Saturday, October 23, 2010

Velasquez Whips Lesnar to Win UFC Heavyweight Belt

When the UFC first started as an organization, the heavyweight division was a joke. Other than former wrestling great Dan Severn, it was a collection of out of shape has beens and circus freaks like Tank Abbott. Even after the UFC blew up after the first Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar fight, the heavyweight division was still terrible. Its main contenders were 6'7" Tim Sylvia (who won mostly because of his height), Randy Couture (who was really a light heavyweight), and Minotauro Nogueira (who had great jiu-jitsu but little else). Over the past few years, the UFC has truly added some top notch heavyweight talent. The big four in the heavyweight division are Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez. Lesnar has proven to be among the biggest draws in company history, and all four of these guys are big, strong, and talented. At UFC 121, challenger Cain Velasquez took on champion Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight belt in perhaps the biggest and best heavyweight fight in UFC history.

Coming into the fight, Lesnar had only lost once (via submission to Frank Mir) and Velasquez was undefeated. After losing to Mir, Lesnar knocked out Randy Couture to become champion, knocked out Frank Mir to avenge his only loss in the UFC, then defeated number one contender Shane Carwin via submission. Meanwhile, Velasquez had just been steamrolling anyone in his path, including a highlight reel knockout of Minotauro Nogueira, who almost never gets knocked out. Coming into the fight, the conventional wisdom was that Lesnar and Velasquez both possessed elite wrestling talent that would essentially be a wash, so whoever did better in the stand up game and/or submissions would probably win. Being the champion and outweighing Velasquez by about 20 pounds, Lesnar was slightly favored to retain his belt.

Having watched almost every UFC pay-per-view event over the last several years, I had watched almost every fight these two fighters had fought. Based on their performances in past fights, I thought Velasquez would probably win, but I didn't expect him to dominate Lesnar the way he did. In Lesnar three fights prior to Velasquez, he did get better as a fighter. Against Randy Couture, he was able to use his reach and strength to keep Couture off him and eventually knock him out. Against Frank Mir, Lesnar was able to take Mir down at will, avoid his submissions, and use his long arms to pound Mir out. Of most concern was his fight against Shane Carwin. For the entire first round, Carwin was able to take Lesnar down, and he just rained down punch after punch on Lesnar for the entire round. However, coming out of his corner to start the second round, it was obvious Carwin had nothing left in his gas tank, so Lesnar was able to take him down and submit him to retain his belt. The thing that stood out most about the Carwin/Lesnar fight was Brock's lack of stand up game and his inability to take a punch. Carwin is a hard puncher, and he landed some solid shots on Lesnar, but it shouldn't have caused Lesnar to flop and flail around the cage the way it did. It truly looked like Lesnar had never practice how to take a punch in camp, and that would prove to be a disaster against a cardio and punching machine like Cain Velasquez.

Right after the bell rang to start the fight, Lesnar charged out of the corner and threw a wild knee that missed badly. After circling each other for a short time, Lesnar was able to land a take down against Velasquez. Unfortunately for Lesnar, Velasquez was able to pop right back up, and that was the last good thing that happened for Lesnar in the fight. Once back on his feet, Velasquez rocked Lesnar with several hard shots to the head and took him down. Unlike Shane Carwin, Velasquez had too much cardio endurance to get tired and allow Lesnar back into the fight. In fact, when the referee finally waved off the fight in the final minute of Round 1, Velasquez didn't even look like he was breathing heavily. For perhaps the first time in his entire career at any level, Brock Lesnar was manhandled and dominated from he opening bell until the fight was mercifully stopped. There are now enough talented fighters in the UFC heavyweight division to give Cain Velasquez some competition, but he is an absolute beast and he is here to stay. Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar has a ton of work to do if he intends to get back into the mix to regain the heavyweight title. Specifically, he must improve his boxing, he must learn how to take a punch and not fall down, and he has to learn to get up off his back as quickly as possible once he hits the ground. Still, this was a great fight, and I am sure it made the UFC a ton of money.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Titans Take Out Raiders in 2010 Season Opener

Since Althea and Grace had never been to a NFL football game before, I decided to get the 3 of us tickets to the Titans' 2010 season opener at home against the Oakland Raiders. The game was a lot of fun, but it was incredibly hot for mid-September, and that was made worse by the fact that our seats were in the upper level. Sometimes, it seemed like we were 10 feet away from the sun, and that was miserable. We were all covered in sweat by the end of the game, and it's possible I might have a sunburn. Note to self: when attending Titans' games in the future, go later in the season.

Because the Titans started 0-6 in 2009, it was important for them to get a win as soon as possible in 2010, and they did so by defeating the Raiders 38-13. Chris Johnson continued running like the elite back he is, racking up 142 yards and a late touchdown to ice the game. The Titans' defense made some good plays and harassed new Raiders' QB Jason Campbell into multiple mistakes. The game wasn't as much of a blowout as the score suggests, as the Titans didn't really put the game out of reach until Chris Johnson's 4th quarter touchdown run. Still, there were some things that could cause an astute fan concern as the season goes forward. First and foremost, Vince Young still looks like a mediocre, inconsistent quarterback. Even though he has improved somewhat, he still leaves too many plays on the field. Also, the defense made too many stupid penalties an didn't take advantage of all the mistakes Oakland made. The Titans seem to have some potential this year, but they will have to play better against better teams if they expect to make the playoffs.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

8/28 Restoring Honor Rally

Fox News TV host and talk radio show host Glenn Beck was the primary organizer of a rally in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 2010 called "Restoring Honor". At first, I wasn't really inclined to go because I thought it would be just another political rally, which did not interest me in the least. As the event got closer, I listened to Glenn talk about the rally on his radio program. The more I heard, the more interested I became.

Perhaps the biggest draw for me was Beck's repeated insistence that this would not be a political rally. As proof of that, he begged rally attendees to leave their political signs at home, and asked that they only bring themselves, their friends, and their families. Second, Beck said the purpose of the rally was twofold: to call Americans to restore honor to their lives and to honor the troops. Beck's definition of restoring honor included asking attendees to get all the lies out of their lives, to decide what they believe in and where their faith lies, and to live accordingly. He also admonished attendees to prioritize their lives around things that really matter, especially family as a whole and teaching values to their children. In terms of honoring the troops, the rally served as a fundraiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that raises money to provide college scholarships for the children of Special Ops soldiers killed in action.

Based on the stated purposes of the rally, my own sense that this was an event that would be attended by huge numbers of Americans, and my desire for a sort of restoration of faith and hope for my mind and soul that America will make it and is not doomed, I decided to attend the rally. I went to Beck's website and located a group leaving from Nashville to go to the rally after work on the Friday night before the rally the next Saturday. Most of the major hotels were booked solid, and the lowest priced hotel I found was more than $ 300 for a single night, and that was before spending a penny to get to and from D.C. The group on the website, on the other hand, planned to drive overnight (meaning that no hotel room was needed), attend the rally the next day, and drive back to Nashville after the rally (with a plan to get back in town by 3:00 A.M. or so Sunday morning). I initially thought the group would be making the trip in a big bus or at least in a mid-sized tour bus, but due to logistical issues, it turned out to be a group of 7 of us going to D.C. and back in a Dodge Grand Caravan. The tour organizer was a nice husband and wife team who owned a local taxi business, and they did all the driving, so it could have been worse.

We actually left Knoxville a few minutes before 5:30 on Friday night, and we made fairly good time the whole trip up. We stopped in Greeneville, TN and ate a late dinner at a truck stop, which wasn't the best idea and gave me stomach problems later, but hey, that's travel food. We hoped to get into D.C. before 6:00 A.M. to beat incoming traffic and to get a good place in line for the D.C. Metro Rail, which would take us to less than a mile from the rally site (the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), where we would walk the rest of the way. We got into D.C. just after 4:30 A.M. and ate an early breakfast at McDonald's, then made our way to the Metro Rail station. We decided to park at the station on the side of D.C. closest to Virginia and a little farther away from the rally site so we wouldn't have to fight D.C. traffic through the city to get going back home. That turned out to be a smart decision. We slept in the van until about 6:15 A.M., then we got in line for the Metro Rail. It was a good thing we got a good spot in line, and that the station we chose was the first on the route (which contained approximately a dozen stops total) to the rally site because the metro rail ride alone took over an hour from our stop to the rally site. Beyond that, looking at the inbound traffic, all the interstates and highways were essentially a parking lot, and I had no idea whether those folks stuck in traffic would make it to the rally on time (it was from 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.). We thought we were packed in pretty tight at the stop where we boarded, but as we made stop after stop on the way to the rally site, people kept packing in more and more tightly (just like sardines) until no one could move and no more people could fit on the train. I'm fairly certain that was a safety hazard that would have killed us all in the event of a fire or crash, but thankfully, that didn't happen.

We got off the train at about 8:30, and it took about 30 minutes to walk to the rally site. D.C. is a beautiful city if you look at the scenery and don't think about the fact that the folks who work there (allegedly on our behalf) are spending us into bankruptcy. The closer we got to the rally site, the more dense the crowd became. I took some pictures of the massive Washington Monument on my phone. It really is awe-inspiring when you consider that it was built 200 years ago before almost all of modern construction technology as we know it. Next up was the World War II Memorial, which has each state in the union represented with a state-specific stone to honor the contributions of the soldiers from that state to the war effort. After that memorial came the Reflecting Pool, which led up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The water of the reflecting pool was dirty, but it was still a beautiful sight to behold. The stage for the rally was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but we couldn't get close enough to see it with the naked eye because of the density of the crowd. Fortunately, there were Jumbo-trons every so often starting at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial back past the end of the Washington Monument. The sound system turned out to project fairly well, but it was somewhat hard to make out what the speakers said when they spoke more loudly.

After some tough navigation of the crowd, we were able to find a spot for the 7 of us about halfway between the steps of the two memorials and right next to the Reflecting Pool. Earlier in the morning, the sun was bright, but it was breezy and comfortable. However, much like the subway, the rally itself was packed in tight with attendees, which multiplied body heat exponentially. The rally began with Glenn Beck speaking. He thanked the crowd for coming and told us briefly about how the rally came together. He said the timing of the rally (on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech) was originally coincidence, but he came to believe it was divine providence because the substance of this rally had so much in common with Dr. King's legacy of peace, faith, and non-violence. He said he would be presenting awards to several people who stood out for their charity and service to others (among other things).

The next part of the program was conducted by Sarah Palin. Although the media used her presence to try to claim this was a political event, Palin (despite her annoying accent) was just the opposite of political on this day. She first spoke about the experience of being the mother of a soldier, then she introduced several soldiers to the crowd. She told the heroic story of each soldier, including Retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell of Operation Redwing fame, and the crowd gave each soldier a rousing round of applause. Next, the mother of a fallen Special Operations soldier came out and spoke to the crowd about the love and support she received from the Special Operations Warrior Foundation after the death of her son. Once she told her story, Glenn Beck joined her on the stage to plead for donations to the SOWF. Beck asked everyone there to get out their cell phones and to text a $ 10 donation to the SOWF. It seemed like 9 of every 10 people at the rally did just that. Later that weekend, I learned that the rally raised over $ 5.5 million dollars for the SOWF. At $ 10 per donation, that puts the number of attendees at least in the hundreds of thousands.

The next and final part of the program was the presentation of awards to the honorees of the rally. The first award went to a black pastor with several decades' experience in the ministry. He spoke of a legacy of peace and service, and thanked Glenn Beck for his faith, for organizing the rally, and for the award. The next award went to St. Louis Cardinals' (MLB) slugger Albert Pujols. The award had nothing to do with Pujols' baseball exploits and everything to do with his faithfulness and love for his family, and for his tireless community service to the St. Louis community. Pujols spoke of his humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, his great appreciation for all the success God gave him, and the importance of using his blessings to bless others. The last speaker I saw, and in my mind, the highlight of the rally, was Dr. Aveda Kin niece of Dr. Martin Luther King. She was under tremendous pressure from the professional race-baiters (think New Black Panther Party, NAACP, etc.) not to attend the rally, but she did anyway. She too thanked Glenn for organizing the rally, and said that her uncle would have been proud of the rally because it stood for people coming together based on content of character rather than skin color. After she was done speaking, the tour organizer's wife was getting sunburned and she was sweating profusely. She decided to go back to the van with half an hour to go in the rally, and because I was suffering pretty badly from the heat myself, I decided to go with them. We made good time getting back to the van (arriving about 2:30 P.M.), and we took a nap while we waited for the rest of the group to get back to the van (they made it back about 4:00 P.M.). The entire group left D.C. about 5:00 P.M., ate dinner at a Chili's in Virginia about 8:00 P.M., and got back to Nashville about 3:30 A.M.

Here is what I took away from the rally and the trip: 1.) Driving 16 hours one way by car (32 total hours of driving in 48 hours) sucks. That's a game for someone much younger (late teens or early 20s) because I haven't been that sore in quite a while.; 2.) I will definitely be bringing sunblock and an umbrella (at a minimum) to any future rallies I attend. I also might be willing to sit a little further back if I can get some shade from the sun.; 3.) This rally stood in sharp contrast to the pathetic Al Sharpton event just down the street. The racist reverend's rally might have had a few hundred attendees at best, and I am fairly certain the idiots who took the stage after the Glenn Beck rally was over wearing Tea Party shirts and trying to insult Democrats to get on camera and make the Tea Party look bad probably came from his event.; 4.) The crowd estimate for the Beck rally from CBS was 87,000. That's absolutely laughable. The area from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial past the Reflecting Pool back to the Washington Monument holds 200,000 people, and it was packed full. Each of the side areas on either side of the Reflecting Pool holds between 100,000 and 150,000 each, and both of those areas were packed full. When you add in the various smatterings of people back past the Washington Monument, I think Glenn's estimate of between 500,000 and 650,000 attendees is much closer to the truth. His claim is bolstered by my math above regarding the donations to the SOWF. If 9 of 10 attendees each gave $ 10, then approximately 550,000 people attended this rally.; 5.) This was the most well-behaved, civl crowd of this size I have ever seen. Looking beyond all the families with small children at the rally, there was not a single arrest of anyone attending this rally, and the grounds of the rally site were just as clean (or cleaner) than when we got there. All the trash was in designated containers or trash areas, while the grounds themselves were immaculate. Look at any leftist/progressive rally a fraction of that size, and similar claims can not be made.; 6.) I got what I came for at this rally. Before I attended the rally, I felt an ongoing sense of despair at the direction of the country, and even worse yet, I felt alone. That is not the case any longer. Now I know that there are huge numbers of other like-minded people out there who want nothing more than to live and raise their families in peace and freedom without being terrorized and having their wealth and freedom stolen by their own government. It gives me hope to press forward and keep fighting for the America I have come to know and love, and faith that God has truly blessed America and that we hold a special place in his heart. For those reasons, I consider it a blessing to have been able to attend this rally, and I am glad I went.

In closing, I should also say a special thank you to my wife, who agreed to hold down the fort at home and gave me her blessing to go the rally even though my plan to attend materialized on short notice. I don't ask for many things, so when I say that something is important to me, my wife is pretty good about trying to make it happen for me. That's not something every married man has at home, but I do, and I am thankful for it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Marcus Luttrell Live

Anyone who follows the heoric exploits of the bravest soldiers our military has to offer knows the name Marcus Luttrell. He wrote a book about his harrowing experience in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2005 called "Lone Survivor", and for anyone who hasn't read it, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Although I would almost never otherwise link to the Huffington Post because of its political bent, its story about Patrick Robinson (the author who helped write "Lone Survivor" with Marcus) is simply too good not to link to.

As July 4th approached this year, my thoughts initially turned to the same things most Americans think of on that day: great food, fireworks, family, freedom, and a general sense of pride and patriotism. Beyond those things, something began gnawing at me this year...something that made me want to experience this uniquely American holiday at a deeper level and in a way that wasn't all about me. Late last week, I found out that the Mid-South Tea Party was holding a rally on July 4, 2010, and that Marcus Luttrell would be their keynote speaker. Even though I hadn't really planned on it logistically or financially, I knew I had to go. I should also point out that my wife was kind and understanding enough to let me go. Fortunately for me, she knows that I don't really ask for very many things, and that when I tell her something is important, that it means something to me on the inside, she will generally be cool with me going. It's not something every married man has, so I truly appreciate that about her.

Thinking back to yesterday, it was July in Tennessee, which meant it was ridiculously hot and humid, and the place where the rally was offered little in the way of shade. That didn't really seem to matter to the attendees, and there was a palpable buzz in the air awaiting Marcus's speech, even through the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled banner by the crowd. After a couple of cold drinks, it was Marcus's time. For anyone who doesn't know the high points of his story, they can be found here, here, and here. Still, there is nothing in the world that can compare hearing it told live by the man himself.

Going into this, I didn't know if Marcus was going to tell pieces of his story, the whole things, or something in between those two. It turns out that I got more than I could ever have hoped for. Not only did he recount the story of Operation Red Wing, he was kind enough to tell us about some of his childohood in Texas and a few of his experiences in Navy SEAL training. Here are the things I remember most from that day: 1.) Despite hundreds of people in attendance, the blazing sun, and over an hour of speaking from Marcus, I could literally have heard a pin drop the entire time. Everyone was absolutely riveted listening to his story...there was no one going to the bathroom, no children crying, no sodas being opened...nothing. The only exception was the occasional click of a camera from someone taking a picture or two.; 2.) Some of the details from the story were absoluely mind boggling: one of his teammates being blinded by gunfire yet still fighting until being overwhelmed by Taliban fighters; another teammate who was shot multiple times but who managed to call in support before he died; despite a broken neck from multiple falls down the mountain, Marcus having the presence of mind to draw maps on his leg to provide U.S. forces with critical intelligence if he made it out alive; and perhaps most incredibly, Marcus's revelation that he wrang out his socks and drank his own sweat and even sometimes drinking his own urine to stave off dehydration during his seven mile crawl to recovery and ultimate safety. 3.) It was evident that this man, this hero, was and is still heartbroken from his mission, and that he suffers from tremendous survivor's guilt. Lt. Michael Murphy (one of the SEALs killed in his operation) was Luttrell's best friend, and it was clear that these men were blood brothers who loved each other. At the end of his speech Marcus choked up as he recounted his promise to himself and to God at the end of his mission that, although there were times he knew death was coming and some that he might welcome it, if he survived, he would tell his story so that his friends would be remembered and never forgotten.

Like the word "love", the phrase "it changed my life" is badly overused these days, but I can safely say this was a life-changing experience for me. In addition to enhancing my already immense respect for our fighting men and women, it gave me a more human perspective on the struggles through which they suffer so that America and its citizens can be free. It was an honor and a privilege for me to hear Marcus Luttrell speak, and he will remain in my thoughts and prayers for as long as I live. God Bless you Marcus, we love you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

U.S.A. World Cup Miracle Victory

The United States has always had somewhat of a tough go of things in World Cup play. Frankly, soccer is not really an American sport, and it is usually dominated by European and/or South American teams. In 2010, the U.S. had kind of an up and down performance leading up to the World Cup. Although the team ultimately qualified to play, there were times they looked pretty good and others where their age and lack of top end soccer skills showed.

In the first round (Group play) of the 2010 World Cup, the U.S. was in a group with Algeria, Slovenia, and England. Their first game was against England, and although England was clearly the better team, thanks to a lapse in concentration and mistake by England's goalie, the U.S. managed to escape with a 1-1 draw, earning the team 1 point in group play. In their next game against Slovenia, the U.S. went down 2-0 and looked to be on the way out, but they staged a furious second half two goal rally to tie the game. In the last couple of minutes of the Slovenia game, the U.S. was completely robbed by the referee on a terrible offsides call that disallowed what would have been the tying goal. Therefore, they settled for a 2-2 tie, earning one more point for the team in group play. This set up a win or go home scenario in their final game against Algeria. If they won and England won by less than 2 goals, they would win the group, be the top seed from the group in the 2nd round, and have a much easier schedule to play. If they won and England won by 2 goals or more, they would be second place and the second seed from their group, meaning they would have to play an almost impossible schedule of difficult teams to advance.

This soccer game is truly one of the few sporting events where anyone who watched it will remember what they were doing and where they were when they watched it. I happened to be home to watch the game because some repair people were coming to the house, and for a while, it looked like the U.S. would continue its run of World Cup failure. As the game dragged on, the U.S. missed chance after chance to score, hitting the crossbar and the post a couple of times and getting robbed of yet another goal by an awful offsides call by the referee. When the 90th minute came and went, 3 minutes of injury time were announced, and there was little hope in any U.S. fans that victory would come.

Algeria had the first scoring chance in injury time, but U.S. goalie Tim Howard made a good stop, got up quickly, and made a great throw down the right side of the field to start off one of the most famous plays in U.S. soccer history. The throw came to Landon Donovan on the right side, who made a great pass to Jozy Altidore deep in the Algeria side of the field. I thought to myself as the play began that we might have something going, but I didn't want to get my hopes up to be crushed by another failure. Altidore then made a great cross pass to Clint Dempsey, but his shot was blocked by a great sliding tackle from Algeria's goalie. In the next 10 seconds or so, here was the reaction of me and millions of other U.S. soccer fans: 1.) NOOOO!!!! (on the block and tackle by Algeria's goalie); 2.) Hey wait a minute... (as the ball popped out free about 8 yards from the goal with no one around one except U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan); 3.) YEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! Followed up by me running around the house screaming like a madman (after Donovan, cool as a cucumber, knocked home the rebound into the back of the net).

I'm not old enough to remember the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team's Miracle on Ice, and I won't compare the two because this game didn't have the significance of the Miracle on Ice (symbolically helping to begin toppling communist Russia), but this game meant a lot to me and millions of other Americans. If there is any doubt about that, check the internet for the unbridled glee and celebrations that erupted in thousands of bars across America when Donovan's shot found the back of the net. I am privilege to have watched this game live, and even if the U.S. doesn't win another game, I think their World Cup trip was worthwhile.

UPDATE: Even though they won their group and had the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the World Cup, the advancing age, tired legs, and missed scoring chances I mentioned earlier finally caught up to the U.S. in the knockout round as they lost a tough game to Ghana 2-1. Inexplicably, the U.S. coach started a defenseman who had not played in the World Cup at all and who isn't even that good on his MLS team. Sure enough, after a defensive blunder, Ghana took advantage of the blunder and bad positioning by U.S. goalie Tim Howard to go up 1-0. Landon Donovan tied the game on a penalty kick in the second half, and no one else scored in regulation, leading to a 1-1 tie headed into 30 minutes of extra time. 3 minutes into the extra time, the young, fresh legs of Ghana (average team age: 24) made a great play and scored in the 93rd minute. The U.S. could not score, and Ghana won 2-1, eliminating the U.S.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Daughtry and Lifehouse in Nashville

One of my presents to Althea this year for Valentine's Day was a pair of tickets for us to see Chris Daughtry and Lifehouse live in concert at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Before the concert, I took Althea to dinner at Toyama (our favorite Japanese hibachi restaurant), and dinner was just as good there as it is every other time we eat there. The concert was earlier tonight, and here is my review.

The opening band (whose name escapes me) was a rock-ish sort of band, and as opening acts go, they weren't that bad. Still, the fact that I can't remember their name can't be a good thing. Lifehouse was up next, and they were fabulous as always. They are perhaps my favorite overall band of all time, and Althea likes them too, one of the few musical acts for which we both share an affinity. They played about 8 songs, including their biggest hits ("First Time", "Whatever it Takes", Hanging by a Moment"). I really hope (and have heard) that Lifehouse will be headlining a tour later this year and that they will come to Nashville. For reasons I don't know or understand, Lifehouse hasn't played Nashville as a headliner in quite some time (if ever). I saw them play in Knoxville a couple of years ago and earlier tonight as an opening act, but that's pretty much it.

Chris Daughtry was the main act of the evening, and his overall performance was pretty good. The only real issue I had with his performance is that Chris has a bad habit of taking his mouth too far away from the microphone on big notes. My guess is that this tendency is an unfortunate side effect from his American Idol days. On the show, if he kept his mouth close to the microphone, it would sound too much like a scream and sometimes the microphone would screech out feedback on the big notes. That's too bad because he's one of the few rock artists who can actually sing well enough to hit the loud notes with the correct pitch in the proper key.

Since Daughtry hasn't been a big hit or a headliner for very long, he pretty much had to play all his hit songs. I am sure that if I were a bigger fan and/or had listened to each CD of his in its entirety, I would have been more into the show all night. Even so, my favorite song of his ("No Surprise") was a big hit with the crowd, and I enjoyed it immensely right along with them. Perhaps just as (or even more) noteworthy as the performance quality of Chris's songs was the quality of Chris's special guests and cover songs. Chris did a better than serviceable, mostly acoustic rendition of "In the Air Tonight", by Phil Collins, and the accompanying light show was neat to watch. He also performed a cover of "Whipping Post" (originally by The Allman Brothers) as a duet with Brad, the lead singer from Three Doors Down. Although the song itself isn't something I was inspired to run out and buy or listen to, Brad stole the show with his performance of his part of the song. Listening to the relatively vapid and shallow lyrics of the recent work of Three Doors Down, I hadn't really heard anything to indicate any real vocal skill on the part of their lead single. However, Brad's performance of "Whipping Post" was outstanding, showing excellent range, great passion, and good stage presence...I was pleasantly surprised.

For me though, the biggest hit of the show was Chris Daughtry's band-less, acoustic duet with Kelly Clarkson. Both Kelly and Chris said that "Fast Car", by Tracy Chapman, was and is one of their favorite songs of all time. I like the song it very much too, and I was initially concerned that they would mangle it. Fortunately, my concern was misplaced, as both Chris and Kelly turned in stellar performances. Chris played the acoustic guitar and sang his part well, and Kelly sang even better than him. Kelly Clarkson seems like a genuinely real and good person in real life, which makes her success easy to root for. That said, I believe she is at her best when she does slower songs and power ballads. She has the vocal chops for the faster, more pop-heavy songs, but for whatever reason, the emotion doesn't really come through her in those kind of songs, so they come over as somewhat forced and unenjoyable (for her and, in turn, for her fans). Her portion of this performance was striking in its quality, and the feeling with which she sang bordered on hauntingly believable, as if she had experienced the story of the song herself...really a good showing for Kelly.

On the whole, this was an enjoyable show worth the price of admission, and I'm glad I went, but I don't think I would go to see another Daughtry-headlined show again.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vickie Jones, R.I.P.

My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, and from birth until about my 11th birthday, my brother, my father, and I moved around to several different cities in different states. We eventually settled in Lewisburg, Tennessee, a small town about 45 minutes south of Nashville and 25 minutes north of the Alabama/Tennessee state line. Shortly after we got to Lewisburg, my dad started dating a woman about 9 years his junior named Vickie Jones. After about 6 weeks of dating, Vickie moved into our house and never left. My brother and I didn't agree with it at the time, and we weren't asked, but it happened anyway. My Dad and Vickie never officially tied the knot and got married, mostly because Vickie's state-provided medical insurance and other government benefits would have been cut off if they had. Whether my brother and I liked it or not, we had a stepmother in substance if not in fact.

Vickie had a hard life and a hard childhood before she met my dad, but she was basically a good woman with a big heart. I certainly didn't always agree with Vickie, and I had my share of issues with her, but she contributed financially to raising my brother and I, she put up with my biological mother's shenanigans, and she did love my dad and put up with him for the better part of 2 decades, which should qualify her for some sort of sainthood. Also, as I have gotten older, I have learned (for the most part) not to speculate on what goes on between a man and a woman or why 2 people love each other. The fact that she and my father said they loved each other and stayed together all those years was good enough for me.

Unfortunately, Vickie was sick for a very long time. She suffered from a laundry list of ailments, including heart, lung, and breathing problems, and she got progressively sicker over the past 4 years. For the last couple of years, she required in-home care, at-home breathing treatments, and multiple hospital stays. Vickie was admitted to the hospital a couple of weeks ago, and my Dad thought she would come out of the hospital this time just like the other half-dozen times before, until she took a turn for the worse on Monday. The doctors told my Dad she wasn't expected to make it, and her health deteriorated rapidly over the next 24 hours. Vickie passed away with her family and friends at her side just before 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday, February 17, 2010. She was 46 years old.

I spent the next few days helping my dad through the fog that comes with losing a life partner. I set up the arrangements for Vickie's cremation and memorial service, helped Dad with some legal issues surrounding Vickie's will, and made sure that Vickie's crazy, white trash family didn't act a fool at the hospital or the memorial service. I was so glad to be able to be with and there for my dad when he needed me. Even so, it was surreal because I saw and heard my father cry more in the last week than I did during my entire childhood.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how great and understanding my job was about allowing me to leave work and take bereavement leave to be with my family. Also, Dad's co-workers at Federal Express were wonderful. They came to the hospital, sent flowers, and turned out en masse for Vickie's memorial service. It was also great to see my Uncle Dave (my dad's older brother) and my cousins Van and Valerie (my Uncle Dave's kids, who are close to my age). I hope that we are able to see more of each other in the future.

As for Vickie, I was able to talk with her in the hospital the last time she was in the hospital before she died. She told me that she was saved, that she had accepted the Lord as her savior, and that she knew she was going to heaven. Where someone spends eternity is far and away the most important of any of the things I have discussed here, and it is the most important decision of anyone's life. In the hospital, a few minutes before she died, I read Psalm 23 to her, and I like to think that maybe it helped calm her down and kept her from being scared about dying. Our flesh clings to life because we don't know what the great beyond of this life holds for us. I am glad that Vickie is at rest and that she isn't suffering anymore, and she died surrounded by the people who cared about her the most. We should all be so lucky. To Vickie, I would say thank you for helping to raise me, thank you for loving my father, and enjoy heaven until we get there...we will see you again someday.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Individual 2010 New Year's Goals

Too many people these days get married and lose any sense of self and individuality, which I don't think is healthy. So, even though the wife and I have our own joint goals for 2010, I have a couple of individual goals of my own that I intend to complete. My experience has taught me that, the more measurable and simple the goal is, the more likely I am to achieve it. With that in mind, here are my individual goals for 2010:

1.) Over the course of my engagement, honeymoon, and first year of marriage, I put on some unwanted pounds that were the complete opposite of muscle and which were located in the worst possible place (stomach). At one point, I was up to 252 pounds, which is a couple of pounds more than I weighed while I was playing college football, only the distribution of weight was all wrong and didn't look nearly as nice. During my 8+ months of unemployment, I began to limit my calorie intake and really step up my workouts, and I managed to lose a total of 22 pounds, getting down to 230. 230 is much more manageable, and helped some of my clothes to fit better, but it isn't where I want to be weight-wise for the long term. Eventually, I would like to be down under 200 pounds (185-195 would be ideal). Taking into consideration that I don't have a celebrity trainer, and that I have to live in the real world, I want to set a goal that will make real progress toward my target weight, but which won't be so unreasonable that I throw up my hands and quit in disgust (which has happened before).

My minimum weight loss goal is 15 pounds for the year (slightly over 1 pound per month), which would put me at 215 pounds. That said, I would be thrilled to make it to 210 or lower.

2.) I intend to pay off all of my small debts (5 debts, all $ 2,500.00 and lower) by the end of this year, but preferably no later than June or July. Other than money that goes to vacations and recurring bills, after the smaller debts (approximately $ 5,500.00 total) are paid off, the money I was using to pay off those debts will then be directed toward my larger debts.

3.) From time to time, I look at my full bookshelves of all the books I have read and just shake my head. I know most of what I read is stored someplace deep in my brain, but sometimes I can't bring what I have read immediately to mind, especially if it has been a while since I read the book I am trying to remember. Obviously, I can't spend my entire life reading the same books over and over if I expect to learn anything new.

Therefore, going forward, I have decided to write brief summaries of all the books I read. That way, I can pull up the summary I wrote back when I read the book, read it, and hopefully jog my memory as to most of the details of the book in question. Additionally, my book reading goal for this year is to average one book per week, which would be at least 52 books for the year.

If I can complete these goals (and then some), I think this is going to be a great, Happy New Year to all, and I wish you great success on your own goals in the first year of the new decade!