All posts by Guests and Former Contributors

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: Westerns, Blackberries, and Windfall Profits

This was not the day I was expecting.  My school was closed in honor of Veterans Day.  I woke up at 3:00AM (my usual time), got comfortable, and managed to stay in bed ‘til 7:00AM.  My day had endless possibilities.  I walked around in pajamas, drank coffee, and watched a little TV, but a missed call from my husband plus a voicemail was how I learned that my father-in-law, Chris Allgyer, the reason we get to enjoy this beautiful country life, died in his sleep.  Chris had spent the last five days at home but the previous six weeks in the hospital fighting complications from cancer.

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of tears, visitors, and funeral arrangements.  Even the animals were confused at all of the activity.  One of my indoor cats ran outside and had still not come back in by our bedtime adding to my conflicted emotional state.  I went to bed but did not sleep.

Westerns

Chris 1
There weren't many places we went without Chris. This was before a Valentine's Day dinner at a local church.

In 2004 after we sold our house in the city, we moved in with Chris. The trailer was small, but cozy.  Well, not as cozy as it was HOT.  He kept the thermostat at 73 degrees all while running the propane heater in the living room.  I tried to watch Friends reruns, but he insisted on watching anything on the Encore Western channel instead.  Chris loved Western movies.  Gradually, the Westerns grew on me.  I loved the horses and the old-fashioned cowboy attire.  I even consented to watch different versions of the same movie…the old one…. and the really old one.  We continued the “watching Westerns during dinner” tradition even after we moved into our own house.  Most Sunday nights I would cook dinner for Greg and Chris, Chris would complain that I didn’t put enough chicken in whatever we were having (he called it “dragging the chicken through”), and I would find a Western for us to watch during dinner.  After dinner Chris would settle in the big chair, close his eyes, and ask for a blanket.  Our thermostat was not set at 73 degrees.

Blackberries

One day while I was mowing Chris’s yard, I came across some wild blackberries.  He informed me that he knew about a gold mine of the berries and promised to take me.  The next morning we gathered our buckets and I met him at the tractor.  I stood on the Bush Hog (kids, don’t try this at home) and he drove us down to the corner of his property. We picked pails of blackberries and I made my first blackberry jam and cobbler.  This past summer he was too sick to take me, so while my OSU friend Kim was visiting, I took them both to a nearby blackberry farm.  Kim complained about the thorns and Chris could not breath well enough to get out of the car to help.  Chris, sitting there in the car, reminded me of how he used to sit in his own truck in the shade and take a nap.  The cobbler didn’t taste nearly as sweet as it did the summer before.

Windfall Profits

In the summertime, it was often only Chris and I at the ranch.  If I had a little cash on me, I would text Chris and ask him to lunch.  His first question would always be to ask me where I got the money.  My standard answer would be “Don’t worry about it.  I’ve had a windfall profit.”  He always laughed and started calling any amount of cash I had on me a windfall profit. We would try to go to lunch at least once a week or two to the post office in Laconia, TN.  It was one of his favorite places to eat.  For me, not so much, but I would still go and get a little cornbread and green beans while he loaded his plate down with chicken livers, greens, and other country-fried foods.  It didn’t take me long to clean my plate so I could be the first to survey the dessert table and report back the selection.  I’d pay the tab (a total of $8.50 for all-you-can-eat) and we’d head home.  On into the evening he would walk out onto the back porch, turn on the porch light, start up the diesel (I could hear it from my house) and take off for a late night cup of coffee and a lottery ticket.  Before I went to bed I would wait for his headlights to come up his driveway.  If my husband was still awake, I’d simply say, “Dad’s home.”  The truck was parked and the porch light was turned off.


Mitchell, Christin, Chris, and Melissa at Greg's 50th birthday celebration. Chris was proud of his grandchildren.

This morning I woke up to find my missing cat scurrying on the porch past the French doors that face Chris’s trailer.  I noticed the porch light at Chris’s still on.  I know the evenings of looking for his headlights coming up the drive are gone and that porch light will stay on until one of us goes up there to turn it off.  Once I let the cat safely in the house, I thought to myself, “Dad’s home.”

Stories Written in Blood

by Josh Bottomly

Not long ago my wife, Amy, posted a picture of my night stand on her blog.

It was a picture of the books propped up on my stand.

From left to right.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God.

Abraham Heschel’s God in Search of Man.

C.S. Lewis’s Quotables.

Eugene Petersons translation of the Bible, The Message.

And, N.T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone.

An anonymous blogger saw this picture and posed this question directly to me (and indirectly to all Christians):

Why do so many Christians just read Christian books?

My first mental response was of course immature, arrogant, condescending, and reactionary:

How dare you try and pigeonhole!  I peruse the Fiction and Literature section at Barnes and Noble more frequently than I do the Spiritual Devotion section.

I have a undergraduate and graduate degree in English literature.

You name a classic or contemporary author, and I’ll bet I have studied him or her.  Shakespeare.  Check.  O’ Connor.  Check.  Camus.  Check.  Kerouac.  Check.

But later, after I had calmed down, I sat down to think a bit about that anonymous person’s question.  It’s an appropriate question, really.  And it was probably not meant to stir up conflict. But conversation.

So after some reflection, this is how I responded to this blogger.

Simply put: I’m interested in reading any story that is written in blood.

Take East of Eden by John Steinbeck, for example. Now that’s a book written in blood. Who of us hasn’t felt an acute sense of displacement? It’s not that we are living in the wrong place; just the wrong way. Or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  I’ve got a son now and the thought of dying for Silas – not a iota of fear. But the thought of Silas having to live beyond my dying love – nothing but fear.

Any story then that struggles with what it means to be human, what it means to walk upright in a bent world, what it means to live within tensions and questions and doubts – that’s a story I want to read and participate in because it is written in the author’s blood. Whether it is written by a Christian. Or agnostic. Or atheist. Or Buddhist. Or Muslim.  Because all truth is God’s truth.  And part of the theology of common grace includes the animating belief that when we tell the truth about our experience of being human, regardless of our “worldview” or religious belief system, somehow, in some mysterious way, a “gleam of the evengelium”, as J.R.R. Tolkien argued, shines through.

J.R.R. Tolkein, smoking his famous pipe.

So I pose this contagion of questions for you to ponder – Christian or not:

What books have you read that are written in blood?

What stories have spoken and resonated with your deepest humanity?

What narratives have shaped the way you understand the narrative we live in?

No doubt, I’m always looking for a good read. And by good, I mean a story where the author simply has the courage as Fredrick Buechner puts it,  to “open a vein.”

Real Men and Picking up the Tab

Men eating dinner while aboard the Atlantic Clipper. (Photo by Bernard Hoffman//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

When dining out at a restaurant with another person or group of people, a real man is just as likely to pick up the tab for the people he’s with as he is to graciously accept someone else’s offer to pay. A real man doesn’t argue over who’s going to pay. He either pays for his own meal, pays for both his and the other party’s, or if the other party attempts to pay for his meal, accepts their offer without making a fuss.

There’s no middle ground here.

There’s nothing masculine about arguing with another person over who gets to pick up the check after dining out. It’s like dancing. When it comes time to settle the check, the first person to speak is the one who gets to lead. If you’re the first to speak, then you get to lead. If not, just go where the other party takes you without stepping on their toes.

This really is a finer (and in many ways lost) art of manhood, I think. To continue with the dancing metaphor, it’s the difference between looking like a couple of junior high kids at the 8th grade sweetheart dance and Gene Kelly. The latter pulls it off with grace and style while the former just fumble around the floor trying not to let their hands fall below the predetermined, chaperone-approved line on their partner’s back.

The next time you’re out to dinner with another person, either pick up the tab, pay for your own meal, or graciously let them pay if they offer before you speak. Don’t try to appear chivalrous by going back and forth with them only to fold a few seconds letter with the same end result.

I learned this from my dad who likes to pick up the tab for other people. I’ve seen him pick up the tab over and over again throughout my life and I’ve rarely seen another man accept it without resorting to the obligatory give and take, back and forth debate before letting him actually pay. I’m not sure, but these types of scenarios may even offend my dad. At the very least, whether it offends him or not, the men who dicker back and forth with him about it just end up looking silly… at least in my humble opinion. And yet, on those occasions where I’ve seen other people offer to pay for my dad’s meal, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed him argue with them. He just rolls with it… usually.

I mean, think about it, what’s at stake here? At most (if you’re at a fancy place like Taco Cabana or some other swanky joint like Sizzler or Jack in the Box) we’re talking $50 to $100 maximum. In the grand scheme of life, being able to pick up a $50 or $100 tab, while generous, is not necessarily some great feat of manhood. In fact, just about any dude with a credit card has the ability to do this at will.

Just as picking up the tab for others doesn’t make a man more masculine, the converse is also true. Letting another man pick up your tab when he asks to does not make you any less of man. It’s not like the man who offers to pay your tab thinks you can’t afford the $50. If he thought you couldn’t afford to pick up your own tab, he wouldn’t have invited you to the Taco Cabana. He would have invited you to Taco Mayo, where even the poorest man can eat like a king.

The man who offers to pick up your tab is doing so out of a spirit of generosity. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my brief stint as a professional raiser of funds, it’s to let people who want to be generous, BE GENEROUS.

Well… now that I’ve beat this issue to a pulp, I only have one other thing to say in relation to picking up the tab. No matter who pays, NEVER EVER skimp on the tip. There’s nothing that screams, “I am not a real man!” any louder than leaving a lame tip.

15% is the standard so unless your waiter or waitress is just a complete jerk, never leave less than that. In fact, in keeping with the generosity theme, if your service is half-way decent and the person serving you is even half-way friendly, why not leave a 20% tip and make their day?

The next time you dine with someone else and they offer to pay for your meal, all you need to do is respond with a simple and authentic THANK YOU. Instead of putting up the obligatory and, in most cases, contrived fight, just make a mental note of the occasion, enjoy the rest of the meal, and the next time you dine with that person, remember to take the lead and offer to pay for their tab before they have a chance to speak.

Stockyards City Cookbook Cook-Through: Cowboy Caviar!

Not exactly fish eggs…much better! I am a hairstylist and any excuse we can find to bring food to the salon we jump at. The day before Halloween we all dressed up and had a pot luck. I have to say I don’t think I have ever seen that much food in one place before! I knew from the past that its best to take something that can easily be snacked on in-between clients. Everyone at work “jokingly” calls me Betty Crocker; little do they know it’s really not as hard as it looks!

Flipping through the cookbook I looked for a recipe that had ingredients that I might already have at home. I finally decided on Cowboy Caviar. It definitely doesn’t look too pretty, if you’re a presentation person, but sure does taste good! (Friends at work turned their noses up at first but by the end of the day it was gone!) This is a very simple recipe if you need something last minute. Also, if you are following through the cookbook with us and cooking most of these items I would suggest buying a large bag of shredded cheese and a box of cream cheese from Sams. It will save you time and money, both of which I know we can all use these days!

Cowboy Caviar

by Tracy Holland

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (8oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened

2 cans chopped black olives

2 T. oil

2 T. lime juice ( I cut one lime in half and squeezed the juice from it into the mix)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Combine beans, olives, oil, lime juice and spices. Let sit 2 hours. Spread cream cheese on a plate and top with bean mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Happy Cooking!

Whitni

Editor’s Note – Want to see the other recipe’s Whitni and Jani have prepared from the cookbook thus far?  Simply go to our “Categories” section on the right hand of our home page, and use the drop down selector to find “Stockyards City Cookbook.”

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch: Get Your Roof On With Rusty Hilger

So my husband and I are building this barn, right?  And it’s really going pretty well thanks to our family and friends who have sacrificed some Saturdays and our two friends Trial and Error who are there every day.   The posts are in the ground and the trusses are up. It’s not that I don’t trust my husband’s judgment, but I just wanted to talk to an expert; enter former Oklahoma State University and NFL quarterback Rusty Hilger.

Rusty Hilger, today
After a successful college and NFL football career, Rusty is again leading his team in the home construction industry.

Julie: How did you get into the construction industry?

Rusty: I had just turned 16 in the summer of 1978 and I needed a way to pay for my first pickup truck. Trust me, it wasn’t much of a truck, but the $2.00 per hour I was earning at the local skating rink was no longer an option. South Oklahoma City was growing and new construction was everywhere. My truck and I got a job with a local homebuilder cleaning and organizing home sites prior to the final landscaping. In the summer of 1979, I worked for a roofing company and roofed my first house, read more and her about my career here. During college, I worked summer construction jobs in Oklahoma City, Stillwater, and Tulsa for 3 different OSU Alumni. In 1985, an NFL career put my construction career on hold until 1990, when we undertook a four-month project to remodel and re-open the old Split-T restaurant in OKC. After retirement from the NFL in 1992, a career in construction seemed natural.

Julie: What kind of roof system is best suited for Oklahoma residents?

Rusty: Sooner or later (strike that; sorry Pistol Pete) at some point, most roof shoppers ask this simple question, even after they visit our website. First of all, find a roofing contractor online to find ensure a good roof system. The best roofing system is actually “Full Replacement Cost” insurance with a $500 dollar deductible.+  Why? Since January of 2008, according to the National Weather Service, we have had more than 140 days of severe hail measuring 3/4” or larger in Oklahoma. In May of 2010, the hailstones were so large they came through the roof and into the home in some neighborhoods. No roof system will withstand these conditions and it is only a matter of time before it happens at your home, you can continue reading here for better options on roofing. Many of our clients have replaced their roofing systems twice within the past 3 years. Check your policy or contact your agent for details. If you don’t have Full Replacement Cost insurance, get it!

Julie:  Winter is on its way.  Do you have any advice regarding protection from Oklahoma ice?

Rusty: Protection against ice dams is required at eaves wherever the January average temperature is 25*F or lower or where there is a possibility of ice forming in the eaves. From Kansas to the North Pole this product is required as code. In Oklahoma it is an option, yet Oklahoma ice storms and snow create problems if this product is not used. It creates a 100% watertight seal that keeps water out at the most vulnerable areas of your roof (at the eaves and rakes, in valleys, around chimneys, pipes, etc.).

Julie: What is the biggest mistake that home owners make regarding roof upkeep or maintenance?

Rusty:  With the exception of storm damage, the weakest link in any roofing system remains the pipes sticking up through the roof. Most pipes are made of PVC and the pipe jack is a rubber-like material used to seal around the pipe. This rubber-like material will deteriorate over time at a faster rate than the shingles. The pipes should be checked every year and a special roofing silicone should be used to ensure a watertight seal.

Julie: What do you love the most about Oklahoma?

Rusty: Oklahomans are committed to the values important to me: God, family, friends, and football!. I was born and raised in Oklahoma City and attended Oklahoma State University before being drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985. I loved the time I spent in Manhattan Beach, Ca; Birmingham (Detroit) MI; Seattle, WA; Indianapolis, IN; Dallas, TX; and Nassau, Bahamas. Although these are some terrific cities, none of them compare to the down-home family lifestyle and attitude of our neighbors here in the great state of Oklahoma.

Julie:  If anyone has more questions about roof replacement, how can they contact you?

Rusty Hilger, #12
Rusty has lots of great information to share about protecting your home.

Rusty: If you have questions, send an email to contact@oklahomaroofing.net or call anytime at 405.227.9689.

Wow! Rusty had some great information to share.  The most surprising to me was that we both spent time on roofs in the 70’s!  If you want to know more about that, contact me.  If you need to know more about getting a new roof, you need to contact Rusty.Thanks to Rusty for sharing his expertise with me….and now with you!  Happy building!

Real Men and Waking Up Early

As I sit here basking in the glow of my 13 inch computer in an otherwise dark room this morning, I’m reminded about one of what I consider to be one of the great tenets of manhood; that is, waking up early.

As a child and then a teenager, I was always amazed each morning at how early my dad woke up. No matter how early I got up each day, without fail, he would already be awake and laying on the couch wearing his Nike hoodie, reading the paper.

The funny thing is… the man is not an early to bed kind of guy. This is a man who regularly stayed up late to watch Letterman in its entirety. The even more amazing thing to me, that I’ve only learned in the past few years, is that he never uses an alarm clock.

I never understood that facet of my dad’s life until recently. You see, for most of my life I’ve told myself a story that wasn’t true. And while I’ve definitely told myself many stories that aren’t true, the story I’m talking about right now is the that I was not a morning person.

For most of my life, I’ve been a snoozer. When I was a kid, my parents had to institute a 10 a.m. reverse bedtime during the summers and weekends to prevent me from sleeping all day. And boy did I ever balk at that one. In college, if I didn’t have early morning classes, I could (and often did) sleep until 10:40 or so no matter how late I stayed up.

That was my sleeping in pattern for most of my life.

A few months ago, that all changed. A guy who’s blog I read, posted about the idea that each of us has several internal stories (plural) which may or may not be true that we tell ourselves which make up our STORY (singular).

I’ve always been a firm believer that our lives are stories, and his post got me thinking about my life and the stories I’ve told myself that maybe weren’t true.

The timing of that post couldn’t have been better. Just a few days earlier, I’d heard a man speak at a luncheon who’s own story really resonated with me. A very successful business man and person of faith, the speaker spoke on the importance of being a man of discipline. A man of discipline himself, he spoke about how men of discipline wake up early: A) because it’s difficult; and, B) because life is short and sleeping through too much of it really is a waste.

The combination of the post about the stories we tell ourselves that aren’t always true and the idea that men of discipline wake up early couldn’t have intersected more perfectly in my life. I left the luncheon thinking to myself, “Self… I want to be a man of discipline even if that means waking up early.”

And so that night, I set my alarm to go off the next day at 5:00 a.m. When it went off, I got up. I read a few chapters of a book I was reading at the time, I prayed, I sat in silence, and I ran a mile. Despite the fact that I was exhausted by 2 p.m. that afternoon, it was a great experience.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I read the aforementioned blog post that I was really able to articulate what I’d already been feeling about my own story as a morning person. Since that time (it was last November) I’ve been re-telling myself that story almost every day when my alarm goes off and I stumble out of bed at 5, 5:30, or (on bad days) 6:00 a.m.

As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Waking up early has been a great help in my attempts to stop and look around every once in a while.

Some mornings I go for a run. Some mornings I take a walk. Some mornings I read. Some mornings I write. Some mornings I reflect on who I am or what I’m accomplishing. Some mornings I think about my marriage. Some mornings I talk to God. Some mornings I just listen for his voice. And some mornings, (rarely but still occasionally) I waste almost 2 hours perusing the Facebooks, or the Twitterz, or my Google Reader RSS subscriptions.

I’m hesitant to say that waking up early has changed my life, but honestly, I can say I’ve seen a marked improvement in my quality of life since last November when I started waking up early.

As a man, I think there’s something deep in my core that calls me toward self-improvement and challenge. Waking up early, though really a small thing, has been a challenge that I’ve taken on successfully. Not only have I had more time to myself each morning for personal and spiritual reflection and development, but each day I get out of my bed before the sun comes up, I reinforce the idea that I have control over and can change the stories I tell myself.

The little victory I’ve had over my sleep story has started to make me question other questionably “true” stories that I’ve been telling myself for too long. It’s amazing how one little victory combined with a few more early morning hours of introspection each day can make all the difference in helping us become the men we want to be.

For me, realizing I could wake up early was not only a victory over a very real physiological and mental myth in my life, but it was also one of many early steps in my realization that I still had a long journey toward becoming a real man… a journey I’m still learning from and enjoying almost every day before most people are even awake.

Sometimes a real man does things that are difficult simply because of the discipline it takes to do so. I want to be a real man. I want to be a man of discipline. For me, a big part of that means I wake up early.

What about you?

NaNoWriMo: A Primer

~by Joey Rodman

For the uninformed November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. Every November across the nation and around the world there are thousands of people who sit down and write an entire novel. It’s a competition against yourself. If you write 50K words in 30 days you win.  If you don’t… well, you tried to win. When you think about it, there’s never a loser. I’ve been participating since 2005 and look forward to it every year.

Click photo to visit Sara Gonzales' webstie from where the graphic was derived.

Before you start thinking the things I know you already are, stop and breathe. It’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s almost as crazy as it sounds, but we’ll leave that part aside for now. Deep breath, open mind, positive thoughts…..and GO.

If you’re like most people I know, you want to write a book. I hear this from people often when they find out I write. They say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel but I never have the time.” Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s time. I know some of you are thinking: “Is 50K words really a novel?” Yes.  40K words is a novella, and 50K is a novel. While there are many novels that are much longer, many novels have about fifty thousand words. One of my favorite books of all time, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is about fifty thousand words long. (Also included: Brave New World and The Great Gatsby.)

National novel writing month started in 1999 with a group of 21; last year there were just under 170, 000 participants. In the Oklahoma City area alone we have almost 1000 participants according to the NaNoWriMo website. When you choose to write a novel in November you’re not alone. Writing a novel with the support of others makes it much easier than writing a novel alone. The accountability alone is empowering, but the social aspect really helps to move things along.

Now, down to the nitty gritty. If you’re really considering this, here are 10 things you should know:

  1. It doesn’t have to be good. The point of NaNoWriMo is to come out of November with a first draft, or if you’re a perfectionist like myself, a “pre-first draft” because first draft connotes some level of completeness that I feel I can’t be expected to do in a month.
  2. It’s okay to fail. Nobody really can say anything to you if you don’t finish. They can try but your retort should be “Oh yeah?! Well, how many books did YOU write this month?!”
  3. It’s only 1667 words a day. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really not much. Right now, at the end of this sentence I have over 600 words….that’s about 35% of your daily word count.
  4. When you come to meet-ups it’s not a competition, unless you want it to be. We have all won and lost before, and the ones who haven’t are in their first year too… it’s all about succeeding together. Every once in a while a “word war” will break out which is a short burst of writing frenzy where the timer starts and you write as much as you can before it goes off. Whoever gets the most wins, and who ever doesn’t win got a LOT of new words typed.
  5. You don’t need a plot, characters, outline or plan. Write whatever you want, you can fix it later.
  6. You can’t/shouldn’t edit in November. You’ll never win if you edit while you write. Leave the mistakes in (it’s hard!) and go back later (after November!) and fix them. Be sure to let us know about the really funny ones, we call them NaNoisms. NaNoism: a typo the detonates and takes out the entire sentence around it. See: “the dragon escaped by flapping its enormous wigs,” or “he bowed to thundering applesauce.”
  7. Write now. Since the “rules” say from November 1st to the 30th and it’s already November, start now. Don’t worry about missing a day or two. Head over to the NaNoWriMo website, sign up and start writing. Open up a word processing document, type “Chapter 1” , save it, close it. Go to the NaNoWriMo website and update your wordcount, 2 words. You have officially done better than many people who sign up. Now close your browser and go write your novel.
  8. Come to meet-ups. Jasmine Brothers (our municipal liasion) says: The meet ups happen during November primarily so people can socialize, get away from writing for a bit…or brag, or complain, or run over plot details to try to make them make sense. Some folks chose to write in good company, and word wars have broken out. Someone behind the scenes with NaNo actually ran the numbers once, and it turns out that more than half of all the people who sign up each year never enter a word count. Among the half who do, those who participate in the forums are more likely to make it to 50,000 words than those who don’t…and those who go to meet ups are even more likely than those who only hang out on the forums. I personally think that has to do with the support and companionship you receive…hitting that 50,000 isn’t a solo effort anymore.
  9. Write anywhere. Whether you have a laptop, a spiral notebook, or an old Smith Corona you can write anywhere you are. I take a notebook with me to sort out my plot bunnies and write down ideas when away from home. Plot bunny: a random idea that comes hopping up and demands your attention. These are known to go on to spawn lots of cute little sub-plots, and so can be said to ‘breed like bunnies.’
  10. Whatever you do, have fun. Life is too short to have regrets. If you get stuck come to a meetup and we’ll help you.

Final word count for this entry? Nearly 1000 words. See? I told you it was easy.

 

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: Keep on Farm Truckin’

My very first car was a red, 1967 Ford Mustang.  Red dust (old paint) clung to every individual who attempted to lean against it.

The vinyl top was mostly gone, and the condition of the seats….well, they were bad.  I was taught how to use a screwdriver on the starter to start it.  Piece by piece the car was revived to it’s almost original state and accessorized with a collection of B. Kliban Cat pillows.  It lasted the rest of high school and most of college then I wrecked it.  Bummer.  It had the coolness factor.  As punishment for wrecking the cool car, my parents bought me a beige Chevy Citation and told me I would be paying them for it.  Definitely not cool.

Fiat Spider
The love we have of our cars is documented through time in photos like this one. This is about 1985.

I declined the offer and purchased a little silver Fiat Spider convertible before the month was over.  The convertible top had to be duct-taped in the winter.

The next phase of my car purchases was not as exciting.  My current Saturn Vue has cloth seats, and yes, there are days when I miss those heated leather seats.  It’s not the coolest car I’ve ever driven, but it’s pretty reliable and gets me back and forth to work.  It’s just not exactly what I need on the weekends.

Dually
My father-in-law's 1993 Chevrolet 3500....our farm truck.

Enter the farm truck.  Ours is a 1993 Chevrolet 3500 known by us as “The Dually.”  It belongs to my father-in-law, and he is proud to drive it to do “farm-type” errands that involve more filth than usual.

The farm truck is essential to life in the country.  Need some lumber?  The farm truck can haul it.  No trash pick up?  No problem.  There is plenty of room on the farm truck.  Wearing muddy boots?  Hop in the farm truck.  The inside is trashed anyway.  No one will care.   When it comes to cool, there is nothing cooler than driving a farm truck…unless it had some cute pillows in the back.

I’m going to work on that.

No Man is an Island Jack

In 1986, Robin Williams starred in a movie of great acclaim, Club Paradise. The title of this post, a line from that movie, is my homage to the film and to the fact that real men need other men.

This line has stuck with me through my life mainly because of its humor. There’s a scene in the movie where one of the characters tells Robin Williams (whose name is Jack) that, “No man is an island, Jack.” Another one of the characters hears this line, doesn’t realize there’s a comma in there or that it’s a famous quote, and immediately makes a song out of it. “No man is an island, Jack.” becomes “No man is an Island Jack” and Island Jack is born.

While the Club Paradise movie may or may not be the best inspiration for a blog post on what constitutes a real man, that famous line from it certainly is.

While times of solitude are certainly important for real men, a real man knows that he is not an island and that he needs friendships with other men if he’s going to make it in this life.

The problem with our culture in the U.S. is that too many of us are caught up in the false notion of independence as a virtue. If you don’t believe me, just take a few minutes and think about the title of the document that kicked off the revolutionary war that started our country. (The funny thing about the Declaration of INDEPENDENCE was that it actually required a great solidarity among men to make it happen and carry it out to fruition… but we forget that today sometimes.)

In today’s world, and for the last couple hundred years, men have been taught to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and to make their own way. It’s the whole, “Go west young man, go west!” idea played out to its worst extremes.

And yet the reality remains that men need other men. The earliest people to inhabit this earth knew this instinctively. As a matter of fact, for most of human history, with the last few hundred years being the exception, people lived together in tribes. In the grand scheme of things, the idea of the independent and self-made man is a relatively new (and largely unproven) idea.

Life is going to be difficult at times and the people who depend on us need us to be strong men who go to bat for them and get us through those times. When life goes to crap, we only have so much inherent strength within us that we can draw from to make it through. When that strength is depleted, where will you go to replenish yours? Don’t put that on the woman in your life. It’s not her burden to bear. No, when life requires more strength than we as individual men can muster, we need to draw from the fellowship of other men who have been through whatever it is that’s depleting our strength.

When life get’s tough, we need other men who know us to the core. We all have friends who know us to some degree, but when life requires great strength, we need men who know our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Men who will call us out when they see us on the verge of making a colossal mistake. Men who will lift us up when we fail and stand beside us in adversity.

Do you have men like that in your life? Does your life look more tribal or more nomadic? If you answered nomadic, I encourage you to find other men who also realize that life is a journey and that journeys are not meant to be taken alone.

I think this idea is part of what made the men of the Greatest Generation so great. The men of that generation went to war together. They fought the enemy and the elements together. At times they slept back to back in foxholes at night supporting each other. They never left another man behind. And despite how the horrors of war impacted many of them in negative ways, they developed a great appreciation for the value of fellowship with other men.

I want to be the kind of man who has deep bonds of friendship with other men. I want men in my life who know my struggles, who know my strengths, and who aren’t afraid to run out onto the battlefield and pull me back to safety when they see me wounded. And I want to do the same for them.

No man is an Island Jack but a group of islands is an archipelago… think about it.

*Thank you Jimmy Cliff for the sweet reggae.

You can find more “Finding Manhood” essays here.

Wading Through the Wackiness of College Football

It’s a good thing I don’t gamble on sports.  I’d have better luck picking Powerball numbers than predicting the outcome of college football games much less how the season is going to play out.  This year on the gridiron is like a science experiment gone wrong.  There is no hypothesis to be made, because there are no trends, no consistent data, no rhyme, no reason, only random chaos. 

Baylor QB Robert Griffin has the Bears bowl eligible and in first place in the Big 12 South.

How else can you describe what’s happening in the Big 12?  Baylor, yes Baylor is in first place in the Big 12 South.  This is the same Baylor that’s been a doormat of the conference for more than a decade.  Eight games into the season and the Bears are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.  Right now, Baylor looks every bit as good as Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State.  Maybe better.  I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. 

Try to wrap your brain around this:  Oklahoma blasts Iowa State 52-0; the Cyclones then dominate Texas in Austin, the same Texas team that just came off a convincing road win at previously unbeaten Nebraska.  Those same Huskers that were locked up by the ‘Horns, go to Stillwater and hang 51 on the undefeated Cowboys. 

But the wackiness isn’t limited to the Big 12.  The number one team has now fallen in three straight weeks.  That hasn’t happened since 1960.  Maybe the most bizarre part of it all is the fact that a computer gets to decide how an eventual champion will be determined.  Ever try arguing with a computer?  I’ve yelled at, sworn at, and pleaded with my computer, but it can’t be reasoned with.  The folks at the BCS obviously think computers are smarter than humans.  I won’t win that debate, so let me just make some general comments and predictions that will surely go wrong because they come from my feeble human brain.

WHAT HAPPENED TO OU AND OSU?

Sooner fans, let me be clear.  Your team was badly exposed and outplayed the other night in Columbia.  OU was not, is not, and won’t be the best team in college football this year.  To think otherwise is simply delusional.  The Sooners were not worthy of the number one BCS ranking, and there is a laundry list of reasons. 

Landry Jones and the Sooners got sacked by Mizzou.

First, the best team in the country doesn’t turn the ball over twice inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.  Second, a team that can win a national title is a team that can rush the quarterback effectively and tackle in the secondary.  The Sooners can do neither.  Third, the quarterback for the best team in the country doesn’t continually pull this Jekyll and Hyde act.  Landry Jones is one player at home, and a complete mess on the road.  Staring down your intended receiver is not a trait of the leader of the best team in the land.  Fourth, the last time I checked you are the University of freaking Oklahoma.  With your history and tradition, you are one of the powers in college football.  Why in the name of Bud Wilkinson can’t you find someone who can kick a 30 yard field goal?  Please tell me why the coaching staff isn’t bringing in one of the country’s best high school kickers year after year?  A big time football program like the one in Norman has no excuse for this.  None.  Fifth, and maybe most importantly, the best team in the country doesn’t quit.  How else do you describe what Bob Stoops did when he elected to punt with two minutes left?  No, you’re probably not going to win the game, but what kind of message does punting send to your players and to your fans?  It says we’ve lost, we’re done, let’s get this over with please.  

Nebraska ran away from OSU, piling up 540 yards in a 51-41 victory.

The message to Oklahoma State fans is much simpler.  If your team is ever going to contend for a South title or a conference title, you must have a defense.  The last decade in Stillwater has seen a carousel of coordinators with very limited results.    Right now OSU ranks 97th in the country in total defense, but 3rd in total offense.  Sadly, it’s the same song, different verse for the Cowboys.  Oklahoma State hasn’t had a defensive player drafted in the first round since Kevin Williams in 2003.  There just isn’t enough top-notch talent on that side of the ball coming through Stillwater.  Put a halfway decent defense with the Pokes’ offensive talent, and there’s a team I will believe in.

WHO WINS THE BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP?

Maybe it’s too soon after the weekend, but I have very little confidence in OU being able to run the table.  The Sooners are abysmal on the road and tough tests remain in Waco, College Station, and Stillwater.  On the other hand, I can’t pick OSU because the meat of the Cowboys’ schedule is still ahead, and did I mention their defense?  Texas is done, and Baylor might just be the best team in the South.  I’m going to repeat this sentence three times: “Baylor wins the Big 12 South.”  Every time I say it, it sounds more absurd.  I’m not ready for it.  Sorry Bears, I’ll go with OU by default. 

Is Bo Pelini the man to lead the Huskers back to prominence?

My gut tells me Nebraska is the best team in the conference, and I see a massive let down for Mizzou when the Tigers invade Lincoln this week.  I love Bo Pelini’s coaching style and his intensity, no way the Huskers are dropping two straight at home.  Nebraska takes its first step back to being the program it was in the 90’s by winning the Big 12 championship.

WHICH TEAM IS REALLY THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY?

Not an easy answer, but I believe Alabama is the most complete team I’ve seen.  Sure, the Tide lost to South Carolina, but the loss was early enough in the season for Nick Saban’s team to recover.  Alabama has two of the criteria I’m looking for in a title contender.  Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson makeup the best backfield in the country, and if Saban will just stick with the ground game for four quarters, the Tide can roll all the way to a championship.  ‘Bama also plays great defense, a defense that will be meet it’s toughest test when Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa on November 26th

Auburn won’t get past Alabama, and I don’t see Oregon going unscathed either.  The Ducks go to USC, have to get by Arizona at home, then survive the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvalis.  Chip Kelly has done a phenomenal job with that team, but a one loss Oregon team isn’t going to pass a one loss Alabama team.

I can’t convince myself that Michigan State is for real (maybe if the Spartans win at Iowa this week), and even though Boise State and TCU deserve to be highly ranked, I can’t label them as the best because of the competition they face. 

‘Bama plays Boise for the national championship and the Crimson Tide, improbable as it may sound, finds a way to win back to back titles. 

(I can’t wait to come back to this column after the season and see just how far off I was!)

WHO WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY?

Sadly this award has become a trophy for the best player on a front running team.  The number in the loss column matters more than all the other stats combined.  That said, right now it’s Cam Newton’s to lose.  If the Auburn quarterback leads his team to victory in Tuscaloosa, there’s no way he’s not hoisting that bronze statue.

WHICH TEAM IS MOST OVERRATED?

Missouri.  Major props for beating a mistake prone and highly overrated Oklahoma team on your home field, but I’m not ready to buy in to the Tigers just yet.  Mizzou’s non-conference schedule featured a long list of puff pastries, and again the toughest game to date was at home.  I’ll maintain that OU lost that game more than Mizzou won it.  I’d also like to see Blaine Gabbert complete a pass over 15 yards.  The Tigers have a chance to prove me wrong this weekend at Nebraska.  Win in Lincoln and you’ll get rid of the overrated tag in a hurry.  But for now, I’m not a believer.

WHICH TEAM IS MOST UNDERRATED?

Utah.  Nobody is talking about the Utes even though they’re undefeated.  Kyle Whittingham’s team is 14th in the country in total offense and 5th in total defense.  In other words, the Utes are getting it done on both sides of the ball.  You want style points?  Utah is beating up the opposition by an average of 35 points per game.  This team shouldn’t be under the radar because of what its accomplished over the last few years.  The Utes haven’t lost a bowl game under Whittingham and have two BCS bowl victories to their credit.  If the Utes get through this current gauntlet of games (at Air Force, vs. TCU, at Notre Dame), there’s no way they should be ignored.

Take that computers.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch: Back In The Saddle

hugh
Hugh sittin' proud on his new horse Andy. It's only a matter of time before Hugh outgrows this saddle he has had since he was eight months old.
saddle
Judy's saddle purchased for the second time. I'm the lucky one who got to use it on this trail ride.

I’m sure there is a story behind Gene Autrey’s old song “I’m Back In The Saddle Again.”

I’m not sure what it is… but from now on I’m going to think about this one:

When Judy Hart Nelson was nine years old, she convinced her dad that riding a horse was not just a passing fancy.  She wanted a real saddle.  They went to a local horse tack auction near Chickasha, OK and purchased one for her.  She used that same saddle on her horse, Cupcake, until it was time for her to go off to college and then Cupcake was sold.  The saddle went into the attic.  A few years later, thinking that her horse-riding days were over, Judy also sold the saddle.

Twenty five years passed.

Circumstances allowed Judy to return to the countryside where she could own a few horses.  After Judy’s dad died in 2007, she recalled the special memory of their trip to the horse auction.  It made her wonder about that old saddle.  Amazingly, the man who purchased the saddle entered Judy’s workplace on business and Judy decided to ask him about the saddle that held so many special memories for her.

The saddle had been used as an elk hunting saddle in Colorado.  It was sturdy and had carried many elk for this avid hunter.  Judy didn’t care what shape it was in.  She asked to buy it back, and he let her.

Judy’s son, Hugh Hart Nelson, is nine years old and is just about to outgrow the saddle he got from his dad before he even reached his first birthday.  Soon he and his parents will make a trip to an auction or tack shop to purchase the saddle he will use for the rest of his life.

No doubt this saddle they choose for her son Hugh will not get to see the same adventures as Judy’s old saddle unless it’s with its owner.  Judy has learned her lesson.

“Whoopi-ty-aye-oh

Rockin’ to and fro

Back in the saddle again

Whoopi-ty-aye-yay

I go my way

Back in the saddle again.”

Back In the Saddle Again lyrics/ Gene Autry (click link to enjoy the song)

6’4″, 29, 220

Editor’s Note: For two months now, we’ve featured “Finding Manhood” on our Man Cave page as one of our partnership blogs we recommend.  We’re pleased to announce that beginning each Wednesday, we’ll now have a feature from their “Best Of” archives to share with our community.  Finally…regular Man Cave stuff AND Sports stuff!  I loved this post, and am glad it was chosen to kick off this weekly segment – Red Dirt Kelly

***

It could be said that I am a big college football fan. It could also be said that I’m an even bigger University of Oklahoma (OU) college football fan.

My dad started taking me to games in Norman when I was a little kid and that tradition has continued into adulthood. In those rare occasions when I’ve been unable to make it to Norman for a game that is not televised, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to be a part of Bob Barry’s play-by-play color commentary on the radio for the better part of my life.

While there’s a lot I could say about Bob Barry and his style of radio announcing, the one thing that has stood out to me over the years is the way he introduces the players at both the beginning of the game and as they check into the huddle. After saying a player’s name and usually his hometown, Bob most always follows it with three numbers. For years I had no idea what the numbers were until one day a good friend cleared it up for me.

Each time a new player comes on the field, Bob says their height, age, and weight after announcing their name and the town they are from. Because I didn’t realize what that was until later in life, I always find it really amusing anytime I hear it now. For example, if I were walking out to the huddle for my debut as the starting left tackle for the University of Oklahoma, those listening to 107.7 KRXO FM in the greater Oklahoma City area would hear: “Michael Mitchell subbing in for the Sooners from Oklahoma City. 6’4″, 29, 220.”

Amusing though I find it, those 3 numbers really do matter in the game of college football… sometimes (see story about Darren Sproles below). If you tell me a guy’s age, his height, and his weight, you’ve told me a lot about him as a football player. I can generally gauge by his age the level of maturity and in-game instinct he’s going to have on the field. Obviously, his height and weight tell me a lot about his physical development and strength… how much power he’s going to pack. I like Bob Barry’s system because I like making snap judgments and it gives me a very quick, very simple shortcut to size a guy up.

As men, many of us are a lot like Bob Barry in that respect. We carry around numbers in our heads that are important to us and that we compare to the numbers of other men we know.

As we get older, the numbers we carry around in our heads are no longer our height, age, and weight…though for some men all three of Bob Barry’s numbers remain a big part of their identity.

And while it’s likely that you probably don’t care too much about your own height, age, and weight (unless you’re extreme in any of them to the point of medical danger), you probably carry around other numbers that you think ARE important.

For some men, it’s our salary. The more zeros at the end, the better, right? For other men, the number that matters is the number of letters we have after our names. For some of us, it’s the square footage of our homes or the number of toys our kids get on their birthdays. For others, it’s our golf handicap. And for some of us, it’s the dollar amount of our retirement account. (I do enjoy a good rhyme.)

No matter what numbers you carry around in your head, the fact remains that as men a lot of us have a hard time being comfortable in our own skin without comparing ourselves to others. We place way too much value on numbers that really don’t matter.

The problem with the numbers we carry around is at least two-fold.

First, much like the game of football, no matter what number we use from which to base our evaluations of ourselves and comparisons to other men, there’s always going to be someone with a better number than us. In football, it’s usually the left tackle.  But even the biggest left tackle always has someone coming up behind him that is: A) younger; B) probably taller; and, 3) heavier.

Maybe my income has 6 zeroes in it. (It doesn’t), but if it did, there’d be someone else out there who has 7. The same goes for my golf score (I don’t play), the number of fish I caught the last time I fished (less than my limit), the size of my home, the value of my investments, the horsepower of my car, my kid’s IQ, etc. etc. etc. The list could go on forever. And just like in the game of college football, there will always be someone with a better number.

The second way our numbers as men are similar to Bob Barry’s college football numbers is that often times they are both misleading and flat-out DON’T MATTER. While age, height, and weight are a quick way of sizing up a college football player, often times they are actually not the most important factors. We’ve all seen those guys who dominated the game of college football despite seemingly meager numbers. As an OU football fan, the name Darren Sproles comes to my mind. Sproles, who now plays on Sundays for the San Diego Chargers, is listed at 5′ 6″ and 185 pounds. He’s beefed up since his college days.

In 2003, despite his tiny stature, Sproles (who played for Kansas State) shredded the undefeated and highly touted OU defense in the Big Twelve Championship game leading to a 35-7 upset. Since then, he’s gone on to have a pretty good career in the National Football League. And yet, if you look at the guy on paper, his numbers betray him. And while I’ve never met the guy, I get the feeling that the one thing that REALLY sets him apart is a number that is impossible (at least for us non-medical professionals) to judge… that is, the size of his heart.

As men it’s really tempting to get caught up in the game of evaluating and comparing ourselves to other men based on whatever numbers we, or they, have deemed important. However I’ve recently started to meet and read about men that don’t fit the mold in this area. Men who may or may not have impressive numbers, but who just flat-out don’t give a damn.

These are men who evaluate themselves on intrinsic things that can’t easily be sized up with a quick number. Things like the amount of passion with which they face life, the way they treat other people, their own level of self-discipline, etc. These men have a sort of strength that draws other people to them. Call it resiliency, call it the mountain man persona, call it whatever you want to call it – but men like this don’t need numbers.

Despite the fact that these men probably have impressive numbers to boast, they find their value in simply being what they were created to be. Living life with gusto. Holding doors for little old ladies. Trying risky things even if it means failing more than they succeed. Taking care of their physical, mental, and emotional health. Taking care of their families. Making the decision to live a life of discipline. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day just because it’s difficult.

That’s the kind of man I want to be. Until then, I’m 6’4″ 29 220.

***

Michael Mitchell is a new daddy and the husband of a friend.  I’ll let him introduce more of himself as he sees fit.  Afterall, I don’t want to be puttin’ up some wrong “numbers,” yo! – RDK

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

 

big goat
One of our regulars.

 

It’s the end of a long work week, but my work day is not over.

At 5 o’clock I’m the most popular (and only) person working at The Goat Shed.  The thirteen patrons belly up to the bar consisting of three feed troughs.  It’s not peanuts and beer….it’s water and sweet feed….but these customers know what they want, and part of what they want is good customer service.

They have come to the right place.  Let’s get this party started.

 

Julie and the kids
We love kids at The Goat Shed.

 

Laying Blame for College Sports Scandals

As a sports fan, I am no longer shocked or surprised by anything.  I’m guessing I’m not alone here.  Athletes get arrested at an alarming rate.  Rarely does a day go by without hearing of some sort of cheating, whether its performance enhancing drugs or marital infidelity.  Suspensions, violations, and probations are now expected during the course of any professional or college sports season.

Manny Ramirez got busted for taking a female fertility drug.  Yawn.  Brett Favre allegedly sent pictures of his privates to a woman while playing with the Jets.  Whatever.  Ben Roethlisberger had an “encounter” with a college student in the bathroom of a bar.  Double yawn.  Tiger Woods led a secret life, and slept with who knows how many women in who knows how many states.  I give it a shoulder shrug and a raised eyebrow.  Even if Lance Armstrong, the last hope for integrity and truth in sports, is proven guilty of doping, will we really be blown away?  I might bat an eyelash, but I’m not going to be floored.  In fact, my initial thought will probably be something along the lines of, “that took longer than I expected.”  Sad but true.

Scandal has become synonymous with sports.  It’s like acne on a teenager, it’s assumed.  We’re not nearly as appalled at the sports landscape as we used to be.  When was the last time you really gasped at a scandal?  It’s been a while hasn’t it?  There’s no more surprise, no more shock, no more asking “how can this be!?”  American sports fans are desensitized and apathetic toward all of it.

Former NFL agent Josh Luchs confessed to paying players (photo courtesy of SI.com)

 The latest example came this week when Josh Luchs, a former NFL agent, admitted to Sports Illustrated that he broke NCAA rules and regularly paid college football players.  In his first person article, Luchs says he gave hand outs to players in hopes they would sign with him.  I appreciate Luchs’ candor and the glimpse behind the scenes of what really goes on between agents and college players, but am I stunned by any of his revelations?  No. 

This is simply another kind of behavior that has come to be expected in the world of college athletics.  At this point, if you’re like me, you’re almost completely numb to any kind of NCAA violation.  Big schools cheat.  Small schools cheat.  Coaches have impermissible contact with recruits.  Players take money.  And the world turns.

Sure, there have always been schools out there breaking the rules, but today these violations are so pervasive it’s hard to find a university that doesn’t have a blemish on its record.  Our alma mater may cheat, but as long as we’re winning, it’s pretty easy to look the other way. 

I think I’m ready to come out of my scandal induced coma, and propose some real changes.  Not because I’m angry or disappointed or betrayed, but because I’m just so sick and tired of hearing about it.

There is plenty of blame to go around here, but a good chunk of it lands right in the lap of the NCAA.  It’s an archaic, poorly run bureaucracy that needs to be fixed.  When I think of the leaders of the NCAA, I think of a group of old men sitting around a table in a dimly lit room.  They are wearing glasses, suspenders, and bow ties, and they’re churning out new rules so quickly that their typewriters are smoking.  They are so far removed from what life is actually like on a college campus.  They know nothing of what a coach has to deal with or what it’s really like to be a “student-athlete.”  And they don’t care.

Listen up NCAA…there are TOO MANY rules.  How much time, effort, and money do you spend as an organization just investigating infractions?  I’m willing to bet it’s a bunch.  Why?  Because you’re creating rules faster than you can enforce them. 

Why not lighten up on the recruiting rules?  There are hundreds of rules coaches are expected to follow, and I can’t blame them for slipping up from time to time.  There is a limit to the number of phone calls and number of texts a coach can send.  There are only certain times of the year when recruiting is “open.”  It’s kind of like deer season.  There are certain periods when the recruit can sign a letter of intent.  There are rules for how a coach can recruit a high school junior and different rules for a high school senior.  There are rules for when and how a recruit can take a visit to a campus, and there are rules for what can and cannot happen during that visit.  Try reading the NCAA recruiting guidelines for division one football.  Go ahead try it.  It will make your head spin. 

A simple logo for a complex organization (courtesy ncaa.org)

The NCAA could do away with most of these rules.  The NCAA will tell you there must be a level playing field, and the kids have to be protected.  Remember the NCAA really cares about the kids.  Since when is a high school kid incapable of turning off his phone or throwing away his mail?  Let coaches pursue the kids, and let the kids decide when and how they want to.  Less red tape would mean fewer violations, fewer probations, and maybe coaches could get back to coaching.

Not only do these silly rules cost the NCAA money to enact and enforce, they cost the universities millions of dollars every year.  Every school now has to hire a compliance staff to keep up with the ever-changing NCAA legislation.  These compliance officers are paid to make sure players are eligible, see that no violations are occurring, and educate the coaching staffs to the new rules.  Have these compliance staffs solved the problems?  Are there fewer violations now than there used to be?  No and not even close.

This isn’t to say that some rules are needed.  I don’t think players should be allowed to take money from agents or have contact with agents.  But it’s the agents who deserve the brunt of the punishment, not the players, and certainly not the entire program.  Should the current players on the USC football team really suffer because Reggie Bush accepted benefits from an agent?  It’s absurd.

Why should current Trojans be punished for Reggie Bush's transgressions? (courtesy renovomedia.com)

The NCAA seems to think more regulations will equal cleaner programs.  It’s a nice concept, but it’s wrong.  There are more regulations than ever, and there’s more cheating than ever before.  Everyday brings a new headline.

UConn Men’s Basketball Team Admits Major Violations, Florida Football Misuses Facebook Commits Four Minor NCAA Violations, NCAA Accuses Michigan Coach of Violations, Memphis Forced to Vacate Wins from Final Four Season, NCAA places Alabama football on Probation, Trojans Hammered for Lack of Institutional Control…

And on, and on, and on we go.

I’m not naive enough to think that cheating can be eradicated from college sports or any sport for that matter.   Coaches and players will continue to come up with ways to cut corners and gain a competitive edge.  Those that do should be punished.  However, I’m exasperated by the callous nature of the NCAA and the complete refusal of this institution to look inward and recognize that widespread changes need to be made.  I don’t think we have to be so far away from cleaning up the landscape of college athletics.  I’m frustrated by the stubborn refusal of an organization to change.

I think I will remain mostly numb but I don’t want to feel this way anymore.  So please NCAA, please help me change.  Help me to see violations as the exception, not the norm.  Help me to care, help me get rid of the cynical sports fan inside of me.  That way if I am shocked, it will mean that scandal is rare instead of prevalent.  I want to feel again, I want to care, I want to be the sports fan of my youth.  Please NCAA, look deep into the blackness that is your soul, and try to change so I can change.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch: Playin’ With Fire

Do you remember being intrigued by ants as a kid?  They were usually associated with summer, picnics, ant farms, and that red and white checkered tablecloth.  For me…not anymore. The intrigue is gone.

I love Saturdays.  I took advantage of my husband’s solo trip to the lumber yard to give my dusty horses a much needed bath. Completing the task and holding the lead rope of the last horse in one hand, I stepped over the to the water faucet to roll up the water hose with the other hand.  Within seconds I felt something…like tall blades of grass at my ankles.  Weird.  I’m not even standing in tall grass. A quick glance at my shoes revealed the unexpected….hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny little red fire ants had swarmed onto my tennis shoes.

 

The Enemy

 

Fire ants. They have been in the U.S. since the 1930’s, coming to us via ships from Brazil.  They build nests near water and have been known to take down small animals.  This ain’t no picnic ant, people.  These guys are tiny and if you see one, you may think it to be harmless.  Don’t look away.  Within seconds the rest of the army will join the attack.  And the sting?  That’s where the ant gets its name.  You feel like you’re on fire. You’re safer holding a lighted match near a pile of dry wood drenched in gasoline than standing on a fire ant bed.

Jumping up and down didn’t shake them.  I was still holding onto a horse, so I had to use my only free hand to wrangle the end of the water hose back into reach.  I sprayed my feet which removed most of them.  I swatted the tenacious ones crawling on up my legs and got the horse safely back to the pasture.  Then I ran like I had never run before to the pool and jumped in up to my knees.  I could not believe the pain.

Fire ants had tried to ruin my Saturday.  Instead, they ruined my Sunday.  I woke up with what looked like Poison Ivy on my hands and ankles.  Oh yeah.  It itched like Poison Ivy too.

***Sign on for more “Back at the Ranch” soon.  Julie mentions she’s got quite a few entries on the back burner.  Oops…I wrote “burner!” – Red Dirt Kelly

A Kairos Moment at Culp’s Hill

by Josh Bottomly

Down through the centuries, theologians and mystics have spoken of divine experiences in human time as kairos moments.  By definition, a kairos moment is an event used by God to impact one’s life.  It involves an intersection of sorts between the horizontal and vertical, the humdrum and holy, where, for a fleeting moment, one experiences God’s nearness in his life and God’s hereness in his world.

Kairos moments have happened infrequently in my life.  But none was more pivotal and life changing than the karios moment on an obscure battlefield at Gettysburg.

The months leading up to this event had been colored by deep darkness.   It had been almost two years since my wife and I first visited the fertility clinic.  Now the “I” word was not some distant and remote diagnosis.  It was a sobering reality.  By this time, my prayer life had been reduced to a whimper of faith.  The silence of despair grew firm within my chest.  On the brink of a spiritual breakdown, I prayed as a desperate man for a break through.  Little did I know how God would answer my prayer.

Culp's Hill

While attending a leadership conference at Gettysburg, one night I was approached by Marty, a conference leader.  He asked me if I wanted a personal tour of Culp’s Hill, a famous battle during the Gettysburg campaign.  I grabbed my Mountain Gear fleece;  I was definitely up for it.

After snaking our way up through hills exploding with green April foliage, we stopped at a tiny knot of cedars surrounded by large boulders and scattered tree logs.  “This was the Union army’s extreme right position,” Marty exclaimed as he pointed to a breastwork of cobbled stone covered in moss and dirt.  “It was here that the fate of the Union army largely hung in the balance.”

As Marty began to lead me around the markers that jutted up around the hill, the whole scene suddenly transformed before my eyes into a dramatic amphitheatre of war.

The main battle commenced at dusk on July 2, 1864.

As darkness moved in amongst the thick trees at Culp’s Hill, the NY 137th disbanded in a thin line from the saddle down to the lower hill.  Below the hill, gathering in a swale, and quickly filling up many trenches was a Confederate brigade led by General Steuart.

About that time, General Meade of the Union Army sent orders to Colonel David Ireland, the twenty-five-year-old commander of the NY 137th.  General Meade’s orders were short and exacting.

“Colonel Ireland, hold the line at all costs.”

Soon Steuart’s men moved into position behind the low stonewall in rear of the 137th.
They quickly unleashed a staccato of gunfire.  Before they knew it, the 137th was taking heat from front, right flank, and rear.  Their position, as Marty described it, was “like a finger, surrounded on three sides.”

At about that time the 71st Pennsylvania regiment showed up.  They were backups sent by General Hancock to assist the 137th.  But seeing Ireland’s men taking heavy musket fire from all directions, the 71st fired off a volley or two at Steuart’s men and quickly withdrew from the line.  Their position was untenable.

Union fortifications built to ward off the Confederates.

With half his infantry dead, resources depleted, and reinforcements in retreat, Ireland decided to order one final defensive tactic:  commanding his regiment to stack up granite rocks to form a stone wall.  There, entrenched on the saddle back between the hills, Ireland waited with his men.

As Marty showed me where Ireland had burrowed in with his men, I tried to put myself in the young colonel’s shoes.  I got down on my knees behind the stonewall and peered out into the thick darkness with only the silhouette of the overhanging limbs visible.  I wondered how Ireland held his men together as trees splintered from canon fire, bullets pinged off granite rocks, and hot metal tore through sinewy flesh.  I suddenly felt like I could hear the shrieks of young men as they breathed their last breath and their souls slid out of their bodies.

Effects of Union shot and shell on Culp's Hill - photo by William H. Tipton.

Somehow through the long and unrelenting night, Ireland and his men found the strength and fortitude to stymie every Confederate charge up the hill.

At around three a.m., Steuart’s men suspended their attack due to complete lack of visibility and thus an inability to determine who was who.  They feared they were shooting and killing their own men.  As their attack subsided, the 137th found renewed strength and hope as the 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin showed up with reinforcements.

Had the Confederates known the 137th was the end of the line, they could have advanced toward the Baltimore Pike and overrun the Union army, changing the outcome of the battle at Gettysburg, probably turning the tide of the whole Civil War.

But the line never broke.

After Marty finished telling the story, I stood in complete silence, as I suddenly felt like Culp’s Hill was becoming holy ground.  I didn’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice.  But as the wind rustled through the Pennsylvania birch trees and I stood against the cobbled traverse, I sensed somehow that God was near.

A scripture came to mind, one that I had memorized early in my life.

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

~Isaiah 50:10a

For two years I had endured what St. John of the Cross called the oscura noche, the dark night of the soul.  During that time, I felt like Job—confused, doubtful, and befuddled by God’s seeming absence and deafening silence.  My prayers were punctuated by sighs and groans.  I came closest to God in my questions.  I wondered not whether God existed but if God knew I existed.  Did he know my pain?  Did he see my suffering?  Would he respond to my cry?

As I walked the hallowed grounds at Culp’s Hill, I began to pray.  Specifically, I echoed Peter’s prayer: ‘I do believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24).  I confessed to him that I felt like I was living within a precarious space between two parenthetical opposites: one being faith, the other being doubt.  The bitterest pill I felt I had been forced to swallow involved watching Amy suffer and hurt and not knowing how to palliate her pain in any way.

In that moment, though, as the moon rose high into the starless sky and the leaves turned silver, I felt that God was near.  For so long, God had seemed distant and remote, like a satellite.  Sensing God’s closeness now, I cupped my ear and leaned into the silence.  What I heard filled me with a renewed trust that the night would give way to the day.  And somehow, in some way, against all odds, pressed in on all sides, he would hold the line.  Like Col. Ireland and the NY 137th, Amy and I would see the first gleam of dawn burst through the darkness.  We would feel the sun on our faces again.  We would hear a new word heralded through the clouds:  a new day had arrived!

~~Note:  Josh and his wife Amy documented their journey, struggles and resolution to travel to Africa and adopt a child in their book, “From Ashes to Africa.”  This post is a revised piece from that book.  For more information visit http://fromashestoafrica.com/

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch: Divide and Conquer…..Together

It’s a Saturday.  The nine-to-fivers are reveling in the covers that hide the dawn’s glare this A.M.

Purple Martin house
Purple Martins found a home out here at the ranch just one week after it was built.

But not us.  My husband and I begin our weekdays before some people go to bed,  and the weekend is no different.   Like every household, we have things to do.  OUR problem is that usually we have each created our own lists (hidden in our own minds) and have divided the chores out between us without telling the other about the plans.  It could be a problem if we let it.  We don’t.

I stopped picking the last of the tomatoes to watch Greg lower the Purple Martin house to get it ready for the winter and ultimately next spring.  He joined me in the melon patch to check on our first watermelons.  We are both amazed at how much fruit our only two melon plants have produced.  I made a mental note to put the tomato cages up for next season.  He set up the sprinklers to water the yard.  I fed the kittens.  He fed the cats.  I carried my coffee across the pasture to give the horses some carrots.  They knew it was not my usual time with them, and they seemed grateful.

Fence
Turning the corner on fence painting.

There is always so much to do out here, but neither of us seem to mind.  We have stopped to sit on the backporch to have some coffee.  Greg remembered that the front gate doesn’t latch.  We have got to fix that.  It’s added to the list.  Before noon we will have added as many chores as we have completed this morning.  Maybe he’s right next to me; maybe he is across the pasture.  Either way, we are content to divide and conquer our chores for today, so we can spend the evening……together.

From a White-Skinned Father to a Black-Skinned Son

Josh and Silas, November 2009

I am a white-skinned father with a black-skinned son.

A little over a year ago, my wife, Amy, and I adopted our son, Silas, from Ethiopia.

Silas turned two in December.

Today our conversations tend to revolve around our favorite snacks – yogurt and lemon pound cake at Starbucks – and favorite TV characters and movies – Elmo and Ratatouille. We also squabble very little these days. Sometimes Silas will take a swing at me when I take away the Wii joystick. And other times he’ll treat the cheese sandwich I made him for dinner like a Frisbee.

One day, though, Silas will want to talk about other things.  Like the color of his skin. And my skin.   And his mother’s skin.   And pictures and events and people and dates he finds in his history textbook.

There are some historical dates I don’t want to broach with Silas then. August 12th, 1955, for example.  That’s the day Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy, was brutally lynched in Mississippi by white, southern, “Christian” men.

Then there is September 15th, 1963. That’s the day when four little girls were killed by a white supremacist bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Or April 4th, 1968. That’s the fateful day Dr. King had his hope-filled voice silenced by a sniper’s gun.

But then there are days in America’s history I can’t wait to explain to Silas.

Days like December 1st, 1955, for example.  The day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. That small, defiant “no” reverberated out into a large, defiant “no more.”

There are other days, too. Like August 28th, 1963. The day Dr. King delivered his famous message, “I Have a Dream.” It was a day unlike any other day. It was a day of dreaming of another kind of America.

And then there was November 4th, 2008.  Obama’s presidential victory.  And then there was January 20th, 2009.  Obama’s inauguration.

These are dates I look forward to telling Silas about – not as a student of history, but as a participator in making history.

Baby silas
Baby Silas

And I will tell Silas this: whether one voted for Obama or not, one could not argue that it was a significant symbolic moment.  And a storied moment with deep biblical resonances.  From hundreds of years wandering in the wilderness of prejudice and oppression.  To now the new days of exploring the “milk and honey” land of equality and opportunity.

Undoubtedly, MLK glimpsed the Promised Land from a distance.  Like Moses.  Like a dream just beyond his grasp.  But Silas, you, and others of your skin color will experience this land as a blessed reality.  Like Joshua.  And the nation of Israel.

I can only pray that this new land for you will shimmer with the topsoil of fresh possibility, and contain in its seedbed the promise of renewed dignity.  But, Silas, there are still weeds trying to choke out these verdant seeds.  For though the “color line” W.B. Dubois spoke of has been broken in America’s political establishment, it still exists in America’s religious establishment.  95% of the evangelical church, for example, still remains divided along the color line.  Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr.’s truism stills rings true today:  11 am on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.  Perhaps, though, Silas, by the time you come of age, that small, subversive 5% of the American church will have grown and spread through the body of Christ like a lush vine.

Voting though won’t bring this change.

Only Spirit-led repentance will.

I can only pray that you discover these seeds pods of repentance bursting within my heart.  And your mom’s heart.  And your grandparents’ hearts.  And in the hearts of all of those who you know that call themselves Christ followers.

I am reminded of observing MLK Day last year.  You, your mom, and I celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with our adoption community at the Queen of Sheba, a local Ethiopian restaurant.  On that special day, our dear friends, Eric and Tara, received their referral picture from Ethiopia of their soon-to-be-adopted baby boy, Malak. That night we laughed and cried over Malak’s picture, ooing and awing at his large black eyes and his luminous smile.

Later that night as I lay awake in bed and reflected on that festive evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if in fact Dr. King were alive today, would he approve of couples like us and the Silvestres adopting black children. I also thought about how far we have come, from an age of colonialism, where Africans were our slaves, to this new post colonial age, where Africans are now our sons. And I wondered if Dr. King could have even dreamed of such a day when such transformation was possible. Who knows really? But it makes me wonder if at the Queen of Sheba, if just for a fleeting moment, with our bellies full of freshly baked bread, and sweet Ethiopian wine on our tongues, and with you in our arms, and Malak’s picture in front of our faces, if we did not glimpse even if for a moment, the future community of God, the eschatological days when the old age of hatred and racial division will be truly over, and a new age of love and racial harmony will have begun.

As I closed my eyes to sleep, I suddenly recalled Dr. King’s words spoken days before he was assassinated.

“The end is reconciliation;

the end is redemption;

the end is the creation of the beloved community.”

And remembering these words, Silas, I thought to myself, Perhaps the end has already begun.

-Josh Bottomly

Editor’s Note – this article is reprinted from Relevant, an online magazine. It was published as a Martin Luther King Day feature dated Monday, January 19, 2009.  Josh is the Director of College Counseling at Casady High School in Oklahoma City.  He coaches basketball, is a husband and now a father of TWO children from Ethiopia. Silas has a little sister.  She joined the family in June of this year.