My Favorite Things of 2014

For the last few years, Lindsey has thrown a New Year’s Eve party for all of our friends. In true Lindsey form, this is always quite the shindig and she puts countless hours into making it a great experience for all. As part of the event, everyone is asked to bring something, a movie, a CD, a gift card, etc. that represents their favorite thing of 2014 and at the end of the evening, each item is auctioned off. Last year I used this event as inspiration for a post on my 13 favorite things on 2013 (not including anything directly related to Cooper) and I thought it only fitting that I turn that post into an annual thing.

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I won’t lie to you, dear readers. 2014 was not an easy year. Cooper’s health problems, several unexpected big expenditures that left us continually playing catch-up, work issues, my stupid shoulder injury, etc. all conspired to make 2014 feel like a consistent uphill grind. And yet, looking back over the 2014 in preparation for this post reminded me of the year’s many triumphs. Lindsey and I celebrated five years of marriage, we got to share some awesome adventures with our friends and family, and I watched my son grow into an actual little boy, which is one of the coolest (ongoing) experiences of my life. So, not so bad after all. And then, of course, 2014 also brought with it the following little joys.

Guardians of the Galaxy As always, I will soon devote an entire week to movie coverage and delve into my top 10 lists like every other professional, semi-professional, and wanna-be professional movie critic is doing right now. It’s safe to say, however, that Guardians of the Galaxy will be featured prominently. Very rarely in the last decade or so have I had as much fun with a movie as I did with this one and yet its quality is, for me, just as good as its pure entertainment value.

“This is Where I Leave You” (the book) As always, I intended to read far more books than I actually got through this year and I imagine the same thing will probably happen in 2015. But the one book I read in 2014 that really got me was “This is Where I Leave You.” The film adaptation was a frustrating affair but the novel got so much right about the pains of divorce and the human experience in general that I found myself completely unprepared for all the weeping that transpired. And yet, it is a glorious read.

Relevant Medias I’m hesitant if not downright wary of most Christian media. I get very frustrated very quickly with the books and the music and the various publications and, fairly or not, I tend to shy away from it as a result. But in 2014, I started REALLY paying attention to what Relevant is doing and I’ve been thoroughly impressed. From the magazine to the weekly podcast to the free, downloadable playlists they make available to subscribers, Relevant is producing a consistently strong product and kind of doing Christian media the way I would do Christian media were I in charge of my own Christian media company. (How’s that for a sentence?)

Jack White, “Lazaretto” There’s a scene at the end of The Dark Knight in which the cops chase a falsely-condemned Batman as Commissioner Gordon laments that he is, “not the hero we deserve but the hero we need.” I feel like that’s Jack White. He could be the savior of pop music, this generation’s Nirvana, if the masses would just embrace him fully. Instead, music critics attack his grandiose showmanship and his gimmicks while younger would-be listeners continue to overlook him. “Lazaretto” is a BRILLIANT album that plays magnificently as a whole but just as well when cut up and taken one song at a time. Never stop, Jack.

Vinyl It wasn’t the most original choice I could’ve made, given the ridiculous number of hipsters who have embraced the vinyl movement before me, but in 2014, I stopped buying CDs entirely and went full vinyl. Here’s what I love about vinyl: besides the fact that analog sounds more authentic if not actually better, it’s a medium that demands attention to an entire album rather than just a catchy single. It was a great year to go vinyl, too, thanks to great new albums from a bunch of my favorite bands and performers, like Ryan Adams, The Foo Fighters, The War on Drugs, and the aforementioned Jack White.

Cable TV Dramas Overall, 2014 wasn’t a particularly great year for TV. Too many of the new shows failed to catch hold and too many of my favorite returning shows took a dip in quality. But there were a few bright spots that not only delivered on quality but also got people talking, the most underrated part of the TV watching experience. Nothing quite came close to the watercooler importance of Breaking Bad last year but Fargo and True Detective burst out of their respective gates with brilliance and flair while Mad Men regained much of its former glory and The Americans took a decisive step forward.

AMC Palace It’s been a long time since I’ve had a favorite theater but in 2014, the AMC Palace in Downtown Fort Worth was renovated and suddenly it became our go-to movie destination. Nice new seats, a cool but non-distracting environment, and maybe best of all, reserved seating so you can arrive one minute before showtime and not wait in line…that’s the good stuff right there. Plus they have refrigerated Junior Mints, which nearly made this list on their own merits.

Dirk Climbs the Charts Look, my love for the great Dirk Nowitzki probably needs no further elaboration. Sometimes I wake up at night filled with regret over my failure to name my son Dirk; that’s how deep this love goes. It was very fulfilling, then, to watch Dirk climb the career scoring charts this year, going from number 14 to number 8 in the span of a few months and passing a number of NBA legends along the way. He’s just the best, you guys. Also he contributed to the best viral video of the year.

Mad About Movies Podcast Rise to Semi-Fame In 2013, two friends and I started the Mad About Movies podcast and what a blast we had. In 2014, though, things really took off when we were twice featured on the front page of iTunes and saw our little project climb the charts on the way to becoming the number two movie podcast in the land. It’s been such a cool ride and the fun we have each week when discussing film is, I think, quite evident in each finished episode. If you’re not already subscribed, I hope you’ll hop on board in 2015.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Trailer I was hanging out with Cooper the morning this thing hit the Internet and we watched it together about a dozen times. Rationally, I know that he will watch literally any video or picture I might choose to show him on my phone because he’s obsessed with electronics right now. But perhaps irrationally, I just know he’s turning into a little Star Wars nerd just like his dad and knowing that we will get to see new Star Wars movies together warms my heart (and maybe made me cry, like, a lot).

Keurig Just like last year, when I joined the ranks of iPad users about seven years late, this year another “brand new” technology made its way into my home and changed my life. The Keurig is pretty stinking great, you guys. Why didn’t any of you tell me what I was missing out on?! Thanks to this delightful little machine, my coffee intake has gone through the roof and I’m not sleeping very well but hey, it’s totally worth it to not have to re-teach myself how to make a pot of coffee six times a year.

Apple Christmas Commercial Apple has upped their game in the advertising department of late, what with last year’s Christmas commercial and the Dead Poets Society-inspired spot, but this tiny emotional roller coaster took the proverbial cake. I’d like to think even the most cynical humans found themselves in a slightly dusty room upon seeing this for the first time and it doesn’t hurt that Jack White’s restored record machine from the 50’s makes a cameo.

Nature Box Early in 2014, this service called Nature Box started advertising heavily within a lot of the podcasts I listen to and I guess the ads worked because at some point I somewhat sheepishly paid for a membership and man, is it awesome! Once a month a box containing five healthy snacks arrives at my doorstep and sometimes those snacks even make it through the first week before I’ve consumed them all. Even Lucy the Beagle (who you will notice is NOT on my Favorite Things list) likes Nature Box!

Baptism By far, the coolest (non-Cooper related) moment for me came when one the kiddos from my program asked if I would baptize him during church this spring. I’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of kids over the last seven years and have had a ton of significant experiences with many of them. But having the privilege of spending this moment with my young friend was truly something special for me.

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Hopefully I will learn how to spell privilege in 2015, Brian

And just for kicks, here are the links to my favorite things I wrote in 2014: In Defense of NoahThings My Son Has Put In His MouthA New Sense of RenewFather's Day 2.0The First Five YearsA Letter to My College Bound FriendsWalk This Way

A Letter to My College Bound Friends

Dear college students, As I have noted many times before, I have spent the bulk of my adult life working with kids. Oh so many kids! At most of my many stops along the “working with kids” path, however, the kids in question have been actual kids. Like, 4 to 12 years old. This year, partly through my job and partly through general church-y activities, I’ve had the good fortune of getting to spend a little time with you, older teenagers and borderline adults, many of whom are heading off to college this weekend. You’ve worked for me, you’ve coached teams for me, you’ve babysat my kid, you’ve thrown parties at my house while I wasn’t home and left me sopapilla cheesecake for my trouble, and you’ve come over to watch 90’s movies that in hind sight might not have been as appropriate as I thought they were. I’ve gotten to know you through these various activities and honestly, these interactions have helped me hang on to whatever is left of my youth during a year that has featured many events that have left me feeling quite old. (My hip started hurting this year, guys. My hip. I’m 31. That’s far too early for hip pain to set in.)

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It’s an American tradition for older generations to bemoan the state of up and coming generations. “They’re disrespectful of their elders”, we say. “They don’t listen!” “They’re so wild compared to my generation!” “They can’t spell!” “They listen to Florida Georgia Line and they LIKE IT!” (Okay so maybe those last two complaints come directly from me.) And I get it. The news is full of horrific stories of misspent youth and social media often frames young users in the worst light possible. But I’m pretty sure the generation before mine said the same things about my generation and we’re not so bad. (Though we did help Nickleback become the biggest band in the world so maybe they were right about us.) And if the group of teens I’ve been around this year is any indication, the future is in good hands.

So let me take this opportunity to tell you how awesome you are and what a blessing I know you are going to be to this world. If you’ll let me, dear teenagers, I’d love to give you just a tiny bit of advice for your rapidly approaching college careers. To do this, I’m going to enlist the help of some of my younger kids, who spent an afternoon this summer writing 300 notes of encouragement/advice to you. These cards will make their way into care packages during the school year (so be on the lookout for those) but a couple of them are just too good to not share with everyone. I hope you’ll take these 10 pieces of advice with the mix of humor and truth that is intended.

1. Get involved This one gets tossed around a lot and so I’m sure you’ve heard it from at least 100,000 people by now. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’m an introvert by nature and when I was in college, I let the awkwardness or discomfort of social situations hold me back when I should have been charging full speed ahead. Meet all the new people you can meet, go to the dumb functions in the first weeks of school, pledge a club/frat or don’t, it doesn’t really matter, because there’s a group for everyone at every college so find where you fit (or, if you’re one of those people that’s looking to reinvent him/herself in college, then where you WANT to fit) and be active.

2. Find the good jobs If you’re one of the lucky few who won’t have to work at all during the school year, then bully for you. I was able to pull this feat off for one glorious year and then the dream was over. But if you do have to work, be on the lookout for the jobs that will kill neither your study time nor your activity time. Generally speaking, campus jobs that do not involve the cafeteria or actually mopping floors are the best and if you can grab a spot as a hall/lab/lobby monitor, you will literally get paid to study and/or watch TV. It’s the best of both worlds.

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3. Grow a mustache and go to college This advice only applies to guys. Hopefully. Seriously, though, grow that crazy college beard, bros! This is the one time in your life you can try something dumb with your hair/facial hair without people (read: “me”) mocking you (too harshly). One time my friend Jeff grew a beard and guess what, it was AWESOME! I still talk about how awesome Bearded Jeff was.

4. Take your time but don’t over borrow Your parents may HATE ME for saying this but it’s okay if it takes you an extra semester (or two) to graduate. Seriously. Take the course load that you can handle and still experience college, not the one you need to absolutely graduate in three or four years. Avoid dropping classes or paying for classes you don’t need and/or don’t go to. If I would’ve just accepted from the get-go that I wasn’t going to finish in four years, I would’ve been much better off. And seriously guys, borrow only as much as you actually need. If you ever need proof of how dumb my “drop at least one class every semester” plan was, I’d love to tell you what I pay each month for student loans if you’ll promise to hug me while I cry.

5. Stay in touch with your high school friends but don’t get stuck in high school Many of you have been friends forever and there’s no reason you should completely bail on those friendships just because you’re going off to different schools. But the truth is, you are going to drift apart from some of your closest friends. And that’s okay. I am still very close to my two best friends from high school but most of the others have been relegated to "Facebook friend only" status. There is no greater drag than the guy who wants to relive high school all the time because he never made any meaningful connections in the years following.

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6. Remember to eat and wear clothes…that’s important too…

I cannot stress enough how important it is that you wear clothes and eat food in college.

7. Don’t stay if it's not the right fit This is a really difficult piece of advice to act on but no less important. Do your best to get involved, to find your group, to discover your passion in life, and establish yourself at your school. But if it’s not working, if you don’t love being at your chosen school, it’s okay to move on somewhere else. I loved my freshman year of college but in my second year I really started to feel out of place and in hindsight, I wish I would’ve transferred to another school where I might have found a better fit. Don’t be afraid to go elsewhere if that’s what needs to happen.

8. Buy your own toilet paper Look, I get it, you’re a poor college student. You need to cut costs wherever possible. But the savings you get by utilizing the school-provided 1.5 ply sandpaper they call toilet paper is not worth it. TRUST ME.

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9. Don’t get married in college! (Really don’t do it)

I think this one pretty much speaks for itself.

10. Do good College can be the absolute best time of your life and you may never again have the kind of freedom you’ll have over the next 4-6 years. Oh to nap at 2 pm every day! Make the most of it. Create connections, build relationships, have fun, all of that stuff. But also stay true to yourself and remember who and what you represent. In the words of Mr. Feeney, “Do good.”

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you to not wear your letter jacket on campus, Brian

The First Five Years

Six years ago today I went on a first date with some girl from church: FirstDate

We had a good time so we did some other fun stuff:

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That all went well enough so we decided to get engaged:

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And then five years ago today, we went ahead and got married because why not?

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A good time was had by all:

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So we decided to keep the party going:

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And then we bought a house:

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And then we thought, hey, we're doing a pretty good job of things with this old dog (rest in peace, Ali):

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Why not try our hand at parenting and stuff?

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And that's how we got this little booger:

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And the beat goes on:

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Lindsey and I are not the sappy Facebook post types and clearly we enjoy making jokes about each other in public settings more than anything else. But let me just take the occasion of our fifth anniversary to say how incredibly blessed I am to be able to spend my life with such an amazing wife and wonderful mom. We've had a pretty darn good run so here's to 50 more years and at least one more decent dog to carry on in Ali's footsteps.

Blessed beyond measure, Brian

A New Sense of Renew

For those who don't know, the church I work for and attend, The Hills Church, is hosting what we call Renew Weekend this Saturday and Sunday. This is a time during which we partner with several external organizations and ministries that serve the poor, the homeless, the oppressed both here in our community and abroad. Every dollar taken in during our offering time this week will go to these ministries. I was asked to write a blog for this weekend to help spread the word and decided I'd go ahead and post it here as well. For more information, please head over to renewweekend.org To my great detriment, I didn’t get to participate in Renew Weekend last year. My wife and I welcomed our first kiddo into the world just a few days before this special weekend took place and as you might guess, we were locked away inside our bunker/house trying to make sure our child didn’t contract the Ebola virus and thus missed the whole thing. It is a bit ironic, then, (at least I think it’s ironic; Alanis Morissette really messed up my generation when it comes to understanding what is and what is not ironic) that it is this child who kept us away from Renew last year who has also made this season of Renew such a pressing and important weight that tugs so heavily at my heart this year.

“Everything changes when you become a parent.”

You hear that phrase A LOT when you’re expecting your first child. Friends who’ve had children say it with wide, knowing eyes, veteran parents say it with bemused smirks, and random strangers yell it at you unprovoked in the aisles of Target when you’re just trying to buy some Blue Bell Ice Cream without thinking about the stressful situation you’re about to be in. But no matter how many times you hear this, it doesn’t really ring true until you’re actually holding that little bundle of grumbles for the first time and you realize that, in fact, that stranger in Target was correct because everything really has changed. Parenthood changes the way you sleep, it changes the way you eat, it changes the way you live.

And it changes the way you relate to the events of the world.

Once upon a time when word of a tragic accident, a shooting, a natural disaster, etc. would reach me, I’d think, “That’s awful”, maybe say a quick prayer, and then go on with my day. Now, without fail, when something horrible happens, my first reaction is, “What if that was Cooper?” What if Cooper was at that school, what if Cooper was in that car, what if Cooper was one of those kidnapped children? Most of the time that’s a passing thought then the logic side of my brain kicks in and I’m alright. But there are times, usually when I’m rocking him to sleep, when the brokenness of this world and how it relates to my son hits hard and I wind up having an ugly cry all over the poor kid’s head while he’s trying to get to sleep. (You’ll notice the title of this post is not “How to be the World’s Manliest Man.”)

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As a result of this, I’m going to be honest and tell you that I’ve been pushing Renew Weekend to the back of my mind. In the midst of everything I have going on in life, be it work, raising a child, interacting with friends, or preparing for “24” to come back on TV, confronting the very real issues that our world is bursting with and which Renew Weekend is specifically designed to combat has been difficult for me to take on emotionally and so, I have avoided much deeper thought on what we’re doing here.

As such, this afternoon when I sat down to really think about Renew and the ministries and organizations we’ll be aiding, I did something I don’t usually do and went for total silence. I turned off the TV, hid my phone, and sent my kiddo away with my wife (Happy Mother’s Day, Lindsey! Here’s an increasingly obstinate child for you to deal with by yourself!) and sat in silence in my office. I read through the Renew website, looked at the organizations we’ve partnered with, dove into the stories being told in other blog posts, and considered what God was asking of me, both in terms of writing this blog and in the ways I connect with the Renew ministries.

And I cried. I cried for children who live within a block of me who do not have enough food on the weekend, for women who have been forced into the sex trade that propagates so many dark corners of this world, for expecting young parents who feel like they don’t have anywhere to turn, for those who are stuck so deep in addiction that they’ve lost all hope of ever seeing the other side, and kids not much older than mine who were sold into slavery by the very people who were supposed to protect them. And over and over again, I could hear God calling me back to the theme of this weekend, to rebel against the darkness that I have so easily pushed to the backburner because it makes looking at my own child with dry eyes a little more difficult.

So as we prepare for this upcoming weekend, I would encourage each of you to do what I did and take a few minutes of silence to consider what Renew is all about. Turn off the TV, lock yourself in your office, sit in your car at lunch, hide in the bathroom, whatever you can do to find a small piece of solitude. Think about the ministries this weekend will support. Read through the other blog posts and the information provided regarding these wonderful organizations. Have a good cry because this is heavy stuff that we’re dealing with here and sometimes we all need to be broken a bit in order to truly love. And most of all, come to the Father with an open heart, an open mind, and an open ear so that you might be led to your place in this. And then come to Renew Weekend prepared to give, prepared to act, prepared to do what God would have you do, prepared to join a rebellion.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Everything is Awesome!

About 18 months ago, I did a guest spot (as it were) on a late night radio show co-hosted by my friend, Richard. Richard's friend Kent, a student at TCU, had access to the school's airwaves and the Kent and Richard show had been doing pretty well for several weeks. I came in to provide some support one night, we all had a blast talking, and I was hooked. There's a certain rush that you get from knowing that your voice is being heard, even if the audience is six college stoners who don't know how to change the station and some of your relatives. I came back to sit in for Richard a couple months later and Kent and I talked exclusively about movies for three hours. During breaks, we kicked around the idea of doing a movie podcast together. Richard and I had talked about doing a podcast of one type or another in the past but Kent actually knew HOW to do a podcast and how to get it out to the people so he was the perfect partner and show host. Within a few weeks, we had all acquired headphones and mikes and were sitting in Kent's apartment recording the first episode of the Mad About Movies podcast. MAM

Over the course of 2013, our understanding of the medium got better and better as did the quality of the shows. We started recording remotely from our respective homes over Skype and the quality was actually (significantly) better than it was when we sat in the same room. We learned which films brought in listeners and which ones were better left for side discussions. We developed a structure for each episode that has served us well. And possibly most importantly, we all took it very seriously: we recorded at the same time each week whenever possible, we made time to see the movies we were going to talk about (not always an easy task when life is busy and the movie is R.I.P.D.), and we did our best to be present. Of the 60 episodes we put out in 2013, I missed one when Cooper was born and a second when sick baby week hit and Richard I believe missed three episodes in total. In essence, we treated it like a second job; a fun job, but a job nonetheless. This effort has paid off in that our numbers (downloads and plays) have been significantly higher than we could have ever expected. Nothing out of this world but still, quite good.

There's a sentiment in our world that if you work hard enough at something, you'll succeed but that's not always the case. Sometimes, in some particular fields, you need to know someone with pull or you need to catch a break. I dedicated my writing exclusively to movie reviews for the better part of three years and frankly, I think much of my content was better than writers at big media outlets but I never caught a break or got my work into the hands of someone with the right connection. Such is life, no big deal. But Mad About Movies caught a BIG break a few weeks ago and it's finally paying off.

The story goes that Kent had to get in touch with an iTunes representative in order to fix an issue that had popped up with another podcast that he did for the Dallas Cowboys. In the midst of his conversation with this rep, he asked what the requirements were to have a podcast featured. The rep asked some questions, put our podcast through some observations, and ultimately told Kent that if he'd get her some artwork, iTunes would find a place for us as a featured show. They even let us suggest a time period during which they would advertise us. We chose the day after the Oscars and they acquiesced. So Sunday evening, right after the Oscars ended, we recorded a recap episode, made it live, and waited.

On Monday afternoon, Kent texted Richard and I, "CONGRATS FELLAS!" with the following screenshot:

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That's our gorgeous logo on the front page of iTunes' podcast page. We were stoked. Honestly, even after a full year, it's kind of trip to know that my voice can be heard on iTunes so having our show featured so prominently was ridiculous. I was happy with just this.

Then the fun really started.

On Tuesday, I awoke to a text alerting me that Mad About Movies had climbed to number 26 on the TV and Film podcast charts. By the time I had a chance to check it myself, we'd jumped to 22.

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I couldn't believe it. I know we're good at what we're doing but even still, this jump in the ratings, so to speak, (we had previously been ranked nowhere near the top 100 in the category) was insane. What a great run, I thought. Then a friend of mine and a loyal listener of the show sent me the following screenshot:

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This was huge not only because we'd jumped another handful of spots but because it also put us within reach of Filmcast, one of the two MAJOR movie podcasts the world has to offer along with Filmspotting (more on them in a moment). To be on the same level as Filmcast felt like an unbelievable achievement. We hovered around in the 14-20 range for a few hours and I figured this was where we were going to settle in for a few days.

And then we cracked the top 10:

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In bumping Filmcast down a peg, we vaulted into the top 10 and put ourselves behind only one pure movie podcast (Filmspotting) as everything else in front of us is either a TV show, a pop culture show, or a niche show (like John August's screenwriting show, Scriptnotes, which is OUTSTANDING). I really and truly thought this was the end of it. Filmspotting is the big boy on the block. They've been doing podcasts since the inception of podcasts and they are incredibly good at what they do.

Then we jumped those guys, too:

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Not going to lie, this made me bounce around the house like a little kid on red food dye. This just didn't seem possible. But still, more. At this point we became more aware of the overall podcasting chart. When we first looked, we were sitting somewhere in the 250 range. Suddenly, however, we jumped up into the 160s:

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Then that overall ranking started to rise about the same time that we jumped into the top 5 on the TV and Film chart. Top 5, y'all. Ahead of Filmspotting, ahead of Filmcast, ahead of a number of well-funded shows, many of which I actually listen to myself. We hung around the 120s overall and between 4 and 6 on the TV and Film chart for a while and this REALLY felt like the end. There was no way we were passing up NPR, the True Detective pod, or stinking Grantland, which is pushed HEAVILY by its ESPN affiliation. And yet:

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BOOM. Top 3, ahead of Grantland. (By the way, Bill Simmons, if you're reading this, we will start working for you TOMORROW. Shoot me an email, man.) At this point I was just laughing maniacally because seriously, what else am I going to do? This is just insane. Eventually, Grantland jumped back in front of us and at the time of this writing, we sit at number 4. But while our place on the TV and Film chart took a small hit, we've risen on the overall charts to 103 and expect to crack the top 100 podcasts available on iTunes sometime this weekend.

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The vast majority of my communication over the last three days has been spent texting, "WHAAAAATTTTT???" and "BOOOOOOM" and "HOLY CRAP!!!" with Richard and Kent as we watch the show climb the charts. I'm starting to feel like The Wonders watching "That Thing You Do" become a national sensation. (By the way, if you haven't seen That Thing You Do and/or you don't love it, you need to get on the bandwagon because I love that movie and I'd like to reference it way more. Get on that.) Now, eventually, this will end. I'm not delusional enough to think that we will be assured a place among the podcasting elite for the long term once the iTunes feature goes down and once these other shows pump out more content. But we're on the map now and even if our stock plummets tomorrow, we'll always have this one glorious week. So thanks to any and all of you who have listened and if you haven't yet, now's as good a time as any to start. Help us out by telling a friend, downloading the pod, and leaving a 5 star review on iTunes. Don't let those corporate stooges at Grantland knock us back down the ladder! (Once again, Mr. Simmons, we will join your side IMMEDIATELY.)

And if you don't know how this whole thing works, here you go. (Note: The best thing about podcasts is that they're free. Most of the apps are free and the shows themselves are free.)

1.) Download a podcast app. There are lots but if you're on an iPhone, the native Podcast app is the easiest to use. If you're on Android, I recommend Stitcher. If you don't have a smart phone, I recommend getting a smart phone.

2.) Search "Mad About Movies" in the podcast store.

3.) Click "subscribe".

That's it. Each episode is automatically downloaded to your podcast app for your listening pleasure. You can also do this on your computer through the iTunes store or you can head directly to the Mad About Movies website and listen there.

We're having a blast in our climb to the top (or more likely, the middle) and we hope you'll be a part of our success.

I may start a That Thing You Do podcast next, Brian

EDITOR'S NOTE: This morning when I woke up, we had jumped to number 73 overall and number 2 on TV and Film charts. I don't know what's happening.

I'm an Adult! or Car Buying for Dummies

Last week was one of the busiest, most stressful weeks that I have encountered in my 31 years of life on this planet. Let me lay out the circumstances: Saturday was the final day of basketball season (for those who don't know, I run a youth sports program for around 700 kids). Basketball is always my most stressful season and the final week of any season is always bonkers so this was the busiest week of the year for me. In addition, every being in my house that is not me was sick. Not, like, bleeding from the eyes sick but under the weather enough to impact the overall effectiveness of our household. So much coughing, you guys. On top of that, I had foolishly agreed to do a career day for 100 kids on the Friday. It turned out to be a great deal of fun but nevertheless added a ton of extra work onto my already full plate. Also Friday was my birthday. And also Sunday was the Oscars, which may not seem like a big deal but podcasting partners and I decided to bump up our recording time to immediately following the show (more on this later). So basically, every hour of the entire weekend was booked solid and every hour of the week leading up to it needed to be used for preparation.

And oh yeah, in the midst of all this we decided to buy a car.

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I say we "decided" but really it was more like the universe "FORCED" us into this decision. It started on Tuesday when, as I was trying to complete a set of errands for work, Lindsey called to say she was broken down in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I showed up, couldn't get the car jumped (this car has had ridiculous battery problems over the years), and ended up having it towed to our mechanic (Jeffrey Automotive, which I highly recommend if you live in the area). They called later to say it was probably just the battery plus some fuses that got fried. Simple enough, thanks.

At this point, we began the discussion that most of you probably know all too well: "How much more are we willing to put into this car before we buy a new one?" I was torn in this discussion as I hate paying for car repairs more than almost anything in this world but I also wasn't super keen on adding another car payment in the midst of this whole "baby" thing. Not sure if you guys are aware but babies are a total suck on your bank account. All they do is eat and poop and they bring in literally NOTHING on their own to help pay the bills. Anyway, this decision was pushed along a bit when the shop called back the next day and informed me that the alternator needed to be replaced as well. At this point, we decided we were going to sell the car and buy a new one and told the mechanic that we wouldn't be replacing the alternator as we all agreed it could last a week or two while we shopped around.

Wrong.

Thursday was supposed to be my catch up day. I planned to drop off Cooper at YCW, head home for a nap, and then get cracking on finishing up all of my work for both the Career Day and the final day of games. On my way out the door from YCW, however, Lindsey called because once again, the car had broken down. (This time she was in a Whataburger parking lot so at least we were moving up in the world. One more breakdown and it might have been at a Nordstrom's or something.) I drove over, we briefly talked it through, and decided to head directly to the dealership.

Now, there are all kinds of strategies when it comes to buying a car. I know this. We just didn't take ANY of them into account. I had not showered, I had not shaved in over a week, and I'm pretty sure I was wearing the same shirt I had worn the day before. Lindsey had been blowing her nose every 3 minutes for the last week and she looked like it. And oh yeah, the car we were looking to trade in was rapidly becoming scrap metal. We'd also spent approximately 30 total minutes researching cars. This is basically a "what not to do" when buying a car.

We met the salesman who was very friendly and he showed us around to the floor models of the two cars Lindsey was interested in. We quickly settled on a CR-V, the guy asked what color, and I interjected, "Just not THAT one" referencing the maroon-ish tint of the car we were looking at. He asked why, I said it was "too Aggie" and he promptly showed me his A&M class ring from 1974 and recounted all of the family members he has that have attended the cult school. So things were going well.

We took a test drive, looked at some used models, and decided on the new one. Our salesman then worked up all the fun financials with Lindsey while I went on a trade-in test drive with the manager. Now look, this Civic is the basest base model you can get and it has some issues (mostly the alternator that needed replacement, which I told them about in the spirit of honesty). But it's still a solid little car. Multiple times people have offered to buy it from us. Like, complete strangers at drive-thrus or gas stations or one time when a dude straight up knocked on the door and said, "If you ever decide to sell that Civic, give me a call." So I expected the trade-in bit to go fairly well.

Wrong.

We got a quarter mile down the road and the A/C shut down. Then a little further the blinkers stopped working. Then the windshield wipers started stuttering. Then we got to a u-turn under the overpass and I thought to myself, "He should probably gun it here" but instead he slowed to a stop and BOOM. Car dead. Like, super dead. We couldn't even get it to shift into neutral. So my new friend the manager at Frank Kent Honda had to walk across the street to get a truck while I stood by the side of the road and directed people around the Civic that was somehow sitting in the dead middle of the road, requiring people to hop the curb. This did not win me any friends.

By the time I got back to the dealership, word of our car's escapades had reached pretty much everyone in the building so for the rest of the day, every single person who walked past me kind of smirked and gave me a knowing nod. I began to wish I would've just firebombed the car in the Whataburger parking lot. The trade-in offer ended up being (understandably) pathetic and so in the end, I just said, "Fix the alternator here and I'll sell it later." So what was a $750 dollar bill two days earlier turned into a $1300 bill and one of the most embarrassing trade-in drives of all time. I've always hated this car and this was its revenge.

In the end, we walked away with the car Lindsey wanted, a story to tell, and a healthy car payment that will pretty much swallow up the entirety of the raise Lindsey just got. It also served as a reminder that no matter how much I may attempt to duck responsibility and age as slowly as possible (except for my knees which are already 73 years old), I am, in fact, an adult which requires adult life choices. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to playing Clash of Clans on my iPad.

Does anyone know a place where this baby can start working? Brian

My Favorite Things of 2013

For the last three years, Lindsey and I (read: "Lindsey by herself with me just cleaning and moving furniture") have thrown a New Year's Eve Party for a few friends. Like most of you, we eat ghastly amounts of unhealthy food, play games, and bet on dog fights. Wait, you're saying the dog fighting thing is NOT common? Scratch that part. Unlike most of you, I would wager, we finish the night off with a giveaway/friendly competition. Each person brings something that represents their favorite thing of the year and after all the games are over and everyone has accumulated tickets through the games, we place bids on the items until everyone goes home with something awesome. It's a great start to the new year and a fun way for all of us to bond over the victories, growth, and general fun we all experienced in the past 12 months. Some people bring gift cards, some books, some bring some really creative stuff like an Icemaggedon Survival Pack and we all have a few laughs. I had a hard time choosing my favorite thing this year, partly because I can't legally clone Cooper and even if I could, believe you me, I would not be just GIVING copies of the King Baby away, and partly because there were just so many great discoveries/experiences this year. So I thought it might be fun to put together a list, in no particular order, of my favorite things of the year and it felt only right to cap it at 13 things because, you know, 2013. Please note, all things related to Cooper, my actual favorite thing of 2013, have been omitted for obvious reasons.

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DSCN0894

The Way, Way Back I've got a lot of movie stuff headed to this space next week (in fact the entire week will be dedicated to lists that most of you won't care about) so I'll keep this brief and just say that The Way, Way Backis my favorite movie of the year and I imagine I will be watching it many times over the coming years.

iPad Mini After years of longing for that glorious little screen to make its way into my arms, I finally broke down and purchased an iPad mini this fall right before we went on vacation. Why didn't you guys tell me how awesome these things are? I have gotten so much accomplished and by that of course I mean I've played a TON of Spades and Skip-Bo.

Jason Isbell's Album Southeastern Several of my favorite bands released excellent albums this year, including Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, The Civil Wars, and Pearl Jam (see below). But none of them quite compared to this one. This is gritty, edgy Southern folk rock, I guess, though that summary doesn't do it justice. The best comparison I can make is if Jakob Dylan (of The Wallflowers) grew up in the South, battled a meth addiction, and had probably killed a man at some point in his life. Isbell is a craftsman when it comes to the poetic nature of his lyrics and man, does it sound great. Yay white people music!

The Mad About Movies Podcast Maybe this seems like selfless promotion (and maybe it is) but two friends and I started this film podcast at the beginning of 2013 and it's been an absolute blast. We're now 60 episodes in and, if I do say so myself, it's a lot of fun to listen to, even if you're not as into movies as we are. Moreover, it's been an incredibly enjoyable experience to be able to sit down each week and discuss film in depth.

The Breaking Bad Finale/Water Cooler TV This might very well be the biggest event of 2013 in terms of pop culture relevance, possibly behind only twerking. (I wish that last part was a joke.) I binged through all five seasons of Breaking Badin the weeks leading up to the finale and barely finished in time. The show itself is/was magnificent and wholly enthralling but even better was the buzz that it generated. It felt like everyone was watching this show and we were all eager to talk about it and that sort of event viewing just doesn't happen very often anymore. I can't wait until we recapture this camaraderie when the Two Broke Girlsfinale rolls around in 2021. (Please kill me now.)

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Breaking-Bad

The Fifth Grade Fall Fling I got the opportunity this fall to plan and execute a major event for our fifth graders at work and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I put together an Amazing Race throughout the building and parking lot and watched as the kids competed against one another and pulled together within their teams. It was a huge success and it all culminated in one of the coolest worship sessions I've had the privilege to be a part of.

FallFling
FallFling

The Kliff Kingsbury Swag For all it's awesomeness, 2013 was a BRUTAL year for me sports wise. The Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the Rangers imploded, and Duke basketball was aggravating at best. The lone bright spot on the Brian Gill Personal Sports Landscape was the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. Kliff brought an atmosphere of "cool" to the program that had been missing over the last three years and reunited a fractured fan base. In short, it's fun to be a Red Raider again.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Trailer While the movie itself turned out to be somewhat divisive (critics didn't care for it but I loved it), this trailer is magnificent. The first time I saw it in a theater the rest of my group all seemed to sit up and take notice then we all glanced at each other and pantomimed our excitement. In fairness, the first couple of teasers for Man of Steelwere probably BETTER trailers but I hated Man of Steelso Mittygets the nod here.

Pearl Jam Concert The older I get, the fewer concerts I go to. They're expensive, there are crowds, and I usually have to drive to Dallas which, I think we can all agree, is the worst. But I've been wanting to see Pearl Jam in concert for many, many years. They hadn't been here in over a decade but when the tour to support their new album was announced and I saw Dallas on the list, I was stoked. That excitement proved to be well-placed as the band put on one of the best shows I've ever been to.

Vedder
Vedder

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline As per usual, I didn't read as many books this year as I'd hoped to, though my begrudging embrace of eBooks on the iPad helped. But of the dozen or so that I did get through, Ready Player Onewas by far my favorite. Intelligent science fiction is always a favorite of mine and with so much of this book based around 80s/90s nerd culture (video games, music, movies, etc.), this was an easy sell. Highly recommended.

Disney World Trip Perhaps you missed the three part journal I wrote on our recent trip to Disney World. (I agree, three posts was too much.) Spending the first part of the Christmas season in the Happiest Place on Earth was a truly awesome experience and also I got to spend a week in December in 70 degree weather.

DisneyHS
DisneyHS

The Office Series Finale Once upon a time, it seemed like everyone I knew was watching The Office.Then there were fewer. And fewer. And by the end, it felt like it was just Lindsey and I plus a couple of other loyalists. But even in its weaker moments, my love for the show carried me through and that paid off in spades with the final few episodes. I wept like a tiny baby girl during the finale and having watched it a couple of times since, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make it through without tearing up. (SPOILER ALERT: Do NOT watch the video if you haven't seen the finale yet and plan to do so, ever, in the future.)

Oceans by Hillsong United I honestly don't listen to a lot of Christian/worship music outside of church and there are a lot of reasons for this. But this one started to make the rounds a few months ago and I fell in love with it. Just gorgeous.

Well, those are a few of my favorite things from 2013. Now it's your turn to share some of yours. Thanks for coming around this place during the last year and let's hope 2014 brings even more spectacular memories and experiences! Brian

Vacation Journal: Disney World Part 3

You can find parts one and two of this vacation journal here and here. In the interest of time and effort, all posts are written by Twitter rules (140 characters) give or take a few here or there. DAY FOUR

8:00 am - Since it's our last full day in Disney, we're up early to get the most out of our day.

11:00 am - Nah, I’m just kidding. I just woke up.

11:50 am - We ate lunch in our resort's food court. The presentation is great but at the end of the day you're basically eating Aramark. Meh.

11:56 am - I just walked by Mommy's Favorite. She's wearing a different color shirt with the exact same logo and name plate. She may need therapy.

12:40 pm - We've arrived at Magic Kingdom along with everyone else in the known world. I would imagine the crowd has grown 10 fold since Thursday.

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1:12 pm - I've been inside the park for less than 30 minutes and I've already been smacked by strollers three different times.

1:17 pm - Lindsey wants to ride Small World so here we are, standing in line for 30 minutes, for the most annoying ride in the world.

1:53 pm - They should just replace the singing of "It's a Small World" with a constant loop of Lloyd Christmas' noise.

2:27 pm - I had only just gotten the songs from Beauty and the Beast out of my head and now Mickey’s Philharmagic dumped them right back in. Noooooo!!!

2:49 pm - A seagull just swooped down and tried to pick up a small child. They don't put that on the brochures.

3:04 pm - Hopped on the Tomorrowland People Mover which is basically just you sitting alone in a cart for 10 minutes. In other words, it's AWESOME.

3:15 pm - I retract my statement about Love Field being Leggings as Pants Field. Love Field is like AA baseball and Disney World is the Major Leagues.

3:16 pm - Another trend that desperately needs to stop: Shirts that start with “Keep Calm and” then end with something stupid. We’re done here.

3:35 pm - We're halfway through the Carousel of Progress and I'm ready to pronounce this the worst attraction in all of Disney World. Burn it down!

3:40 pm - On second thought, empty it out and just make it a nice dark room that you can stay in for 20 minutes. Call it NapLand. You're welcome, Disey.

3:53 pm - Lindsey and I might be the only 2 adults in the whole park that don't have tattoos. They're EVERYWHERE.

3:54 pm - I'm not bashing; I've considered getting one (dragon wings across my entire back obviously) but that's a long term commitment, you know?

4:02 pm - The worst thing about Disney World is that they don't have the rights to Harry Potter. They would make it so much better than stupid Universal.

4:40 pm - Leggings as Pants has officially become an epidemic akin to feline AIDS. Someone needs to make a PSA.

5:30 pm - Walked out of Maelstrom (meh), everyone inside is freaking out because of the hard rain. We get our jackets and hats out and brave it...

5:31 pm - Turns out it's barely drizzling but the fake waterfall next to the door made it sound like a hurricane. We're smart.

6:07 pm - Before dinner, we're hitting up Living with the Land which is a tour of a sustainable greenhouse/hatchery. Education can be fun!

7:00 pm - Dinner tonight is at the Garden Grill. It’s a family style meal consisting of bread, salad, steak, turkey, and fish plus sides. AND IT'S ALL YOU CAN EAT.

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7:28 pm - This might be the best steak I've ever had in my life. One serving is not all I can eat so I have requested more. Bring me all the steak you have!

7:45 pm - The downside of Garden Grill is that Chip and Dale come around to meet you, which is great when you have kids with you. Kinda dumb for us.

7:46 pm - Characters coming around for a pair of 30 somethings is kind of like having the hibachi guy put on a show when you're the only 2 at the table. Awkward.

8:35 pm - Post-dinner, we've come back to Magic Kingdom because it's open until 1 am and we're fools.

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9:00 pm - We have FastPasses for front row seats at the Electrical Light Parade. I'm usually adamantly against parades but I'll make an exception.

9:18 pm - The parade is going swimmingly until Captain Hook waves to the child sitting next to me who immediately FREAKS OUT. Not a Dustin Hoffman fan.

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9:40 pm - Now that the crowd has thinned out, we're hitting all the rides we couldn't get to today. Dumbo, Barnstormer, Space Ranger, Space Mountain.

10:25 pm - Just saw a dude wearing a Terrell Owens Buffalo Bills jersey. I don't think he was doing it ironically and I would like to interview him.

11:00 pm - The fireworks have started and again every human is taking pictures of them. Let me show you how every firework picture looks. Now stop.

11:22 pm - Upon exiting Space Mountain, I look to Lindsey who weakly smiles and says, "What next?" "We're done, let's go" I say. I don't think she's ever loved me more.

DAY FIVE

7:40 am - We've only got a half day before we have to hit the airport so we're up early and I must say a morning in Disney is...no, I'm kidding, mornings are awful.

8:30 am - During our stay, we've seen twice as many Animal Kingdom buses as any other. Today, when we need one, they're nowhere to be found.

8:32 am - The Plan today is simple: 1. Dinosaur 2. Bug's Life Show 3. Expedition Everest 4. Lion King show 5. Out of the park before lunch Let's kick it.

9:03 am - We jog (or yog? the j might be soft) to Dinosaur, feeling good about ourselves...only to discover that it is having technical difficulties.

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9:10 am - Reformatting The Plan, we're now headed to Bug's Life which is really for kids but I think it's fun so BACK OFF.

9:27 am - Except that Bug's Life is also having technical difficulties so now we're in danger of falling seriously behind. The Plan is a lie!

9:44 am - Post Bug's Life, we're now using a FastPass to hit Expedition Everest, which is my pick for best actual roller coaster in the Disney group.

10:00 am - One of the reasons Everest is so great: major bang for your buck. Your wait isn't astronomical and the ride lasts a solid 3 minutes.

10:05 am - From Everest, we hightailed it to The Festival of the Lion King and, again using a FastPass like bosses, we're sitting front row, awaiting the start.

10:25 am - At this point, let me extol the greatness of an app called Pocket that lets you save articles to your phone for later perusal. It's awesome.

10:26 am - Seriously, Pocket is almost essential for a trip like this. Once Twitter has run out of goods and Facebook becomes awful, Pocket saves the day.

10:30 am - Let me take a second to list the acceptable foot attire for Disney World: 1. Tennis shoes

That's it. TOMS, flip flops, boots, flats, etc. are completely ridiculous in this setting. Knock it off.

10:35 am - Finally the Festival of the Lion King begins and let me just tell you, this show is worth coming to Animal Kingdom for all by itself.

11:02 am - So what if I did cry a little during the Festival of the Lion King? SIMBA'S STORY IS UNIVERSAL!

11:03 am - But seriously you guys, it's an insane show. And I don't really like "shows." So that's saying something.

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11:18 am - Guy at Dinosaur turns to employee and asks, "What's the wait time?" while walking directly under the Wait Time sign. LITERALLY here's your sign.

11:21 am - An employee just asked me if the Double T on my chest is for "Temple or Texas." I murdered her.

11:46 am - Having successfully hit all four stops on our whirlwind tour, Phase 2 of the plan has us running for a bus to Downtown Disney.

Phase 2 is simple: 1. Get to Downtown Disney 2. Buy Cooper something (because we've neglected him to this point) 3. Eat lunch 4. Leave

12:18 pm - Phase 2 immediately goes wrong because all of the people who were in Magic Kingdom yesterday are now in Downtown. ALL of them.

12:25 pm - Two women just nearly came to fisticuffs over a t-shirt. This is like Black Friday.

12:31 pm - I grab Cooper a souvenir, we bail on lunch, and we run back to the bus because we’ve got to be back at the resort by 1:45.

1:06 pm - We’re now stuck in traffic on a bus with a crying child. I haven’t eaten all day. I may be dying. Tell my son I love him.

1:20 pm - The worst thing about Disney (at least the third time I’ve said that right?) is that there is no Red Bull. I need Red Bull to survive, y’all.

2:39 pm - We shoveled food down our gullets and barely made it onto the Magical Express and then I passed out. Vacation!

2:50 pm - The TSA line was insane and somehow I lost Lindsey. I finished my prostate exam/pat down at least 10 minutes ago. She may be gone for good.

2:53 pm - Whew! She made it through. I was getting close to abandoning her and starting over. I think she would’ve done the same with me.

3:01 pm - We made it to our terminal 2 hours before departure and staked out a power outlet next to a couple of kids who brought their own power strip. Champions.

3:24 pm - I'm pretty sure Latarian is sitting across the aisle from me.

3:39 pm - The value of an outlet has risen dramatically. Outlets are the new currency here, worth far more than gold or bitcoins, whatever those are.

4:27 pm - I know you're not supposed to judge books by their cover but there's a woman reading Mafia Princess and I feel pretty confident in my judgment.

4:43 pm - I’m breaking the Twitter rule here because I just saw the worst thing. Two toolbags just tried to stiff a waitress at the neighboring bar. These are two grown men, mind you, who appear to not be destitute. When confronted, they played coy until she started getting ticked then paid her EXACTLY what was owed, no tip. Then one of the guys got back in line WITH HIS WIFE AND THREE KIDS. I know there are murders and things like that happening every day but right now I’m pretty sure these are the two worst people on earth. If God decides to strike our plane down in His wrath, I would support the decision. The best advice I could ever give anyone is pretty simple: just don’t be a jerk. It’s not that hard to not be a jerk.

5:50 pm - We're in the air and I'm still ticked about the "gentlemen" at the terminal. I may be having a rage stroke.

6:25 pm - We've landed in Birmingham so I turn on my phone. While we were in the air my fantasy football team collapsed in the playoffs once again. I’m nothing if not extremely consistent.

6:46 pm - We've got a layover so we're grabbing some authentic Deep South barbecue...from the airport...and they're out of pork. Yup.

6:50 pm - I did arrive just in time to witness the Dallas Cowboys self-combust once again so at least there's that.

7:22 pm - Also there's a four year old child sitting at the bar so, yeah, we're in Alabama.

8:16 pm - We've finally boarded and there is literally no one around us but small children. I'm not even sure where their parents are.

9:39 pm - I'd just like to reiterate to anyone involved in the airline industry that I'd pay a $50 fee each way to insure there are no kids on my flight. And I say that as a parent.

10:54 pm - Only a few seat kicks worse for the wear, we've made it home safely to the loving arms of the King Baby who literally could not care less about the stuffed animal we brought him from Disney World. Kids!

Vacation Journal: Disney World Part 2

(Note: I had originally planned on breaking this post down into two segments but Cooper was not cooperating tonight and I couldn't get it finished. I'll have the final piece on Saturday. You can find Part 1 here.) DAY THREE

10:00 am - Today is our most ambitiously planned: Magic Kingdom in the morning, Hollywood for lunch, Epcot for dinner. Let's do this!

10:25 am - Lindsey has a curse wherein she says something like, "There's no traffic!" and then we hit major traffic. She just said, "There's no one here!”

10:26 am - …And immediately our bus has been bombarded by people.

10:45 am - Two women next to me are wearing the same shirt except one says "Mommy" and the other says "Mommy's Favorite." The second woman is 40 years old.

11:12 am - Stepped foot off the bus and already this is a mistake. There are 100 billion people at Magic Kingdom this morning. The plan is in shambles.

11:16 am - We have lunch reservations in another park at 12:50 and we haven't even made it through the bag check yet. We are forced to bail.

11:17 am - Worst part about Disney: not all locations have buses to every other location. So you have to find other means of transportation.

11:25 am - So we are taking the world's slowest ferry across a lake so that we can then take a bus from the Transportation Center to Hollywood.

11:40 am - The Transportation Center looks like it was originally designed in the 70s as a Greyhound Bus depot. It's bad.

DisneyHS

12:03 pm - Rock N Roller Coaster has one of the best beginnings of any roller coaster ever. After that...meh. But it's worth it for the jump start.

12:21 pm - Now it's on to Muppet Vision 3D. You have to do this ride if you're here because, you know, Muppets but it REALLY needs an upgrade.

12:50 pm - Sitting down for lunch in the Sci-Fi Drive In. Food is only okay but the ambiance is great and you get to sit quietly in the dark so that's a plus.

1:35 pm - On the downside, the quiet dark has left me in desperate need of a nap. Ambitious plans to the wayside, I must retire for the afternoon.

4:10 pm - Nap accomplished. Someone hang a banner.

5:15 pm - Our first FastPass of the day brought us through the Toy Story Midway Mania. If you've not experienced this ride, your life is meaningless.

5:16 pm - Okay, maybe not meaningless. But man. The design for this ride is impeccable. This is why people come to Disney World.

5:37 pm - The wait was short at Star Tours so I figured why not? We got a different video than the first time and now I wonder how many options there are.

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5:38 pm - A little Googling reveals the answer: 54!!! 54 different video options! I'll see you guys in a couple of days, I have 52 more rides to take.

5:55 pm - We're not into souvenirs AT ALL but this Vinylmation thing Disney started a while back is pretty sweet. I bought two from the Star Wars line.

5:56 pm - Alright, so I bought three. Lay off!

6:02 pm - Dropped by the Osborne Family Dancing Lights just in time for the beginning. Easily the coolest light show I've ever seen.

6:20 pm - We've got dinner plans later this evening but it's been at least 3 hours since we ate and that's illegal in Disney World so we ran into Pizza Planet.

6:31 pm - How it's possible that Pizza Planet DOES NOT have a crane machine filled with those little green alien squeakers is beyond me.

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6:51 pm - Our final FastPass of the day has brought us back to the Tower of Terror for a night time ride. Seriously, guys, I love this ride.

6:58 pm - If you're a tall, pale, gangly kid and you apply to work at Disney World, chances are you'll end us as a bellhop at Tower of Terror. Creepers. Like Oren from Parks and Rec.

6:59 pm - When we get to the actual entrance to the ride, the group behind us divides: the women all get on board and the guys all bail. Booooooo.

7:09 pm - From Tower of Terror, we hustle to get to Epcot but this is another time where the parks don't connect by bus. Now in line for a dang boat.

7:14 pm - Discussing Tower of Terror, the guy behind me tells wife "Guys can feel themselves falling better because their (junk) jumps into their throats.” I’ll leave this one alone.

7:28 pm - The kid behind us in line has been quacking at the ducks for 20 minutes. If you strangle a kid, you get kicked out of Disney World, right?

7:42 pm - Now (Junk) in the Throat Guy has started quacking. I might be going insane.

8:05 pm - The boat deposits us at Epcot's back entrance. Of course this is the one night we're eating close to the front entrance.

8:30 pm - Tonight we're dining in the Coral Reef restaurant, continuing my streak of eating seafood at every dinner. This is the height of luxury!

9:25 pm - Epcot is open late tonight for resort guests so post-dinner we're trying to hit some of the big rides, like Soarin'. 10 minute wait. Bingo!

9:38 pm - Sign outside Soarin': "Those who have a feat of heights or are prone to motion sickness should not ride." Again, this ride is called Soarin'.

10:23 pm - Exiting Journey Into Imagination with Figment and all I can think is, LSD must do wonders for this ride.

10:27 pm - We're capping our night off with the Captain EO 3D journey starring Michael Jackson. It's extremely dated and cheesy but it's still great.

10:33 pm - Seeing Captain EO is like Christmas with your great grandma. Every year that it's still here is a treat. It could end any day. YOLO.

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11:09 pm - On the bus back to the resort, there is a mom wearing a Nickleback concert t-shirt. No need to worry, I've already alerted CPS.

11:22 pm - The only standard bottled water in Disney is Dasani and since it is low on the bottled water spectrum, that means paying extra for SmartWater.

11:26 pm - Since you asked, the bottled water spectrum goes: 1. Ozarka 2. Aquafina 3. Fiji 4. Dasani 5. Nestle 600. Deja Blue This is not up for debate

Vacation Journal: Disney World (Part 1)

Earlier this year I wrote a vacation journal for our anniversary trip into the heart of Oklahoma. You people ate it up. It is still one of the three highest-rated blogs I’ve written this year, preceded only by the blog announcing Cooper’s birth and the one I wrote about my dog dying. You guys are really into dogs dying. A few months later I wrote another piece regarding our trip to Denver. It performed fairly well but not nearly as impressively as the first one. It was wordier and probably not as well-written so maybe it’s that or maybe you guys are just tired of anything I write that doesn’t involve my child. I guess this one will be the test. Sort of on the spur of the moment a couple of months ago, I booked a trip to Disney World as a birthday/anniversary/you had a baby this year gift for Lindsey. We went with some friends in 2010 but have always wanted to return during Christmas and this seemed like as good a time as any. We left Cooper with my parents and ventured out for a five day, four night stay in Port Orleans Riverside and whirlwind tour of all the fun and fine dining Disney World has to offer. What follows is my account of our time in the Happiest Place on Earth. Enjoy.

(Note: I decided to write this piece with timestamps and in short form as if I was tweeting each event following Twitter rules (140 characters or less plus a few extra here and there in the interest of removing abbreviations and making this more readable). I did this partly because it cut down on the wordiness and partly because it was just way easier to write this way and I’m pretty lazy these days. I broke it into two parts to make it even more manageable.)

DAY ONE

10:25 am - My mom is taking us to the airport. We were supposed to leave by 10. Has any family trip EVER started on time? Yes, you say? I don't believe you.

10:34 am – Mom: Which airline are you flying? Me: Southwest. *Long Pause* Lindsey: Brian told you we're going to Love Field, right? Mom: No. Good start, bro.

11:08 am - Literally every single human in the airport is standing outside the TSA line because someone pulled the fire alarm. Is this an omen?

11:20 am - People who had to go through the TSA line twice should get an award. Surely there are some leftover Olympic medals lying around somewhere...

11:21 am - …But the people who are being tools to the TSA agents who had nothing to do with this should get whacked with said medals. In the face.

11:27 am - Guy in front of me at checkpoint has filled an entire bin with accessories. Watch, class ring, corporate looking bracelet (?), cufflinks...

11:28 am - And I'm like here's my phone and my wallet and by the way, my wallet is actually a rubber band. I'm glad I'm not fancy, that looks like work.

11:45 am - Every time we come through Love Field we eat at Campisi's which is dumb because it tastes terrible and the real Campisi's is so much better.

12:02 pm - Judging by today's crowd, they should rename Love Field "Leggings as Pants Field." This trend has to stop.

12:20 pm - You know what no one needs to buy in the middle of an airport EVER? Fine jewelry. Who is buying fine jewelry while on a layover at Love Field?

12:50 pm - Huge group of Avon reps heading to New Orleans for a convention, all wearing their name badges. "Pat" is a very popular name with this group.

2:10 pm - The first leg of our trip, from Dallas to New Orleans, went off without a hitch. I cannot stress to you enough how rare this is.

2:30 pm - Sitting in the plane awaiting a new group of passengers. The lady in front of us is calling everyone she knows. I don't think I'm exaggerating.

2:35 pm - I now know more about the random woman sitting in front of us than I know about some of my friends. Like, my really close friends.

2:40 pm - I hate talking on the phone ever so doing so (loudly) in the midst of a crowd of strangers would bother me. Lady in front of us disagrees.

5:05 pm - We've made it from Dallas to Orlando and no one has kicked my seat. Surely I will pay for this transgression somewhere down the road.

5:07 pm - Waiting to deplane, two passengers are talking about Paul Walker. I'd join in but I doubt they share my views on the greatness of Fast and Furious.

5:21 pm - Off the plane and walking through the airport, I am immediately confronted with the sight of crying kids. Welcome to Orlando, people!

5:37 pm - It was 33 degrees when we left Dallas. It is 79 here. I feel like I just won the lottery.

6:00 pm - We took the Magical Express from the airport to our resort. I don't know why anyone would NOT use this service. So easy.

6:07 pm - At the front desk, we receive our room information and our Magic Bands (room key, charge account, reservations, etc.).

6:12 pm - Concierge winces when she says our Magic Bands will be gray, not colorful, and seems genuinely relieved that we couldn't care less...

6:12 pm - ...which probably means someone has chewed her out today because she was all out of orange Magic Bands. Humans!

6:42 pm - We dropped off our bags, I changed into shorts (duh), and now we're headed to Epcot for dinner. You should ALWAYS go to Epcot for dinner.

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8:10 pm - Dinner at Chefs de France is a four course meal. Sometimes at home I barely eat one course meals. Let the gorging begin!

8:27 pm - Our waitress is super French to the point that we have begun speculating that she might be pretending to be French based on French stereotypes.

9:03 pm - Already seen 3 dozen guys wearing capris. Do they not have someone in their lives like me who will mock them until they stop such nonsense?

9:12 pm - Heading out of the park while the fireworks are going off overhead. Half the people in the park are taking pictures of said fireworks.

9:24 pm - Girl in front of us is using a crutch under the wrong arm and holding hands with her BF. She might work for the Ministry of Silly Walks.

11:00 pm - Back at the hotel, Lindsey is asleep, I'm reading my book, and there is no baby to attend to. I feel a coma is upon me...

DAY TWO

10:57 am - If you don't have kids and wonder what parents do on vacations without their kids, I'll tell you: We sleep in until 11 am. Like a boss.

12:10 pm - We're headed into Hollywood Studios, which is easily the most adult-oriented theme park-y of the Disney parks.

1:00 pm - After a quick lunch, we're now sitting in a theater awaiting the start of a Beauty and the Beast stage production. Like I said, super adult.

1:05 pm - While waiting for the show to start, the mom behind us is trying to convince her kid to meet some of the famous characters. He's not buying it.

1:06 pm - Mom has now suggested 12 characters, kid hates them all, finally asks who he wants to see. His response: "Shrek." Gonna be a rough day, kid.

1:08 pm - It is 12 degrees in the home city of wherever the people in front of us are from. I can't fathom that. It might as well be Hoth.

1:22 pm - The show has started and everything is going gre-- nope, the music just cut off and we're watching the performers awkwardly dance offstage.

1:27 pm - During the technical difficulties, the people behind us have begun discussing starting The Wave. I am prepared for war.

1:45 pm - Post-show we basically run to Tower of Terror because the Disney app shows that the line is short and this is my favorite ride in all the land.

1:55 pm - I just helped the dad behind us talk his two skittish kids into riding Tower of Terror. They will either love me or hate me afterward.

2:13 pm - Welp, one of the kids was almost crying at the end so that's probably not what you want. But also, suck it up, kid. Roller coasters are fun.

2:30 pm - We came all the way across the park in order to ride Star Tours. This ride was closed last time we were here. I am nerding out.

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2:34 pm - 8 year old me loved Star Tours. 30 year old me is pretty stoked, too. But I will NOT build my own lightsaber. Although that looks pretty cool…

2:40 pm - Outside Star Tours a group of kids is going through Padawan Training on stage. One kid is in full Jedi gear with a Batman t-shirt. AWESOME.

2:42 pm - On second thought, Jedi Batman is having a tough time keeping up with instructions. His heart might belong in Gotham, not a galaxy far far away.

3:35 pm - We followed up Star Tours with a journey on the Great Movie Ride, which is awesome if you want to take a nap.

3:48 pm - Walked through a Walt Disney history exhibit, now watching a short film on him. They're TOTALLY bypassing the whole frozen head thing.

3:56 pm - Among the top 5 worst things about Disney World: families all wearing matching shirts. I will never NOT make fun of these people.

4:03 pm - Awaiting bus back to resort. Lady at the front of the line has tried thrice to get in before everyone on board has gotten off. It's not that hard.

4:04 pm - Lady is now VERY frustrated that we're waiting for the person in the wheelchair to be loaded onto the bus before we can board.

4:04 pm - You know what's way more inconvenient than waiting on someone in a wheelchair? BEING IN A WHEELCHAIR. Lay off.

6:00 pm - Just woke up from a killer nap. Vacations are awesome, you guys. Why don't I do this more often?

6:02 pm - During my nap, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. Usually this would upset me but having just lived through Icepocalypse, 52 feels alright.

6:20 pm - Headed back to Epcot for a couple of rides and dinner. Because as I said before, if you can eat dinner in Epcot, you should. ALWAYS.

6:35 pm - Using a FastPass to ride the Chevy Fast Track. Apparently the guy behind me thinks cutting 30 minutes off your wait time is not enough.

6:39 pm - There's not much that offends me in life but loudly dropping repeated F-bombs in a kid's park makes the list. Guy behind us isn't my favorite.

6:45 pm - The Test Track is wicked. At one point you race dead ahead at 65 miles per hour. Highly recommended.

7:15 pm - For dinner we're at Teppan Edo hibachi, the only downside of which is sharing a table with 6 strangers. A grumpy introvert's nightmare.

7:25 pm - Sitting next to us is a newlywed couple from Connecticut. They are wearing those giant pins identifying themselves as newlyweds.

7:26 pm - One million dollars. That’s how much it would take to get me to wear a giant pin like that.

7:39 pm - At the table next to us, a dad's beer is sitting so close to his 6 year old son that it looks like it's his. He appears to be a mean drunk.

8:15 pm - The deliciousness of this hibachi meal has trumped any awkwardness from eating with strangers.

8:24 pm - You know how you've eaten food and thought, "This is the best food I've ever had"? I laugh at that thought if you've never had this shrimp.

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8:36 pm - I think I gained 6 pounds during that meal. I expect I will get Spaceballs'd at some point tonight.

9:02 pm - For the second night in a row, we are departing the park under cover of the closing fireworks. Not too shabby.

9:05 pm - 5 year old boy in front of me looks up at fireworks, turns to mom and says, "This reminds me of my favorite poem." I hope that poem is The Raven.

Vacation Journal: Denver

A few months ago on a lark I wrote an overlong account of our anniversary trip to Oklahoma. I did this mostly to amuse myself and perhaps Lindsey as well, assuming no one else would care. And, of course, this was the most read piece of writing I have ever published in this space. Seriously. All the other stuff that I put a great deal of time and effort in, no one really cares, but I slap together 2,000 words on vacation observations and six months later people still occasionally tell me how much they enjoyed reading that piece. As such, Lindsey and I took a trip to Denver a couple of weeks ago and I took notes on everything that happened, hoping to fashion together another decent vacation journal. So just remember that, if this thing is terrible, you people brought it upon yourselves. DAY ONE When we booked our trip, we decided to leave Cooper behind with his grandparents. He is literally the best baby in the world but there are plenty of grown people who can’t handle their ears popping so how can a baby be expected to? Plus we’ve all been on a plane when someone boards with an infant and in that moment, the idea of being taken into custody by Homeland Security sounds good. I intended to spend a few minutes with the King Baby before we left but he had other plans. As Lindsey was getting him changed and ready for the hand-off to the grandparents, he decided that this would be the perfect moment to pee everywhere. I mean like a really gross fountain. He never does this so I like to think this was his way of White Fanging us. As in, “I don’t want you guys to be all concerned about me and stuff on your vacation so I’m going to do THIS so it’ll be easier to leave.” And you know what, it worked. Thanks Coop!

We arrived at Love Field and decided to grab some breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts kiosk. I was OBSESSED with this place as a kid and yet I don’t think I had ever eaten at Dunkin Donuts until this trip. And the result is…meh. The thing about donuts is chain donuts are the worst. They’re so corporatized and streamlined. Donuts from the standard mom and pop shop around the corner beat the Dunkins, the Krispies, and the Shipleys of the world every day of the week. I like to think normal donuts consider Dunkin Donuts to be total sellouts.

After a below average breakfast, we began boarding for our flight and things got serious. Southwest Airlines does that group seating bit so we stood in line waiting for our group to be called and my Spidey Sense started kicking in. Actually, it’s less of a Spidey Sense and more of a Creepy Weirdo Sense. As a general rule, I’m extremely observant. I’ve watched far too much 24 to be caught unawares, especially in a group setting and thus, I notice everything. Well, the dude standing in front of us in line was a whole bag of crazy. He kept looking around nervously and fidgeting with his bag. This continued through the ticketing process and into the jet bridge, at which point he then began COUNTING PEOPLE and doing calculations under his breath while moving his fingers. I began putting together a text message to a couple of friends identifying the man should our plane explode in transit and contemplated whether I should get the attention of the flight attendants or just Liam Neeson this guy in the throat when, thankfully, someone seated in the middle of the plane waived at him and it became apparent that he was just looking for his lady friend and wasn’t sure if she’d already made it onto the flight or not. Note to that guy: KNOCK IT OFF! You have no idea how close you came to an ill-advised, probably ineffective throat chop.

Once on board, I promptly pulled out my brand new iPad mini and signed on to the Wi-Fi….which didn’t work. NOOOOOOO!!! How can I be expected to sit through a two hour flight without an Internet connection? The world is terrible.

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We arrived at the Denver airport having survived only minor seat kicking and no explosions being set off by County McGee. The Denver airport is the exact opposite of the Salt Lake City airport. SLC is known to be populated by beautiful people. Beautiful women, beautiful men, beautiful children…everyone is beautiful. But their airport, much like their city in general, is completely devoid of anything resembling entertainment. Which is really the second most important thing in an airport besides, you know, the safety of the planes: you’re stuck in a large public space, sometimes for hours on end, and you desperately need something to distract you. Restaurants, shops, free Wi-Fi, homeless people fighting on the concourse, anything to take your mind off of waiting in an airport. SLC has none of that. They just have beautiful people. Denver is the opposite: That airport is killing it with the amenities. So many things to take your mind off of your wait! But the people? Let’s just say this was not the most attractive group of humans the world has ever assembled.

From the airport, we were shuttled to the Dollar Rent-A-Car lot. This was the last piece in our vacation planning and when I say “last piece”, I mean Lindsey booked it the day before we left. As such, it cost an ABSURD amount of money. Next time this happens, I’m going to find one of those car dealerships that offers a 30 day trial period and just buy a car. The down payment would have to be less than what we paid.

When I finished up at the desk, the attendant told me to step outside and choose any car from the line marked “M.” At this point she told me most of the “M” cars were Kia Optimas which was disheartening because I would probably rather drive a rickshaw than a Kia Optima. (Apologies to you Optima owners, but I hate your car.) Fortunately for us, I stepped outside and found the “M” line to be completely empty. An attendant recognized my plight, heard me muttering under my breath about the Optima thing, and came back with a freshly washed Nissan Altima, which was supposed to cost more. No one has ever been that excited about a Nissan Altima.

About 30 minutes down the road, I realized my backpack wasn’t there and we had left it at the rent a car place. I swung around and flew back in the direction of Dollar while Lindsey tried to get ahold of their office to have someone grab the bag. Dollar Rent-A-Car, however, stinks so badly that the customer support line did not have a way (or would not provide a way) to contact the storefront. Lindsey talked to three different people, all of whom told her she could file a claim for the lost goods online but none of whom would acknowledge that the store even had a phone line. Meanwhile I discovered that Denver residents cannot drive and was stuck, time and time again, while racing against the clock to get back to my bag. I prepared myself for the worst. Fortunately, however, when we arrived at the building, the bag was sitting undisturbed and I was able to hold my iPad again, while whispering, “I thought I’d lost you forever.” I might be addicted to my iPad.

After this close call, we headed straight to the hotel. We splurged a bit (read: “A LOT”) on the hotel because we planned to stay with friends for the second half of the trip and thus, we found ourselves at the Warwick Denver International Hotel located in downtown. It’s a pretty stinking fancy place but because I am a nerd, I could only think of it as the Warwick Davis Hotel, which might have been even cooler. They were kind enough to throw in free Wi-Fi, though not free parking. A word to all hotels, motels, condos, etc.: Parking at your establishment should always be free. I’m paying you an exorbitant amount of money, essentially for the use of a bed; the least you can do is let me park my car for free. If I’m ever the President, number one you should leave the country because I am in no way prepared for that job and number two, if you do stick around, you can bet that you won’t ever have to pay for parking at a hotel (until the North Koreans overthrow our weakened government, at which point all bets are off).

Eventually we headed out to dinner with my cousin, Zack, and his wife, Michelle, who just moved to the area last year. We drove approximately 4,000 miles and yet somehow remained within the general Denver geographic area. I had been told that Denver was similar to Dallas in its structure but really it is way closer to Houston, which spreads across an area larger than square mileage of Australia.

Having successfully navigated the horrible Denver drivers and the myriad of ways in which the Denver road system attempted to flummox me, we arrived at The Rock Wood Fired Pizzas. You might think The Rock would be the chosen pizzeria of either Dwayne Johnson or Alcatraz enthusiasts but alas, the name refers more to the establishment’s predisposition toward rock ‘n roll memorabilia. It’s kind of like a Hard Rock Café that specializes in pizza and is propagated by Nickleback fans. But we ate at a Rock in Seattle a couple of years ago and it is mighty fine pizza so as long as you’re sitting on the porch and not listening to “Cherry Pie” on a loop, it’s totally worth it. They have candied bacon as a topping, after all, which covers over a multitude of sins in my book. We had an excellent night of laughs and conversation with Zack and Michelle before making our cross-country trek back to the hotel where we both promptly passed out because no baby meant we could really live it up which, of course, meant we could fall asleep before 11. Party animals.

DAY TWO For me, being on vacation without a baby means I can conceivably stay up as late as I want and sleep in as late as I want. For Lindsey, it means falling asleep at a reasonable hour and then waking up at a reasonable hour so that she can have some quiet time in the morning. As such, Lindsey was up by 8 and I barely made it out of bed in time for lunch. I’m happy with my life choices so back off!

For lunch, we walked (because in Denver, you walk) down the block to a place called Steuben’s where we met our friend Katy. Steuben’s slogan should be, “Comfort Food for Hipsters.” The menu was chock full of choice, filling entrees and the staff made the crew at Freebirds seem conservative. I’ve lived in the South my entire life and I’m not afraid to admit that the fried chicken I had at Steuben’s was the best I’ve ever had. Your move, Colonel Sanders.

After lunch, we had planned on going down to the 16th Street Mall which is (probably) the world’s largest outdoor mall. Instead, however, we succumbed to thin Denver air and went back to the hotel to nap. After all, I had been awake for AT LEAST two hours so obviously I couldn’t be expected to walk around much longer without respite.

The nap gave way to absentminded channel flipping which brings me to my biggest pet peeve about hotels. No, how about my biggest pet peeve and then a general suggestion for all of hoteldom. Here goes: There is no point in advertising “HDTV’s in every room!” if you’re not going to spring for HD service. A 36 inch, brand name television might as well be a 13 inch black and white Zenith if you’re going to stream that standard definition rubbish through it. Pick up the pace, Warwick Davis. Also, I would spend at least $10 more per night and ALWAYS stay at the first hotel chain that offered DVR service. For a TV junkie such as myself, going from a 500 hour DVR plus Netflix and an obscene number of Blu-Rays/DVDs to 30 measly channels is tantamount to torture. The first hotel chain that takes me up on this will get my business for the rest of time.

In the evening, we walked down to the 16th Street Mall and took a special bus that runs the length of the mall all day down to our stop. Public transportation usually makes me a bit nervous but this system was top notch and our only real issue came when an elderly Asian man entered the bus dragging a small cart loaded with two 12-packs of Sprite. He looked like the kind of guy who rides this bus all of the time and knows exactly how to do it until the bus actually started moving and he almost fell down 700 times. He was good natured about it and turned down the opportunity to take someone’s seat but that didn’t stop him from continuing to almost fall time and time again. It was uncomfortable.

After an early dinner, we walked (ugh, enough with the walking!) down to Coors Field to see the Rockies take on the Cardinals. I love visiting new baseball parks and this was my first trip to Coors so I was pretty stoked. Once we got close, it became readily apparent that the rules regarding ticket and merchandise sales in Denver are significantly different than the rules at home. Every street corner for five blocks was covered with vendors selling all manner of wares, from water to t-shirts to sunflower seeds and ticket scalpers openly shopped their tickets within ear shot of the cops. It was like entering a third world bazaar and/or Northeast Mall.

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We made our way to our seats which, oh by the way, were stinking awesome. Our pal Katy came through in a big way by securing front row seats in the club level right behind home plate. These were the kind of seats where you have a dude who brings you anything you ask for because it’s a real hassle to get up and walk 20 feet in the middle of a baseball game. The seats were great, the stadium was beautiful, and the weather was PERFECT for a game. If only I hadn’t been distracted by the two gentlemen sitting next to us who were sharing a plate of nachos that sat in one man’s lap. Guys, it’s not okay to share nachos in such a way. Ever. Under any circumstances.

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We also happened to be in the house for the final homestand of Todd Helton’s career. Now, you may not know who Todd Helton is and that’s okay. Far from a household name that everyone in the world knows regardless of their affiliation with baseball, Helton is simply a good baseball player. He’s been a steady, everyday ball player for 17 years, all of them spent in Colorado. Helton had announced his retirement a couple of weeks before our trip and the Rockies spent the final days of the season honoring him in one way or another. There’s something special about being in the house for a player’s final go ‘round. I’m not a Rockies fan by any means but I am a baseball fan and as such, I stood and cheered with the rest of the crowd each time he came to bat and even got a little choked up when he slapped a double to the gap in right field as the crowd got louder than they had the entire game. For my money, the entire vacation was worth it for this experience.

Once the game got out of hand and Lindsey had had enough baseball for one night, we headed back to the bus thinking our fun for the night had come to an end. But Denver had other ideas. While we waited for the bus to arrive, we heard a raucous noise coming from the street beyond us and watched as approximately (and seriously, I’m not exaggerating here) 500 people rode up on bicycles. There were standard bikes, bikes with training wheels, weird tricycles, a rickshaw that was pimped out to look like a sort of bike, every kind of bike you can imagine. And they were driven by every kind of human you can imagine, too. There seemed to be a pirate theme running loosely throughout the crowd as there were more than a few eye patches and wench-like ensembles but it seems that pretty much anyone with a bike was invited to join this Mile High Bike Ride. Things got weird, guys.

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DAY THREE When the morning came and our Pirate Bike Ride had faded with the dawn, we packed up and checked out of the Warwick Davis. I threw everything into the Altima and it was at this point that I realized all of the parking spots that were reserved for “Baker/Hostetler” were not, in fact, reserved for a huge staff of hotel bakers and hostetlers (whatever that is, I assumed some sort of pastry chef) but rather for the Baker-Hostetler Lawfirm. I feel like I’m smarter than this but perhaps the evidence suggests otherwise.

After checkout and humiliation time, we hit the road and headed out for a day trip to Breckinridge. Other than the baseball game, the drive up through the mountains was probably my favorite part of the trip. Winding mountain roads and cool scenery are what Colorado is all about in my book (besides marijuana, obviously). We couldn’t get out on the highway, however, without navigating through a sea of homeless people and almost running over two guitar-carrying hipsters who literally walked out in front of a moving car for no discernible reason. Maybe accidentally killing drifters is what Colorado is all about.

On the way out to Breckinridge, we stopped off in Idaho Falls for lunch at a pizza place called Beau Jo’s and let me just say AHHHHHH!!!!!! Best pizza ever!!! All my life I have been looking for the best pizza ever and now I have found it. What makes it so good, you ask? It’s the honey-infused crust that gives you the feeling that you’re getting to eat a tasty pastry immediately after having eaten your pizza. And really, isn’t that the dream?

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We arrived in Breckinridge and were immediately disappointed. I realize that we came during the down period between summer and winter but man, this place was dead. The gondolas were running when we drove in so we parked at the end of the shopping strip and walked all the way back down to the beginning of said shopping strip only to discover that they were not open. They were just running. Empty. For no reason. (Insert sad Price is Right buzzer here.) We turned back around and wandered through the street of Breckinridge and stopped off at a few dozen little shops and boutiques.

Now, I’m a fan of this sort of shopping/browsing because I like the element of the unknown.IMG_1438 This is why I still shop at bookstores and why I still go to movie rental stores because even though I could find anything online for a cheaper price, you can’t beat the randomness of a shop. But this was not the case in Breckinridge as it seemed that every single store was selling the exact same merchandise for the exact same price. Oh, you were wanting a jacket with the Breckinridge town crest embroidered on it but you forgot to look for one in the last shop? Don’t worry, there are seven dozen other establishments within a two block radius selling the same thing.  And one thing that Breckinridge is REALLY into is the honey badger. Guys, I love the honey badger. Quotes from the honey badger video worked their way into my everyday vernacular years ago and I’m pretty sure they’re here to stay. But I’m not sure stamping a cartoon version of the honey badger (always wearing sunglasses, no less) on every item in your town is the way to go, especially in 2013. My favorite was the one where the cartoon honey badger in shades and shorts is smoking pot. Classy.

The one real saving grace that came to Breckinridge’s defense was a cookie shop that I don’t know the name of so I’ll just call it, “Manna from Heaven Cookie Shop.” You know when you buy those glorious Nestle cookies from Target that come in packs of 20 which is really cruel because you can’t stop eating them and 20 cookies is way too many cookies for a person to eat? (Clearly speaking from experience.) These cookies laugh in the face of those Nestle cookies. We’re talking a cookie sandwich held together by a big gob of delicious frosting. JUST LIKE GOD INTENDED WHEN HE MADE COOKIES. I’m not saying these cookies were worth the trip to Breckinridge but I think Lindsey is saying that.

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On the way back to Denver, we found ourselves a little ahead of schedule and thus had some time to kill. And what do you do when you have time to kill on a Brian Gill vacation? You stop off at historical landmarks! Does this guy know how to party of what? We swung by the gravesite of famed Wild West showman Buffalo Bill because I cannot resist a historical gravesite/landmark/battle site/etc. I once stopped off to see Billy the Kid’s gravesite even though I was exhausted and starting to have hallucinations. Buffalo Bill’s grave was presented with little fanfare but we did get an opportunity to snap a couple of scenic photos looking out over the mountains and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to come to Colorado without doing so.

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After crossing off another name on my personal Wild West Gravesite Bingo board, we met up with Katy and her husband Tim, with whom we stayed for the final two nights of our trip. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Katy’s dog Little Bit, who was dressed like a bee. I had never met Little Bit before but I talk trash about her constantly because Katy insists on dressing her in ridiculous outfits. Having met her, though, I must, Little Bit is pretty solid. She doesn’t yap, she seemed to like most people (always questionable with little lap dogs), and apparently she makes a habit of trying to track down and murder rabbits. Respect, Little Bit.

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For dinner, we hit up a burger joint called Crave. Appropriately named! I am a very unadventurous eater on almost every front. I know what I like and I tend to stick to those things at every opportunity. But there’s something about an exotic burger that makes me want to venture out. This place was right up my alley as the entire menu was filled with crazy, exotic, borderline insane burgers that had all manner of toppings piled on. I got the Campfire, a buffalo burger topped with raspberry BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese, and coffee-dusted onion strings. Tim even went so far as to order the Luther, which came equipped with a fried egg and bacon and served on a doughnut. A DOUGHNUT. I wanted badly to join in this insanity but I’d had so much sugar in the recent days that I was at risk of going into a diabetic coma. Next time, Luther, you are mine.

Our post-dinner plans amounted to going back to Tim and Katy’s and immediately passing out because we are all old.

DAY FOUR In the morning, I did nothing but dig deeper into my book, Ready Player One, which is probably the nerdiest thing I’ve ever read and I have read MULTIPLE novels from the expanded Star Wars universe. Nevertheless, it’s awesome and I highly recommend it. The 80s references alone are probably worth your time.

Once Katy got home, we headed out for brunch at a place called Snooze. I never eat breakfast but I’m all about breakfast foods at non-breakfast-y times, especially French toast. I am an expert in three food-related fields: burgers, French fries, and French toast. If I’m at a new place and they have French toast, I have to order it. So, yeah, I got the French toast which coincidentally was covered in salted caramel sauce and agave soaked strawberries. It’s okay to be drooling right now. One strange observation about Snooze, however; and really this is more about Denver than it is just Snooze. For a place that calls itself an “A.M. Eatery”, they sure have a LOT of liquor available. Denver is serious about their booze. Mimosas and Bloody Marys are one thing but Snooze was stocked to the brim with choice tequilas and beer on tap. It was weird.

After our boozy brunch and some more laziness, we began our tour of Katy’s family members. We started with her sister and kids who had just gotten out of school and were pretty serious about showing me all of the cool toys they’re currently into. Now, I had never met these kids before but that’s never a problem because kids love me. This is due in part to the fact that I’ve been working with kids for a long time and know how to interact with them and in part because I really understand the intricacies of Angry Birds: Star Wars and the importance of the Pixar movies. Basically, I’m just a big kid. We got along swimmingly.

We did a lot of driving on Day Four and that brought to my attention two observations:

1.) There are more Subarus in the state of Colorado than there are people. Seriously, Subura shouldn’t even bother advertising in other states as I’m quite confident at least 85 percent of their sales come directly from Coloradoans. 2.) Colorado has a LOT of options when it comes to license plates. Texas does too so I’m not judging, but in all of my travels, I’ve never seen any state that rivaled Texas on the license plate choice front. At one point we drove by 8 cars in a row that all had different types of plates.

For dinner, we decided to pick up Macaroni Grill and head over to complete our tour of the Wallises by visiting Katy’s parents. When we arrived at curbside to-go, Katy produced a coupon on her phone and Tim handed it off to the hostess. She looked at it, confusion rolled over her face, and then she said, “This says it’s for your next visit.” We all got quiet and stared at her blankly. She stared back blankly. Then finally, one of us said, “Well…this IS our next visit.” This caused even more confusion, requiring an even further explanation: “Last time we visited we got this coupon. So now this is next time.” I’m not sure if she quite understood even then but she took the phone in and showed it to her manager who, I’m assuming, was no less dumbfounded than we were and applied the discount. No the finest moment for the to-go hostess at Macaroni Grill.

Having successfully received our next-visit discount, we collected our goods and headed to the Wallis household which was DOPE. I feel like our house is a “grown up” house, a place where we’re very likely going to stay for the remainder of our lives and one that we’ll be quite happy with. But this place was like what you construct in your brain when you imagine having a lot of money but also too much taste to build a gaudy monstrosity of a mansion. If the Wallises put in an indoor basketball court, I would move in with them tomorrow. They are also extremely kind people, they live in the same neighborhood as Peyton Manning, and we got to talk about Breaking Bad for a while so all in all, the night was a huge success.

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Before heading to bed, we sat down to watch a couple episodes of Island Hunters which is like House Hunters except it features people buying entire personal islands. This is OBVIOUSLY something that is in my future given the tremendous amount of money I make working at a church so I was completely in on this. The first episode we watched featured a Wisconsin businessman looking for an island in the Florida Keys which makes sense because if I lived in Wisconsin, I would do anything to not live in Wisconsin anymore. The problem was, the first island he saw was priced half a million dollars outside of his price range. Here’s the thing, Wisconsin businessman: If you can’t afford to drop an extra $500 grand on your own personal island, then you don’t need to be buying your own personal island. Just a thought.

DAY FIVE The final day of vacation is always the worst day of vacation. It’s not just that you’re leaving your care free life of no responsibilities behind and heading back to the Land of Washing Bottles All of the Time Every Day, it’s looking into the teeth of the taunting task of traveling home. Traveling TO vacation is always so much easier than traveling FROM vacation. I’m sure it’s partially psychological but it seems like the crazy stuff saves itself for the trip home.

After lunch, we said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. On the way in, I noticed that in virtually every highway median we passed, someone had erected these strange wooden barriers. I’m not sure if these are designed to prevent snow from building up or what but it occurred to me that perhaps Denver is continually on the lookout for roving bands of highwaymen and brigands that attempt to storm the airport. I guess you can never be too safe.

We navigated the Denver airport which, just like the Denver road system, seems to have been laid out in the most confusing way possible, perhaps in an effort to alleviate the concern about brigands. Once we fought our way through TSA and witnessed a REALLY old woman being forced to get out of her wheelchair and walk through the metal detector, we sat down approximately five hours before our flight departed. Really, it was probably closer to two hours but the Wi-Fi in the Denver airport is abysmal and I tend to turn into a whiney six year old when my iPad doesn’t work so it felt longer. Seriously, boost the Wi-Fi, guys. I thought about using this time to charge my phone but the closest charging table had been bombarded by a guy who had three different devices plugged in. I can’t say what happened to this man because I blacked out and that will be my defense in court.

We finally boarded our plane and were immediately vexed by the obnoxious family that sat down behind us. Every member of this family was, shall we say, rather large and by looking at the mom’s face, you could tell that just walking to the mail box was an iffy proposition. They sat down behind us and, in between labored breaths (I’m not saying that to be mean, I’m saying that because literally every breath was a chore for these people) they began conversing with the little girl at the top of their lungs. Every single word was yelled as if they were sitting at opposite ends of the plane. New rule: if you’re sitting within five rows of the loudest people on a plane, you never have to store your electronic devise. I really needed my headphones in this moment.

You know what, I’m going to take it a step further: We’re done with this whole, “power off and store all electronic devises during landing and life off” bit. It’s dumb. We all know that, in 2013, my iPhone/iPod/iPad causes exactly zero stress to the airplane and its communications. People go crazy on airplanes, y’all. I know this to be true because I am a fairly normal, extremely logical human being but if someone so much as touches the back of my seat on a plane I lose my mind. We need all the distractions we can get on planes. Just let me read my book and listen to Arcade Fire, please. Otherwise I might stab someone like I did that guy who was taking up all of the outlets back at the airport I have no memory of that incident.

We had a layover in Albuquerque. Do you think the people of Albuquerque are happy about the success of Breaking Bad? I mean on the one hand it’s brought attention to a charming little town that was previously only been known as the place where Bugs Bunny missed his exit. On the other, that attention centers solely upon the sale of methamphetamine. I had been off the plane for less than 10 seconds before I tweeted out a meth-related joke. That can’t be the best thing for town morale. Even worse for town morale: We had been inside the Albuquerque airport for almost 30 minutes before I realized that we had, in fact, been in this airport before during our trip home from Seattle two years ago. That should be the town slogan: “Albuquerque: For Better or For Worse, You’ll Probably Forget You Were Here in a Week or So.”

We had enough time to eat so we sat down at the only restaurant in the airport for some overpriced bar food. Mind you, this was the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday, the airwaves are literally jam-packed with football games, and we were in a sports bar. And yet, the entertainment option that had been chosen for us on every screen was some local cable access show called “Pet TV.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. I died a little.

After a below average meal and some educational programing regarding the pros and cons of having a raccoon as a pet (mostly cons, I would say), we boarded our flight to Dallas. I tried to go all the way to the back of the plane so that at least no one would sit behind us and kick my seat (I may need to seek therapy regarding the seat kicking thing) but the flight attendant was standing in the back row and didn’t want to move. Of course, she moved out of the way on the double when the large family made their way back there and so we got to share yet another leg of our trip with the loud talkers. To top it off, there was another family sitting two rows in front of us who will clearly be the sort of family where the parents buy the kids beer as long as they promise to drink it at home. Not a lot of control with these kids. We were stuck between a very loud rock and a wild and crazy hard place.

Families with small kids should always be seated first. Always. Whether they go to the front or the back, it doesn’t matter to me, just as long as I have fair warning as to where they’re going to sit so that I can avoid them. Again, I work with kids, I love kids, and probably the next time I fly, I will have a kid in tow. But on planes, all bets are off. Welcome to the Thunderdome, y’all.

90 minutes and 376 seat kicks later, we rolled into the Dallas-Fort Worth airspace. My joy at being so close to home was immediately throttled, however, once the taxiing began and the guy in front of us began regaling his seatmate with tales of how he regularly drives while playing Candy Crush. I can’t decide whether I’m mad that this person is out on the road or happy that he’ll soon die in a one car accident. Probably a little of both.

Finally we de-boarded, navigated ourselves through Dallas Love Field to baggage claim, and into the loving arms of our giant baby boy who promptly spit up on Lindsey. It’s good to be home.

Our dog killed and ate a rabbit while we were gone, Brian

Vacation Journal: Oklahoma

Last week, Lindsey and I celebrated our four year wedding anniversary. And by celebrate, I mean we sent each other text messages and ate Rosa’s because, you know, baby. We got married on July 3rd which sounds like a great idea until the subsequent years roll around and you realize that it’s almost impossible to celebrate anything on the week of Independence Day. Hotels are booked and way more expensive than they should be, the roads are jammed with alcoholics, and there’s always a host of other parties, gatherings, etc. that you have to attend that take precedence over your anniversary. As such, we haven’t really done much on this occasion since the first year, content instead to share our big day with America’s big day. And by “big day”, of course I mean the anniversary of the debut of Independence Day in 1996. This year, however, given the birth of our vampire/ghost baby, we decided we needed a weekend away to recoup and not wash bottles 20 times a day and thus, a trip was planned. bophotography-8633

I booked a cabin in Broken Bow, Oklahoma and we headed up on Friday afternoon with the intention of doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and hanging out without fear of waking the King of the Grumbles. It seemed like a great plan until we realized that we had voluntarily come to a lake town in the Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma during the biggest touristy weekend of the year. 10 minutes into our first meal on the first day of our trip, Lindsey looked at me and whispered, “You have got to write a blog about this trip” and before the sentence was even out of her mouth, I replied, “I’m already taking notes.” Here, now, is a diary account of our weekend.

DAY ONE We hit the road at approximately 2:30 pm, which is approximately four hours after I intended to leave, naturally. It was not until this point that I realized we would be driving out 30 through Dallas and Rockwall instead of up 35 through Denton and Winstar Country. The moment of departure is a stupid time to look at a map for the first time but I just assume that everything in Oklahoma that is worth seeing is either near or through Oklahoma City. I probably would not have booked this cabin if I’d known we had to go out that way. I drove Eastbound-30 approximately 750 times during my college days because I foolishly went to school in Arkansas and honestly, if I never see that part of 30 again, I’ll be just fine. Alas, it was too late to back out and we headed out, directly into a traffic jam over Lake Ray Hubbard because, again, it’s the busiest weekend of the year and literally every human was either on the way to a lake or already at a lake.

On long drives, we usually listen to an audiobook. It’s a tradition unlike any other. This time around, we selected comedian Jim Gaffigan’s book, Dad is Fat. If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Gaffigan, he’s the very pale comedian who does the “Hot Pocket” bit and he’s hilarious. He’s also an idiot because he has five children and having just had our first kid, I feel confident in saying anyone who has five kids is either drunk a lot or dumb. (To any of my readers who may have five or more kids, please know that I’m just joking and that also I think maybe you have some sort of biological disorder that doesn’t allow you to feel fatigue or pain, like a Bond villain.) The book is a collection of essays on parenting and general life advice and it’s great except that I started writing a very similar book last month and now there’s no point because Gaffigan beat me to it. Brian Gill: Always Two Steps Behind.

About halfway through our drive, I got a text alerting me that Dwight Howard had decided to not sign with the Mavericks and so the rest of the drive is a blank to me due to the rage stroke I suffered.

We arrived at our isolated cabin in the woods where (probably) no one has ever died in horror-movie fashion and it was better than advertised. We had a full kitchen, a giant Jacuzzi tub, satellite TV, a hammock and hot tub on the deck. Perfect! On the downside, there was no bathroom door and even more importantly, no shower. So if you’re keeping track at home, we have room for the world’s biggest bathtub but not a shower. Alright then. Also, the appliances were the exact same ones we have at home so I think that means we need to buy new ones. In addition, the décor in this cabin basically broke down into two categories: Paintings of flowers and stuff with scriptures on it. I counted 15 different items in this tiny cabin that had a scripture on it. I’m guessing this is not a prime vacation spot for atheists.

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After getting all of our stuff in the cabin, I unpacked the Blu-Ray player I brought so that we could watch some movies over our weekend away. Because nothing says, “Happy Anniversary” like Django Unchained. At this point I realized I left the Blu-Ray player’s remote at home and apparently it is the only Blu-Ray player in the world that does not have any pushable buttons on the actual player itself so it is useless. Fortunately, there was a DVD player but half of the movies I brought are on Blu-Ray so I basically packed an entire bag full of worthless items for this trip. Brian Gill: Great Ideas, Iffy Execution Since 1983.

We headed into Broken Bow for dinner and were presented with three non-McDonald’s options: Pier 49, a catfish place that is nowhere near a pier, Papa Pablano’s which serves Mexican food…in Oklahoma, and The Oaks Steakhouse, which looked relatively promising. Wrong. There was a sign on the wall next to a staircase leading up to what I’m assuming was an office space that read, “Upstairs is PRIVATE. Keep Out.” The lady behind the counter just stared at us when we walked in. Just stared. Finally I figured out that there was a host who was supposed to be seating us but he was nowhere to be found and after, I’m not exaggerating, 45 seconds of awkward silence, she finally pointed to a table and muttered, “Sit there.” We sat and before long the host, a teenage boy wearing a Gorillaz t-shirt and featuring the worst case of mouth breathing I’ve ever seen, shuffled up, placed menus in front of us, and stated, with a slight twinge of malice that I would say is unjustified given the setting, that our server would take our drink order.

We looked over the menu and it was exactly what I fear in such a setting. If you’re ever on a trip to a small town, you want to find the place with the smallest menu possible because there’s a better chance that they’ll actually be good at making those few things. The Oaks was the opposite of that. The menu was similar to what you’ll find at Applebee’s, a recipe for disaster. There were a hundred things on the menu and at least a dozen little notes like, “NO SHARING!” hand-written next to the price for the salad bar. Our waitress came around and took our order and for some reason, we asked to pay for an appetizer on top of what was likely to be a horrible meal and one bite of the fried zucchini was all it took to shame us for our error. There were four TVs in the place. One was off, one was playing Fox News (of course), and the other two ran a loop of commercials for the stores, shops, and attractions of the area. Because nothing says “quality meal” like a feature on the local Shoe Carnival. We ate as fast as we and got out of there, but not before the woman the counter, whom I would have SWORN was the owner/wife of the owner, informed us that, “This place is just getting too busy, I told the owner she needed to get out here and handle this crowd because I’m going home.” There were 15 other people in the restaurant.

After dinner, we headed back to the cabin to watch Fringe (again, suuuuuper romantic) and whereas Lindsey took the no-baby occasion to fall asleep by 10, I stayed up until 3:30 because A.) My body is now used to staying up that late no matter what and B.) I had to write 3,000 words on what the Mavs should do now that Dwight Howard has gone elsewhere in order to be able to sleep. Who will read this 3,000 word essay? No one, but this is how my sports brain works and also that one bite of fried zucchini may have given me hallucinations.

DAY TWO I set no alarm (greatest feeling in the world) and awoke at 9:30 with no prompting from anything or anyone else. Initially, I was disappointed that I only got 6 hours of sleep on my first night of Vacation Sleep but then I realized that I was completely rested and ready to go. The difference between 6 hours of sleep with a baby monitor and 6 hours of sleep WITHOUT a baby monitor is astounding.

We went into town to get a few grocery items, including some breakfast-y stuff, and were presented with two options: a mom-n-pop grocery store similar to a Food ‘N Stuff and a non-super Wal-Mart. A VERY non-super Wal-Mart. We flipped a coin and it came up, “Both of these options are terrible so it doesn’t really matter” and headed into Wal-Mart. It was JAM PACKED with…stuff. Take all of the stuff you find in a Super Wal-Mart, take out the produce section and a few other essentials in the food department, then pack the rest of it into a space that is approximately one-third the size of the average Super Wal-Mart and that’s what we were dealing with. All we were looking for was bacon, cheese, and biscuits. Biscuits, however, proved to be impossible to find, though the place did have a giant cart of the largest marshmallows I’ve ever seen. So there’s that.

After breakfast and a couple of hours doing nothing, we decided we’d go into Hochatown for lunch. That meant getting ready for the day which meant I needed to take a shower. Except there was no shower, just a giant Jacuzzi tub with a handheld shower head hooked up to it. Now, look, I’ve had a few awkward shower experiences in my time. In Honduras I used a pila which is basically a large reservoir of freezing cold water that you dump on yourself while standing in the middle of the bathroom. One year in college we had community showers which were made all the more uncomfortable by the presence of the hall’s RA who always seemed to be showering at the same time as me and always faced out instead of in when rinsing himself. (I’m certain this person is in jail now.) And of course there are the uncomfortable locker room experiences from middle and high school. But I would probably take them all over ever having to sit down to shower in the middle of a giant tub like that again. I don’t know what it was about this situation but it really weirded me out. Next time I rent a room, I’ll be sure to ask explicitly if said room does, in fact, come with a shower.

Upon exiting my strange bath-shower a changed man, we headed into Hochatown to try our luck on finding suitable food. Of the three options presented, the Blue Rooster looked the most respectable and so we headed in with great trepidation. My fears were almost immediately assuaged when The Black Keys greeted my ears. Usually in small towns like this you only get both kinds of music in a restaurant or shop: country and western. The Blue Rooster, though, played a steady stream of the Keys, Florence and the Machine, and selections from the Can’t Hardly Wait soundtrack, which was all in keeping with the ambiance of the place. The menu contained only a handful of items which, again, is really what you want in any restaurant but ESPECIALLY one in a small town. We ate fried shrimp and catfish and chased it with a homemade fried pie, all of it delicious. I’m always a big tipper (because I’m LOADED with cash, thanks to my job in ministry) but given our previous night’s experience, I made sure our waitress understood how much we appreciated her place of work. If ever I find my way back to the area, I will only eat at The Blue Rooster for every single meal. I’ll become a regular.

On the way back to the cabin after lunch, we made two stops. First, we pulled into a fruit stand on the side of the road. While we waited to buy more produce than any two humans can realistically hope to eat by themselves, we listened to the patron converse with another customer. Their conversation consisted mostly of the customer giving the patron a recipe for “deer meat” stew (not venison, deer meat) and then stating that, “Pretty much all I eat anymore is deer meat.” I believed her. Afterward, we swung by a souvenir shop called Janet’s Treasure Chest because we collect decks of cards from all of our various vacation spots because we are lame. This place had everything: Antiques, candy, cabin décor, candles, an entire room of junk toys that would be rejected from a pharmacy, the Statue of Liberty, and a sizeable amount of Sasquatch-related memorabilia. Because apparently there is a Sasquatch in Oklahoma? We found our deck of cards and also I bought a jar of jelly because for some reason I have an affinity for homemade jams and jellies. Brian Gill: Buying Weird Things Since 1983.

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The rest of the day consisted of watching Fringe, picking up dinner from our second best option in Hochatown, The Grateful Head Pizza Parlor (which was basically just a Mellow Mushroom knock-off), and me being stuck on the same level of Candy Crush for hours on end. Can we all agree that the creator of Candy Crush is going to hell? What sort of sadistic jerk creates a game that is THAT addicting and then DOESN’T give you unlimited lives so you are forced to just sit and wait until the game allows you the opportunity to play again? You’re one sick puppy, Candy Crush creator. At some point around two I finally gave up on Candy Crush, cried like a baby over my failures, and went to bed knowing that I would never amount to anything if I couldn’t conquer level 65.

DAY THREE Night One of Vacation Sleep was the, “I don’t have to be responsible for anyone else and that makes me happy!” night while Night Two was the, “Oh sweet goodness, I haven’t not been responsible for anyone else in two months and that makes me (*slowed down drugged voice*) sleeeepppppyyyyyy.” We had tentatively planned to be on the road by 11 but plans could not stand in the way of sleeping forever. When I did awake, I decided to forgo another awkward tub-shower and we packed up with an eye to getting home to our cuddly bundle of grumbles.

Before we could get out, though, I discovered the tip envelope. Now, we’ve stayed at a few of these private rentals before and I’ve never noticed a tip envelope nor did I have any idea we were supposed to tip in this situation. Two things came to mind. One, if there isn’t an app to tell you when to tip and what the appropriate amount to tip is, then I claim that idea and I’m going to force my friend Emily to develop it for me. Two, we paid a ridiculously healthy sum of money to stay in a place that did not have a shower and the check-out list required us to perform basically all of the cleaning tasks that are usually associated with turning a room over to the next tenant so…I’m not super keen on tipping in that situation. I left what I considered to be a fair amount and if that was too small a figure, then I’ll come back in three years when my app is fully developed and it can tell me how much I should have left.

We got on the road and decided to delay eating as long as possible so as to avoid any more exposure to Broken Bow than we’d already had. We cracked in Mount Vernon and found ourselves at the local Sonic. A word about Sonic food: It shouldn’t exist. There should be a bill passed that bans Sonic from serving any food beyond corn dogs, mozzarella sticks, and tater tots. Nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good Sonic drink or shake as much as the next guy. But I have never in my life purchased a Sonic food product (other than those listed above) without immediately regretting my decision. The Sonic experience in Mount Vernon was no different but at least I got a kick out of watching smoke come out of the carhop’s ears when she handed me two drinks and only one straw then stumbled over this issue as if she was working out an algebra problem. I said nothing and eventually she just slowly backed away as if she’d gotten away with robbing me.

Eventually we made it home, though not before encountering the dumbest traffic jam ever wherein the deputies in Sulphur Springs shut down one of the highway lanes for FIVE SOLID MILES because of a one-car accident that basically amounted to a fender bender. Well done, Sulphur Springs. We collected our baby and happily brought him home where he promptly spit up on me as if he wished to remind me that vacation was over and it was time to get back on track. Welcome home indeed.

Brian Gill: Writing Excessively Long Vacation Diaries For No Reason, Brian

Alex and the Would-Be Wonder Stomach

As I mentioned last week, I've got a few older posts that fall into the "Life, Work, and Faith" category that I'll be posting sporadically. This post was written almost four years ago but it's still a night I remember vividly. I'm not sure if that's awesome or pathetic. I'll let you be the judge.  Last weekend I was at a big party for a couple of friends who are getting married soon. It was a huge deal with somewhere between 100 and 12,000 people in attendance (maybe closer to the 100 side, but still big) all gathered together to celebrate our friends and their upcoming marriage. At some point in the evening, however, the focus of part of the group shifted from the happy couple and landed squarely on the shoulders of one of the guests.

As our hosts were cleaning up the food, I and some of the people at my table decided it would be in our best interest if we ate another dinner roll or two. Our gracious host left the tray of rolls with us but after we’d all had our fill there were still eight rolls remaining. Enter Alex Walton and the Would-Be Wonder Stomach.

Alex moseyed over to our table (because, you know, we’re awesome and everyone wants to hang out with us) and before long started eying the rolls. He said something to the effect of, “Those rolls look good. Too bad I’ve already eaten three.” Still he slowly reached for one more and began nibbling at it.

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Over the years I have been a part of an amazing number of stupid adventures, dares, and competitions. Sometimes these revolve around food, sometimes physical exertion, but no matter what, the key is always idiocy. I have a friend who has attempted the “Gallon Milk Challenge” at least twice. Once I convinced a friend to, while on a first date, always refer to any food item as “num nums” in exchange for my paying for his date. I paid; he did not get a second date. In college a group of us decided it would be a great idea to take one of those mechanical wraps that are supposed to work your abs and strap to our thigh, and then try to walk with it. The goal was to see who could put the wrap the farthest up his leg and turn the power up the highest and still be able to walk. My roommate Shade cranked that sucker to ten and made it approximately eight feet while whimpering like a baby before falling and yelling to, “Get it off! Get it off!” (Every single one of these feats was done, mind you, without the influence of alcohol.)

More often than not I am not one of the participants but rather the jerk who talks other people into doing them and then sits back and laughs. I’ve learned to gauge what approach will most likely work in these situations. If I feel like its money I’ll throw out a number that I would contribute to get the bit done and see if people will chip in. It’s amazing how quickly you can raise 20 bucks in order to see someone eat a plate full of deviled eggs. Occasionally the proper approach is to question the subject’s manhood. Sometimes it is just as simple as to annoy them so much that they’ll take on a stupid challenge just to get you to stop saying, “Come on.” This is my role and I’m okay with it.

When Alex reached for the roll my Stupid Sense (the equivalent of Spider Sense) went off. What would it take to get him to eat all of these rolls, I asked myself. As he was nearing the end of roll number four, I simply threw it out there that it would be a pretty amazing feat if he were to finish the remainder of the rolls, bringing his total for the night to 11 (plus a full dinner and cheese cake). I expected to have to work hard to get this challenge accepted. In a trial, for instance, the lawyer always starts with his opening statement and then moves on from there to present evidence, character witnesses, etc. It’s much the same with a challenge. To my surprise, Alex bought in almost immediately and reached for roll number five.

Now Alex is no behemoth. He stands somewhere around 5’7 and probably weighs a buck thirty five soaking wet. And these rolls were the worst kind, small and compact, the kind that expand tremendously in your stomach. But Alex could sense the impending glory of this night and without speaking he had accepted the challenge.

Over the course of the next hour, Alex binged on the compact, spongy rolls. He moved quickly at first but his progress began to slow around roll number seven. A crowd gathered as they, too, could sense the great things that were to come. I continued to talk Alex through his challenge, usually with encouragement but admittedly with occasional insinuations about what we would think of him if he were to bail out. One of the girls questioned his manhood. The most valued of these comments seemed to be, “If you only eat nine rolls tonight, for the rest of all of our lives this will always be remembered as the night of Angela and Joe’s engagement party. If you eat ten rolls, however, this will be forever remembered as the night that Alex ate double digit rolls.” This seemed to push him through to roll number ten.

Roll number ten was a battle. Alex began to sweat. Jason and I got him numerous bottles of water and encouraged him to just drown it down. Someone handed him a tray to throw up in if necessary. Most of the girls scooted as far away from him as possible. Angela seemed less than enthused that this was taking place at her party. (Sorry Angela, opportunities like this just cannot be scheduled.) At one point Alex gave me a look that was part, “Help me” and part, “I hate you so, so very much right now.” Finally, with about a half of a roll left, he got up and began walking around the pool in an effort to clear space to shove the bread into. He made somewhere around 47 laps, looking miserable the entire time, before finally dejectedly throwing in the towel. As it turned out that last half of a roll was far bigger than it looked.

The crowd quickly dispersed with sighs of disappointment and a sense of pity for what our poor friend had been through (and what he would go through the next day). The events of the evening left me thinking about all the ridiculous feats I had participated in and/or watched my friends take part in over the years and made me ponder how these things come to pass. Perhaps it’s boredom, perhaps a desire to impress girls, perhaps just a need to show how strong we (or our stomachs) are. But for some reason or another, even at 25 or 35 years old, we find a motivation to take on these absurd challenges, to look stupidity right in the eye and say, “Yup, that sounds like something I want to do.” It’s still amazing to me what we, and by we I refer mostly to guys of course, will do for the sake of challenge, for adventure, for respect, and for sheer idiocy.

Perhaps we’re all a little less mature or refined than we’d like to think we are, but on some level (or maybe all levels) I’m okay with that. We live in this world where almost everything revolves around work, money, and responsibilities and maybe it’s a good thing that on a random Sunday night, we can act like idiots and get one of our friends to eat enough rolls to feed the population of a third world country. (At least they didn’t go to waste, right?) Maybe we need a little stupid adventure in our lives to keep us all sane. But aside from all that night will always be remembered as the night Alex Walton ALMOST ate double digit rolls and nearly died at a party.

Anyone up for the Gallon Challenge? Brian

The Site

Thanks for the all the comments, well-wishes, and shares you've thrown my way over the last week here. Greatly appreciated! I've got a couple of more current things coming this week but we are, after all, a little busy right now with little Cooper. I've got a handful of pieces that I have written over the years that fall into the "Life, Work, and Faith" category you see at the top of the page and I'm going to be throwing them up sporadically over the next few weeks when I see fit. This one was written three or four years ago (edited only slightly) and I think it speaks volumes about what kid's ministry is all about.  Sometimes I like to think I’ve come pretty far in my professional life. I’ve managed to meander between a few crappy jobs in order to end up where I’m at and I feel pretty blessed to be here. At 26 I’m in what is pretty much my dream job (with the exception of playing professional basketball). And heck, this time last year I was teaching gymnastics to 3 year olds in the morning and babysitting 6th graders in the afternoon. Ugh.

Still there are days where I feel perhaps I’m not quite as far along as I might have thought.

Today my services, along with the rest of those of the rest of the Children’s Ministry team, were called upon to help clean out a storage unit. Now by “clean out” I mean “throw away everything you can find” and by “storage unit” I mean “place where everything that has ever been discarded in the history of The Hills Church of Christ has been sent to die.” You know when you move and you have some trouble deciding what to keep and what to throw away and you wonder why you have some of this stuff in the first place? That’s what this was like, only it was 100 BILLION times worse and it was someone else’s stuff.

By the time I got to The Site the rest of my team had already pulled out a massive amount of junk that could not have ever served a legitimate purpose and was loading trucks. When we realized we couldn’t use The Site’s dumpster we then got to unload the stuff that had just been loaded in order to load it more properly so that it could withstand a trip on the highway. Calls were made to determine where exactly we might be able to take all of this wonderful garbage that had seemed so important to keep. Meanwhile some of us tried to determine how best to proceed. My idea to leave, stop payment on The Site, and when the storage people threatened to throw away our stuff if we didn’t pay, laugh and tell them “go for it” was considered but ultimately turned down.

More calls were made. We discussed the possibility of there NOT being at least one snake hidden somewhere in the pile of rubble and decided that it was between zero and one percent. (I would lean more toward the zero.) Finally, after repacking the trucks yet again, a solution was found. We could take our wonderful collection of Styrofoam structures, broken tables, and enough PVC pipe to stock a Home Depot to a dump that straddled the North Richland Hills/Arlington border. (If the word “dump” brought to mind the commercials for discount furniture store The Dump, as in “the dump-to-the-dump-dump-dump,” you are not alone my friend.)

Three trucks were dispatched to this landfill and I managed to squeeze myself into the group chosen to go. Frankly I didn’t want to be at The Site when the body of a long lost elder was inevitably discovered. We made our way to the dump which is a world unto itself, nestled away between cow pastures and topless night clubs. We pulled into a lifeless dead zone and paid our seven dollars per truck to begin our drop off. Who know you had to pay to bring trash to the trash people. Weird, I know. A sign on the side of the check in station read, “If you come into the dump by 4:30 you will be allowed to enter as long as you finish by 5:00 pm.” What happens if you need to stay until 5:01 is anyone’s guess. Perhaps you’re locked in for the night, perhaps you’re required to put in some time washing dishes at the topless bar, I’m not really sure.

We were (rudely) directed to a couple of dumpsters and told, in no uncertain terms, that metal was not to be unloaded in these dumpsters. My first thought was, why not? My second thought was what happens when I throw metal away at home? It all ends up here doesn’t it? How exactly do they sort this stuff? My third thought was, why are you asking questions? Just dump this stuff and get the heck out of here before you get locked in the dump for the night. I took whatever metal we had in the bed of the trucks over to the designated “Metal” pile. This area clearly resembled the trash compactor on the Death Star minus the blaster proof walls and since Chewbacca wasn’t there to protect me, I quickly threw my stuff in and retreated before the snake pulled me under.

We all jumped back in our trucks and headed out with only a slight detour taking us squarely into the middle of the landfill. A truly wonderful suburban sight, I must tell you. It was on our way back to The Site (and the all too certain camera crews we would all face after the discovery of the Sasquatch locked away inside) that the craziness of this day hit me. It was a pretty solid bet a few years back that my career would someday involve working at a dump but I had thought that those days were probably behind me. After all the crazy jobs I’ve had over the years, who would have thought that it would be this one, the ministry job of all things, that would have me spending my day at the dump? Perhaps I’m not quite so far along as I thought I was. Or perhaps that was just the truth about ministry coming to light.

We also found the cure for Swine Flu, Brian

Farewell to Roger Ebert

By now you have no doubt heard about the death of legendary film critic Roger Ebert. After a long, valiant battle with cancer, Ebert finally succumbed to his illness (somewhat abruptly) at the age of 70. There are many better, more eloquent farewells making the rounds on the Internet and I will link to some that have caught my attention at the end of this post. But I would be embarrassingly remiss if I didn’t add a small, insignificant entry into the outpouring of reflection that has broken out over the last 24 hours. So let me start off by saying that, for me, Roger Ebert WAS film criticism and if it wasn’t for him, The Soap Box Office would not exist.

There is a moment in the life of every film critic, whether professional or horrifically amateur, in which he or she suddenly understands that movies can be more than just simple entertainment. For me that moment came during my first viewing of The Shawshank Redemption. I was probably 13 years old and it was the first film that I understood to be truly significant. That is a story for another day but I bring it up now because it was also the moment when Roger Ebert came into my life. Before that revelation, I went to see the movies my parents allowed me to see and I didn’t spend much, if any time, considering the merits of films that weren’t the kid-to-pre-teen-oriented blockbusters that rolled through every couple of weeks. Shawshank changed all that as it opened me up to a world I hadn’t been aware of before, a world where somewhere between three and seven new films came to theaters every week and while some of them were the big movies I was used to seeing previews for, some were completely unknown to anyone within my general sphere of influence. With the Internet still in its infancy, however, (and I’m not sure if we even had dial up at that point), there weren’t a whole lot of outlets for film discovery. But there was At the Movies.

Shortly after my Shawshank epiphany, I became aware of a late-night program that focused entirely on two men debated, talked about, and even fought over movies of all shapes and sizes. It was a little slice of heaven that became must-see TV for me at a time when I hardly watched any TV that wasn’t Boy Meets World or sports-related. I didn’t get to watch it every week (and for the life of me I can’t remember if it was broadcast on Saturday nights or Sunday nights) but any chance I got I soaked up the immense power of At the Movies. The chemistry that Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel had was the sort of thing that even the best romantic comedies can only dream of creating. They respected each other but at times you weren’t sure that they actually liked each other. It was a complicated relationship that at times got personal but never lost sight of the thing they both loved so deeply: the cinema. Both Ebert and Siskel were unequivocally passionate about film and would hold to their varied opinions about a given film to the very end. There have been a thousand talking heads/debate shows to come down the chute in recent years, particularly in the sports world, but none have been nearly as natural as At the Movies was because none of them displayed genuine passion the way that show did.

The impact of this was tremendous for me and about a billion other movie fans because that passion rubbed off on us in a manner similar to a wildfire. Ebert (Siskel, too, but since I always leaned toward Ebert’s side of things, his influence was greater) taught me that it was not only acceptable to think critically when it came to pop culture entries but that it was important to do so. That’s not something that I’d ever been exposed to. I was taught to think critically about the important things in life (school, faith, etc.) but to apply that mentality to movies, sports, music, etc. was a new concept to me (or at least I was only then able to grasp it). I watched At the Movies and was vindicated in my child-like understanding of that Shawshank was good and Anaconda was bad, while simultaneously exposing myself to a wide world of new films that never would have piqued my interest previously. I suddenly and desperately needed to see White Squall for some reason and there were plenty of other movies that came along in the coming years that fit the same bill: they weren’t the sort of blockbusters I had drooled over before and they weren’t the movies my friends wanted to see but I had a great desire to digest as many films as I possibly could.

Soon thereafter I started doing everything I could to get my hands on Ebert’s written work. I found one of his collections of reviews in the library and read them all, the Internet evolved and some of his work could be found online, etc. and through his writing, Ebert became even more appealing to me. In the infancy of my new fascination, I sought out the reviews written by local critics in our newspapers and immediately soured on the idea because they never liked ANY of the movies that I liked. At 14 or 15 years old, my movie taste may not have been as developed as it is now but I could still tell that these critics were not interested in granting the possibility that a big budget film could be just as good as a tiny indie film if they were both crafted correctly. Ebert never shied away from major films and his reviews often coincided with my own opinions. And on the occasion that we disagreed, Ebert’s reasoning was laid out in such a knowledgeable yet unpretentious way that I could accept his ruling even if I couldn’t come around to his side of the argument.

That is, of course, one of the major reasons people like myself flocked to Ebert over the hoard of voices that clogged the criticism game even before the advent of blogs and digital news outlets. If you go back and read an Ebert review from 1975, a review from 1998, and a review from 2010, you’ll hear virtually the same voice presented in the same manner: always intelligent but never condescending, derivative, or pretentious and moreover, everything Ebert ever wrote was deeply personal. He contended that criticism at its very core was personal and subjective and to pretend otherwise was foolish. Ebert’s reviews were his views and as such his own life got mixed into the batter. And above all else, he loved film. A fellow blogger noted on Twitter that while many critics require a film to earn a good rating, Ebert always seemed to start with a five star review and go from there. That’s where the aforementioned passion comes into play and that’s a big part of what I, and many like me, have tried to do with our own “careers.”

Since the beginning of my film criticism career (I have dabbled in the medium for a decade now to varying degrees of non-success), these were the principals I have lived by:

1.) Express my own love for film (whether the film I’m currently reviewing or the medium in general) and try to spread that affinity on to others; 2.) Write from a personal perspective; 3.) Present everything in the most straight-forward, honest manner possible without venturing into the Land of Pretension or pseudo-intellectualism.

That’s it, really. Love or hate my views on a film, any film, I hope my appreciation for cinema comes across in a personal, “regular guy” way and that the door is left open for conversation. That’s what I strive for, anyway, and I learned all of that from Roger Ebert.

I never had the occasion to meet Ebert personally or to interact with him online as many of my writing and blogging colleagues have. (By literally all accounts he was one of the most genuinely kind people the world has ever had to offer and he went out of his way on tens of thousands of occasions to lend a helping hand or encouraging word to fans, critics, and aspiring writers the world wide.) Nevertheless, the impact he had on my life is no less profound and in a strange way he is a not-so-insignificant part of what made me the person I am today and he certainly is the reason I have devoted so much time to the hobby of film criticism. He was a pioneer, a legend, and a true believer in his craft and for that influence on my life, I will be forever grateful.

Thank you, Roger. You will be greatly and heartbreakingly missed. The balcony is now closed.

Paste Magazine collected a number of responses from celebrities to the news of Ebert's death.

Will Leitch of Deadspin talks about his long history with Ebert.

Richard Roeper, who replaced Gene Siskel on At the Movies, wrote about Ebert's place on the Mount Rushmore of movie critics.

Dana Stevens of Slate shows us the letter Ebert wrote her when she was a child. This is one of the more touching tributes I have seen yet.

And if you've never read the Esquire piece written about Ebert back in 2010, it's worth your time as well.

Farewell Good and Faithful Servant - A Tribute to Old Dogs and Their Owners

In December of 2005 I moved back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, fresh off of four (and a half) years of college and ready to take on the world. The plan was to A.) Find an apartment; B.) Get a job; C.) Wait six months and then get a dog. I found an apartment, got the first in a long line of menial jobs that would come nowhere near to paying off my student loans, and lasted less than six weeks before I started searching for a canine companion. I didn’t have the time to housebreak a puppy and the space wasn’t big enough for a large dog so my search criteria, a small to midsized dog that was housebroken, wasn’t on death’s door, and wouldn’t be embarrassing to walk around the neighborhood with, was fairly limiting. Through a rescue organization I found Ali, a 6 year-old Sheltie who had recently been given up for adoption. I made the drive out to meet the owner of the clinic where Ali was being housed. She informed me that he had been given up numerous times, had probably been abused at some point along the line, and that he was not considered an overly “friendly” dog. Quite the saleswoman, indeed. Before leaving to fetch Ali, she warned me that he wasn’t a cuddly sort of dog so I shouldn’t expect a warm welcome. It came as quite a shock to all of us, then, when Ali, upon entering the room, promptly jumped up in my lap and began licking my face. I took him home a couple of days later and we became fast friends.

The first few weeks weren’t easy. I was accustomed to training a puppy to behave and Ali came with a set of bad habits that normally would have been broken long before. About two weeks after I acquired him, he bit me, deep enough that I probably should have gotten a shot, the first time I had ever been bitten by a dog, which caused me to seriously rethink our arrangement. In searching through his paperwork for a number to call, I discovered the extent of his sad history. In his 6 years of life he had been given up for adoption four times and had spent time in shelters across the country, from Georgia to Michigan to Colorado. At each stop, his paperwork indicated that the previous owner couldn’t handle his bad habits (many of which were prime indicators of abuse at the hands of his first owners) and eventually sent him packing. Honestly, it was a miracle that he hadn’t just been put down. At this point I decided the proverbial buck would stop with me. Ali and I sat down (as ridiculous as this may sound) and reached an understanding: he would not bite me again, I would not turn him over to a shelter, and we would work on everything else. Over the years we worked out every bad habit he had except for his incessant need to bark, a vice which I felt he probably deserved.

I could not and would not, however, break him of his quirks, of which there were MANY. No dog that I have ever been around had as much personality as Ali. He was kind of an old man: he knew what he wanted and when he wanted it and he really wouldn’t stand for insubordination. He had to have his nose in everything and most of the time he preferred to weigh in on anyone and anything that made its way into his domain. He was genuinely opinionated and he expressed these thoughts in no uncertain terms through sneezing, haughty looks, and, if push came to shove, defiant urination right in the middle of the entry way where everyone would have to see it. His favorite things included bacon, riding in the car, and more bacon. And if you left the bacon in the trash so he had to dig through that to get it, even better. He wouldn’t sleep in a dog bed, preferring instead to drag himself on his elbows, commando style, underneath my bed to sleep. When he was really excited and/or angry he would go into a spin, around and around, barking all the time to show you just how excited and/or angry you had made him. And he always had to have the last word. Once when picking him up from the groomer I had to wait in line for a few minutes and in the back, Ali and what I’m assuming was a much bigger dog, were in a standoff. The other dog would deliver five or six resounding barks, which would be followed by a second of silence before Ali would chime in with a quick yap that would send the other dog back into his own bark. He did this over and over, refusing to back down and simultaneously playing the other dog for a fool.

This is the part of the sappy story where the writer says something to the effect of, “I thought I was saving him but really he was saving me.” Of all his many quirks and behaviors, Ali’s greatest strength was his unending love for his owner. He waited patiently and consistently by the door for me to come home and most of the time when I was home he followed me everywhere I went, my constant shadow. He never wanted to be picked up or held but he always wanted to be underfoot, close enough that he could quickly fall in line if I so desired to move to another room or, best of all, take him in the car. This attachment came almost instantly and only became stronger through the years.

This bond was cemented, however, in the second half of 2007 when my ex-wife and I separated and subsequently got divorced. At the time I felt absolutely alone in the world, unable or unwilling to talk to my friends or family about what was going on. And in these moments, Ali served as a confidant and a true comfort. Never before and never since was he a dog who wanted to be held but in those months he suddenly became a lap dog. Time and time again, when things were at their worst, Ali would climb into my lap and sit and look at me patiently while I just talked and prayed. At a time in my life when I felt alone and unloved (boy this is a manly paragraph, isn’t it?), Ali was a constant reminder of God and the good things in life. The night I moved out, I left with two changes of clothes, a laptop, and a dog who sat in my lap for the entirety of our ride to my parent’s house, a comfort I will be eternally thankful for. Things got better, of course; I moved on, made new friends, got a great job, and met the love of my life who, thankfully, put up with the smelly, defiant dog that came along with me.

In his later years, Ali picked up a myriad of medical conditions. He had a heart murmur that also affected his lungs. He had the worst case of gingivitis anyone has ever seen, so bad in fact that I plan to petition the American Dental Association to change the name of the disease to Alivitis. I think that’s only fair. Yet because of his heart issue, he could not be put under and therefore could not have his teeth cleaned. The joke around our house was that his mouth smelled worse than his butt and really it wasn’t as much “joke” as it was “fact.” He was overweight and his fat accumulated in one large lump on his left side. In essence, he had a gigantic beer gut…on his shoulder, a feature he used as a pillow whenever possible. In early 2011 he had a series of seizures, prompting our vet to tell me he wouldn’t make it through the year. He defiantly fought his way through the year and even seemed to get stronger and spryer despite the diagnosis. Earlier this year he was bitten by a spider, a malady I was sure would do him in. And yet, a trip to the vet and a new antibiotic brought him right out of his funk and he returned to his former glory, though with a sad little bald spot on his side. He also seemed genuinely angry when I mentioned the bald spot and would go into a barking frenzy if it was brought up in front of company. If a dog can be self-aware, Ali personified such a trait to his dying day.

Watching a beloved pet age can be one of life’s greater gut punches. As Ali slowed down, I found myself torn between wanting him to hold out as long as he could and secretly hoping he would quietly die in his sleep so I wouldn’t have to put him down. That’s a weird dynamic that I hope I never have to experience with a parent, spouse, or child. Just a few weeks ago he came very close to death’s door before our vet gave him another medicine (his third daily pill which was just a DELITE to force down his throat) that brought about a resurgence. Still, however, Lindsey and I knew the writing was on the wall and I like to think Ali did, too. We spent a lot of time with him over his last few weeks, taking him on numerous car rides and feeding him unhealthy amounts of treats to ensure that his last days were good ones. He thanked us by demonstrating a new quirk wherein he routinely climbed atop the fire place hearth and slept there, posed like the House Gargoyle. It made our new home feel very regal. In the end, though, his issues got the best of him and after a Thanksgiving Day celebration during which he gorged himself on dropped ham and goodness knows what else, Ali stopped eating and exhibited extremely labored breathing. His final days were spent meekly moving between lying in the grass and lying on his bed with a look on his face that suggested his fight was done. The vet told us his kidneys had failed and, after allowing me a few more moments to blubber over him in a manner truly unbefitting of a House Gargoyle of his post, administered the shot that let him slip into that good night.

There have been a lot of tears shed in the Gill household today. It was one of those days where you really realize that you are, in fact, a grown up. I’ve never had to put a dog down before because there was always an adult around to do that stuff in my place. Well, now I’m that adult. And sometimes it sucks to be an adult. Which begs the question, why do we do this to ourselves? I can’t always prevent the potential heartache that will come from being a son, a brother, a husband, or, with baby on the way, a father; that’s just part of what comes along with life. But I have an unconditional choice whether or not I want to put myself through this particular brand of agony, a fate I and every animal lover like me can prevent by simply not owning a pet. Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we continually take on and invest in a life that will last for, at best, 15 years or so?

I’ve been presented with that question many times in the past by people who don’t own pets and don’t understand the appeal and on a day like today I found myself engaging in that same line of thinking. In a month or two (or maybe six) I’ll most likely find another dog to adopt, knowing that in a few more years I’ll be right back in this same position. But why, a small voice in the back of my mind asks me as I consider the possibility (really, the likelihood) of putting myself through this again. Because I have found that the best things in life cause us to emote, to feel something. Whether sports, movies, music, pets, whatever, the best things elicit a response that truly makes us human. And dogs can most certainly be counted amongst the “best things.”

So today I say farewell to the world’s best-worst dog, Ali. Or, if you prefer his formal title, Alister McCalister. You were a good and faithful servant, a tribute to your breed, and you have most certainly earned your reward. May your Heaven be filled with the scent of bacon and may there never be a car you can’t ride in. Rest in peace, little buddy.

Sweat the Small Stuff or Why "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is Just the Worst

Last year, in conjunction with the massive youth sports league I run through my church, I started a small mentoring program that provides me with an opportunity to work individually with a few of the kids who come through the doors. We go to movies, eat at CiCi's (only the finest foods, of course), and talk about life and stuff. I've got a core group of 5th-7th graders that take part in these events on a regular basis and over the last few months, we've developed quite a rapport. One of the topics we always discuss, in addition to sports, spirituality, and YouTube videos we all dig (“Guy on a Buffalo” is quickly gaining steam in popularity), is movies. These kids are genuinely interested in what I’ve seen lately, what my favorite movies are, and what my opinion is on just about every film they’ve ever heard of. This is due in no small part to this blog and the fact that they haven’t quite figured out yet that virtually everyone has a blog or has had one at some point or another. Unlike the masses of hypothetical Internet readers, they actually care about my opinions, which is both empowering and sobering at the same time. If there was a market for film criticism aimed at 12 year olds I would be to that field what Dave Grohl is to the Foo Fighters.

This relationship, however, presents two problems.

1.) I always have to be aware of my audience. The Shawshank Redemption is unquestionably the greatest movie of all-time (no, I said it’s unquestionable so there’s really no need to debate this) but it’s not exactly a family friendly movie that I can encourage a group of impressionable boys to seek out on Video on Demand. I mean, obviously I told them to go watch The Hangover but Shawshank is a little out of their range at this point.
2.) It can be hard to know when to burst their bubbles and when to swallow down my hardened opinion and let them learn their own lessons over time.

Most of the time when one of them expresses a ridiculous opinion or makes a totally indefensible statement, I let it slide. At most, I might poke a little fun in the direction of whoever made the statement and say, “At your high school graduation, I’m going to remind everyone that you once said The Tooth Fairy was your favorite movie.” (This is an actual statement from one of these kids. Don’t judge him too harshly.) Sometimes, however, I feel it is my duty as both a would-be film critic and someone they look up to (not to mention a decent human being in general) to provide a little guidance and hopefully keep them from making a horrible life choice, like holding the opinion that Cars 2 is the best Pixar movie.

One of these situations presented itself tonight.

On our way home from a baseball game, my truck jam-packed with five teens/pre-teens and my friend Jason, the movie topic was inevitably broached. First we discussed Batman as Jason and I explained the concept of multiple franchises within one universe. (To sum up: Adam West Batman, Michael Keaton/Tim Burton Batman, and Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Batman are all Batman but the differences are vast.) I was afraid this might have blown their minds but instead it led to a discussion of other films which have seen a revamp, reboot, or years-later sequels/prequels. Then one of the kids brought up the Indiana Jones series and hinted that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was his favorite from the franchise. At this point, I very nearly ran my truck into a traffic barrier.

I couldn’t let that one slide. It’s one thing to love Tooth Fairy or to sing along with Miley Cyrus songs at a baseball game. These are the trappings of youth, the errors of younger souls that will be corrected later in life when they discover witty rhetoric, the films of Christopher Nolan, and the Beastie Boys. But it somehow felt important that I convey to these kids that it was not okay to hold any affection whatsoever for Crystal Skull, let alone to think it better than the original trilogy.

My friend and I both reacted immediately with similar statements to the effect of, “That movie is so bad that we have to pretend it doesn’t exist in order to keep from getting angry about it on a daily basis” (in not so many words). The collective response was, “What’s so bad about that movie?” My friend and I struggled with how to answer, partly because we didn’t want to make any of the kids feel bad for liking a terrible movie (and hey, they probably haven’t even seen Raiders of the Lost Ark so how can they properly judge Crystal Skull?) and partly because the verbiage needed to truly describe the wretchedness of that movie would be both inappropriate for kids and probably over their heads, anyway. My friend and I both struggled for words until I made the following analogy:

“Imagine that you’re 8 years old and you have a favorite toy that you absolutely love. And you play with that toy every day and take it with you everywhere you go. And then imagine that one day, your brother forcibly takes that toy from you, breaks it over his knee, throws it on the ground, and then spits on it while laughing maniacally. And then when you ask your brother why he did that, he responds by telling you that the toy is better broken, that it’s supposed to be broken, and that you didn’t really appreciate the toy before the way he does now. And then, while you sit and cry because your brother broke your toy, your brother then proceeds to walk around your room breaking the rest of your toys. That’s why Crystal Skull is that bad. Because they took a film franchise we all loved and broke it forever.”

I could lie and tell you that all of the kids fully grasped what I said and we all took a pact to never again speak of Crystal Skull. In truth, I’m not sure they all completely understood what I mean. But if even one of them now has the correct opinion that Crystal Skull is an abomination, then I feel like I’ve made the world a slightly better place. And really, isn’t that what working with kids is all about? Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a coach, the idea is to impart a bit of important knowledge to the kids in a way that they won’t forget, to make them better, smarter, and more well-rounded individuals and if the world is improved in the process then that’s all the better.

Basically what I’m saying is, when working with kids, you should sweat the small stuff, that it’s important to remember the little things and the way the little things build upon each other. Getting that group of kids to understand that Crystal Skull is a crime against humanity or that KE$HA is the worst thing to happen to music since hairspray in the ‘80s may not be the equivalent of teaching them the core concepts of algebra or revealing to them the vast mysteries of the universe, but those small, seemingly insignificant bits of knowledge may very well be the foundations for greater things as these kids mature and become the people they’re intended to be. Keep up the good work, parents, employees, and volunteers and make sure you tell your kids just how bad Crystal Skullreally is. Because really, the 6.4 rating it has on IMDB is just embarrassing.

NOTE: Thank you, dear reader(s), for allowing a brief break from our regularly scheduled, surprisingly mediocre film coverage. We'll get back to the standard stuff that no one reads tomorrow.

What I Remember About 9/11

There have been thousands of 9/11 tributes written and published over the last few days. If truth be told I don't feel equipped to write a poignant piece of remembrance or to sum up the feelings of a nation on such an infamous and historic anniversary. That's not my thing, really. I write stupid movie reviews and occasionally sports rants and stretching beyond that isn't my strength. But to let a day like this slip by without at least writing something...well, that's not my thing, either. Today I simply offer you a few personal memories about 9/11/01 and invite you to do the same.

I remember where I was when I heard. I was a freshman in college at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. My roommate and I were both running late for chapel and as we were heading down the stairs of our dorm, another student said something in passing about "the plane crash." We both went back to our room and saw the first newsflashes.

I remember chapel being a mess. No one knew what was going on or how to act. For possibly the first time in my life I wanted to watch the news and keep up with what was happening but Harding in its infinite wisdom decided it was more important to continue on with chapel and the day's classes. I am still a bit angry by this institutional choice to try to make that day as normal as possible. Because it wasn't normal and we shouldn't have pretended it was.

I remember wanting to watch the news for the first time ever. I can't remember the exact time line but by the time I got out of my first class (which was a complete disaster; the professor cried through the whole class, making Art Appreciation an even bigger waste of time than normal), I'm pretty sure we knew it was a terrorist attack and both of the towers had fallen. I generally hate the news and don't really keep up with world events but on that day I couldn't think of anything else. I skipped class for the rest of the day (along with EVERYONE ELSE) in order to keep up.

I remember the scene in the school's student center. It wasn't completely silent but it was pretty close. Huge groups settled in around the televisions and by the time the lunch hours rolled around, the place was packed. Eventually my roommate and I headed back to our dorm to watch the news in a smaller group.

I remember President Bush's speech. I've never given a rip about politics and I do not exercise my right to vote not because of some belief or principle but because of general apathy. Even still, the speech that Bush delivered was incredible. He was calm and collected but he was firm and compassionate, the symbol of strength that all of us, regardless of political believe, needed to see. I cried a little.

I remember not knowing what in the world to do or how to act. No one trains you for you should react to a terrorist attack. How long do you have to be sad and when is it acceptable to start going back to normal? That's where a lot of the rest of this list comes in.

I remember Conan O'Brien's first show. A lot of people remember David Letterman's first show back after 9/11 but I've always been a loyal Conan guy. At that time, I did two things every weekday without fail: I took a nap and I watched Conan. During his run at NBC, Conan had a number of episodes that showed what a truly professional, thoughtful, and caring person he really is (the Black Out ep, his final ep on the Tonight Show, etc.) but no moment was more significant than his opening monologue on September 18. He gave an incredible speech while at the same time staying true to who he was which made it so much more impactful. He wasn't putting on a show but rather speaking from the heart. And at the end he told us it was okay to laugh a little despite the terrible events of the past week. I cried some but then I laughed. It was a turning point for a lot of people in my generation.

I remember football coming back. The NFL took the week of 9/11 off, obviously, but they came back the following weekend to play a game. A great deal was made about "showing the terrorists that they can't disrupt our lives" and if that works for you, fine. But for me, football coming back was a further step in the process of recovery and more importantly, it was an incredible and moving distraction. We needed sport more than ever before in my lifetime.

I remember Saturday Night Live. I wasn't the faithful SNL watcher then that I am now but that episode was a much watch. At the beginning Paul Simon played his famous song "The Boxer" surrounded by some of New York City's finest and after it, Lorne Michaels turned to Rudy Giuliani and simply asked, "Can we be funny?" to which Rudy replied, "Why start now?" Quite honestly, the episode was, in fact, not funny but it didn't matter. Much like what Conan did on his show, Lorne and his crew made it clear that while we would always remember what happened, it was alright to begin the process of moving on.

I remember the video for Ryan Adams' "New York New York." I had barely heard of Ryan Adams at that time but when his video came on vh1 late one night while I was studying, I was glued to the screen. Shot only days before 9/11, it is one of the last pieces of film to feature the Twin Towers before their destruction. One of my favorite songs from an artist who's become on of my favorites, "New York New York" was a touching tribute.

I remember President Bush's first pitch in the World Series. Like every one else who isn't from New York and has a lick of sense, I hate the Yankees and I actively rooted against the Yanks in the 2001 World Series. But when President Bush stepped out before Game 3 of the series to throw out the opening pitch...total goosebumps. And then he NAILED the pitch. Say what you will about W but to throw a strike under that kind of pressure with a massive bullet proof vest strapped to his chest...that's impressive.

I remember chapel a few days after the attacks. I'll be honest when I say I really disliked chapel for the majority of my time at Harding. I had a lot of issues with what took place and the number of times I wanted to scratch my eyes out FAR outnumbered the times I actually had a meaningful experience. But a few days after the attacks, our service was led by a guy who was in the Reserves and whose unit had been called up to go to Afghanistan. He would ship out within a few days. I do not remember his name nor what he said but I remember the gist of his presentation was a call to hold dear the freedoms we have in this country and to know that those freedoms are worth fighting for. And he, too, told us to return to normalcy as best we could. It was important to hear that message from Conan and to see it displayed by the NFL and MLB but it was equally important to hear it from a service man, a guy who would very soon be manning the front lines of battle and had more right than others to demand that we continue our solemn behaviors. That was a key for me and I believe many others.

Thanks for allowing me a departure from the generic movie reviews and news that you occasionally browse through when you have nothing better to do. I promise we'll get back to our regularly scheduled, mediocre programming tomorrow.