my sugar-rushed brain while he's unfolding two lawn chairs and setting them under a big oak tree. He pops the top on a Dr. Pepper, then hands me a can.
I pull at the stubborn tab for a while before he chuckles and opens the can on the first try, despite his arthritis.
"Can I have my pole now?" My question echoes over the still water. "I'm gonna catch me a biiiiiggg one."
The more my hands spread out the louder he chuckles, until soon he's laughing.
"Here, Case," is all he can manage after he throws my line in the water.
"I bet I can make them ripples on the water again."
The reel-and-rod shakes in my small hand, causing the cork to bob and drift off to the left, leaving a small wake behind it.
"Hush, son, or you'll scare the fish off. Reel it in, and I'll put you on my best fish-catchin' spot," Pap-paw's voice is barely above a whisper, and he's no doubt regretting his decision to let me hold the Werther's bag. "You're gonna catch that big 'un right here."
He's right, as usual.
Soon after my cork hits the water, it begins to bob and sway again -- and this time I'm not the cause.
"Pap-paw, he's bitin' it!"
My voice cracks with an excitement I can't contain.
"I'm gettin' a bite!"
"Set the --," he stops short when he realizes I probably have no idea what "set the hook" means. "Yank it to China, and reel him in!"
The words have scarcely left his lips when the water parts, and the biggest thing my young eyes have ever seen breaks the surface.
Sheer terror is etched on my face.
In an instant, my reel-and-rod is sailing through the air, I'm running as fast as my light-up LA-Gear sneakers will carry me, and screaming the only words that I could force from my mouth.
"It's an ALLIGATOR!"
Suddenly, Pap-paw is beyond composure.
Slumped against a tree and laughing as louder than a pack of overgrown hyenas, he struggles to steady himself when I finally reached him and hid behind his back.
"Pap-paw, help! An alligator ate my cricket!"
He wipes his eyes just enough to see through his still-falling tears, and notices my pole slipping down the bank toward the water, towed by the weight of what he knows is a bass.
"That... ain't no... alligator, son," he manages the broken phrases through the increasing volume of his laughter. "That's a big ol' bass, and he just stood up on his tail 'cause you hooked him so good."
Once I gather the courage to approach him, and what part of me still believes is a huge boy-eating monster, Pap-paw hands me my pole and the widest grin I have ever seen stretches across his wise, caring face.
"Reel, Casey! Reel him in, son, reel him in," he yells loudly until he's out of breath.
There -- on the bank, in the shade of the oak tree beside a can of Dr. Pepper that spilled during all the action -- I'm reeling faster than anyone has ever reeled, or ever will.
Ten minutes later, I'm tuckered out.
The monster is too, and Pap-paw -- still laughing harder by the minute -- approaches the water, grabs my line and tows the large bass to the bank.
"Lookey there, Casey, that fish is big. We'll have to weigh him."
He makes a quick trip to his tackle box and returns with his fish scale.
"Five pounds, eight ounces," he says after removing the fish from the scale.
"I told you I was gonna catch a BIG one! Can we keep him?"
"Yeah, will keep him, son," Pap-paw's reply can't hide the smile overtaking his face.
"That's the biggest fish I ever seen, Pap-paw. What are you laughin' at?"
"I'm just waitin' to get home so I can tell your Mam-maw and your Mama and Daddy you caught a big ol' alligator fish," he erupts in a fit of laughter then, and doesn't stop until we pull in the driveway.
When I climb out of the truck, I'm the happiest boy alive.
I've been on a fishing trip with Pap-paw, caught the biggest alligator fish I'd ever seen and eaten the whole bag of hard candy on the way home.
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Mile in My Shoes

A few days ago, while suffering from a serious case of writer's block, I came across a writing prompt that asked for my idea of what life would be like if I were a handicapped person. I couldn't help but chuckle as I wondered what other people's responses would be if they were to walk a mile in my shoes.
I was so eager to begin my life's journey that I jumped the gun and arrived on November 22, 1985, almost three months before my due date. I was born with cerebral palsy (go ahead, click the link. I had to.), which is a disease that affects my ability to walk properly. I weighed in at a whopping three pounds, six ounces, and lost down to just above two before I finally rebounded and left the hospital in March 1986.
Don't worry, I rebounded so well that I am presently on Weight Watchers, attempting to shed some excess poundage.
The doctors told my Mama and Daddy I'd probably never walk or talk, but fortunately they don't always have the last word. It took a while but I caught on to the talking thing, and, depending on who you talk to, I've rarely shut up since. The C.P. doesn't affect my speech, so apart from a good dose of Southern drawl, I'm pretty easy to understand.
Walking was, and sometimes still is, a different story.
When I was little, Mama -- who is now an author -- refused to accept the prospect of my immobility.
She contacted a physical therapist, and in no time I was doing exercises to keep my spastic muscles loose. When I was five, I went to Scottish Rite hospital in Atlanta, Ga. to have a surgery with a name so long I can hardly pronounce it, much less spell it. It was a success, and steps began to come easier for me.
I got around pretty well before long, so I figured I didn't need any more therapy.
Mama knew better, and she refused to listen to what I thought was a well-rounded line of reasoning.
Despite my constant objections, she continued to pull and stretch my stubborn legs. I hated therapy, but Mama knew I needed it. I was too young to understand at the time, but I know now Mama is one of the biggest reasons I'm able to walk, and I'll always be grateful to her for that. She taught me a valuable lesson that I'll carry with me and use when I start my own family. If your kids don't like something you know is best for them, go ahead and do it. They may hate you now, but they'll thank you later.
My Daddy taught me a lot, too. It was under his guidance I learned I could be anything I wanted as long as I put my mind to it, and that setbacks may slow you down, but they don't have to stop you. My family is a close one, and we often gather at my grandparents' house to eat or swim. On one such occasion, somebody got the bright idea to bring some four-wheelers to ride. I couldn't pass up the opportunity, so, with video cameras rolling, I sat atop the ATV and prepared to ride. My family didn't know if I'd be able to control the vehicle, and worried I might have an accident. Someone finally said something to that effect, and my Daddy simply replied, "He can ride that thing as good as anybody out here." I don't think he thought much else about it, but I'll never forget those words.
One of the hardest things I had too learn growing up was the fact there are, and will always be, things I'll never be able to do.
I love sports, and one of the biggest hardships I had to endure was not being able to participate in them. When you grow up in a small, Southern town, sports is a big part of your life. Every year, especially in the Spring and Fall, the topic of conversations on my elementary school's playground was which baseball or football team you were on at the local rec. center. I'd come home and ask my parents why I couldn't play, and they'd lovingly tell me sports wasn't the best thing for me. I grew to see the reasoning behind that explanation, and I still see it every time a batter has to duck out of the way of a fastball. I knew the reason I couldn't play sports, but the desire never left me, especially when I got in junior high and high school, and my friends joined the football team.
They say football is a way of life in the South, and that's absolutely true. I looked forward to Friday nights, and I was always a little envious when my friends took the field. My Daddy was a heck of an athlete in high school, and his teammates and former coaches still tell me stories of his crushing blocks and blazing fastball. He says they exaggerate, but looking at him I'd be willing to bet their stories are probably closer to the truth than his modesty will let him admit. There were Friday nights during my high school years I'd have given my pinkie fingers to put on that blue jersey, strap on a blue helmet with Daddy's number 38 on the side, run through a banner and knock the stuffing out of opposing linebackers on my way to the end zone.
This was impossible, and I knew it. I also knew I wasn't going to let something I couldn't do stop me from doing something I loved, so I majored in Sports Journalism when I got to college.
I never have been comfortable with labels. Growing up, I hated the words "handicapped,""disabled" and "physically challenged." Those words spawned the notion that I was different than everyone else. I know this is true in a sense, but I hated being categorized that way. Cerebral palsy will always be a part of me, but it will never define me. It makes up only a part of who I am.
I don't know if I speak for everyone with C.P. or not, but one of the things I hate most about it is when people feel sorry for me.
This may sound strange, but I see cerebral palsy as a blessing.
It helps me rely on God, and forces me to realize every day that I wouldn't even be alive if it wasn't for Him. I think cerebral palsy helps me to see the blessings in life most of us, including me, take for granted more often than not. My ability to walk, communicate and function comes from Him. My family and friends are a blessing from His hand.
I survived those touch-and-go months because of Him, and I firmly believe I am on this earth because He wants to use me, cerebral palsy and all.
C.P. is a part of me, but I hope it's not the only part people see when they come in contact with me.
I hope they see Jesus.
People tell me all the time I am an inspiration to them, and it always makes me uncomfortable because it's not me I want them to be inspired by.
It's the One who made me.
It's the One who turns my disability into ability, and my tests into my testimony.
I chose a long time ago to let Him turn what most people see as a trial into His triumph.
The worse thing you can do is feel sorry me because of the way God chose to use me.
The best thing you can do is let Him use you as well, flaws and all.
Then, you won't have to wonder what it's like to walk a mile in my shoes.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The camping trip from Well, you know...

Per the weekly writing assignment from Mama Kat, I have decided to address the issue of camping, for no other reason than I've done my share of it. Oh, and something crazy always seems to happen when I go. I've selected one of my most memorable excursions to share with you, so read on if you dare.
I grew up in a little town, you know, the kind where your neighbor across the street still dries the clothes on a line so you can watch them flap in the breeze while you sit in the front porch rocking chair enjoying an RC Cola and a moon pie. We don't have the luxuries most towns do when it comes to entertainment, unless we drive the 10 miles to town, so we became expert self-entertainers. My friends and I would drop everything and decide to shoot cans in the yard, take a fishing trip or anything else we could do to pass the time.
Sometimes, we decided to go camping. This was, after all, the idea that suited us best, because we had the perfect camp spot -- as long as it wasn't hunting season. The campsite, as it came to be known, was in a secret location on a plot of land called "The Flats." It had everything. You couldn't get to it without going into a heavily-wooded area, and you were bound to get lost if you didn't know the right trail to take. Only a select few are privy to its exact location and, to this day, when we take people there we make them close their eyes, lest they reveal our hiding place to the world.
The first ill-fated trip came about as a result of sheer, unadulterated boredom.
Two of my friends and I planned the trip in about 10 minutes, sped to Wal-Mart to buy the essential items such as hot dogs and lighter fluid, grabbed three tents and headed for the campsite.
Dusk was already fast approaching when we arrived, so we had to hurry to set up camp before the last remaining daylight flickered away. It took my friends all of 10 minutes to set up their single-person tents, but I had neglected to mention one minor detail. My tent boasted three rooms, and it was all mine. It took a while to set it up, but, when it finally stood on its own, it was nothing short of spectacular. We're talking the Taj Mahal of tents. My friends were insanely jealous of my palace abode, and I relished in it. We lit our campfire, ate our hot dogs and enjoyed the night air until we began to get sleepy. We coated out tents in waterproof spray, then used the rest of it to make the fire blow up. When it came time to turn in for the night, I ducked in my palace tent, unzipped the walls between the rooms, zipped up the door and relaxed in the huge amount of space I had. Halfway through the night I began to feel thankful for the large dose of spray I had applied earlier, because a gentle rain trickled down on the tent and its soothing melody soon lulled me to sleep.
When I awakened a short time later, I sensed something wasn't right. My suspicions were confirmed when I opened my mouth to breathe and nearly drowned. Apparently, I had either (A) missed some spots in my application of the waterproof spray, or(B) I received a faulty product(I tend to stress option B when I tell this story in person). Either way, when I rolled over and tried to rid myself of the waterfall that found its way into my mouth, I noticed the roof was sagging so that it nearly touched my nose, and, as if that weren't bad enough, torrents of rain flooded in through the faltering side walls.
When daylight finally arrived, I quickly swam crawled to the entrance and tried to escape what had now become more of an aquarium than a tent. I soon found my escape attempt impossible, however, because of a stubborn door-zipper that wouldn't budge, no matter how many times I cussed at it.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, one of my buddies heard my commotion and came to the rescue. Ordinarily, I would have laughed my head off at him because, upon hearing the racket coming from the Taj Mahal, he uprooted his tent and waddled over like a turtle coming out of its shell.
I was in no mood for laughter, but this was not the case with him.
He unzipped the door, and, upon finding me wading to meet him, erupted in a fit of laughter loud enough to be heard three counties over. His laughter eventually awakened my other friend, who promptly joined in the chorus after witnessing me come up for air on the way out of the tent.
They still haven't stopped laughing about that day, and, needless to say, the Taj Mahal hasn't made another trip.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Two Years Later

Two years ago today, I was on the way to a routine doctor's appointment. What met me when I arrived changed me, and my community, forever.
About ten in the morning on Thursday, March 1, 2007, I left my trailer in Troy and began the 45-minute drive to my doctor's appointment in my hometown of Enterprise. I was cruising along, singing to the radio at a much louder volume than a person with my musical ability should be allowed to sing. Suddenly, the wind picked up. I thought nothing of it until about two minutes later when the annoying weather alert beep interrupted my award-winning performance.
The semi-robotic voice on the other side of the radio calmly let me know a tornado was headed my way, and assured me he would keep me updated on the situation. Immediately after the last syllable of the the mono-toned words had been uttered, the sky darkened. The wind began to howl, my tuck swayed violently, and it was all I could do to keep it on the road. Then the rains came. The sky let lose with a torrential downpour so steady that at times I could barely see the end of my headlight beams. The warning voice filled the cab of my truck once more, this time urging me to take cover in the nearest ditch. I was seriously considering complying with the advice when I looked to my right and saw a monstrous ebony cloud moving directly parallel to the road I occupied.
I did the only two things I knew to do in that situation.
I drove hard, and I prayed harder.
When, by the grace of God, I arrived in Enterprise, I made a beeline for my grandmother's house. I stayed there until the weather cleared, which coincidentally happened just in time for me to keep my appointment. I got up to leave and was headed out the door when Mammaw told me she wanted drop me off at the door so I wouldn't get wet. There was no changing her mind, so off we went. We arrived at the doctor's office in downtown Enterprise just as another wave of rain began to fall. Mammaw dropped me off under the shelter, and I told her to park and sit in the waiting room in case the weather turned sour again, or the appointment took longer than I anticipated. She responded by telling me she'd have to stay in the car because her shoes were dirty, and insisted I go in without her.
I did.
I finished my appointment and was preparing to go when someone let out a scream and rushed in to the room, demanding the doctor and I take cover in the X-ray room down the hall. I ran down toward the room and looked to my right just as one of the exit doors imploded. Glass rained down on the floor. I looked out what was left of the shattered door and saw the biggest tornado I had ever seen.
I rushed into the X-ray room and ducked under the table, where several others huddled together, crying and praying.
Suddenly, the pressure dropped. The moment the huge funnel cloud came directly over us, I realized Mammaw was still outside in the car. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, but mere seconds later the twister had passed, leaving shattered windows, lights and door frames in its wake.
A few minutes later, Mammaw, followed by the nurse who retrieved her from the car, walked through the remnants of a door with a terrifying account of roofs ripped from buildings and thrown yards into the air. We walked out of the office and witnessed the fury of the gigantic, EF-5 tornado for the first time. Mammaw's car remained in its parking spot, but was now surrounded by two fallen trees that landed inches away from it while she was still inside. Miraculously, not one piece of glass was broken.
When we were finally able to start home, I was able to see exactly how widespread the damage was. I had never seen anything like it. A massive tree blocked our path, and forced us to take a detour by the high school. There are no words to describe how I felt when I laid eyes on what was undoubtedly the cornerstone of our community.
Enterprise High School, which stood as a symbol of hometown pride at 500 East Watts Street for half a century, was laid waste in a pile of rubble.
I frantically dialed my cell phone to see if anyone had found my sister, who was in the science wing of the building when the storm hit.
Communication was impossible.
Two hours later, we arrived at Mammaw's house, usually a five-minute drive from the doctor's office. My Daddy arrived soon after, having retrieved my sister from the demolished school.
That day was the longest of my life.
Hours after the storm passed, we learned that eight of my sister's schoolmates-- two of which I had known for most of their lives -- died in the storm along with Mrs. Edna Strickland.
In the days after the storm, the outpouring of generosity that was bestowed on the City of Progress was immeasurable. Strangers came from all over the country to offer a help in any way they could, and I am forever grateful to each and every one of them for the part they played in helping Enterprise back to its feet.
Today, two years later, Enterprise continues to rebuild. Two new schools are being constructed to replace the ones lost in the storm, and provide the courageous students of Hillcrest Elementary and Enterprise High Schools a suitable place to continue their educations.
Through the tragedy that struck our little town two years ago, the community came together with a resolve that has not faded, despite the passing of time. We have resolved to remember the nine friends and family members we lost that day, and cherish the memories we have with them for the rest of our lives.
We have resolved to comfort the families and friends of those nine and lift them up in prayer, and we have resolved to thank God for every moment He gives and every breath we take, for it is He who brought us where we are, and it is He who will continue to guide us as we look back in remembrance and forward in hopeful expectation.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prayers and Politics-1/20/09

Somebody once said there are two things you should never talk about with people: politics and religion. If that's true, brace yourselves, because -- with all due respect to that anonymous orator of conversational etiquette -- I'm about to discuss both in one post. This was perhaps the most unique Inauguration Day in the history of America, and the next four years are sure to be some of the most pivotal.
This was a day of firsts.
The first African-American president now calls the White House home.
This is a long-awaited event for many across the country, and it seems fitting that Obama would occupy the Oval Office on the day after the nation celebrated its greatest Civil Rights leader.
Here in Alabama, Obama's election bears extra historical significance.
Marchers once again journeyed across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and schoolchildren watched the inaugural ceremony from various points along Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous Selma-to-Montgomery March.
The state boasts many Civil Rights landmarks -- including the Rosa Parks Museum, complete with a tribute to the bus stop where the seamstress sparked the now-famous Montgomery Bus Boycott and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church -- and today's events were a major step in the King's dream of Civil Rights.
Today was, for some, great progress in the pursuit of equality.
Moreover, unity and pushing forward toward a better life was a goal of Obama's address, and we as American citizens play a vital role in the long-term success of that goal. We must be a unified nation because, in the words of another Illinois senator-turned-president, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."
Though I did not vote for Barack Obama on Election Day, and still do not agree with some -- or most -- of his political views, he is the president, and it is my duty to support him, because that's the way God intended it. Every one of us has a duty to do so, whether we cast our ballot in his favor or not.
That said, I am a journalism major, and I have become acquainted with the media and its sly, sneaky way of getting its agenda across, be it a conservative or liberal outlet.
We call it bias or spin, and, from my point of view, this election had plenty of it- from both sides of the aisle.
The spin that made me, being a staunch conservative, mad as a wet hen lasted until well after Executive One took to the skies carrying the outgoing Chief Executive to Andrews Air Force Base on his way back to Texas.
In my humble opinion, George W. Bush has gotten a bad rap from the media and the American people in general.
I know some of you do not agree with me, but consider the life-altering events of the Bush administration and try to imagine how you would have handled the hand he was dealt.
Bush faced monumental happenings such as September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and a floundering, unstable economy.
I am in no way suggesting that George Bush is even close to perfect, because only Jesus has that distinction, nor should he be enshrined in the pantheon of great presidents.
I believe as the leader of the free world for the last eight years he should shoulder some of the blame, but not nearly as much as he has been encumbered with.
Katrina and the Iraq war seem to be the hot-button issues Bush detractors site as the downfall of his administration.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the greatest natural disasters the country has ever seen, and its scope of devastation was unparalleled.
While the response was criticized, and in some cases rightfully so, remember that nothing of that magnitude had occurred, at least in modern times.
Bush, as well as the rest of the country, was not prepared for the disaster, but he responded the best he knew how.
Bush was asked in a recent Larry King interview about his legacy, and his handling of those situations.
He said simply, "What's new? When you make big decisions and tough calls, you're going to get criticized."
In the interview, Bush addressed the economy and the war, and also expressed his disappointment in the Washington name-calling, saying one of the lowest points of his time in office was being called a racist after the storm, which, in my opinion was undeserved and highly unnecessary.
A storm of that magnitude was something new to everyone, and despite popular opinion Bush said there were Coast Guard members plucking survivors from flooded rooftops a short time after the weather calmed enough for them to operate.
When King asked him why he thought we were better off as a country now than when he was inaugurated eight years ago, Bush relayed the fact that the American government and people are more understanding and cautious of the dangers of the times and world in which we live.
That is something we I believe we can all agree on.
One of those dangers is the ever-present threat of terrorism.
The effect September 11 had on our nation goes without saying.
That day was one whose likes we as a country had never seen, and I pray will never see again.
President Bush and the rest of our leaders refused to be intimidated, and because of their resolve, and that of thousands of uniformed men and women all over the globe, America has liberated a war-torn country from the grip of a ruthless dictator and stands willing to hand power over to a fledgling democratic society, when the time is right.
We have subdued one of the greatest terrorist organizations in the world, and deprived it of a highly-desired operating area in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Our valiant efforts have also kept terrorists out of our homeland, as there have been no more attacks on America since that fateful day.
Though his approval rating is paltry, and he was certainly not one of the nation's greatest leaders by any stretch of the imagination, I have a feeling history will look more kindly upon the second Bush administration than we now realize, and he just might have done a bit better of a job than we now want to admit.
Thank you, President Bush, for your eight years of service, leadership and dedication to this nation.
Now, as a new day dawns and we turn our attention to a new administration, we must put our trust not only in the man who became the 44th president of the United States just 12 hours ago, but also in the One whom he is ultimately accountable to.
We must put our trust back in the God who created us and endowed us with the unalienable rights that make us Americans.
We must again trust the fate of this nation to the One who brought her from Valley Forge to today, a day many thought they would never live to see.
It is with great optimism and hope that we begin a new chapter in our country's long and illustrious history, and it is with that same hope that I say God bless President Barack Obama and his family, and God bless the United States of America.
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