Sunday, November 28, 2010

da Bears!

HUGE win vs. a great Eagles team today, 31-26. Jay Cutler was great, special teams -- especially the kick and punt returners Devin Hester and Danieal Manning -- did their usual excellent job, Matt Forte had a big game, Earl Bennett made some big catches, and the defense did a good job of making Michael Vick and the Eagles work for virtually every yard they got.

Yeah -- the Bears may have gotten some breaks early in the season and had some games when they looked terrible, but today they showed what they can be when playing well and supported by good coaching decisions.

Can the Bears make a deep run? Yes, they have the potential to do so. The regular season still has some tough games -- New England, the New York Jets, Green Bay, and even an improving Lions team and a still-dangerous Vikings team. Things make look a little different five weeks from now, but right now things look pretty good.

Bear down Chicago Bears!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rooting Against Michael Vick -- For One Day Only and Friends Fighting Cancer

I know that everything has already been written about Michael Vick. No need to review his ascention to the top of the pro football world, his criminal and cruel behavior, his conviction and punishment, and his chance for redemption. Ahh ... but I must write a little.

Compared to other athletes in recent memory, Vick has received more punishment, suffered more loss, and dealt with more humiliation. Yes, his behavior was reprehensible, and although it may sounds like I am in some way condoning what he did, we have to face the fact that his crimes dealt with animals, not people.

He spent time in prison, lost virtually everything, and paid one heck of a price. But ... he has paid his debt, or more correctly, is still paying it. What more do people want?

Truth be told, I am almost always a guy who roots for the underdog. The fact that Michael Vick went through everything he did, got back into the NFL, and is now the best and most electric player in the game? What a story.

Unfortunately, Vick's Eagles are playing my Chicago Bears this Sunday. Although the Eagles are favorites and by reasonable thinking should win, I'll still believe in da Bears and predict a Bears victory this weekend.

As for Michael Vick? I'll root against him this weekend, for sure, but I'll be rooting for him the rest of the way.

Sad News About Friends Fighting Cancer
I joined a great online poker forum, Cardschat, in May 2005. One of the other members who joined in these early days was a guy named buckster436, a former truck driver who was always a big Cardschat supporter, a friendly guy at the tables, and a straight shooter in forum threads. You always knew where buck stood, and over the years he became one of the foundations of the forum.

Two weeks ago, buck posted that a colonoscopy showed he had a malignant tumor and he needed surgery. As buck continued to give updates, it became apparent that things were not going well. His doctors found that cancer had done major damage to his liver and buck seemed to be getting worse. The last report from buck's family was that it looks like the end is near. I will be praying for him tonight.

In my last post -- Revisiting the Old Neighborhood -- I gave an update of a co-worker who had been bravely fighting breast cancer. In fact, I wrote "The cancer has stopped spreading, and all her supporters are hoping that somehow she can make it through this."

Unfortunately, two days after I wrote this I received her latest CarePages update, which included this depressing news: "Due to increasing back pain over the past several weeks I requested a full body scan. I got the results which showed the main tumor in the breast is growing AND there is a new spot in my spine. What this means in layman's terms is the chemo I'm on isn't working anymore."

More terrible news for this Thanksgiving. So sad to have friends fighting for their life against cancer. More prayers tonight before I hit the sheets. More reminders of how precious life is.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 22, 2010

Revisiting the Old Neighborhood

Some of you might remember all the whining I did about three years ago when I could not sell my house. To review ... I bought a new house in June, 2007. After taking a few weeks to get my old house ready to go on the market, I was horified to discover that the market kept getting worse and the major problems with the economy were just beginning. It sat for a year before I was able to sell it. Some updates on the people and issues associated with the sale.

1) Dbag who bought my house: Tried to weasel out of the sale when asshat out-of-town appraiser declared that the house was "unsafe" and not eligible for a V.A. loan because three windows were "nailed shut." Windows had not been opened for years due to location and were stuck. My real estate agent took a screwdriver and opened them up in about a minute. When closing was delayed due to appraiser's report, the buyer said he might not want to buy it anymore and took off to Las Vegas. My attorney was at the post office within hours to send him a nasty letter and threaten a lawsuit. The guy did show up at the new closing date and complete the transaction, but I was not sure he would be there. I was already scheduled to be in Las Vegas and had my wife and attorney completed the sale. Never met the idiot.

Guy moved in with girlfriend and her kids. Girlfriend and kids moved out, new version of girlfriend and kids moved in. Second set of girlfriend and kids moved out. Owner apparently moved out. I hear the house is in foreclosure. Muhaha!

2) Neighbors: Good guy neighbor east of the house discovered he had a rare form of cancer and died shortly thereafter. He was in good shape and exercised regularly. Very sad.

Bad guy neighbor west of the house (used to be a good guy than suddenly started acting like a dick) who was obsessed with his lawn put his house up for sale, which surprised us. We found out he got or is getting divorced.

3) Real estate agent who sold my house in one month: Appears to have landed on his feet despite company decision to do away with residential operations and concentrate on commercial. The guy will always be gold in my book.

4) Woman I work with who served as inspiration to me during my difficult times: She was bravely fighting breast cancer only to find out that it metastasized to her spine. Despite the added strain of getting divorced, she still is hanging in there, alive and fighting for all she is worth. The cancer has stopped spreading, and all her supporters are hoping that somehow she can make it through this.

5) lightning36 family: Successfully survived through cancer and bullying issues with kids. Oldest daughter ready to move to Texas in January. Wife still looking for professional employment after school district did away with her position 20 months ago. This writer more thankful than ever this Thanksgiving for all he has been given.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Famous Sites in Popular Music -- Part Two: The Day the Music Died

In 1971, singer Don McLean released the seminal song and album, American Pie. Although written in a cryptic, poetic style, it was easy to see that the subject of the song was the plane crash death of three American rock and roll singers -- Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson, AKA The Big Bopper. McLean referred to to the February 3, 1959 tragedy as The Day the Music Died.

The biggest star to perish that fateful night was Buddy Holly, a unique guitar player and vocalist from Lubbock, Texas. Buddy Holly and the Crickets had a number of popular hits including Oh Boy!, Peggy Sue, and That'll Be the Day.

The youngest performer to die was Ritchie Valens, a 17-year-old singer and guitar player from southern California. Although only 17, Valens was already making a name for himself across America with hits like LaBamba and Donna.

The final performer to die in the tragic flight was Texan J. P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper. Richardson was famous for his song Chantilly Lace.

The evening before, the performers played at a popular spot, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

After the concert, the musicians boarded a plane in nearby Mason City, Iowa. Shortly after take off, the plane crashed just north of Clear Lake, killing the three musicians and the pilot.

I had always wanted to visit the site of the plane crash and pay homage to the singers, so I made a road trip last June with my youngest daughter. We drove up to Clear Lake, Iowa, got directions, and immediately headed out to the crash site. Where along the country road to stop to find the site? Just look for the Buddy Holly marker!

Next step: Walk through a corn field. The memorial is located on private property, and the owners graciously allow pilgrims to visit.

A marker lets you know that you are almost there.

Then ... you are there. The memorial is small, with all kinds of small tributes, and frankly, junk all around.

A small memorial to the pilot was recently added.

Although the memorial is not aesthetically pleasing, just being at the site that changed the rock and roll music landscape forever is a powerful, and yet sad feeling that I will never forget.

And since this is a blog that purportedly is about poker and gambling, I have included a video of a related story -- the true version of how a coin flip right before the fateful flight changed music history, sparing one man and dooming another.

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, November 15, 2010

Remembering an Important Day

It was a Friday that brought with it some good and some bad. The good: the annual Thanksgiving lunch put on by the Hospitality Club. Turkey. Sweet potatoes. Dressing. Cranberries. The works. The bad: the visitation and funeral for a former co-worker, a man I admired, who was dealt the most vicious of blows -- a diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Lou Gehrig's Disease. A terrible way to go.

The plan that afternoon was simple: Grab and enjoy the Thanksgiving lunch, spend a little more time at work, then drive south for about an hour with Holly, a co-worker who also used to work with our deceased friend.

Then the call came.

Wife: lightning -- it's time.

Me: Time for what ?

Wife: The baby.

Me: Huh?

Wife: I'm going into labor. We need to go to the hospital now.

Me: Now? But I just got this great lunch -- turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, ...

Wife: Fine. Finish your lunch and meet me at the hospital.

Me: Okay (and that is how I roll, baby!).

I headed back to my office and indeed finished the spectacular lunch. Wouldn't you? This would be our third child, so I was familiar with the routine. Go to the hospital. Then wait. And wait ...

I called Holly and apologized for not being able to drive and accompany her. Unfortunately, her car was in the shop and she had no other way to get to the visitation at the last minute. I always have felt badly that we missed a chance to say goodbye to our friend, but there was no choice.

This pregnancy was unlike the others. Due to some medical complications, we were told to make this our last natural-born child. We probably were the hospital leaders in ultrasounds. Our specialist kept a very close eye on my wife. We were not going to feel relieved until the baby was born and we knew that both baby and mother would be okay.

And okay they were. Fourteen years ago today, my youngest daughter was born. A kindred spirit, she has been our only child to accompany her dad to Las Vegas. When the other kids thought their dad's Las Vegas stories were boring, this child asked to hear more and dreamed of going there. She got her wish as her special trip when she completed elementary school. The other kids went on a romp through Canada with my wife. This daughter went to Las Vegas with her old man and hung out at the pool, the game rooms, and child-friendly strip areas. It was my only non-gambling trip to Las Vegas. Not even a quarter in the slots, believe it or not!

Blogger friend Schaubs has been experiencing the joy of his newborn twin daughters. Enjoy these days while you can, bro. Before you know it they start growing up on you and you wonder where those days went.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The End of the World

A tribute to a much simpler time.

Can you get anymore raw and earthy than this? A memorable performance by Mary Francis Penick .. or Skeeter Davis ... 45 years ago.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cruising the VFW Halls with My Dad

lightning sr. is on the left

My father always closely identified with the army due to his service in World War II. When my siblings and I were young we occasionally heard a few war stories, but rarely anything really bad. Those he kept buried deep inside himself. We were not part of the fraternity and therefore could never understand.

When my dad was getting older, we spent a few afternoons hanging out in VFW halls. We went to his usual hangout in his town two or three times, but he seemed to enjoy that less as time went on and the number of World War II vets decreased. He didn't feel like he really fit in with the Viet Nam crowd.

Once when he came to visit my family, I asked him if he'd like to go to the local VFW hall and have a beer. He jumped at the chance and was excited to find that there were a few "old guys" there (he always called other elderly people "old people," but he himself was not old, you see). Having the chance to chat it up with some fellow vets from his era made his day. Being the good son, I just sat there and listened as these "old guys" exchanged war stories and lamented about how this new generation (uh ... me!) had it easy.

It took me some time to figure it out, but they were really right. By the time I turned 18, the draft had been halted. I had plans to go to college. What I did over that next four years could in no way compare to the sacrifices that were made by guys my age in the previous generation.

My dad passed away several years ago. I always felt bad that, although he was proud of his military service, his time spent in the army left deep psychological scars that affected the rest of his life. Being from that generation, however, he was not going to whine about it, much less talk about it. That is the part of my dad that he kept hidden.

Today, in my regular work in higher education, I speak almost every day with students who have served or are currently serving in the military. Today, ladies and gentlemen, my hat is off to you. Thank you.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 08, 2010

Lunchtime Gab

This is one of the busiest times of the year at work for me, so time is a bit precious. A few things on my mind ...

2010 WSOP
Thanks to ESPN3 for the live streaming of the WSOP final table. No extra charge? Amazing. I cannot wait to view the new episode Tuesday night. What an exciting final table. No matter how much skill is involved, the river can still crush dreams. If you have been keeping uninformed to make the viewing fresh, I will not spoil it for you. But know that I am rooting for the underdog when heads up begins.

That lightning boy ...
I occasionally get asked how my son is doing. He had an appointment at the Mayo Clinic today. Things continue to look good. There is no sign of any return of the cancer and, outside of making these visits to Mayo every three months, life proceeds normally. His local doctor is fantastic, so we really are blessed to be receiving the best care for him in town and at Mayo. He is already six months past his operation. We are soooo thankful.

Instead of donking off money in online poker, ...
Things have otherwise continued to be busy as I have been spending time preparing my talk and PowerPoint presentation to the board of trustees at my school, a requirement for those who have had sabbaticals. I also have to make a presentation to the school's senate. Finally, I have to file a written report by the end of the year. Yeah, this stuff is a pain, but I am so fortunate to be employed by a school that provides these opportunities to its employees.

So ... it may be a Monday, but things are good in my corner of the world. Not perfect, of course, but pretty damn good.

So ... how is your life looking?

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Gasp -- Live Poker Tournament!

Today I will be playing in the first live poker tournament (not counting home games) in almost four months. It is a local charity tournament, meaning that the structure will probably suck. However the entry fee is low ($65 FOR 6,000 chips, one re-buy allowed in the first hour) and there might be some good cash game action. The last time I played cash at a charity tournament the players were pretty bad.

Speaking of live poker ... the final table of the WSOP Main Event starts at noon Las Vegas time today. If I were picking two to win, I would go with John Racener and Matthew Jarvis. No particular reason except that I liked their style on the ESPN broadcasts.

Catch you on the flip side ...

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, November 05, 2010

Bull Doze Blues

About six weeks ago, I posted a YouTube video of Canned Heat's Going Up the Country as a tribute to Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, who had died 40 years ago that month. If any readers are Canned Heat fans or loved that song, here is the original one, Henry Thomas's Bull Doze Blues.

Like a fine wine, great music gets better with time.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How It Works in Illinois: A Primer on Chicago-Dominated Politics

It is 3:45 a.m. I have just woken up downstairs, all snuggly on the couch. The television blares in the background, a small reminder that yesterday was election day. The results of the Illinois gubernatorial race remind me of the frustration some people have experienced all their lives when it comes to voting

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. We did not identify ourselves as living in Chicago -- we lived in our town, or would say that we lived in an area of the suburbs. For example, I would say that I grew up in the far southwest suburbs of Chicago. We identified with Chicago, however. Watched Chicago television stations. Rooted for Chicago sports teams. We were kind of Chicago -- but the suburban type, not the city type. But I digress.

I have lived my entire adult life in central Illinois, or that area known as "downstate" to the Chicago folks. However, it is all a matter of perspective. People jokingly say that downstate, or southern Illinois, is "anything south of I-80." But actually, once you get outside the collar counties of Chicago, the rest of the counties are really more like each other than the city. And it shows in our voting.

With 99% of the precincts reporting, it looks like republican challenger Bill Brady, a state senator from central Illinois, will not unseat the incumbent democrat governor, Pat Quinn. The current vote tally: Quinn -- 1,694,196; Brady -- 1,685,847. 46% to 46% -- a difference of under 8,500 votes out of over 3,300,000 votes cast. A map of the votes by county tells the real story, however:

Yes, the red in the map signifies the counties won by the republican, Bill Brady. The blue Cook County (Chicago) vote is 866,088 to 389,267 -- 64% to 29%, or an almost 500,000 vote difference. For a republican to win, that candidate has to win virtually every county outside of Cook County and get about 1/3 of the Chicago vote. The republican candidate for senator, Mark Kirk, was able to do this, winning 48% to 46%, with a margin of victory of just under 100,000 out of over 3,400,000 votes cast. Kirk won EVERY county in the state except Cook and a small county at the far southern tip of the state.

Although not quite as extreme at the national level, the theme of the big city democrat population versus the rural republican population is alive and well. An exceptional candidate like Barack Obama is able to blur those lines in some areas, however.

The challenge for those governing is to somehow lead ALL the people. That task is daunting, however, as the election that just passed brought out the usual hate from loyalists and extremists in both parties. My goodness -- just imagine how vile things will be two years from now when it is time to elect a new president. Haters like television showmen Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck cannot wait. Time to consider a long vacation to Canada?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Big Illinois News On Election Night

CHICAGO (AP) — Even Illinois voters jaded by a never-ending stream of political advertisements must have been startled to see one familiar politician pop up in a new TV commercial.

It's Rod Blagojevich.

But the big-haired former governor isn't pushing for votes. He's plugging pistachios.

The 15-second ad is for Wonderful Pistachios and spins off Blagojevich's legal troubles. He's been convicted of lying to the FBI and will be retried on other corruption charges.

The commercial that first aired Sunday shows Blagojevich opening a briefcase full of pistachios and eating one. A voiceover says about how he eats pistachios that, "Rod Blagojevich does it innocently."

In a press release Monday, Blagojevich says the briefcase's contents are like the allegations against him. He says, "they're nuts."

Leave it to our convicted felon former governor to provide additional embarrassment to Illinois. Cannot wait until you become Bubba's bitch, Blago.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 01, 2010

Two Consecutive Hands Dealt to Me in Five Card Draw at PokerStars

Sometimes poker is easy.