Sunday, December 30, 2007

Catch up on 'Lost'

There are two arrivals that I'm looking forward to in January 2008. First and most important, is the arrival of my fourth child. But second is the arrival of the fourth season of one of my favorite television shows, Lost. Unfortunately, we'll have had to wait around nine months for both of these blessings to get here.

There are less than a handful of T.V. shows that I make it a point to watch every episode -- The Office, Survivor, American Idol and Lost. So after waiting nine + months for a new season, I'm pretty excited to see what is going to happen to the Losties, the Others and whoever else pops up on the Island (or not on the Island) this year.

If you're a fan of the show like me or one who is interested in making Lost part of your regular viewing, ABC has put together a nice little video recap of the show to catch you up before the next new episode airs on January 31st. You can visit ABC's site here to look at the video montage. If the clip (8 minutes, 15 seconds running time) doesn't play automatically, click on the "Catch up on Lost!" in the video window.

Thanks to TV Squad for the heads up on the Lost video.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Christmas Meme

Here is a Christmas meme that I got from Gina Dalfonzo off of the Break Point blog...

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Definitely wrapping paper. As I told Lori recently, gift bags are just a cop out for people that don't want to take the time to wrap the gift. Unless, of course, it's an odd-shaped gift. Then a gift bag is acceptable. But a gift bag for a book? Come on...
2. Real tree or artificial?
Artificial. I've never really had a real tree, but it seems like a lot of up-keep for the relative little time it is up.
3. When do you put up the tree?
Usually within a week after Thanksgiving.
4. When do you take the tree down?
Sometime in early January.
5. Do you like eggnog?
Sure do! But I just learned that it has like 8,000 calories in each cup so I have to not overdue it.
6. Favorite gift received as a child?
I would have to say the year I got an Atari video game system when I was around 8. For you youngsters out there, Atari was the ultimate system to have back in the Dark Ages before PS3's and XBox's.
7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Several. I think my favorite is a simple pewter set of just Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Lori and I got it our first Christmas as husband and wife.
8. Hardest person to buy for?
My dad.
9. Easiest person to buy for?
My kids -- the remind me ad nauseum what they want each year.
10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
I would say a white elephant gift that was a used bathroom floor mat. I don't think it had been washed...
11. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Mail. There are some things that just need to be done the old-fashioned way.
12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
It's a Wonderful Life.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Typically in mid-December.
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Yes, but never a used gift.
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Anything chocolate (but, of course, that applies for the other 11 months of the year as well.)
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
Either is cool with me.
17. Favorite Christmas song?
O Holy Night and Joy to the World.
18. Travel for Christmas or stay home?
Lately, it's been staying home although we like to visit our families when we can.
19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers?
I think so... Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Bashful, Grumpy, Happy, Larry, Moe and Curly. Is that all of them?
20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
I think I've had both at one time or another. We have a star on our tree now.
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Most of them Christmas morning, but one present is opened on Christmas Eve in honor of my dad's birthday that day.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
How our greed can be displayed so pointedly -- fighting for a parking spot at the mall, jockeying to get toys at the store, acting like we're celebrating the birth of Jesus when, deep down, it may really be about us getting stuff that we really don't need.
23. What I love most about Christmas?
In the midst of some of the selfishness and greed that is displayed, we also see a giving spirit that is exhibited like no other time of year.
Your turn!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Top Seven Favorite Christmas Movies

I recently posted on my favorite Christmas albums and now it's time to share my favorite Christmas movies. So without further adieu, here are my top seven favorite Christmas movies:

7. Elf (2003, starring Will Ferrell and James Caan) Though I've only seen this movie twice, it is arguably Will Ferrell at his finest while playing a human raised by elves. The child-like innocence of his character, Buddy, can't help but make you laugh.

Favorite Line: "We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup."

6. Family Man (2000, starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni) Family Man tells the story of a multi-millionaire who gets the chance to see how his life might have turned out had he married and started a family with his college girlfriend. A great story that demonstrates that success in life is not found in financial success but in the love of family.

Favorite Line: "You see, you're a better person than I am. And it made me a better person to be around you. I don't know, maybe it was just all a dream. Maybe I went to bed one lonely night in December and I imagined it all. But I swear, nothing has ever felt more real. And if you get on that plane right now, it'll disappear forever. I know we could both go on with our lives and we'd both be fine, but I've seen what we could be like together. And I choose us."

5. Home Alone (1990, starring Macauley Culkin and Joe Pesci) What could be funnier than an eight year old getting left all by himself while his family vacations in France? This movie made Culkin a star and his interactions with dimwitted burglars Pesci and Daniel Stern are hilarious.

Favorite Line: "Not for a guy in the second grade. You can get beat up for wearing something like that. Yeah, I had a friend who got nailed because there was a rumor he wore dinosaur pajamas."

4. The Santa Clause (1994, starring Tim Allen and Judge Reinhold) This was Tim Allen's first starring role in a movie and was filmed during the peak of his Home Improvement days. His acceptance of becoming Santa Clause is fun to watch and the adults in his life acceptance of him is even better.

Favorite Line: "We shared a bowl of sugar, did some shots of brown liqour, played with my shot guns, field-dressed a cat, looked for women..."

3. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo) Another adventure in the lives of the wacky Griswold family, this movie was made back when Chevy Chase was still funny. There probably isn't a funnier character in a Christmas movie than Randy Quaid's Cousin Eddie and nearly twenty years later a home that overdoes their Christmas lights is still referred to as a "Griswold house."

Favorite Line: "He's cute ain't he? Only problem is, he's got a little bit a Mississippi Leg Hound in him. If the mood catches him right, he'll grab your leg and just go to town. You don't want him around if you're wearing short pants, if you know what I mean. Word of warning though, if he does lay into ya, it's best to just let him finish."

2. A Christmas Story (1983, starring Peter Billingsley and Darren McGavin) My wife introduced me to this Christmas classic and I'm glad she did. All little Ralphie wants for Christmas is an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model BB rifle with a compass in the stock. With adult narration in the background (ala The Wonder Years) , the viewer gets a humorous insight into the mind of a child looking forward to Christmas. In addition, an important lesson is conveyed to young and old alike -- do not touch your tongue to an icy flagpole in the winter!

Favorite Line: "Getting ready to go to school [in the winter] was like getting ready for extended deep-sea diving."

1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed) Since its copyright license had run out at one point and was aired like non-stop for years around the holidays, It's a Wonderful Life is probably the most beloved and cherished of all American holiday films. Though blessed with a wonderful wife and children and a lifetime of helping others, a desperate and disillusioned George Bailey is given the gift of seeing what the world would be like had he never been born. The ending to this Frank Capra classic will tug at your heartstrings every time. And if you ever visit my parent's home around Christmas, you'll have to check out my dad's Bedford Falls village that he sets up. It's a classic as well!

Favorite Line: "Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Heaven at Starbucks

What do you think of the following quote?
"Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can't wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but heaven has to step it up a bit. They're basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell."
It comes from Joel Stein, columnist for the LA Times, and, along with dozens of other quotes from various people, can be found on cups at Starbucks. Stein expected a response when we found out his words would be printed on the cups, but he didn't expect that it would lead to a conversation with Randy Alcorn.

Alcorn is one of my favorite writers and is a well-known authority on the topic of heaven. To learn how Alcorn ended up talking with Stein, you can go to his blog here. And to read Stein's article on their conversation, you can follow this link.

One of the things that I appreciate about Randy Alcorn is that he demonstrates consistency and steadfastness in his convictions, yet communicates those convictions to others with a tremendous balance of truth and grace. This is a great example of how believers can take a perceived "slam" on the Christian faith and engage in intelligent dialogue with those that don't yet know Jesus.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Top Ten Quotes of 2007

As mentioned in the Orlando Sentinel, this is Fred Shapiro's, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, listing of the top ten quotations of 2007. They are as follows:

10. "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."

-- Jimmy Carter, interview in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 19

9. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

-- Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., describing Sen. Barack Obama, quoted in New York Observer, Feb. 4

8. "[I have] a wide stance when going to the bathroom."

--Larry Craig, senator from Idaho, explaining why his foot touched that of an undercover policeman in a men's room (as noted by the interviewing policeman), June 11

7. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody [Vice President Dick Cheney] who has a 9 percent approval rating."

-- Harry Reid, senator from Nevada, remarks to the media, April 24

6. "There's only three things he [Rudy Giuliani] mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9-11."

-- Joseph Biden, senator from Delaware, comment at Democratic presidential debate, Oct. 30

5. "I don't recall."

-- Alberto Gonzales, U.S. attorney general, repeated response to questioning about firing of U.S. attorneys, congressional testimony, April 19

4. "That's some nappy-headed hos there."

-- Don Imus about Rutgers University women's basketball team, Imus in the Morning radio broadcast, April 4

3. "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country."

-- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, at a Columbia University appearance, Oct. 10

2. "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our [children]."

-- Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA, responding to a pageant question about why one-fifth of Americans are unable to locate the United States on a map, Aug. 24

1. "Don't tase me, bro!"

-- Andrew Meyer, University of Florida student who had been questioning Sen. John Kerry, being dragged away by campus police using a Taser stun gun, Sept. 17

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More College Students Seeking Spiritual Answers

From an USA Today article by Mary Beth Marklein...
"Students may be less likely to attend religious services while in college than they were as high school students, but that doesn't mean they're not wrestling with spiritual and ethical issues, a study suggests. An increasing number of undergraduates express a desire to explore the meaning and purpose of life as they progress through college, it says.

The findings surprised and delighted the study's authors, Alexander and Helen Astin, retired UCLA professors who are engaged in a multi-year study of how the college experience influences spiritual development. It is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The Astins argue that higher education has been neglecting the "inner" development of students, such as their emotional maturity, self-understanding and spirituality.

Now, their most recent study, based on a survey of more than 14,000 college students on 136 campuses at the start of their freshman year in fall 2004 and again at the end of their junior year in spring 2007, appears to challenge some common assumptions. "Colleges are considered sort of bastions of secularism," Alexander Astin says. The findings suggest that "we have every reason to believe that the colleges are actually fostering some of these changes."

The study reinforces other research showing a decline in attendance at religious services among college students. Among incoming freshmen, for example, 43.7% said they frequently attend services; by the end of their junior year, that was down to 25.4%. Also, 37.5% of juniors said they did not attend services, up from 20.2% who said so as new freshmen. But the Astins' study for the first time documents what they call "significant growth" among college students nationwide in the desire to engage in a spiritual quest, to be more caring, and to develop an ecumenical worldview.
Among findings:
•74.3% of juniors said "helping others in difficulty" was "very important" or "essential," compared with 62.1% of freshmen.
•66.6% of juniors said "reducing pain and suffering in the world" was "very important" or "essential," compared with 54.6% of freshmen.
•54.4% of juniors said they were committed to "improving my understanding of other countries and cultures," compared with 52.0% of freshmen.
•63.8% of juniors said they supported "improving the human condition," compared with 53.4% of freshmen.
It's not clear exactly how the college experience contributes to a student's spiritual development. The next stage of the Astins' research will explore how colleges can best encourage such growth.
One area of potential opportunity: in the classroom. Nearly 60% of students said their professors never encouraged discussions of religious or spiritual matters, and fewer than 20% said their professors "frequently" encouraged exploration of questions of meaning and purpose.
"These are qualities that colleges can and should care about," Alexander Astin says.
Rebecca Chopp, president of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., says colleges need to adapt. For decades, "higher education has been nervous about talking about religion," she says. Now, "we're probably in a time of transition. … What's different is globalization, the presence of world religions."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Michigan Hires Rich Rodriguez as its Next Coach

According to CBS Sports, the University of Michigan has hired Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia's head football coach, to replace the retiring Lloyd Carr. You can read the story here.

After the whole Les Miles fiasco, I am very pleased with this hire and am looking forward to the excitement that Rodriguez will bring to the Michigan program. GO BLUE and welcome Coach Rodriguez!

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

What is Your Africa IQ?

**These questions were taken from the December 2007 issue of Ebony Magazine**

(Answers are at the bottom)

A. What 2006 Academy Award-winning movie became the first mainstream motion picture to be filmed entirely on location in Uganda?
  1. Blood Diamond
  2. Babel
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean
  4. The Last King of Scotland
B. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the first democratically elected female president of what African country?
  1. South Africa
  2. Botswana
  3. Mozambique
  4. Liberia
C. What Africa country is completely surrounded by South Africa?
  1. Zimbabwe
  2. Namibia
  3. Lesotho
  4. Angola
D. What African country was founded by African Americans?
  1. Congo
  2. Ethiopia
  3. Niger
  4. Liberia
E. How much money did South African singer Solomon Linda make from creating "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the hit song featured in Disney's hit The Lion King?
  1. 10 shillings
  2. $5,000
  3. Zero
  4. $2.3 million, plus rights for all future Broadway productions of The Lion King
F. Which of these cities is not in Africa?
  1. Cairo
  2. Dar Es Salaam
  3. Tripoli
  4. Pretoria
  5. Mumbai
G. Mount Kilamanjaro is in what African country?
  1. Tanzania
  2. Kenya
  3. Uganda
  4. Ghana
H. What is the largest country in Africa?
  1. Egypt
  2. South Africa
  3. Sudan
  4. Nigeria
I. Which of the following countries is an island?
  1. Ivory Coast
  2. Madagascar
  3. Cameroon
  4. Libya
J. Darfur is the site of a brutal civil war that has claimed more than a million lives. But where in Africa is Darfur?
  1. Rwanda
  2. Sudan
  3. Congo
  4. Uganda
K. Haile Selassie, the father of Rastafarians, was from what country?
  1. Jamaica
  2. Somalia
  3. Ethiopia
  4. Egypt
L. To which country did Roots author Alex Haley trace his African ancestry?
  1. Ghana
  2. South Africa
  3. Gambia
  4. Ivory Coast
A. The Last King of Scotland
B. Liberia. She was elected in 2005
C. Lesotho
D. Liberia
E. Linda wrote the 1939 song, originally titled "Mbube" (or lion in Zulu) and licensed it for 10 shillings to a South African label. He died in 1962, his family poor and destitute. But the Linda family launched a copyright lawsuit and in 2006 won $1.6 million in royalities.
F. Mumbai is in India
G. Tanzania
H. Sudan
I. Madagascar
J. Sudan
K. Ethiopia
L. Gambia

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Color Christmas Tree Should I Have?

You Should Have a Blue Christmas Tree

For you, the holidays represent a time of calm, understanding, and peace.

You avoid family fights, and you don't get too stressed out - even when things are crazy!

You like to make Christmas about making everyone's life a little bit better.

You don't get caught up in greed or commercialism. You're too sincere for that.

Your blue tree would look great with: Lots of silver tinsel

You should spend Christmas Eve watching: It's a Wonderful Life

What you should bake for Santa: Chocolate chip cookies

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My Top Six Favorite Christmas Albums

It is once again the Christmas holiday season (or at least I'm told this is the case.) I must admit that although this is my fourth Christmas being an Orlando resident, I still am adjusting to having 80 degree heat in the middle of the Christmas shopping season. There is something that just doesn't seem right about that...yet the warmth feels so good.

In conjunction with the spirit of the season, our family has gotten out our box of Christmas CD's and have been listening to them since Thanksgiving. In case you're looking for some new holiday music, here are my top favorite six Christmas albums. They are listed here in descending order, as follows:

6. Nat King Cole - Christmas Favorites
Possessing one of the smoothest and richest voices of all-time, Cole put together a great collection of traditional Christmas carols. Highlights include his well-known version of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and my favorite version of my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night.

5. Celine Dion - These are Special Times
Arguably one of the greatest singers of our age, Dion certainly gives you your money's worth on this 16-track disc that runs close to an hour and ten minutes. Highlights include The Prayer (a duet with Andrea Bocelli) and the John Lennon tune, Happy Christmas (War is Over).

4. Kirk Franklin & The Family - Christmas
Kirk is probably my favorite gospel singer and whether he is singing with The Family, God's Property, Nu Nation (or any of his other collaborations), his original writing and direction stands out. Highlights on this 1995 disc include There's No Christmas Without You , the funky Jesus is the Reason for the Season and one of his greatest songs ever, the standout track Now Behold The Lamb.

3. Amy Grant - Home for Christmas
Amy must really like Christmas since she's made three different albums focused on this holiday and this one is my favorite. She demonstrates on this record why she is the greatest selling Contemporary Christian Music artist of all-time. Highlights include I'll Be Home For Christmas, The Night Before Christmas, and the powerful Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song.)

2. Steven Curtis Chapman - The Music of Christmas
Steven is far and away my favorite singer. We even thought about naming one of our boys "Steven Curtis Crocker," but we resisted that temptation. This album is chock full of great traditional and original songs. Standout songs include This Baby, Christmas is All in the Heart (with CeCe Winans), and the theologically rich Our God is With Us.

1. The Carpenters - Christmas Portrait
It is simply not Christmas for me without listening to this 1978 album. This is THE Christmas album that my family listened to while I was growing up. Whether while we were putting up the tree, decorating the house, or relaxing in front of our fake fireplace/record & 8-track player, mini-bar thingy (my parents and sister know what I'm talking about), Karen Carpenter's beautiful voice and the splendid musical stylings of Richard was playing in the background. Listening to this CD still brings back a flood of good memories each year. Favorite songs include Sleigh Ride, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Karen's stunning rendition of Ave Maria.

So those are my favorite Christmas albums. What are yours?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jenna Bush on the Ellen Show

Jenna Bush, the President and Mrs. Bush's daughter, was recently a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show. Ellen asked her if it was easy to just pick up the phone and call her dad. Jenna indicated that it was, so Ellen suggested they give him a call right then. Here's what happened...

If the video player doesn't show up, you can view it here.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Beauty of the Imperfect

Check out these insightful words from one of my favorite columnists, Craig Wilson, of USA Today...

"We're heading out to get our Christmas tree this weekend. We go to the same place every year, an operation run by a woman who is so old, I'm always amazed she's still there every December. Maybe she won't be around this year, but I'd bet my crèche she will be standing right there in her urban "forest," ordering her men around when a tree needs to be taken down, carried off and tied to the roof of a car.
She runs her business from a money belt strapped around her waist. The price of her trees is completely arbitrary. It has nothing to do with height or width or bountiful bushiness. I have always suspected she sizes up the customer and charges accordingly. For years, we've dressed down to visit her.
And while her prices are often as high as the treetops, I have to admit her trees are perfect, something that used to impress me but which I now find rather depressing. They have all been pruned to perfection. Not a Charlie Brown tree on the lot. It's a trend in America today to have everything perfect. Teeth. Trophy wives. Even tiny tots dressed in designer duds. Rapper and hip-hop mogul Kanye West's mother just died after seeking perfection through plastic surgery. Novelist Olivia Goldsmith died a few years ago. A high price to pay.
And just the other day I heard about a camera that won't click the photo until the subject is smiling. Evidently all photos from now on will only show perfectly happy people. What fun is that? In that case, there would be no family photos from my childhood, since my brother went through what seemed like a decade of being sullen. He'd offer up a smirk every now and then but never a smile.
And now it seems every Christmas tree must be perfect. Smiling Scotch pines. Most of the Christmas trees we had while I was growing up were far from perfect. Some were downright ugly. But as they've always said about women with unconventional looks, every last one of them had a good personality. Some were like Ethel Merman. Bawdy. Bigger than life. We cut them down on our farm. There was no city lot with a moneychanger barking orders and sizing up customers.
Often it was just me and my dad wandering through a field near the farm pond. The pickings were slim — we grew trees made for apples, not tinsel — but Dad would always reassure me that an ornament would fill that gaping hole in the side, or that overextending bough would be the perfect display area. It always seemed to work, although looking at old photos from Christmases past, I'm always a bit shocked at what passed as our Christmas tree back then.
Good thing that only-if-you're-smiling-perfectly camera wasn't invented back then. Like my brother, those trees with their own distinct personalities also would have been wiped from history. And too bad, too. The imperfect are often the most beautiful things in our lives."

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