Come Back to This Whenever Grumpy

On Friday, I found a video on YouTube that I've been obsessed with all weekend. I've watched it almost 10 times. It has been stuck in my head 98% of the weekend. It's not new so maybe you've seen it. I heard about it from some Harry Potter fans at work during our Potter Discussion Lunch last week. And I was mucho impressed.

If you are in a bad mood or feeling cranky, here's your cure:

In Dedication to the Birthday Girl

Today is my sister's birthday. (Any comments and you're banned for life, Derfman.) I love her to death, but I am afraid she's getting mean and surley in her old age.

I saw her on Sunday to celebrate her big day and all I got was grief. It started with criticism about the blog. Apparently, she doesn't care about fantasy football (it starts this week!) or monster movies (what's wrong with her?). Thus, she's been bored with me for the last week or so. I'm just not operating at a standard level for her.

So, as a birthday gift, I commit to not blog about football or geeky movies all week. I considered gearing PTOIT towards her interest areas this week, but I don't think I could handle a week of blogging about purses, brownies and cute boys who used to be effective bullpen pitchers. (Just kidding. Well, not about Cotts no longer being an effective pitcher.)

I could actually blog for awhile about brownies, I spose. That's an interest of mine too. At my parents' house this weekend, we had many deserts for the celebration. Someone asked me before I left for home if we'd have cake for the birthday party. Nope. Little Sis, like me, is anti-cake. Our birthdays are all about Big Cookies. And... Grandma also made TWO pies. One I think was made especially for me because it was Lemon Merinque. (I love when I get presents for others' birthdays...)

We also found some brownies in the fridge and pulled them out for the party. We know they were made by Little Sis because all that was left were the outside crust peices around the edge of the pan. A 5-inch block out of the center was gone. That's her trademark. If she was a criminal, the police would identify her as the culprit by finding baked goods with the gooey centers eaten out.

Like I said, the big centerpoint of any birthday in our family is usually the Big Cookie. When Pure Heart and I arrived Sunday, the Big Cookie was ready--but not decorated. I decided, out of my extreme and giving love for my sister, that I would decorate it. This is when Little Sis got on a roll. Apparently, I don't decorate the way she'd like. The enitre process of icing the cookie was one long beratement and barrage of criticism. "Aren't you gonna put any words on it?" "If you make the H that big, how's everything else gonna fit?" "Blah blah mean comment blah."

I reminded those present that I do hold a minor in art from my college that fully qualifies me for expert cookie decoration. But reminding them of my credentials only brought upon me more resentment. Apparently, my education is no good since I did not specifically take a class in "Cookie Arts," which I must have opted out of.

In my defense, I think it was a beautiful cookie. Which is fitting because it was for a beautiful young lady who I love--despite all the abuse I take and am nothing but charming and sweet in return. Or something like that.

Movie Geek Freakout

Since Pure Heart has Masters classes on Tuesday, it's my movie night. This week, I went to Blockbuster with a list of films that have alrady been nominated for the ChristianityTodayMovies.com end-of-year best movies list. I was shocked when I saw someone had nominated a monster movie I'd never heard of called The Host.

Turns out that it's from South Korea and is currently getting a 92% rating on RottenTomatoes.com. I really loved watching it. It was just fun, enjoyable, quirky entertainment. It's not perfect, but it's just a good time. Some people have compared it to Jaws (it is about a water-bourne killing creature) but really it's more like a well-made, beautifully-shot Tremors because it's not really scary but more of a goofy, off-beat adventure. It's not for everyone (the only person who's seen it on my recommendation so far didn't like it...) but I think it's a gem.

I'm a sucker, though, for the creative takes on monster thrillers. I've been really excited about a yet-untitled movie I saw a preview for a few months ago. Here it is:

The movie's getting a lot of buzz (you've probbaly seen the trailer already). There's still no name released, but it's produced by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, M:I 3). I love J.J. but am especially interested because I discovered it's written by Drew Goddard. Any non-geek won't know that name. But luckily, I am a geek.

Drew was a whizkid writer for the final seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After his amazing first ep, the Anya-centric Selfless, I knew an ep would rock if his name was on it. And they did. He's very, very good--creative and witty. Since Buffy, he's written some great eps of Lost (some of the bigger eps of last year, for instance). So, knowing what he's capable of, I recommend keeping an eye on this movie....

Quote of the Week
"I wish my apartment building was a retirement villiage for retired mafia men." -Camerin


The Haircut Extravaganza

Marc has updated his blog with a great chronicle of "The Haircut Extravaganza," as Charissa referred to it earlier this week when she offered us cookies if we held the event at her house.

In the end, those fresh-baked cookies made it worth it to hold the haircut in public. But there's a lot of pressure when it comes to cutting another man's hair in front of people. This video, borrowed from Marc's blog, illustrates:

As you can tell in the video, few haircuts in the history of mankind have commanded such a crowd as this one did. Samson's maybe beats us out. I guess there's something about a man cutting another's man's hair in the kitchen of entirely unrelated people that elicits attention and, well, criticism. We felt like an oddity in a circus sideshow and I think Marc secretly felt like outcast for liking his hair so incredibly short. Charissa commented as we swept up the cut hair: "I sweep up more loose hair off this floor every day!"

I like the way that Marc explained how, really, this isn't that weird: "This is normal for this group. We used to tailgate breakfast in the parking lot before work. We’ve pulled multiple pranks for many birthdays. Todd and I nearly drove to Milwaukee [in a snowstorm] to watch two baseball teams that neither of us root for."

These are just the things we do. However, when I told Camerin I would be cutting Marc's hair, she questioned whether we'd be eating red meat and talking about football during the process to help increase the testosterone levels. But you know, I think it's mainly for a guy to allow a friend to put sharp objects near his head. That's macho.

Welcome Home, Drew

For the second straight year, I landed Drew Brees to head up my mighty fantasy football team (which is this year called IGNITE YOUR FACE). I am pretty happy with that. I didn't set out to get Drew again because I have a bad history with two-years-in-a-row QBs.

I once took Rich Gannon onto my team not knowing much about him at all. He blew up that season and scored approx. 9,000 TDs. He led my team to the post-season for the first time in my fantasy career. And so, the next season, I deliberately took him again. I think he actually played without both arms that season. It was that bad.

But I have faith in Drew. And I drafted a pretty stellar backup: Donovan McNabb. He was still available in the 5th round and I couldn't pass him up. He was injured last year but still scored 200 fantasy points in 10 games.

The rest of the team is OK although hard to evaluate right now. My WRs may be weak, several players too old or fragile, and if one RB goes down, I could be thin quick.

Non-Football Stuff Starts Here:
So far, this post has been way geeky. Well, it's only gonna get worse. In fact, I may have had The Geekiest Day Ever yesterday. And I loved it.

It all started with a lunch group to discuss the final Harry Potter book. Nothing says "geekboy" like discussing wizards and house elfs. After work was the 2-hour draft and then, I went to Emily and Charissa's house to cut Marc's hair. Yah, really. (There should be video eventually.)

The whole night was kinda surreal. We went over to E and C's for the haircut because 1) We needed a place to host this shearing, and 2) we wanted to hang out with them (Marc doesn't work here now and so doesn't get to see me and E as much.)

Let me note here that I've come to see E and C's house as pretty much a Campus Coffeehouse, or maybe a university union. Folks just come and go as they please. And I'm convinced that there's always someone in the house who doesn't live there but an outsider might assume they do because they're lounging about or making food.

So anyway, when Marc and I arrived to the C&E Clubhouse, their new roommate and two other guests hadn't eaten dinner yet. So, as they ate, Marc and I literally sat in lawn chairs about 3 feet away and watched. It was as if their dinner was a spectator sport. And let's just say that E is a far better salad tong wielder than C. If C hopes to get anywhere in competitive salad scooping, she needs some practice.

If she improves, I would consider drafting her late in my Fantasy Eaters League.


I'm not Patricia Arquette

On Sunday night, I watched the movie Zodiac. It's a very good procedural film about the cops, journalists and a cartoonist (really...) who attempted to track down the Zodiac killer.

Well, that night I had several vivid dreams about doing investigations and crime-fighting. But the dreams aren't the funny part. The best part was that in the middle of the night I somewhat awoke in a sleepy haze and thought, "Man, I need to call the police. I could help them solve crimes with my dreams."

When I woke up more I realized that I'm not a pyschic. Or in this TV show.


A Tale of Two Sox

Before Friday night, I'd never left a Chicago White Sox game early. But as the 8th inning began, I just didn't care anymore. I didn't want anymore to do with this 10-1 loss and I couldn't bear listening to Red Sox fans anymore. And I'd had enough of my White Sox. It wasn't fun anymore.

Back up a minute: My afternoon started with heading downtown on the train for a screening of a new Brad Pitt western about Jesse James. (It's an interesting and artistic--but ultimately too plodding--character study.) Afterwards, I grabbed the Green Line to U.S. Cellular. The second game of Friday's double-header didn't start until 7:11 and I arrived at about 5:30.

The Green Line is a few blocks East of the ballpark in the ITT campus. As I walked west through the streets, I was reminded of the last time I was on those sidewalks: October 4, 2005. It was Game One of the playoffs. My friend Mike and I had to park about 4 miles east of the ballpark (maybe not 4 miles. That'd be in the water, I think...). As we got to the ITT campus walking along 35th Street, we could hear the roar of the crowd--even across busy 90/94. It was as if there was so much energy and excitement that the park could barely hold it in. Approaching that stadium that day was the first time I really got a glimpse of what was happening: We had hope.

Two years later, I was walking the same path to the stadium. We were again playing the Red Sox. But with no hope. In fact, by the end of the weekend, we'd be beaten 46-7 in four games. During that walk, two strikingly contrasted but connected moments as a fan came together. I remembered the high as I now experience the low. In fact, mid-way through the game I told Pure Heart that I needed to go home and watch my 2005 DVDs to remember what winning feels like. Losing stinks, especially when you are a fan through thick and thin.

It's even harder to make it through a hopeless and embarrassing season when you have to sit in your home stadium surrounded by more Red Sox fans than those of the White Sox. How does this happen? I've noticed it since 2004: Red Sox fans outnumber us at games. They are everywhere. Is it because they are now becoming America's team? Or because many East Coasters move to the Chicago-area? Or is it because their fans travel to support their team? How can White Sox fans allow this? Why aren't we at the games? Well, maybe it's the same reason why I left early. It's just sad to be there.

And while I'm embarrassed about our year, mad about Kenny William's incorrect guesses about our bullpen, and letdown about being in August with nothing to play for, I am still a fan. They are still my team. I root for the White Sox because they are the White Sox. Not becuase they win. That's why there are Royals fans or Devil Ray fans. Because being a fan is about love. Not results.If it wasnt, I'd be a Yankees fan. Or a Red Sox fan. (shutter)

People have asked me this season (and my Dad reported this happening too) why I'd still cheer for a team doing poorly when a team on the other side of town is worth cheering for this year. The thing is: my love for the Sox isn't about success. It's unconditional. I'm a White Sox fan the same as I am a member of my family. I can't change that. It's just the way it is. I may be mad at family members or embarrassed of mistakes, but I can't change that I'm one of them. It's just who I am. And this is my team--good or bad.

During my two hours alone at the stadium before game time and before Pure Heart made it through traffic, I enjoyed just soaking in the scene outside the stadium and in. I had a pretzal, listened to music, watched other fans explore the park. As I stood at one fence overlooking the field I realized, I love it here. Even in the bad times, this is my home. I watched the grounds team prepare the field. I talked to a merch vendor. I saw kids taking grounders in the Fundamentals area and daydreamed of taking my kids and introducing them to this love. I felt good in that stadium, watching my old faves and new prospects, and sharing memories of the White Sox with my wife.

But then the Red Sox kept scoring. And kept scoring. Unfortunately, I had no recourse on Boston. One White Sox fan kept chanting "Red Sox sucks..." but, ummm, they don't. We do. All we can do is look forward to a time when our team can get their own revenge on the Red Sox and other teams. We can only bleed, cry and root for our team until the good times come again.

And remember 2005 when we whipped Boston 14-2 in a playoff game. And in 2004 when two Boston fans left and my friend Paul and I ate their peanuts. That taught them.



In one key way, my worklife is like being a pirate. When I told Camerin this yesterday, she asked if it was because I get to run people through with my scabbard or because I have to walk the plank all the time. She also made some reference to a parrot. But I wasn't quite thinking of those things. Instead, living in my office is like being in the underbelly of a damp, creaky ship with leaks ready to spring at any time.

When the rains started yesterday, I kept my eye on the Southwest corner of my office. This is where my infamous leak is. I was told earlier this week that the roofers thought they'd finally solved that leak, but I knew yesterday's Armageddon rains would be the proving grounds. During the first minutes of the storm, no water streamed down the brick. All was well.

I went to look at the dark skies out the window. Next door to the office is a testing plant of some kind with a whole back area full of barrels. (Perhaps they test barrels?) When I saw a wind gust throw one of the barrels out of a pile int he warehouse, I thought maybe this was gonna be kinda bad. The sirens started and we all rushed to the basement.

When I came back up, the old leak was nowhere to be seen. Whew. I went back to work. That's when I heard a dripping. Drip. Drip. Drip. I checked the Southwest corner. Dry. Drip. Drip. Drip. And then I realized that what I heard the drips on was the head of my R2-D2 Pepsi cooler. In the SouthEAST corner.

Now, here's the thing: Because the Southwest corner is like a waterfall, I don't keep anything over there. But just this week I redecorated and put new pictures on the corner of the opposite wall and left all my Star Wars stuff on the shelf right under the corner. Why not? It's dry.

Well, this creaky old ship of an office mounted a surprise attack. She hit me where I wasn't expecting it. Water started as three different drips and then turned into a good flow--out of the tiles, over posters and pictures and onto my beloved Star Wars toys. She hit me where it hurt.

To get to the problem, I had to move R2 out. He became a refugee from his home. I moved all my stuff from that corner. Nothing was ruined but some old posters that I really don't care about.

Now, the entire corner is bare. Buckets and trashcans are standing watch. But the good news is that we survived. The old ship is still intact. In fact, the storms turned out to be worse than I thought they were yesterday. Lots of downed trees, electricity outage and damage in the area. My commute home last night took 2 hours but it was mainly because of rain-slowed traffic and not actual storm issues. (Though I did have to caulk up the wagon and ford one river/road.)

I hope the rain stays away today--not just for the sake of my creaky office but also because I'm going downtown for a movie screening (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and then to the Sox game.

Quotes of the Week

"The dog has more street cred than me. It's had the cops called on it twice!" -Mario

"There's heat coming from inside my shirt!" -The Sister-In-Law.

"I'm damn proud of that veggie tray." -Pure Heart


Did We Find my Voice Twin?

Today in the lunchroom, a co-worker asked me if I've done any moonlighting work with any insurance companies. I really wasn't expecting that question and wasn't too sure what freelance work for an insurance company would look like. Spying on people to make sure they are really injured?

At any rate, I was pretty certain the answer was no. She said that when she called her agency today, the phone system's automated voice sounded just like me. I've had people tell me that they've seen people who look like me, but I've never heard about having a voice twin before.

Of course, whenever someone says they've seen (or heard) someone "just like me," I am always curious. Would I think they look (or sound) like me? Would seeing (or hearing) that person give me a glimpse into how others see me?

It also makes me wonder: Maybe that was me. Maybe I did once record the voice prompts for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Or maybe they kidnapped me and hyponotied me into it. Who knows. When Kim once asked me if I was at Cardinal Fitness the night before because she saw a guy who "looked just like me," I thought, Maybe I was there. I don't know what I even did last night! Am I working out in my sleep again?

After all, apparentely I do a lot of things and don't realize it. It seems that I'm an NFL player, too. I got this envelope in the mail not long ago:

I didn't even know I was in the draft. Or that I played football. But apparently, they can just draft anyone these days. Hmmm. I guess that explains Rex Grossman. And the Cleveland Browns.


iPod? iPod? Who's got the iPod?


(OK, I've said it before, but I am pretty sure this is really the final Wedding Wednesday.)

Much of the wedding reception is a blur. Lots of people. Much dancing. Many conversations. More dancing. Happy. Happy Happy.

What made most of it run so smoothly is that we delegated jobs to people. Shawn was the charming and in-control emcee. The caterer handled all the decorations and food. Youth Group Steve ran the iPod of music for the dance. And my sister was going to get the iPod at the end of the night from Steve since we wanted to leave early.

Well, we didn’t get out of the reception quite as early as we thought. We're talkers. There were just so many people to talk to and too much fun to have. So, when we were finally leaving, we realized that the party was pretty much over. The dancing was done and pretty much only family remained clustered around tables chatting.

We called an audible and grabbed the iPod. Might as well take it with us for the ride to Galena, we thought.

The morning after the wedding, I gave my tux to The Father-In-Law. We stayed at the same hotel and he offered to return it to the rental store with his own tux. Then, he met us back at the house for some lunch before he left for home and we drove to Galena.

Not long later, Pure Heart and I were opening a few gifts and packing for the honeymoon. I thought, Where’s that iPod? After looking around and replaying the blurry night in my head, I remembered I’d grabbed it from the reception hall…and stuck it into my tux coat pocket.

Ruh-roh, Raggy.

Luckily, everything worked out well. I called the rental place and the guy checked the pocket: still there. And then, The Father-In-Law offered to go back to the place to pick it up.

And so, we are still rockin’ today.


Todd and the Mystery of the Tall Tower

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve developed a bit of an obsession. (No, not with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Although, we did decide over lunch one day that the only reason why I like the Devil’s part so much is simply the band of demons. The devil’s playing itself is not that good, I suppose. The backing band just makes him sound better. Imagine if Johnny played with the band of demons…)

I’ve grown obsessed with this giant tower behind our building at work.

It all started at lunch one day. Intern Ethan, a kid from my youth group, and I sat at the picnic table out front. The tower peeked over the top of the building. Really, all I could see were these orange number cards on top.

And I got thinking. First I was trying to figure out what 33.0 means. And then I realized that it was probably 330 but the 0 got moved over. I am assuming it means the tower in 330 feet high. Or that it is Tower Number 330. I am not sure. That's only part of the mystery.

But what really go me thinking were the size of those numbers. From where I sat, those cards (or boards or whatever they are) seem small. But, because of the deceptive perspective shift, the narrowing of the tower as it ascends and the sheer height of the tower, I am betting those cards are really big. I think they’d easily be bigger than a person. But the truth is, I don't know.

A few days later, I stood in the parking lot staring up at them trying to figure out a fool-proof ma thematic equation to estimate their size. Soon, I realized that a group of women—returning from lunch—were all standing around looking at me. I explained what I was doing. They offered no viable solutions. (One suggested cutting the tower down, but I don’t have the manpower for that. Ethan’s internship is now over.)

A few days later, Camerin came into the office all excited. She claimed there was a helicopter buzzing around the office. She was amused because a guy was hanging out the side like in action movies. But without the machine gun. I've seen helicopters often flying around the towers out back monitoring them or something. So I went out. I thought maybe the copter would pull alongside my numbers to give me a sense of proportion. Unfortunately, the copter had moved on to another tower.

Looking at this picture, it seems that man is a bit bigger compared to the tower than I would have guessed. It makes me think that maybe the number cards are only about 3 or 4 feet high perhaps.

But still, it's a mystery. The only real solution here is that I need my own helicopter.


Quote of the Year?

This weekend Pure Heart and I went to Central Illinois to visit her family. We did a lot of eating out, saw Hairspray (amazing! funny! Best Supporting Actress of the Year: John Travolta!), and went to the State Fair (where we actually ran into my dad, too).

We then went to Decatur to see the wife's grandma. We had a wonderful time and we both wish we could see her more often. She takes great care of us. I wouldn't ever make fun of her (she's a very informed, sharp and clever lady), but she sometimes says aloud whatever comes to mind. And I love it. The last time we were there, Granny gave us this wonderfully sincere quote to remember her by: "I wouldn't normally say this to anyone--but I know I am among friends: I just have to say I've become disillusioned by monkeys."

I was hoping that this visit might produce another out-of-the-blue, completely serious comment. I'm happy to report that Granny not only topped herself, but vaulted her monkey quote with this:

"Do you know what a third nipple looks like? Because I think I have one."

To be honest, this comment didn't come out of nowhere. Her son is a nurse and she was seeking his expertise. But, I sure wasn't expecting that sentence to be said. I was on my way out of the room when she said it and I decided it was best if I just kept walking.

When I came back, the verdict was that it was just a mole.


No, no, no, no, no, no, no....

I had a small stroke this morning on my way to work.

I heard news that the Cubs have allegedly claimed Scott Podsednik, my favorite White Sox player, off of waivers. Now, what frightens me is not so much Scotty leaving. I am quite resigned to the fact that Pods won't be on the South Side next year. And I decided that he was a player--like Tadahito or Buehrle (had he actually been traded)--that I would continue to follow when he left.


It's the Cubs.

I honestly don't know what I'll do if the deal goes through. I don't even know how serious it all is. The Cubs have reportedly until Monday to make a deal with the Sox for him. It might not work out. After all, the Sox claimed Baltimore's Miguel Tejada, but couldn't work a trade with the Orioles after the waiver claim.

I'm gonna let this pan out and if it becomes a reality, I will wrestle with what to do from there. Root for the Cubs? Tell Scotty Pods that he's dead to me? Try to root for the player, but not the team? Support the Cubs during this playoff push with my guy leading them and then go back to normal next year?

It's like Harry Potter joining the Death Eaters. I need a butterbeer....

UPDATE: The Cubs and Sox never reached a deal and Pods isn't a Cub. Whew.

Uneasy On the Office Front

Hector is still MIA. This is what I was afraid of when I chose not to make a preemptive strike. Back then, I always knew where he was. I could watch him. Now, he could be anywhere. Suddenly, this has turned into guerrilla warfare.

The last encounter with Hector was a frenzy of emotion and violence. I said things I don't mean and there were a lot of hurt feelings. And then, I tried to stomp on him. I swung a golf club a few times.

Now, I am no insectologist, but I can tell you this: Crickets are fast little buggers. Hector was jumping like 3 feet at a time. He's like a phantom. A really fast, small, jumpy phantom.

After the incident yesterday, I drove to my old (still un-rented) condo and got a can of Raid. I sprayed it all over Hector's area and the back corner of the office where I saw him run. If I were a betting man, I'd say that he's probably dead in a corner back there where I can't see. Or maybe he made it out of the building the way he came in.

Is the last we'll see of Hector?

Will he launch another offensive?

Will he kidnap one of my Fez Monkeys for payback?

Only time will tell.


Broken Truce!

Update: Hector is gone! He left his agreed-upon spot on the ceiling. He was crawling near my chair when I tried to capture him to release him back into the wild.

He's quick though. He must have known I'd try something and darted off.

He is now at large...

Meet Hector

This is Hector. He's my new pet cricket. Or, I guess, office mate.

There's a bad leak in the corner of my office. Since it's been rainy lately, water has splashed down the brick and the whole office is damp. Apparently, water is not the only thing getting in.

I first noticed Hector (thanks to Camerin's observant eye) yesterday morning. He's pretty good sized and doesn't move. I've seen him twitch or step side-to-side a few times. But for the most part, he stays right in his little spot.

The appearance of Hector has created within my office a tiny microcosm of the Iraq debate. It's a little Just War drama going on here.

Here's the dilemma: Hector has done nothing to me. He's just there. But, some people who have seen him feel that he poses an immediate threat. They would argue that I should launch a preemptive strike on hector because of the potential danger. He may jump onto my head or into my food.

On the other hand, I could live in peace with Hector. I could draw some stringent boundaries and sanctions. If he broaches those, than an attack is warranted.

For the time being, this second policy is my choice. We're getting along fine. We have an understanding--he stays in his spot, I don't squish him. We've discussed it and I think we agree on all the terms.

I'd like to give peace a chance for two reasons (besides Hector's well-being): 1) He's so big, that killing him is kinda of an icky proposition. I am fine squishing bugs, but when they get this big, it's like squishing a squirrel or something. 2) He's in a bad spot to reach. To kill him, I'd have to use my Office Golf Club or stand perilously astride my bookcase and desk.

So for now, we will see how the arrangement plays out.



Not a whole lot has been going on with me lately, actually. Last weekend, Pure Heart and I saw Underdog. OK, I had to. It’s my job. But I was such a big fan of the cartoon growing up. The movie, of course, is not the same. But for what it is (and for them turning Underdog into a kid’s pet dog), it’s not horrible. There are some good nods to the old show that I wasn’t expecting, the new theme song rocks, and Puddy from Seinfeld plays Cad. It’s an average kid’s flick. Still, I enjoyed coming home and watching old shows on You Tube.

We also saw Order of the Phoenix (Yay). It’s a good movie—my second favorite to Goblet of Fire in terms of the movies. There are some really cool moments visually. I loved when Dudley and Harry are running from the fish-eye lens. The director is top notch. Glad he's doing movie 6...

Watching the 5th movie after finishing the final book was weird. (The wife and I finished at 2 in the morning one night a couple weeks ago. Once you hit chapter 26, you have to press on toward the end. We were both very, very pleased.) Anyway, I now know how it all ends so watching Order of the Phoenix was neat because you're seeing things forming--while knowing what they lead to! I also liked watching the movie and imagining how book 7 will look on screen. Oh man.

Here's my off-the-cuff ranking of the movies so far (fave to least-fave):

Goblet of Fire
Order of the Phoenix
Prisoner of Azkaban
Chamber of Secrets
Sorcerer's Stone

I need to come up with my book rankings. Hmmm.

On Sunday, we babysat a friends’ daughter. We took her to Magic Waters in Rockford. It was fun. They have a new water roller coaster that is rocking. It’s actually really intense. My biggest takeaway of the day though is how many tattooed people there are in Rockford. Weird.

Hopefully, we’ll be singing a lease to rent my condo this weekend. While we’d rather be selling it, this is better than nothing. And even better—I’ll become a slum lord! I plan to walk around with a box of cigarettes rolled up in my shirt sleeve like the guy on One Day at A Time.

I've been enjoying the last couple weeks of White Sox baseball. We're not setting the world on fire, but we're at least playing fun-to-watch ball (for the most part). I can't help loving these guys, to be honest. I don't care how we do. I get mad at them, but I always come back. You complete me, Chicago White Sox. I think Josh Fields may be a Todd Favorite Player of the Future. I really wanted a sweep of the Tribe after a sweep of the Tigers so that I'd feel like we had an ounce of dignity this season. (I brought in a broom for Tigers Fan David on Monday. He hated that.) But 2 out of 3 from the Indians would be great.

I have noticed that these winning ways coincide with the re-introduction of a certain player. Hmmm. So, for good measure:

The Need for Good Rehearsal

Wedding Wednesday
At our wedding rehearsal on the night before the wedding, some of the groomsmen and I noticed the TV screens throughout the church had the church calendar up.

We liked the fact that at 6:00 was the wedding rehearsal--and at 6:15, if things didn't go well, there was a DivorceCare meeting.

Luckily, the rehearsal went quite well. And got us well-rehearsed and ready for the big day.

In fact, one of the flower girls had been waiting for the rehearsal. She showed up in brand new shoes and told me, "They're my weddin' shoes!" Because she had the shoes and everything, I said, "Then you must be already, huh?"

The 3-year-old looked at me and said, "Duh, I have to rehearse first!"


Don't Overcook Your Pancakes!

I haven't really been remembering my dreams lately, which is odd because I normally have such long, vivid, movie-like dreams I remember in great detail. I actually can't recall a real in-depth ,strange dream I've had in over a month.

The last one was right before the wedding. It was the return of my fighting-zombies dreams. I hadn't had one of those zombie/vampire dreams in about a year. I even used my trademark wooden bat to fight them off--just like in my old fighting dreams. It was great.

But last night's dream topped it. Here's the gist: The wife and I were back in Europe with a group of teens. It was my Dad's birthday, so I decided to treat him to pancakes. I went to this little kitchen in the hotel lobby and started making these simply perfect pancakes on a griddle.

I had one pancake left when my wife and a teen girl came over. They needed help with a vending machine. I went with them to check it out. After we got it working, I saw there were baseball cards inside the vending machine. Ooh, I thought, Baseball cards! I started to count out money to get some. ..

That's when I remembered, "My Pancake!"

When I got back to the griddle, I found that I'd left the pancake on too long and, OF COURSE, it turned into a baby. When I saw this, it was if it made perfect logical sense: If you burn a pancake, it turns into a person. I grabbed the little boy off the griddle and he had toasted buns.Literary. And so I scrubbed the black toasted stuff off his bum. When I was done, he'd aged to be a 3-year-old Italian kid with black curly hair. He said it was time for his birthday party.

Again, I got distracted because a teen girl had wandered off by herself. And she left the hotel. Now, I'm not a very good chaperon in my dreams apparently. Before I caught up with her to bring her back to the hotel, I got distracted again by a band playing in a little restaurant. There was a boy playing tympani, two girls on horns and their mom playing a purple hippo squeeze toy.

I eventually got bored and left again to go sight-seeing. I saw Holyrood Palace and the Tower of London. Then, my wife picked me up in a white van and told me she wanted to show me her favorite thing in Europe. We drove over London's Tower Bridge (and saw a second one in the distance) and then onto a Pier. Off to the right was the Eiffel Tower. "There," she said, "Is my favorite sight." It was a submarine in a lagoon right in front of the Eiffel Tower. I was impressed.


More Travel Stories!

I've shared ten of the best moments of the trip to England, Scotland and France. But like any travel, there were some not-so-best moments, too. (Like those French urinals.)

So, here are the Bottom 4 Moments of the trip:

4) The Thistle Attack. Did you know that one of the symbols of Scotland is the thistle? It's because it's tough and hardy. And well, because it grows there. Which is a key fact I learned. When I took that goofy picture of myself on the Edinburgh crag next to the "Falling Rocks" sign, I supported myself with my right hand.

As I put my hand down, I felt a prick on my wrist. Thistle. A few minutes later, I pulled up my hoodie sleeve because my wrist was itchy and aflame. Sure enough, I had this giant hive there. So did another boy who I talked in to taking the goofy photo as well. Nurse Pure Heart came to the rescue with wet naps and all was well. But still, it really itched there for awhile.

Teaches me to take stupid pictures. I also then lost that beloved hoodie in Edinburgh. I blame that on the thistle, too.

3) Italians. OK, so we weren't in Italy. And I don't dislike all Italians. But we did have problems with about 8 certain ones. I've always heard stories about how young ladies visiting Italy should be aware of how, umm, friendly Italian men can be on the street. We learned that without even going there.

In a Cathedral at Oxford College, our tour guide was giving a talk about a certain monument when two Italian guys pushed their way into our tightly bunched group. Believe it or not, they were not interested in the history. they were trying to be close to some of the girls in our group. And take cell phone pictures. And I believe, even touch. I wasn't a big fan of this. Soon, two became 4. And then 4 became 6. It's like they were coming out of the woodwork. And jabbering really loudly.

Early on (I think when it was just 4), one guy was getting way to close and just kept pushing in on the girls. I put my hand on his chest and said, "Back off." It worked for about 30 seconds. And more of their friends came in. As it reached it's worst point, I decided I had enough. I grabbed the leader and was about to escort him away when one of the teachers on the trip said, "Richard, it seems our group has grown and we now can't hear you. We'll have to ask them to go."

Thankfully, they went.

The plus side of all of this is two-fold: 1) I kind of got the chance to come off looking gallant and 2) One of our boys happened to snap a photo right when I had my hand on the kid's chest. You can see my mouth stuck in saying, "OFF!" It's kinda tough.

2) Regular Travel Inconveniences. We didn't have any major issues. Everyone survived. Nothing happened that was trip-ruining, but we seemed to collect a lot of minor annoyances. On the way there, 2 people lost their luggage (one of the suitcases never caught up with us.) On the way home, we ALL lost our bags. Mine came three days later (by Santa, you'll remember.) Pure Heart's came the next night (by Vampire Courier, I think.) We had hotels mix up our reservations (waiting in the lobby with a group of 27 is not as fun as you expect). And we had one night accommodations not quite live up to the billing.

When we heard that we'd be taking a ferry across the English Channel to France--and landing in Normandy at 6:20 a.m. like on D-Day, it seemed quite wonderful. Charming, even. But it was actually a pain in the rear. First of all, our bus driver was only paid to be with us until 7 the night of our departure. But the Ferry didn't board until 11:30. So, we had to wait in the Ferry station for a long time. Second, by the time we got boarded and into bed, it was about 1 a.m. Third, we had to be off the ferry as soon as it docked which meant getting up a full hour before to wake up kids and be prepared. Fourth, we lost an hour due to time zones. So, that meant going to bed at 1 and up at 4:30. With 22 teens. Good times.

1) The Angry French Woman. This was a huge downer on my trip to France. To be honest, most of the French we interacted with were great. But this woman made them all look as advertised. I wrote about my triumph of buying stamps by speaking in only French. Well, this experience just an hour before that made the triumph so sweet.

I walked into a small store that sold a lot of postcards. I assumed it would also have stamps. I politely greeted the woman in French by asking, "How are you?" She was kinda grumpy, but I carried on. Usually, if you try to speak French and show that you aren't just expecting them to do all the work, they cut you some slack she didn't.

I asked if she had any stamps, in French. She went off on a long, fast tirade of French. I was lost. I asked, "How much is a stamp to send a postcard to the United States." She again, began to rant in French. She rudely pulled out a sheet of stamps. I knew from my long battle to get stamps in France that these weren't the right ones. I needed 85 cent stamps, not 60 cents.

That was my down fall. I wasn't sure how to explain that. So, I said, in broken French, "No, I need an 80 cent stamp for a postcard to the United States."

Apparently, one of three things happened: 1) She didn't like me correcting her, 2) She was aggravated by my broken French and gull at trying to come into her shop without knowing the language or 3) My French was off and I insulted her dead grandmother.

All I remember is a frenzy of fast and emphatic French. I said, "Merci!" And walked out. As I left I heard her yell, "Un American!"

If it weren't for my triumph later, that could've ruined my day.


The Legend of Dancing Susie


One of the most frequently asked questions after the wedding from quests was, "So what was the giant box wrapped in cartoon wrapping paper?"

During the reception, I hadn't even noticed the giant gift. But as friends carried the box out to load it up (seemingly on a flatbed truck), I saw it. It was huge. From the Transformers and Scooby Doo wrapping paper, I knew it must be from my old Youth Group kids. Actually, I feared maybe they gave me one of the Youth Group kids.

It turns out it was an old water heater box. When we lifted the top off, we discovered loads of camping gear taped all around the sides. It was a generous gift--with excellent packaging.

This wasn't the only fun and creative gift. The other one was very well expected--and feared.

It all started at Christmas probably 3 to 4 years ago. The Bible Study Group I was in had a Christmas party with a white elephant gift exchange. At my turn, I chose a long, squishy package and opened it. Inside was a doll with a plastic face, blue hat and long, expandable arms. She was called Dancing Susie. The idea was that kids could strap her feet onto theirs, grab her arms and dance the night away (until bedtime at 8, I suppose).

Well, Susie was kinda weird but not that big of a deal. Yet, Joey--who had brought this as his White Elephant gift--was cracking up. "Turn her over," he said. I did, and found that Susie had two faces! When her hat was pulled up over her face, she revealed a boy face on the back of her head. Creeeepy. It got worse. One night, she randomly began to talk and sing. Even worse: The batteries were dying so it was a low-pitched, slow garble. Creeeepy.

Because of how strange Susie is--and frankly, how afraid of her we all are--she began to be passed from person to person. Sometimes, she'd be in a gift to another member of that study group. Other times, she'd be hidden in a house to be discovered later. She's moved around a lot.

And so, I was expecting to find her in a wedding package. Especially when I saw that the matted picture guests signed had this note:

"Muhahahaha. -Dancing Susie."

But as Pure Heart and I opened gifts, we saw no Susie. I started to feel relief. But then, we got down to the final box.

And there she was.

The best part really was that the person responsible (yes, I know who you are...) dressed Susie up for the occasion. She was very cleverly dressed as a bride...

And a groom...