Monday, November 30, 2009

More Thanksgiving!

After the annual thanksgiving engorgement, Karen and I drove up to Carmel, Indiana (just north of Indianapolis) to celebrate the wedding of a cousin of hers. It was a long drive, but a beautiful wedding, and we got to see many family members that we don't often get to see.

The weather was cooperative, as far as Indiana weather goes. It was chilly, but on the big day the sun came out and the thermometer soared to a high of 57!

Never one to miss an opportunity, I searched for -- and found -- my new home-away-from-home, even in an Indiana cornfield:

Actually, it was sandwiched in between two hotels out on the highway!

this was my first visit to a "Cheeseburger in Paradise", Jimmy Buffett's northern alternative to Margaritaville. And it was a delight...

The food was good... the margaritas were just right... and Landshark was on tap!

Leaving this blogger a little heavier, but happy!

Thanks to all the family members who surrendered to my quest and joined me for lunch!

What did I order??? A Cheeseburger, of course...

"I like mine with lettuce and tomato,
Heinz 57 and french-fried potatoes;
A big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer,
Good God almighty, which way do I steer for my...
Cheeseburger in Paradise!"  

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive'

Yes, tomorrow (Thursday), the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau arrives in your local wine store!

What’s the big deal? you might ask.

Gather around, children, and let me tell you a story about an amazing event that happened long ago in a land far, far away…

Nah. I’ll just tell you about the wine.

Beaujolais is a wine-growing region in France, north of Lyon. In a space about the size of Rhode Island are some 40,000 vineyards with 50,000 acres of Gamay grape vines.

Interesting factoid: The land was first cultivated for grapes by the early Romans. Throughout the middle ages, the Benedictines controlled the region.

Fast-forward to modern times. In 1933, Georges Duboeuf was born on a small farm in that region. His father tended a few acres of vines. But the senior Duboeuf died when Georges was young, and the vineyard was taken over by Georges’ uncle and brother.

At 18, Georges began marketing the family wine to local restaurants, delivering bottles of the wine by bicycle. Now 76, Georges oversees the cultivation of thousands of acres of grapes and the bottling of 2.5 million cases per year.

Duboeuf has made many contributions to the wine world, one of which was the mass-marketing of Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais Nouveau, or “new wine”, was a familiar drink in the Beaujolais region, used to celebrate another successful harvest. Due to a different processing and pasteurization, Beaujolais Nouveau is ready to drink just 6-8 weeks after the harvest.

Unlike other wines that get better with age, it is highly recommended that one drink the Nouveau within a year. And slightly chilled. It is light and fruity... some say it is the only "red" white wine!

In the late ‘60s, Duboeuf decided to market it to the world. Since French law did not allow new wine to reach market until a particular date (now the third Thursday in November), Duboeuf made a game of it – organizing races to see who could get the first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau to Paris fastest. The Nouveau craze caught on, and today some 49 million liters of the wine are produced each year.

Of course, Beaujolais Nouveau is not without its critics. In 2001, 1.1 million cases were destroyed due to poor sales. One wine critic that year described it as “vin de merde”... literally translated “Shit Wine”. Beaujolais growers sued the magazine that published the critique and won based on a French law that forbids the disparaging of French products. The magazine folded.

So tomorrow (Thursday), as you drive past your favorite wine shoppe, look for the sign announcing,

Grab a couple bottles – if for no other reason than that this year’s Georges Duboeuf label is awesome!

[Update: I bought several bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau today, but was sad to discover that the above is NOT the label. Sigh. I hope the wine is good!]

Then fix yourself a bologna sandwich, and celebrate an historic tradition. It may taste like “vin de merde” (but hopefully not), but, hey, it only happens once a year!

For interesting reading about wine, consider the following:
  • "I’ll Drink to That" by Rudolph Chelminski, about Duboeuf and the history of the Beaujolais region.
  • The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, about the mysterious discovery of some bottles of wine attributed to Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar.
I also recommend the movies “Bottle Shock”, a 2008 film based on the true events of the first California wine to win a French wine-tasting competition, and “Sideways”, the highly-acclaimed 2004 “road-trip” movie through the Santa Barbara wine-growing region, which caused a 2% drop in the sale of Merlot and a 16% increase in the sale of Pinot Noir.

Ah, the power of film!

“Sideways” has probably my favorite movie monologue, where, during a romantic, reflective moment, Maya (Virginia Madsen) muses:
“I like to think about the life of wine. How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing. How the sun was shinning. If it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve. Like, if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I would open it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks. And then it begins it's steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so f***ing good.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Death and Dying

When I was young, we often attended family reunions. I don’t remember most of them – they were that memorable to a small child. For my father’s family, we drove up into the hills of Union Co., KY, where the family gathered at a great-uncle’s farm. The men sat outside and smoked big nasty-smelling cigars and tossed horseshoes, while the women sat in the kitchen “catching up”.

Activities for children pretty much centered around chasing the chickens across the yard.

(FYI: That is not my family pictured above!)

The last reunion of my mother’s family that I remember, I was a teenager and it was held at my aunt’s house. Her house was small, so most of the time, the men sat out in the backyard drinking beer while the women sat inside “catching up”.

Again, no formal activities were planned (other than eating); someone might have brought a badminton set.

In short, my memories of family reunions are less than thrilling. These events were not designed for kids, and yet, there we were. So is it any wonder that when we grew up, we quickly found other things to do when reunion weekends came around?

And the elders in the family shake their heads and mutter, “Kids these days…”

I was reminded of that when I read in last week’s USAToday that membership in the American Legion and VFWs across American is on the decline. The article reported that some 400 VFW posts have closed since 2007, and more are on the brink. The American Legion has closed 100 posts during the same period.

In other news, BINGO revenues are down nationwide.

There is a lot of hand-wringing over this predicament. As expected, the faithful supporters of VFW/AL have seen this decline coming and have tried to turn it around.

One of the problems is obviously the terms of membership: one has to have served in the U.S. armed forces in a combat assignment in order to qualify. So, a career soldier who gave 30 years serving her/his country during peace-time does not qualify; but the “grunt” who fought in the two-week-long invasion of Grenada in 1983 gets an automatic invite.

Another problem is that when some 7.8 million vets returned from Vietnam, they were rejected by many in the VFW. WWII had been the last “good war”, and this new crop of vets was reportedly a bunch of ‘pot-smoking baby-killers’. Sure, the VFWs regret that decision now, but it’s too late; the damage has been done. They’re not interested anymore.

Nor are the current crop of vets coming out of the Gulf wars. Life has changed. Young people today are more family-focused. Few are interested in sitting around in a dingy, smoke-filled hall drinking cheap beer and listening to the older generations tell unconfirmed stories of valor in “the real war”.

Some VFW post commanders are scratching their heads. One says they hold “50-cent pool tournaments and tune the satellite TV to football games to lure young members”. Another held a “craft show and Oktoberfest and plans a New Year’s raffle of a 1999 Cadillac”.

As with the family reunions of my childhood, they just don’t get it. A modern soldier has served his country fighting in Iraq, and the old vets think he will be enticed to join the VFW because they hold a craft show?

Has anyone ever asked: What does a young vet who has seen the horrors of modern warfare and lived through the ever-present fear of road-side bombings and suicide attacks want when s/he returns to civilian life? What does s/he need from a veteran’s organization?

I’m guessing it’s not the chance to win a 10-year-old Cadillac!

But be careful: the trap here is, if you ask, you will be expected to meet those needs, which may mean significant changes in the way you do things.

So it may be time for the VFW/AL to close its doors. Let the old generation die off gracefully. And if young vets need such an organization, empower them to start something new, an organization that meets their needs.

I suppose the fears of the older generation might be, ‘Who will fire the 21-gun salute at my funeral? Who will put flags on our graves on Veterans’ Day? Who will remember us when we are gone?’

All pretty self-serving reasons for wanting to keep a dying organization alive.

And as I say that, I can’t help but wonder about my church, my denomination. We, too, are declining in number. We are rapidly graying. We hold meetings in aging buildings equipped with the latest technology of the 1970s. We are still singing “perfectly good” hymns, written before most of us were born. And we are trying to entice new members with the lure of pot luck dinners and “fish fry”s.

But, why?

More than one church member has been honest with me: “I just want my church to be around long enough to hold my funeral here.”

And so we want new members… younger members. We provide the teenagers with a part-time paid youth director, feed them pizza and hot dogs, and give them a basement room in the church filled with discarded furniture, where they can ‘hang out’.

That’s a ‘60s term for “doing nothing productive”.

But, “You can’t have a computer in there”, because, you know, teenagers only use computers to search for on-line porn; and “No cell phones allowed during UMY meetings.” And the b/w television someone donated doesn’t have cable; “You can watch TV at home.”

And so they do.

Yes, the Church is on the same journey the VFW is walking. The older generation became settled – entrenched; they created an organization they way they wanted it. And they lost touch with the younger generations. They’ve also lost touch with their purpose for being.

No one is asking young people today, “What do YOU want/need?”

Don't get me wrong. You will still be welcome at most churches... if you like “Church” the way it was done in the ‘50s – pews, pipe organs, half-hour sermons, etc. But don’t ask us to change anything to accommodate you, because we like it just the way it is/was.

And so I concede after 20+ years of ministry, perhaps it is time to stop fighting the inevitable and let these churches die. Gracefully. We pastors should stop banging our heads on the desk trying to figure out how to “turn around” these churches that don't want to turn around. We should stop the travesty of the “blended services”. We should stop the worship wars. Let them be what they are. They served their purpose in their day. We should salute them for that, then…

Last one out, turn off the lights and lock the door.

Then, instead of spending so many resources propping up dying churches, let’s empower the younger folks to start new churches that will meet their needs – just like previous generations have done. I guarantee you, these new Churches will neither look nor act like the churches we have known – and rightly so.

It may be that only in dying will we live.

I think Jesus said something like that.


Monday, November 9, 2009

That's it; I quit!

To: Jack Swarbrick, Athletic Director
University of Notre Dame

Dear Mr. Swarbrick,

Please accept this letter as my resignation from my long-standing position of fan of Notre Dame football. I have been a fan since the early 80s. My own college did not have a football team, so I started rooting for a team with a storied history and a winning tradition. For many years, my Saturdays were dedicated to ND football. I dreamed of traveling to South Bend one weekend for a game, but was assured that all home games are sold out. So one year I bought season tickets to Vanderbilt football just so I could see ND play in Nashville!

It is with a heavy heart that I submit my resignation, but I see no other choice. As athletic director, you have failed to give proper oversight to Coach Charlie Weis and his football program, and you have not heard the cries of fans across this nation as we have watched the once-mighty Fighting Irish descend into the abyss. Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Navy was the final straw.

I tried to give Coach Weis the benefit of the doubt this year as he once again made pre-season promises of a winning season. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen is a junior and has much more experience; some talk about his Heisman prospects. But while Clausen is ranked #3 in passing efficiency (a commendable 68% completion rate), he has -62 yards in rushing. And he seems to be unable to get the ball across the goal line. I don’t see a trophy in his future.

As for ND’s defense, it ranks a dismal 79th, giving up an average of 6.1 yards per play. In fact, while ND has scored 271 points so far this season (thanks to blow-outs at Nevada and Washington State), it has given up 207, an average of 27 points per game.

I also tried to overlook the fact that the schedule was full of light-weight teams. Look at this schedule:
Beat Nevada 35-0 (now 6-3)
Lost to Michigan by 4 (now 5-5)
Beat Michigan State by 3 (now 5-5)
Beat Purdue by 3 (now 4-6)
Beat Washington by 7 (now 3-6)
Lost to USC by 7 (now 7-2)
Beat Boston College by 4 (now 6-3)
Beat Washington State 40-14 (now 1-8)
Lost to Navy by 2 (now 7-3)

Coming up, ND will have to face Pitt, which is having a remarkable year with an 8-1 record and is ranked #12 in the BCS polls; I predict another loss. Then comes UConn, a light-weight team with a 4-5 record; it should be an easy win, but will it be? And finally, Stanford, which although unranked at 6-3, beat #13 Oregon on Saturday, which beat #9 USC the week before, which beat ND in game #6, 34-27. I predict yet another loss.

Because of Saturday’s game, Navy is guaranteed to play in the Texas Bowl. Notre Dame’s chances of getting a bowl invitation this year are slim – they are now ranked 76th in BCS polls -- and if my predictions of a 7-5 finish come true, Charlie and Jimmy might be reduced to merely watching bowl games on television come December.

But apparently you don’t care. There seems to be no pressure on Charlie Weis to do better, if he is even capable of such. What, does he have blackmail photos of you? Surely there's got to be a good reason you haven't fired him by now! 

You might argue that his contract will be too expensive to buy out – a contract which was extended to 10 years before Weis even proved himself! But you know the alumni will pony up as they have done several times in recent years. I'm even willing to kick in a few bucks to the cause!

You might argue that there is no one better to lead the Fighting Irish; who’s to say the next coach will do any better? I say we won’t know until we try. And it is your job is to find that person. But apparently you are not even looking.

So, since Charlie Weis is your man, I have decided I can no longer be a fan of ND football. I wish you well and hope some day Notre Dame will once again rise to prominence.

Regrettably submitted,
Bro. Dave, creative director
Banana Winds

P.S. – If you are looking for a team to beat next year, try calling Tommy West over at the University of Memphis.

UPDATE - MONDAY NIGHT: University of Memphis fired Tommy West today, after 9 years as head coach. Perhaps, Mr. Swarbrick, you could call R.C. Johnson, athletic director at U of M, and ask how it's done.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Passings: World's Greatest Magician

Carl Ballantine, "The World's Greatest Magician", passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92.

A true entertainer, he gave up on performing real magic when he realized there were many more who could do it better. So he combine the stereotypical stage magic into a vaudeville-style routine. He bacame the first magician to headline in Las Vegas.

Ballantine was part of the ensemble cast of TV's "McHale's Navy" (with Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway), and as "Ballantine the Magician" he appeared on a variety of TV shows, from "The Ed Sullivan Show" to "The Cosby Show".

In 2007, Steve Martin presented Ballantine with the Lifetime Achievement Fellowship from the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

"Carl Ballantine influenced not only myself but a generation of magicians and comedians," Martin said Wednesday in a statement to The Times. "His was also the most copied act by a host of amateurs and professionals."

According to the LA Times, his daughter reported that in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Carl began roaming the house saying, "I gotta get home." He asked her where his shoes were, if he could take a robe...

He died in his sleep, with a smile on his face, wearing the bathrobe and his shoes.

The link below is a YouTube clip from his appearance on "The Cosby Show".

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh No, Not Again!

Okay, so I was walking through the local shopping mall yesterday...

"...When what to my wondering eyes should appear..."

Seriously, it looked like Santa Claus had vomited all over the mall!

Merchants were boxing up Halloween leftovers -- candy is 30% off at Target! -- and restocking the "seasonal" shelves with Christmas merchandise.

Even Hollister & Co. was playing Christmas muzak -- with a much more contemporary sound, I'll admit, for which I give them credit. As I entered the store, the little sprite with the employee's name badge greeted me with, "What's up?"

"What's up with the Christmas muzak?" I replied.

She knew right then I was just a cranky old fart who wasn't going to buy anything in her wonderfully hip store which sells clothes that only fit 16-year-old boys and pre-pubescent girls.

I mean, really, what is a "Size 0" anyway? 

Truth is, I go into Hollister & Co. to look at live scenes of Huntingdon Beach, CA, broadcast on large screens on opposite walls of the store. It's designed to make you feel like you're actually standing on the pier.

I torture myself.

I also come out smelling of their cologne, gallons of which they apparently pump throughout the store and into the mall all day long, an effort to improve the city by making it smell better.

Now I'm ready for a night out on the town!

But I am definitely not ready to face Christmas yet!!!

So it seems the "12 Days of Christmas" has become the "7 1/2 Weeks of Christmas"!

Lord, help us!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009