The Game

That’s how it’s known, both north and south of the Michigan / Ohio border. The annual rivalry game between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University is one of the oldest, and nastiest in college football. This year, the battle will take place at The Big House in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are playing their best football in years, so they have a decent shot at kicking the Buckeyes in the teeth. Hopefully, knocking them out of their #1 ranking as the best team in the country.

I became a Michigan fan back in the 70s when the sidelines were patrolled by two lunatic coaches named Bo and Woody. The contest of who was more asylum-ready was won by Woody Hayes when he actually struck a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl. However, Bo was a bit of a nut job as well. Watching him lose it on the sideline was always the comic relief within the game. Ironically, Bo used to be an assistant coach under Woody. So, when he took the job with “that team up north” (Michigan), The Ten Year War began. Of course, it ended in a 5 – 5 tie. The legendary rivalry became epic.

My mania for the Maize and Blue was well known back in the day, but year after year of OSU wins have left me frustrated and jaded. Even when the Wolverines seem to have the Buckeyes on the ropes, something inexplicable always happens, and OSU escapes with another win. Last year, #4 UM was slightly favored over #10 OSU, and they wound up getting pounded 62 – 39. Honestly, it looked like OSU was playing St. Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls, instead of the #4 ranked team in the country.

So yes, I have become a warped, frustrated old fan. So much so that I don’t even watch the game live anymore. I can’t bear to witness another disaster as it unfolds. Instead, I set up my DVR to do the dirty work, just in case the Wolverines manage to pull out a win. Since I work Saturdays, I wouldn’t be able to watch the game anyway. However, last year’s reaction of my co-workers to The Blue Debacle was enough to let me know that we were blowing another one, badly. This was all pure joy for my next-cube-neighbor Don, who went to OSU, and actually played for Woody Hayes. Another year of Don’s smirking will be enough to drive us all to drink. Especially when he wears his alumni National Championship ring from 2014. It’s too much to bear.

Despite how the Wolverines have been playing lately, I still have a horrible feeling about this game. We’re in year five of Jim Harbaugh’s reign as coach, and I’m afraid we’re no closer to beating the Buckeyes. I anticipate another blowout or a close loss. But we will lose, again. I hope to God I’m wrong. If so, I will gladly eat a plateful of crow. Especially, if it means that Michigan knocks Ohio State out of their #1 ranking!

So go get ‘em, boys! Remember The Ten Year War and play like Bo is ready to tear you a new one if you screw up! Go Blue! Beat Ohio!

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Can Malls Make It?

Go While You Can

When was the last time you took a trip to your local shopping mall? Did it look like a ghost town? Did you hear a whistling sound, as tumbleweeds rolled through the food court? Things have certainly changed in the retail world in recent years. Gone are the days when armies of harried Christmas shoppers stormed the concourses, trying to get that special something for their loved ones. As much as I loathed dragging our sons through Lakeside or Macomb Mall during the Christmas season, I’m surprised that I kind of miss it now.

Let me be perfectly clear, I generally despise malls. My Christmas shopping usually consists of targeted strikes on unsuspecting retailers. I’m in and out like a ninja, before they even know I’m there. Mission accomplished, as I fade into the night like Batman. However, this time of year tends to make everyone wax nostalgic, even about things they hated back in the day. Christmastime makes me feel that way about shopping malls. I remember when we would take our boys to see Santa, then running after them as they charged into every toy store in the place. All the while, making mental notes of the toys they were checking out. Targeted Market Research.

It’s no secret that malls are in trouble. Our digital world has certainly turned many retail warehouses into the aforementioned ghost towns. They’re victims of what I like to call The Kodak Syndrome. Kodak failed to see the handwriting on the wall when it came to digital photography, and they paid a heavy price. Bankruptcy. Malls are staring down that same gun barrel. With online shopping choices like Amazon, eBay, Overstock, Wayfair, and many more, they’re struggling to compete. I’ve always thought that stores should try an online / brick & mortar approach. The best of both worlds. Many of them are finally trying this method, but it may already be too late.

Since we had an early snowfall this year, it’s put me into Christmas-mode way earlier than usual. We’re planning on multiple trips to Partridge Creek Mall this holiday season. It’s a suburban outdoor mall, that has somehow managed to thrive in a cold-weather climate. The outdoor lighting display, cozy fire pit area, and shoppers strolling along with their dogs are experiences you don’t get at your local mall. Maybe that’s the hope for these mega-retailers, more outside-of-the-box thinking. I know it’s worked for Partridge Creek.

So this Christmas season, I suggest you visit your local mall for some shopping and reminiscing. Who knows? It might be gone by next year. Do me a favor while you’re there, grab me a cookie at Mrs. Fields. Happy Shopping!

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Black Friday Madness

Jingle All The Way!

Whatever happened to Black Friday Madness? Back when you’d get up at 4 am and freeze your butt off, just to get a great deal on a PC or High Def TV. Do you remember watching all those live news reports about the carnage? Ambulances were standing by, just in case the savages got out of control. It was a scene straight out of Jingle All The Way. Jamie wants a Turbo Man! Things have certainly changed over the years. Nowadays, you get up before the crack of dawn, spend a few minutes online, and bam! Your Christmas shopping is done and you can head back to bed.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s still Black Friday Madness out there. However, with many stores opening right after Thanksgiving dinner, it’s stolen a lot of Black Friday’s thunder. Online shopping has dealt an even bigger blow. Gone are the days of waiting in line on a frigid morning with a mob of rabid shoppers. When the doors opened, they would charge through the gap like a pack of hungry wolves. There once was a TV commercial where some unlucky slob got to be the one to open the doors. All of his co-workers were still wrapped in bandages from previous Black Fridays. Funny stuff.

I only participated in this chaos once. Back in the day, when DVD players were still all the rage. My oldest son and I got up at 5 am to get to Walmart, for a special deal on an Apex DVD Player. This piece a crap lasted about a year, then died. However, I’ll never forget that freezing morning as we stood in line with the rest of those crazy people. There’s a certain camaraderie that develops among the crowd. It’s all about surviving a shared experience. Like boot camp, for example.

However, once those doors opened, it was every man or woman for themselves. Like ziplining, parasailing, and whale watching, it’s an experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives. If nothing else, it gives you a good story to share over Christmas dinner. So sharpen up those elbows and happy bargain hunting!

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Forgotten Thanksgiving

Don’t Let it Pass You By

Have you ever wondered what happened to Thanksgiving? How did it become just another speed bump on the way to the real holiday season? Do you remember when you were little and Thanksgiving came to town? What a wonderful spectacle it was! Not so much these days. Now that one of the nastiest Halloweens on record (weather-wise) is in our rearview mirror, we can officially look forward to the holidays and Thanksgiving in particular.

I can remember when Turkey Day used to be a big deal. Preparations at our house would go on for weeks. Mom and Dad worked tirelessly to get the house ready for company, and a gut-busting Thanksgiving dinner. School windows would be adorned with little handprint turkeys, plus pictures of Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. That’s about as politically incorrect as you can get these days.

However, I prefer to think of Thanksgiving as it pertains to our two greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln. Both made Thanksgiving Day Proclamations that encouraged Americans to give thanks and praise to God for all of His gifts. Another politically incorrect sentiment these days.

Our family’s routine is pretty structured when it comes to Thanksgiving day. I pick up a Black Friday newspaper from 7-11, then we settle in with a cup of coffee and hot chocolate to scope out the best deals for our Christmas shopping. Around 9 am, we turn on WDIV to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and listen to the cheesy commentary from the play-by-play commentators.

Post-parade, there’s a half-hour window before the Lions game. We use the time to prep the turkey and pop it into the oven. Then, I do my best to stay out of my wife’s way, while remaining nearby, in case I’m needed for a last-minute run to Kroger. Our sons hunker down in the living room or basement, trying to stay out of the way as well.

Over the years, Thanksgiving has gotten a reputation for family squabbles. Because of the politically-charged world we live in, the dinner table is hardly a safe space. Plus, in an effort to force people to be thankful, many families have started the, “What I’m thankful for this year” tradition. This has always seemed too contrived and phony for me.

How about taking a moment before the big day and think about reasons to be thankful for your family and friends? Then during holiday conversations go through your mental checklist and sprinkle in your thanks. This will probably be accepted as genuine gratitude, and not just drummed up thankfulness. Who knows? Maybe it will catch on. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, Charlie Brown.

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Not So Fast, Fat Man!

There’s Plenty of Time Left for Fall

Have you found that November usually sucks? Are you fond of 45 degrees and sideways rain? Nope, me neither. That’s why I grow a beard at this time of year. Usually, after Halloween, we get hit with a shrieking wind/rain storm that rips the remaining leaves off the trees. Then the trees are bare until snow coats them in December. However, this year has been a little different. I had predicted an early leaf-fall, but it turns out I was 100% wrong. For whatever reason, the leaves are hanging on for dear life this year. It could have been all the rain we received this spring and summer. Whatever the reason, it has resulted in a fabulous November.

It’s no secret that most of the time, we leapfrog over late fall in anticipation of a certain jolly fat man coming to town. This is especially true this season since we recently got hit with over 8 inches of snow in the Detroit area. However, this year seemed to be an exception to the leapfrog rule. I witnessed a beautiful sunrise the other day before the blizzard hit. It was followed by a display of dancing leaves that rivaled any snowstorm. I can’t remember when I’ve seen such a beautiful fall spectacle.

School kids chatted happily, as they ran through a tornado of swirling leaves. Suburban chauffeurs dropped off their precious cargo, then raced off leaving a tsunami of golden leaves in their wake. Since the leaves are still hanging on for dear life, it has resulted in a late fall display that many of us have not seen in this area for many years. So even though it looks more like a winter wonderland out there right now, this season still has plenty of fall splendor to reveal. So hop back in your sleigh fat man. We’re not quite ready for you yet!

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Early Lights

Hold Your Horses People

Have you seen Christmas Lights up already? Are you wondering what these people are thinking? Me, too. My neighbor Vince down the street, a nice guy who owns his own landscaping company, had a team of people putting up his Christmas Lights last week. It’s a beautiful display, but dude, it was the first week of November! Most of us are still trying to finish our leftover Halloween candy. He has consistently set a record in our neighborhood for having his lights up the earliest. However, since he owns a landscaping company, I guess it could bring attention to his house to boost business, who knows.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Christmas-holic. However, this year I am trying to detox and not break out the Christmas jams until after Thanksgiving. This proved difficult after we got an inch of snow the other morning (in addition to more this morning). The exception to the rule is snowfall. Even if it snows in October, all bets are off! So I’ll admit it, I fell off the wagon. I was tuned into Bing crooning White Christmas, as I made my way down the street on my daily walk. I’m sure the malls loved the early snowfall as well. Early snow gives everyone a collective kick in their Christmas-behind

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with putting up your lights early. If we get a break in the weather, take advantage of it, and get ‘em up. However, please don’t turn them on until at least December 1st. Just sayin’. I remember one year, we were on our way to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. Some guy in St. Clair Shores already had his lights up and ON! Really? This blew my mind. Although nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see a whole street lit up before Freeform launches it’s 25 Days of Christmas schedule. So take a chill pill people, we’ve got a long way to go. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Put up your lights as early as you like, but please don’t be that guy. Just sayin’.   

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The Magic of Wind Chimes

Do You Hear Them?

Do you love the sound of wind chimes? Do they conjure up certain images in your mind? For many years, I’ve been fascinated with them. We’ve always had a set at the front of our house. There have been many varieties over the years, but each one eventually falls prey to the raging easterly wind and falls apart. However, for me, there are few sounds in this world as magical as a beautiful set of wind chimes. They always bring up thoughts of mysterious places in the far east. Or, maybe sitting on a sunny beach patio, listening to the waves roll in. Their relaxing, peaceful sound is always welcome after a stressful day.

There is something very soothing about that music as it reverberates through the house. On a hot summer day, it lets you know a nice breeze is on the way. Wind chimes produce what is known as chance-based music. As Forrest Gump would say, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” I have definitely found that to be true. Since the front of our house faces east, there are many breezy days that produce no sound at all. We’ve had a set of wind chimes in the backyard before, but the west wind ripped them to shreds.

Wind chimes are often associated with spa retreats and new age music. The random patterns produced by these percussion instruments are wonderful to behold. Since we are smack-dab in the middle of fall, it seems like the wind has been blowing nonstop. This resulted in having to retrieve our Halloween spinner from our neighbor’s lawn a couple of times. However, the wind chimes have held up well to the autumn winds, and are a constant reminder to get outside and rake some leaves. Soon, the chimes will be predicting easterly rain and snow storms. But for now, they just produce beautiful chance-based music, which has become a treasured part of our fall experience. There they go again, time to rake some leaves.  

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The Creative Process

Pulling Back the Curtain

Have you ever wondered how artists and songwriters come up with their ideas? How does an author turn a spark of inspiration into a runaway bestseller? What process do movie directors use to transform a screenplay into a box office smash? Just how does the creative process work? I’m not sure how it works for everyone else, but I do know how it works for me. Whenever I am struck with a story idea, I jot down a quick note.

Recently, I saw a documentary about the classic rock album Machine Head by Deep Purple. This epic record came out in March 1972, when I was still in elementary school. However, by the time I reached junior high, everyone was humming the opening bars of Smoke on the Water. How did lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore come up with such an iconic song? Turns out he was inspired by Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and as he said, “I owe him a lot of money.” 

It seems like songwriters, and writers in general, are constantly being struck by inspiration. How do they keep track of all of these little brainstorms? Some keep song or story journals. In my case, I use Simplenote. Since it’s available on the web, I can write down quick story ideas on my PC, iPad, or phone. It might be a couple of words, or maybe a paragraph or two. Just something to get the ball rolling, when I’m ready to sit down and write the article. Although sometimes, I’ll look at a phrase and wonder, “What the heck is this supposed to mean?”

Just to be clear, I don’t consider myself a writer per se. I’m more of a thought collector. However, I do share a similar process with every author from William Shakespeare to Stephen King. Being able to access that vast warehouse of story ideas is an amazing and humbling experience. Receiving a spark of inspiration, and turning it into something worth reading, is very satisfying indeed.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed reading these articles as much as I have enjoyed writing them. As always, please forward any stories you find particularly interesting to your family and friends. Also, please continue to like and follow this blog. Thank you!

If you like what you’re reading on this blog, please leave a comment and share it with your friends. New articles are posted every Monday and Thursday. Thank you for visiting!