Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dear Congress: Pass this Law for Idiots Please

After reading comments on Senator Pat Roberts’ Face book page and other news sites following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night, I have come away with one burning concern for the country.

Congress, will you please draft a new bill restricting the use of the terms “Socialist”, “Marxist”, “Communist” and “Dictator” to American citizens who are able to answer a few simple questions?

Question 1: Define each form of government, using common English words and not regional slang.

Question 2: Highlight the differences between each of these types of governments (the ones being bandied about so loosely).

Question 3: Exhibit a clear & prolific ability to use research tools such as Google and Yahoo to explore big words you might not fully understand. Use of the following search terms will make answers to this question null and void: “I hate Obama”, “Obama sucks”, “Fox News”, “Obama wants to kill my grandmother”, “Obama wants to take my guns”, “Palin for POTUS”, “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi”, “Michelle Obama is starving the kids”, “racism is dead”, “what global warming?”, “keep the government out of my medicare”, “poor people are lazy and should just get a job”, “save the fetus, screw the rest” and/or “science is stupid (and so are women)”.

Question 4: Provide, in written outline, a flow chart of congressional bills and how they truly become law, paying particular attention to the role played by the House of Representatives and the United States Senate (if you aren’t familiar with these two bodies please refer back to question 3).

Question 5: Write a two page report on impeachment law (computer typed please; some of you may need to utilize spell check based upon your online posts).

And Congress, please include in your bill the legal consequences for failure to submit correct responses to the above five questions prior to Americans posting online.

Specifically, those unable to successfully complete questions 1-5 will be required to turn in their voting card to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (this will just save time and money with regard to training someone else for the job) and unsuccessful applicants will also be required to return all electronic keyboards, tablets, and smart phones until such time as they can exhibit the knowledge and skills necessary to sustain an informed voting population.

The dumbing down of America is becoming embarrassing. Please do your part to save her from ignorance.

Sincerely,

I think some of you are nuts.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Will Gregg Marshall Please Shut Up?

Dear WSU fans,

About ten months ago I wrote to you when your Shockers were about to play in the Final Four. In that letter I urged you to seize the moment and enjoy the ride. I talked about never taking the NCAA tournament for granted because the amount of variables that go into getting to a Final Four are so random, so varied, and so unpredictable. No matter the school on your jersey; no matter how good you are.

During that amazing run, most of Kansas was cheering for you as well as the rest of the country. Kansas State, a school with a proud basketball tradition, hasn’t sniffed a Final Four in decades. Not because they haven’t had good teams and not because they haven’t played tough competition during the season. It’s just HARD to get to a Final Four. Mizzou has never, in their entire D1 history, made it to the Final Four. KU, a top tier blue blood, has felt the pain of whiffing early in the tournament on more than one occasion (as most Sunflower State non-KU fans LOVE to remind us).

That’s why I find it very odd that your coach, Gregg Marshall, speaks the way he does publicly. Let me be clear: I’m talking about your coach, not your group of classy and hard working players. Let me also be clear: I’m not talking about one comment either.

None of the other coaches in the top 50 (unless I’ve missed something) make random unprovoked snide comments towards other programs. In fact, these coaches understand that rankings are really more for fans and maybe Vegas. When KU is ranked high, Coach Bill Self is often quoted as saying “we aren’t quite that good…rankings don’t mean much...we just need to keep working on getting better”. He’s learned after years of playing at the elite level that rankings really DON’T matter when it comes down to the last six games of the season. Getting a high seed in the tournament can be nice but even this isn’t a guarantee that you will win. Teams still have to play the best basketball they’ve played all year. Against other teams who are also playing their best basketball of the year. Players have to stay healthy, hit their shots, and even get a few breaks. In short, it has to be the perfect storm.

So Gregg Marshall wants to take pot shots at other coaches, other programs, and at sports writers? Then bitches that no one will play him? I guarantee Tom Izzo will think twice about ever scheduling him now. Not because Izzo is scared but because he doesn’t HAVE to, because he can schedule non-conference games with schools who have a longer SUSTAINED history of success, and because Marshall is coming across looking unprofessional. Pay attention to that word “sustained”. It means a great deal to programs like KU and KSU when they figure their non-conference schedules ahead of time. It took Gonzaga numerous NCAA runs to gain the type of "respect" Marshall demands after just two years of success. Butler and VCU experienced Cinderella type runs, reminiscent of WSU's last year, but haven't been able to replicate it again.

As for respect? Marshall and his fans say they get no respect but then whine that they are “only” ranked 4th in the country. Frankly, this is probably fair considering the softness of their non-conference schedule and the fact that they are from a very weak mid-major league. Is it their fault the Valley is so weak this year & lost Creighton? No, but it’s a reality. To complain about the weakness of the Valley now is to also complain about WSU’s own failure to provide suitable competition for decades.

Based upon their resume this year (would a one seed be respect enough or would you like for the committee to just crown you National Champions now and be done with it), it’s possible a 16 seed could provide the biggest challenge they’ve seen this season. It’s also possible that they rise up and play lights out during the tourney – anything can happen. A little humility goes a long way, though, and last year the country (and almost every KU and KSU fan I knew) was rooting for them. Now, because of Marshall’s behavior, the constant complaining by fans, and the hostility towards Kansas’ other two Division 1 schools, most of those same well-wishers aren’t quite so impressed or supportive this year. In addition, Marshall is doing his best, it appears, to alienate other fan bases, meaning WSU will have a large bulls eye on their back and a nation of college basketball watchers who simply think he's a big baby.

It’s extremely odd and rare for a coach to publicly take shots at other programs. WSU doesn’t know what it’s like to be THE target, THE guy who everyone wants to knock off. It means teams who are average end up shooting 50% + from three when they play you because they are inspired. It means that in the tournament fans of the teams who just finished playing stay seated to cheer against your team. It means Hickory shows up as the underdog to play the blue blood or, in WSU’s case, the loud mouth….and WSU ain’t Hickory anymore folks.

All because Gregg Marshall can’t keep his mouth shut and focus on his team instead of making juvenile comments about meaningless national rankings & other established programs.

I guess my message to WSU fans is the same this year as it was last year. Enjoy the ride. Savor it. Document it. But if a Final Four doesn’t happen for you again maybe a dose of humility and respect for other teams would be in order. It’s this type of “dose” that has created the culture of respect this KU fan feels for a program like Michigan State and for a coach like Tom Izzo. I feel that same respect for Kansas State. I would like to feel that respect for WSU as well.

Statistically the odds are slim WSU will make it to another Final Four this year. Let me repeat: it’s HARD to get there. But if they don’t, fans have last year to remember and savor.

As for the rest of us, well… at a minimum, maybe your coach will be a bit more eloquent with his words and show cautious respect towards the rest of the country’s teams the next time he has a successful season. We can only hope.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Richard Sherman versus Phil Robertson: Which is it America?

Social media, please make up your mind.

Is it okay for public figures to speak frankly and share what they believe or not????

First you freak out that poor Phil Robertson has been attacked by those gay loving liberals just for being honest about his feelings.

Then you freak out that Richard Sherman had the poor taste to smack talk a fellow NFL player following a pivotal NFC playoff game.

Before you start screaming, I get it. You think Phil’s “first amendment rights were violated.” Let’s pause while I chuckle.

Last time I checked he’s still employed, still adding millions to his net worth, and the Duck Dynasty writers are still scripting prayers into the show’s endings.

Wait, what’s that? You didn’t realize Duck Dynasty is scripted? Not to burst your bubble, but it’s scripted and the Duck Dynasty boys are second cousins to actors. What’s that? You didn’t realize that these boys used to have short hair, clean shaven faces, and suburban looking family beach photos? Hey, conservative America wants beards, long hair, camo, and prayer. Duck Dynasty provides a healthy dose of all four.

Duck Dynasty also pays Mr. Robertson and his clan a healthy paycheck, adding to their already massive bank accounts. Suffice it to say I don’t believe poor Mr. Robertson really needed the “Save Phil” campaign to survive his controversial views.

I have to admit surprise at the level of public naivete associated with these reality televisions shows.

I’m also surprised at the level of outrage over Mr. Sherman’s comments by the same supporters of Mr. Robertson.

Let me get this straight. Mr. Sherman is “a worthless piece of thug trash”, “punk”, "arrogant ass”, “asshole” and “ignorant thug”…among others. These are just quotes from actual people I know on Facebook. Want to read some more interesting descriptions? Just check out all of the comments at the end of some of the news articles.

What fascinates me is sitting back and observing what is truly offensive to people.

An irrational obsession with the private bedroom behavior of consensual adults and an inability to refrain from talking about it like a fourteen year old boy in the locker room is slightly offensive to some of us.

It appears, as well, that boasting after defeating an opponent who discounted a man’s professional ability is also slightly offensive. What leaves me shaking my head is that it was following a violent and physically aggressive sport, one that is leaving players short of being vegetables because of brain damage.

So let me get this straight.

We like to see grown men beating the crap out of each other on a grass field. We like to hear the grunts and sounds of pads violently connecting as NFL players tackle and drag each other to the ground. We love the gladiator type feel of massive arenas where (often intoxicated) fans can scream and yell passionately at players, hoping they destroy each other and caring very little about the now documented evidence of long term brain injuries that often result from our entertainment.

But we don’t want to hear any evidence of the mind set these players must possess in order to be warriors. We like the foul language and offensive words oft used by even the most beloved and golden boys of the NFL (see Tom Brady, to include chin dimple and blazing smile) to be kept on the sideline and out of the media spotlight. For the record, Mr. Sherman didn't curse.

We can stick a mic in the face of a sweaty, still panting athlete after one of the biggest plays of his career and immediately condemn him as a “thug” because he boasts that he’s the best at his position and that the person who said he wasn’t is wrong.

Yet when an actor, while representing his employer’s trademark, is interviewed we seem to have no problem with him referencing sexual acts and human orifices? As long as the comments are demeaning to an entire population of people whose sexual orientation differs from yours, then America has no problem with this appalling obsession with human sexual acts being talked about publicly and bandied about as a joke?

The football player is an “arrogant ass”. The reality tv star actor is a “hero”.

God bless America, eh?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Evil Weight Loss Monkey is Back

Photographs. Those are what finally did me in.

I saw a photo of myself standing in front of a seven foot tall basketball player…and my hips were wider than his. It was a sobering moment.

I’ve tried running before and, in fact, trained for the grueling 17 mile Imogene Mountain run a few years ago. It wasn’t a marathon but to be quite honest, when one is running ten miles up a mountain over a 5,000 foot incline I think it comes pretty damn close (okay, I tried but could NOT run the entire way up; go ahead and judge, just go ahead). The seven miles down was an apt reward for the hell involved in getting to the summit.

I hate running. I despise running. I lost a few inches during that time but still didn’t lose as much weight as one would think. I experienced moments of clarity and saw wonderful things in nature during that time as well… but I still hate running. I have prayed, begged, coveted other runners, and wished upon every star in the sky that I could enjoy running but at this stage of my life I think it would be best for me to be completely honest and come clean. I. Hate. Running.

In my mind that left only one option: dieting.

I haven’t officially been on a food diet since the early 1990’s. I also hate the word diet. I hate the thought of going on a diet. I believe the word itself is a recipe for failure. So much hate!

I needed to go on a diet.

I don’t know how to diet. I didn’t even know where to begin. I’m bad with math, always have been, so somehow trying to count up and add “points” seemed to be a recipe for failure.

What I didn’t need at this particular moment in time was a failure. Remember my blog about depression? And my goal of staying off anti-depressants? By mid fall of this past year the depression had started creeping back in again. I was tired, down, lethargic, and starting to have some difficult days. I needed some help to keep myself from going back to those low places and I wasn’t above paying for it. The first thing I did was call a counselor for a tune up. She’s been wonderful.

Then I turned my attention to my weight issue and went with something tried and true by a few friends who said it worked: Slim4Life.

I know, I know….”it’s expensive”….”people gain back the weight”…”just eat right and exercise”…

I needed accountability…and quick results….and evidence from someone I know who recently participated in the program and succeeded. The regimen seemed to be a good choice for others, so in early December, on impulse, I just dropped in…and walked out a member.

I made it through three weeks before we left town on a two week winter vacation and those three weeks were difficult but rewarding. Those three weeks helped me hold that nasty monkey, depression, at bay. I faithfully went in every single day (except for Sunday) to weigh myself and touch base. Remember, I need accountability.

If you are curious, bare with me and I’ll share a little about how it works.

Let’s be honest here: the real issue for most folks is cost, so let’s get that part out of the way. I signed up using a special. One month for $199. That included supplements, snack bars, and an appetizer suppressant. All other supplements, cook books, and pills (there are a ton of them available; that part is a little overwhelming) are additional.

I believe the typical program, which covers an entire year, is closer to $600. By the way, through January I have about ten coupons that will let you sign up for a year for half price if anyone is interested. Not, this isn’t a shameless plug for Slim4Life….but I hate wasting paper.

The first three days you cleanse, meaning 3-4 pounds of proteins a day, one orange, and all the green veggies you desire (gag; I’m not a big veggie person). ½ teaspoon of Morton’s Lite Salt and fat free dressings are the only fun flavorings allowed, other than any basic dried spice that doesn’t include salt. Oh, and don’t forget the 80 ounces of water a day. Stock up on toilet paper ladies and gentlemen, you will be peeing your brains out (TMI? Sorry, it’s just a fact).

I lost five pounds the first week. If that isn’t motivation I don’t know what is.

After those first three days I was limited to a few fruits, veggies, proteins and starches per day but my stomach had shrunk so much that the real danger was in not eating enough. I used their recipes, which were bland as hell, but those made it easier to track what I was eating.

There were some real learning curves during those three weeks.

One major aspect of the program is the many pills and supplements participants can purchase. I try to avoid pills so decided to only use two of their recommended options: one increases metabolism and helps curb hunger (which was included in my fee); the other is what I like to call the cellulite pill. It is designed to tighten cellulite as one is losing weight. I’ve had cellulite on my thighs since birth. I’m not joking. If there were any infant photos of me in existence I could prove it to you. Alas, there are not, so you’ll just have to take my word. Let’s just call it a curse…of the worst kind.

I honestly think the cellulite pills were working, little by little. I also lost inches, I’m sure, since my underwear stopped leaving gouges in my skin. The worst part is that I was taking NINE of them a day. Nine cellulite and six appetite suppressants = sick of taking pills.

But to be honest, it was the “hunger curbing” pill that wreaked havoc during my first week. Havoc on both my weight (yahoo!) and on sleep.

I THOUGHT I was supposed to take them three times a day (morning, noon, night). On the third day we had a particularly busy evening so I found myself tossing the final pills back some time after 9:00 pm.

At 2:30 am on the nose I sat straight up in bed, feeling a spastic amount of energy. This girl wasn’t going back to bed. Not on that night. By 8:00 am I was exhausted and, frankly, a little pissed. I typically sleep soundly. I typically sleep all night.

When I went in the next morning and told them what happened they asked me when I had taken the last pill. I heard an audible “gasp” among all the staff within earshot. My consultant gently but firmly told me to always take the last of those pills no later than 5:00 pm.

Now I ask you, my reader, what does this mean is REALLY in the pill??? Maybe that explains the jittery feeling I sometimes get. It reminds me a little of the Metabolife days, sigh. Now THAT was the perfect way to lose weight. And, cough cough, die young. Double sigh. Sometimes I miss Metabolife and my brief time as a skinny girl.

In order to speed up the process I decided to start boxing and strength training. Diet and exercise together, right? Isn’t that the key?

No one told me that my particular plan was designed for a sedentary person. They don’t really WANT you to vigorously exercise on this plan because the amount of food directed isn’t enough for someone working out. That might explain why I felt ready to pass out every time I walked into Punch Fitness. As a compromise, I started only exercising three times a week, which, frankly, is about all this middle aged woman could handle.

The first weekend I was on the diet Brian and I attended an adult Christmas party. Since beer and wine were no longer on the menu I brought a bottle of Kettle One and soda water. I don’t typically drink liquor. I don’t typically drink more than a few glasses of wine these days. All I really remember from that night was having to listen to Brian the next morning as he looked at me accusingly and said “well, if you were so angry at me you could’ve said something before we went out!” Apparently, I cried, yelled, screamed, and laid out a list of wifely complaints in a very frank manner on the ride home. After I explained (and apologized) he amusingly said “hmmm, maybe you shouldn’t try to do EVERYTHING at once dear”. Whatever, Mr. Ironman.

After week one I had a better understanding of the role of the supplements in addition to a better understanding of my unnecessary relationship with Kettle One. We’ve since parted ways.

During week 2 the weight stopped coming off, even though I was doing everything by the book.

The first few days I just kept plugging away. By the 11th day I felt tears well up as I stood on the scale in their office. I sniffingly told the consultant “I’m sorry, but I’m freaking starving myself, doing everything I’m supposed to do, and I’m not losing weight. I feel like crying, so I’ll apologize…but it’s that time of month and I’m a little emotional.”

For the second time in two weeks I heard a collective gasp among the staff members. Let me clarify: all of them are women.

My consultant laughed and said “Girl, why didn’t you tell me that? We all gain weight when we are on!”. Every single one of them walked by and whispered things like “I gain five pounds, guaranteed” or “doesn’t matter how hard I’m working the program, I always stop losing weight that time of month”.

My pride returned, hope intact, and I walked out ready to continue battling.

By the time we left for Arizona I was down a full eleven pounds and one to two sizes (depends on the style/designer). In three weeks! My goal, initially, had been to lose 20 pounds. Now I’m not sure that was realistic. I haven’t weighed a "certain" weight since early high school…or during the year of Metabolife. Frankly, I was ecstatic with the eleven pounds.

Not wanting to lose momentum, I packed a massive bag of the snacks and supplements and brought my trusty book and diary. Slim4Life allowed me to put the program on pause (I had only signed up for four weeks), but I was planning on sticking with the diet; even if it meant hauling another suitcase to Arizona.

Who in the hell was I kidding?

I did fine on Amtrak, but I was still taking the appetite suppressant and their food was horrible.

Once we hit Arizona and his aunt’s amazing cooking the jig was up. I was also tired of swallowing pills; so I stopped.

Fortunately, my stomach was still smaller so I ate less. And we hiked…long, strenuous, amazing hikes. In fact, I’m pretty sure I left every single pound gained during those two weeks somewhere on Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail and Piestewa Peak.

Now that we are home I’ve forced myself to acknowledge that I’m tired of supplements, pills, and Slim4Life’s diet, at least for the time being. Let’s call it symptoms of being a double Gemini. I was focused and determined in the beginning but three weeks was about all I have in me.

Because of the hiking…and because most of what we ate on vacation was made at home with fresh ingredients…and because I didn’t overdo it (okay, I ate cookies and desserts when I wanted to and had wine most nights…just all within reason)…and because I found a new form of exercise that I enjoy in boxing…I’m still maintaining a weight I can live with.

Who knows, that may still keep me in the “obese” category at the doctor’s office (folks, don’t pay attention to those charts: we are all designed uniquely and differently). What I DO know is that I feel better, have more energy, and would recommend the program to anyone wanting a jump start on losing weight.

The depression is still at bay, knock on wood, and the boxing is still appealing to me. I have to be honest, though. I’ve been playing this up and down weight game my entire adult life. It sucks - but is part of having my DNA, my body, and my multiple personality. Today is good and I’ll accept that. History has taught me that some time in the future I’ll weigh more than the "red line" I've set for myself, look at a personal photo, and say really mean things to the mirrored face I’m looking at. I need to not do that. You need to not do that to yourselves. When that happens for me, I’ll pull this out and read it. Then I’ll pull out the Slim4Life plan and hop back on it for a few weeks. And if I’m lucky, find a bag to punch.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

KU's Next Final Four and The Signs

Disclaimer: I’m writing this two hours before KU faces ISU within the stifling roar of “boo’s” that is called “Hilton Magic”.

I have faith. I have confidence. And I have something even better…signs.

KU will win the Big 12 this season. We will also make the Final Four.

When we made it to the Final Four in 2003 (yes, we) I knew ahead of time we would be there. It’s why my best friend from college and I purchased airline tickets ahead of time. We knew because we knew our players…knew that the talent was there.

The day we played Marquette in the semi-finals that year I knew we would win the game. My lucky charm, 2 year old Marah (our firstborn) and I were on the front page of the Kansas City Star, highlighted in a feature article on superstitious KU fans. I blame the Star for our loss in the finals to Syracuse; they should’ve run the article on Monday instead of Saturday, sigh.

In 2008 I felt the same confidence, a faith deep within that KU had a national championship team on our hands.

I knew we’d win it all when Brandon Rush tore his ACL and could no longer leave early to enter the NBA. He was the final missing piece we would need. Even though it was horrible for him at the time, I’m willing to bet an arm and a leg that he might say winning the National Championship was the most positive thing to come from the injury.

In 2012 I didn’t feel it. Had never felt it. In fact, in the run up to the National Championship against Kentucky I could never quite get into the “OMG, we are going to the Final Four!!!” mojo. The signs hadn’t been there….I didn’t believe we would win….and I still blame myself for the loss because of my doubts. In addition, I didn't go to New Orleans out of fear that I was the bad luck that caused a loss in the finals in 2003.

This year is different. This year felt different from the moment Wayne Selden, Jr., committed to KU. He was the first piece, a gem of a recruit who understood from that first moment he sat in the bleachers during Late Night that KU was the place he could call home.

Then in November an unknown true 7’0 center verbally committed to us as well, also after attending Late Night. In interviews, he claimed he chose KU because of their history of developing big men. Joel Embiid, the (now not so) hidden diamond in the rough, was the high school player one of our assistant coaches saw play, resulting in a call to Bill Self, saying “you’ve got to see this kid.” From that point on, KU went after him with fierce determination.

There’s a connection between Joel, or Jo Jo as we fans love to call him, and soccer. This is a sign to me. I knew nothing about soccer until Marah (remember the good luck charm from 2003?) began playing. Now, having watched countless soccer games and, in turn, having observed her transferring those same progressed soccer skills to her first season of basketball this fall, I can easily see why Jo Jo has been able to transition so quickly from soccer to basketball. If you watch soccer but also love basketball it is a fascinating and intriguing thing to witness.

There were several more signs on the recruiting trail. On May 14, 2013, the number one recruit and most highly anticipated commit since Kevin Durant announced that he would play for Kansas. It wasn’t just that the number one recruit was coming here that was a sign to me. It was THIS number one recruit. Andrew Wiggins: a kid who didn’t want to be in the limelight….a kid who didn’t hold an attention seeking/ ESPN monstrosity/ “look at me” screaming, hat picking ceremony. This was a type of kid I wanted on our team. It didn’t hurt the signs either that he is from Canada, home of basketball’s patriarch (& father of KU’s own program) Dr. James Naismith. I knew with Wiggins on board it was time to start looking for deeper signs.

We were still missing two key ingredients, though. Maturity and outside shooters.

Then came Tarik Black, less than a week after Wiggins joined the team. A graduated Senior, transferring from Memphis, with maturity oozing from his pores. This is a highly articulate and mature young man who simply wanted to grow his game, contribute to our team, earn a graduate degree, and take his education back to Memphis in order to help inner city youth. Among the suitors he chose from? Duke. And he chose KU instead. Now we would have some maturity in the locker room, on the bench, and on the court when needed. That was a sign.

Did I mention outside shooting was a problem? We also signed two of the most prolific high school three point shooters in the country in Conner Frankamp and Braenen Greene.

It seemed as if the pieces were falling into place.

The problem, as most who follow basketball closely knew, would be our youth. I had no worries, though, because our pre-conference schedule would be the toughest, most grueling in the country. I told many (who would listen; for certain, many folks tune me out after awhile, my own family included) that we would look horrible at times…that we would lose some ugly games…and that it would suck at the time…but that in the end we would be stronger and far more equipped to deal with conference and tournament play. Exhibit A: KU's last three games, all conference wins. And there is also this: starting with the Colorado game and going through the Baylor game on Monday, KU will have played 11 straight games against top 75 ranked KenPom teams; 10 of the 11 against top 50 KenPom teams. This is a sign.

There have been other signs, though, small things that have led me to feel it, BELIEVE it.

At one of Marah’s school volleyball tournaments this fall I was surprised to see a familiar face walk in front of me in the small gym. It was Jeff Gueldner, who had played a pivotal role in KU’s 1988 National Championship run. A quick look at the roster told me that our little good luck charm was playing against Jeff’s daughter’s team. This may not seem like a big deal, but in 2008, after we defeated Memphis, I was holding court at the KU designated bar on the River Walk. I say “holding court” because I was seated at the bar and anyone who wanted a drink had to go through Moi! At one point, Jeff Gueldner was standing behind me needing a drink and so I asked him about that epic ’88 battle against OU. My friend Barb and I had watched it on the flight to San Antonio and I absolutely geeked out over getting to talk about it in person with one of the players.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013, when the documentary “Danny and the Miracles” was released. While watching it, I was concerned with how sickly Gueldner had looked. A quick internet search revealed he had been fighting cancer. By the time I saw him at the volleyball tournament he looked amazing, healthy, healed. This is a sign.

There were more signs at "Ladies Night with Bill Self". A new Sports Illustrated issue had just been released, with “The Freshman” Andrew Wiggins on the cover. I brought copies for some of my girlfriends but none of them were willing to muscle into the mass of women who were swarming the young star to get his autograph. I’m a veteran of these types of events and bulldozed into the fray, walking out with two of my own signed magazines (for each of my kids), one for my cousin Kris, one for my best friend Kris-Ann, and one for my neighbor Jennifer (who had been roughly knocked out of her first place in line). Kris and Jennifer both cried when I gave them their copies. THAT’S how hard they were to get.

Speaking of my cousin Kris...she's always wanted to attend "Ladies Nigh With Bill Self" but this was the first year it would be possible. While registering, a family emergency came up and she decided to back out. The emergency was remedied but not until after registration had already closed. Several weeks later she received an email from KU asking her if she still wanted to attend; they had kept her registration open. SIGN!

Oh, did I mention I was interviewed by Metro Sports while there? Flashback: I was also interviewed in 2003 before we went to the Final Four. Coinkidink? It’s a sign.

This is a year I wanted a team autographed basketball. I had called the KU bookstore in September and was told they would be released “some time in October”. At the end of Ladies Night, I walked into the Allen Fieldhouse store and caught the familiar smell of sharpies. There was a bin of newly signed basketballs (dropped off earlier that evening according to the cashier), their fresh scents reaching out to me, all waiting to be nabbed. I grabbed one of the the clearest and within fifteen minutes they were gone….and have been difficult to find ever since. My motto, with KU, has certainly become “strike while the iron is hot!”

While at the gift store, I noticed a book that I hadn’t seen before, titled “Make It Count: The Life and Times of Basketball Great Jo Jo White”. I took a quick photo of the book with my phone, went home, found it on Amazon, and ordered it. I love Jo Jo White.

When the book arrived I was thrilled to discover it had been autographed by Jo Jo. I collect autographs. I also have an amazing collection of signed books, ranging from President Bill Clinton to personally autographed copies from Lois Lowery. All I had wanted was the book….and it was autographed. THIS was a sign.

In October, we spent our son Brody’s ninth birthday at the Great Wolf Lodge. While waiting for a locker key, the elevator opened and a 6’11 behemoth walked out carrying a "Build a Bear" box. I’d know him anywhere. It was former KU & NBA player Scot Pollard with his family.

I vowed then that I would not approach him, look at him, or even consider taking his photo or asking for an autograph. Even I understand the boundaries of family time.

But he kept following MY family!! At dinner we arrived first….then they showed up at the same restaurant. During the first day at the water park, I scouted out a spot for my family to hang all day and then his family sat right across from me.

Coinkidink???? It’s a sign.

I thought things had turned dark after the fiasco of Late Night...but even that strange and frustrating day turned into something positive. After blogging about the event and submitting it to KU's Athletic Department, I was amazed and impressed with a sincere and honest apology from them coupled with passes to ensure a group of us could attend an open scrimmage as a way of making up for those who hadn't been able to get in to Late Night. The University threw in football tickets as well and the communications staff member I had spoken with introduced herself to me personally at Allen Fieldhouse. I was wrong in thinking the program was getting too big for their britches; they simply had to regroup and adjust.

I ran into old friends from my home town White City during "Ladies Night with Bill Self" and then, again, at the scrimmage mentioned above. These connections cannot be simple coincidences, can they? Not in my world!

Need more?

My husband never travels to see KU play with me… but he went to Chicago to see KU play Duke. KU would go on to struggle with four losses in the off season to ranked teams, but we won THAT game. This was a sign.

While in Chicago, we hooked up for pre-game drinks with a friend from KU whom I had not seen since 1988…a year we won a National Championship. Sign.

There was more to that game, though. On the way home, in the airport, I found myself sitting next to an extremely tall man wearing an extremely gaudy ring. We were with another couple, Barb and Jeff, and out of the blue Jeff looks at the man and says “hey, Patrick, how are things? I’m one of the Kempf boys”.

Then he carried on a conversation with Patrick Richey, of the 1991 & 1993 KU Final Four teams, talking about family and work. Barb had gone to the bathroom, but by the time she had returned Jeff and Patrick had turned back to their phones. Pretty soon my own phone beeped with a text message.

“I think that’s Patrick Richey sitting next to you!!” she had typed me.

“I know. He & your husband just had a ten minute conversation as if they were old friends!!” I replied.

This wasn’t the same as Scot Pollard at The Great Wolf Lodge with his family….it was a KU event and Patrick was wearing a KU sweat suit and sporting a KU Final Four ring. I figured THAT meant I could talk to him. So I did.

It was awesome. He shared some stories of fan frenzy when the team arrived back at Forbes Field after making the Final Four…stories of just how amazing it is to have played at KU and won at KU. I saw this interaction as a sign.

I’m sure there will be more signs to come…and I’m good at watching for them (remind me to tell you about the "Hudy Signs" this year that I've seen!). Things are looking good. My best friend from college is now living back in Kansas. She has her own good luck charm now: a strapping baby boy. She had her belly (t-shirt) signed by one of the KU freshman on the actual day she was admitted to the hospital to give birth to him. That is dedication. That is a sign.

My other die hard KU friend Barb has been ever faithful with the in-game phone calls and willingness to change into her lucky red KU shirt if we appear to be slipping. So far, her sacrifices have paid off.

The rest of you following your own game day rituals? Keep up the hard work; success will follow if we stay in this together!

As for my own good luck charm?

After eleven years I decided it was about time I had the article in the Kansas City Star framed. KU’s good luck charm is hanging on the wall in my KU Woman Cave. It is my final contribution to this year’s Final Four run.

As for you doubters, well, let's just say I'm kind of a professional in this area. I look for the signs and have for years. Signs are tricky things; sometimes, they fall right into your lap, like a surprise autographed copy of Jo Jo White's story. Other times, you have to look deeper, like witnessing a beloved KU player survive cancer. And on some rare occasions, you have to help out by paying to preserve the memory of your most important good luck charm. All three things have happened to me so far.

Have you paid attention to your own signs Jayhawk fans?

I have no doubts. When you look at the signs, and add Bill Self to the mix, I don't believe we can lose. After all, isn't being a good fan all about believing?

See you in Dallas!!!!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Haunted Hotel

When I told our friends we were staying in a haunted hotel for a few nights on our winter vacation the responses were varied.

Some thought it sounded cool.

Some said we were crazy.

Most just wanted me to let them know if we encountered any paranormal activity, although they didn’t use those exact words. A typical request sounded like this: “Let me know if you run into any ghosts!!”

The Monte Vista Hotel, located in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona, opened on January 1, 1927. It is listed on the National Registrar of Historic places. The hotel boasts a legacy of famed visitors and most of the rooms have been christened with some of those names. It also boasts of numerous ghosts, which have resulted in a spotlight episode on TV’s “Unsolved Mysteries” along with mention in numerous books, publications, and online sites.

We spent two nights in the hotel, with one at the front end of our two week vacation and the second on the final night.

During the first visit, we inhabited room 305, the “Jon Bon Jovi Room”, said to be the most active in the hotel.

Let me be clear: I don’t NOT believe in ghosts. I also don’t necessarily believe in ghosts either. Simply put, I’m from the school of “we don’t know what we don’t know so don’t ever rule out anything in this crazy world .” I apply the same mindset to unidentified flying objects, aliens, and religion.

I’ll be as honest as I can and admit that when we walked into the hotel I was on point, hoping to see or feel something, anything. I didn’t…..at least not on the first night.

That first room was kind of cool. It was large enough to hold two queen beds, an antique pedestal dining table, an antique dresser and two antique end tables. We were only interested in one piece of furniture, though, and we saw it immediately upon entering the room. It was the antique rocking chair, facing the window just as described in all of the literature, photos, and videos online.

This room is supposedly haunted by an old woman who was a long term renter. She would sit in the rocking chair, looking out the window, for hours. There are reports by guests and staff claiming to see the woman sitting in the chair or the chair rocking and moving by itself.

I wasted no time, nor did the kids, in jumping into the chair and waiting for something, anything, to happen. We were left disappointed, although the dark green on the walls coupled with the dimness of the antique lighting left the room looking eerie. The photos we took also looked a little creepy and I’m still scanning them intently for any hidden sign of the woman hiding in the background or within the lighting.

At one time the Monte Vista was extremely upscale, as evidenced by some of her visitors. John Wayne, Bob hope, Bing Crosby, Zane Grey, Barbara Stanwyk, Gary cooper, Carol Lombard, Jane Russell, Alan Ladd (“come back Shane!!!”), Lee Marvin, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and more recently Anthony Hopkins, Freddy Mercury, Jon Bon Jovi, Michael J. Fox, Michael Stipe of REM, and (don’t laugh) Air Supply have all been guests here and many of their names adorn the doors to the rooms.

The Monte Vista, sadly, is now only a shell of her former glory. Our local friend described the hotel’s current condition like this: “The owner basically owns a bar that happens to have a hotel over it”. He wasn’t kidding.

The place looks like it hasn’t been updated in forty decades.

The first night we were exhausted, having just arrived in Flagstaff after a 24 hour ride on Amtrak. By the time we walked into the rocking chair room we did little else but play in the rocker and then crash, heavily. We checked out the next morning and headed south to Phoenix.

The last night, however, we arrived just after dinner and had more than enough time to experience the “comforts” offered by the Monte Vista.

Before I get to the most important item, possible paranormal activity, I feel compelled to describe this hotel as frankly as possible so that if any of my readers decided to visit her they will do so fully armed with what to expect.

Back to the lack of updates…..

My husband Brian had specifically reserved a two room suite for us on this last night. The person he had spoken with mistakenly booked us for the next evening, meaning we were stuck and had to take what they had available. This included two separate rooms, one of which is the smallest hotel room I’ve ever seen. We gave this one to the kids but there was a huge glaring problem, at least in this mother’s eyes. It didn’t include a bathroom (told you it was small). Several of the rooms do not have their own bathroom; they share a communal shower and toilets just off the hallway (similar to some bed and breakfasts).

Brian couldn’t understand why I was freaking out at the thought of our nine year old son or twelve year old daughter walking down a hotel hall to communal bathroom in the middle of the night (a haunted hotel that happens to sit on top of a rowdy bar). We gave them our spare room key and they were directed to use our bathroom.

While I was taking note of the electrical tape on each of the curtain rods (keeping them together, it appeared) and the Beethoven bust on the small antique dresser, our daughter came knocking on the door of our “Bing Crosby Suite” (this was no suite, let me tell you). She had a remote control in her hand and wanted to trade it with ours. Both of our rooms had Magnavox televisions; the remote in their room was for a GE television. Huh? She promptly commandeered our remote and it worked perfectly.

There was a slice of our carpet which had been removed and a smaller piece of carpet glued down within the space (apparently the carpet guys didn’t notice the size difference?). The bathroom was (notice a theme here) the smallest hotel bathroom I’ve ever seen and the tile looked about 30-40 years old. Normally, this could be considered quaint but the paint was peeling around the sink and shower, there was no shelving or counter of any sort, and the tiny shampoo/conditioner and soap might as well have been made with water. You know the cheap, CHEAP little bars of soap at an old “pay by the hour” Dreamland Motel?

The bed our first night was fairly comfortable; our bed the second night was springy, well worn. There was a small table with two antique dining chairs on each side; the table had what I’m certain is a Dollar Store black table cloth over it which looked like it hadn’t been washed in a few weeks….or months. The Bon Jovi room had a coffee maker; the Bing Crosby room had nothing except for an old hair dryer that started to smell like it would catch on fire after about one minute and after it had sucked a piece of my hair into the back vent on it, leaving me screaming.

But the worst, most difficult, thing to deal with was the noise.

I had read many online comments that mentioned the noise issue but I pooh pooh’d them, believing the writers must simply be difficult customers.

They weren’t lying.

The Monte Vista has a small bar on the main level and a larger bar on the lowest level. Both are hopping on the weekends. In addition, the larger bar often hires bands. There was a band on both nights we stayed there.

We could hear and feel the pulsing of the band all night, meaning from around 11pm until 2am.

Our next door neighbors (in the Presidential Suite; I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be OUR suite) cackled and talked until midnight and it sounded as if one of them, an annoyingly loud female, was standing next to my bed.

Despite these two factors, it was actually the people on the street below our window who were the loudest, the hardest to shut out.

We could hear them walking along the sidewalk or, in the case of one particularly drunk couple, standing outside to smoke. If they had been peacocks they would’ve been preening….in the loud, bawdy, tones of drunken youth. Reminded me of the days when my friends and I thought we were more hot and clever with each cocktail. Sadly, the sober people around us could never see the attraction, I’m sure. I was certainly not feeling “attracted” to this young and gratingly loud couple at 1:00 am. I wanted to punch them in the mouth and rip out their vocal chords. Oh dear, did I just admit that?

I digress.

Here’s the thing. By the time all of the loud shenanigans began to sounds like nails slowly dragging down an old chalkboard I had already become shaken, on edge. The noise just added to the surreal feel of the night.

We had returned from dinner by around 7:00 pm. As soon as I walked into the room I was overcome with a level of fatigue I can only describe as suffocating. Dinner at Bigfoot Barbecue had been amazing and I was full, but this was the type of tired during which I had no control over my eye lids or limbs.

As I lay on the bed, covering up with the electric throw blanket I had been travelling with, I muttered to Brian “I just have to sleep….can’t….stay…..awake….just ….a short….snoozer…..’k?”

The next thing I felt was a cold air surrounding me. I hunkered under the warm blanket and pulled me knees up to my chest. Then I felt Brian roll me over and playfully sit on me, joking that we actually had a room to ourselves. He teasingly suggested we should take advantage of the opportunity; I agreed, so he jumped off the bed to take a quick shower.

I then stood up and walk over to the window, planning to gaze down at the busy Flagstaff street in order to watch the evening’s players busy at work.

What I met instead was a solid white blanket of snow as far as my eyes could see. It was snowing, close to blizzard conditions, and in the distance I could see a small fire on the ground with a man standing over it warming his hands. He was wearing an old parka with the hood pulled over his head.

As he gazed back, I found myself waving to him, yelling “come in out of the cold”. He began to walk towards me, slowly at first and then more quickly. He then began to run.

As he got closer, faster, he looked up and I saw his face fully. I choked, screamed. His face was filled with rage and evil. The man, who had a light beard and appeared to be in his late forties/early fifties, was staring at me with red eyes….eyes that spoke volumes……anger, rage, something I cannot put into words. I knew in that moment he could not enter the room, ever.

I held out my arm as if to stop him and shouted “You must not enter this place! You cannot enter this place!!”

I’m not sure how many times I repeated myself but just as he reached the window, as his face came flush up to my own and as my breath seemed to freeze along with my heart, the snow disappeared and I was looking down on the streets of Flagaff.

Shaken, I returned to bed and the warmth of my blanket. As I nodded off again, the man’s face returned several more times. Each time, as if trying to keep from drowning, I would scream in my head “you must not enter this place! You must go away now!!!!”

I slept again. I couldn’t open my eyes, still very sluggish, and felt Brian sitting next to me on the bed. I tried to speak, couldn’t, and then tried again.

As if coming out of a dream, the twilight between sleep and awake, I whispered “did you take a shower”.

He looked at me curiously, replied “I’ve been sitting here the whole time on my iPad…I’ll take a shower in a little while. Why?”

It was then I realized I had been asleep the entire time. But it had seemed so real….so scary….and there was still a cold circle around me. I could still feel the bearded man’s presence.

I don’t have nightmares. I don’t remember my dreams. And other than a childhood nightmare that still haunts me to this day I’ve never experienced anything in my sleep that left me so shaken.

Was it a ghost, targeting one of Monte Vista’s guests? Was it my imagination or the power of suggestion? The ghosts reported in Monte Vista aren’t said to be threatening or violent; staff appear to feel more nostalgic and affectionate towards them than anything else.

I can’t say, can’t speculate. I can only share what happened the second night I stayed in this hotel.

I spent the rest of the night attempting to shut out the noises, put the man’s face and eyes out of my mind, and trying to “MacGyver” a set of earplugs using tissue (which failed miserably).

As we rolled out of bed at 3:30 to catch the early Amtrak ride home, I found myself looking over my shoulder in the bathroom, the hallway, the front desk, and then back at the Monte Vista as we headed down the sidewalk away from her.

I’m glad we stayed there, just as I am grateful for every new experience in my life.

But I think the next time we visit Flagstaff we’ll find a Holiday Inn Express. Cleaner, cozier, quieter….and, frankly, ghost-free.