Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Vols Visit Philadelphia

One of Rachel's pet peeves is leaving Christmas decorations up past New Year's Day (I personally think Christmas should be in our hearts year round, so we might as well display its symbols for more than the 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years Day). She has given me quite a lashing for leaving the Christmas tree picture posted on the blog past the deadline. I apologize for my absence from the blogging world for a few weeks. I really have no good excuse other than enjoying spending time with family and friends during the Christmas season.

I am once again several blogs behind, so I will be working to catch up over the next couple of weeks.

Before Christmas break, the UT men's basketball team visited Philadelphia to play the Temple Owls. The Friday evening before the game, the local chapter of the UT National Alumni Association hosted Coach Bruce Pearl at a reception at The Ugly Moose (isn't that a great name for a pub) in Manayunk.

Coach Pearl did not disappoint. It amazed me how down to earth he is. He came into the bar, ordered a drink, and then socialized with the rest of us, like he was just another guy there. He did not come to talk to us; he came to talk with us. He asked us as many questions in one-on-one conversations as we asked him. He was very pleasant to talk with.

After socializing for 45 minutes or so, he addressed the group for 10-15 minutes and then allowed us to formally ask questions about the team. In his opening comments, he spoke about some of the frustrations of coaching a team this young and inconsistent. He also stated that "This team is not the #8 team in the country." Unfortunately, he was right.

Coach Pearl really impressed me, as he discussed his coaching (teaching) philosophies. It is obvious to me, after his talk, that he is not only a superior basketball mind, but also a sensational teacher. We all know that he is a tremendous motivator.

Saturday, Tim and Nicole Callahan, Rob and Jack Jeter, and Brian Albright attended the game with us at the Liacouras Center. Again, Kevin Davis, President of the Philadelphia Alumni Association, came through by getting us a hospitality suite at halftime (with refreshments). We were able to get great seats through the Temple Athletic Dept.

Although we had a great day, the game did not go our way. The Vols kept it close at halftime, but in the second half, Temple pulled away, as Dionte Christmas, their All-American Guard got as hot as any shooter I have ever seen in person. He lit up three-pointers from all angles with defenders in his face. If you ever have the chance to watch him play, do it. It is a treat.

REFLECTIONS - Infomercial Personalities

As many of you know, Dow Chemical Company is in the process of acquiring The Rohm and Haas Company, my employer. This transaction brings about a fair amount of job insecurity for me and many of my friends and coworkers.

During the long drives over the Christmas holidays, I had time to reflect a bit. If I had it to do all over again, would I have made a different career decision? Would I have chosen a path that would have delivered more job security? Unfortunately, few positions, other than judges or Penn St. football coaches, who are both obviously appointed for life, deliver certain job security.

So, then I thought, "What career path would make me the most money with the least amount of work or talent required?" Most careers require both work and talent to make money - doctors, professional athletes, engineers, etc. Actors don't have to work that hard, but they have to have talent (some pro athletes also fit into this category). Devoid of any obvious talents, I moved forward in my thinking. Watching TV one night between Christmas and New Years Eve, the perfect job hit me. This job requires no talent nor work ethic and produces good $$$. All I need is a "schtick". These two gentlemen are now my hero. Who is your favorite? (Send in your answers, and I will publish results in a future blog).

The Champion - William "Billy" Mays - born July 20, 1958 in McKees Rocks, PA. He is best known for his well manicured beard and yelling at people, encouraging them to buy cleaning products, such as Oxi Clean and Orange Glow. Famous line, "Hi! Billy Mays here for [insert product name]!"

The Challenger - Vince Offer (no I did not make up his name). No stats available. The new guy on the block is famous for his ShamWow commercial and now the SlapChop (apparently one of his schticks is "advertising products containing only two compound syllables"). He actually demonstrates the products in his commercials and is, as one review put it, "entertainingly annoying". Famous line, "You're gonna love my nuts!" - SlapChop commercial

Merry Christmas From the Kennedy's

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Army Navy Game

The first weekend in December, Rachel and I had the opportunity to attend the Army vs. Navy football game in Philadelphia. Thanks to Dave Ash, a friend of mine who works for the Haas, who got us tickets (his two sons both attended the Naval Academy). This game is steeped in tradition and is a venue that I would recommend any football fan attend, if they ever have the opportunity.

Lines were long to enter Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Philadelphia Eagles) due to tight security. President George W. Bush attended the game, so everyone was subjected to a bag search and had to pass through a metal detector.

This game is on a five year renewing contract. Four years, the game is played in Philadelphia, which is half way between Annapolis, Maryland and West Point, New York. On the fifth year, the game rotates to Baltimore, MD or the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ to be closer to the host school. (The Army Cadets are pictured here. You may want to click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Three hours before the game, the cadets from both academies march into the stadium in columns. Unfortunately, it was such a cold day, Rachel and I did not make it for the cadet march. One of mine and Rachel's favorite parts of the event was seeing all of the cadets in their uniforms. (Naval Cadets pictured here. Again, you may want to enlarge it to see the uniforms better.)

An hour or so before the game, the Army Knights jump team parachuted into the stadium, followed by a Navy Seal jump team. The Army Knights are recognized as one of the best jump teams in the world. Let me tell you that the Navy Seals are crazy. Two sets of jumpers locked legs with their parachutes open an glided into the stadium linked up, before releasing to land on different ends of the stadium. The video below shows the last Navy Seal jumper entering the stadium with the American flag in tow.

Following the National Anthem, the U.S. Navy flew over 4 F-18 Hornets. As you can see at the end of the video, they were in an extremely tight formation. They were also at relatively low altitude.

Not to be outdone, the Army flew in 4 helicopters at very low altitude.

The game itself was not very competitive. Navy has been superior to Army on the gridiron for the past few years, and this year was no different. Navy won the game 34-0.

Another neat event of the day was that cards circulated throughout the stadium, giving fans the opportunity to sign a Christmas card that would be mailed to Iraq or Afghanistan for service- men and women, who will not be able to come home for the holidays.

We also had the opportunity to watch another awesome tradition. When the Commander in Chief attends the game, he or she sits on one side for the first half and then switches sides at half-time. Below is President George W. Bush being escorted through an Army Cadet column by the Commandant of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He is greeted by the Vice Admiral in Charge of the U.S. Naval Academy at midfield and escorted through a column of Navy Cadets.

This is a special rivalry. The day is filled with traditions celebrating our great nation. There are no drunks or rude fans around (all rose to their feet and cheered a President with an approval rating hovering at 20%). Only the cadets themselves, who are well-represented throughout the stadium, overshadow the fanfare of the day. They truly represent one of the reasons we all live in the greatest country in the world. Merry Christmas!!!

REFLECTIONS - Mixed Signals

As Rachel and I were doing some of our Christmas shopping during the holiday season, we wandered by Linens-N-Things to take advantage of some of the bargains available from a bankrupt store. Before going into the store, we encountered one of the funnier oxymorons I have seen in a while. Rachel summed it up best, when she uttered, "Really???"

If you blow up the picture by clicking on it, you will notice that in addition to the clearly marked "Going out of Business" sign, Rachel is pointing to another sign that says, "Now Hiring". Now I am by no means an employment expert, but I am betting that there isn't a lot of job security at this location. I advise against taking this position unless they just throw money at you. I certainly would argue against a vestment period.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mark Clark Visits Philly

A few weeks ago, Mark Clark visited us for a few days in Philadelphia. He began his authentic Philadelphia journey by participating in something natives experience on a frequent basis - delays at the Philadelphia International Airport. The great thing about Philadelphia airport is that it can delay you coming in, and it can delay you getting out.

After a relaxing day of Guitar Hero World Tour on the Wii (weather was horrible,not that it would have changed our Saturday plans that much), we drove down to Chickie and Pete's near the Sports Complex. Here, I actually had to defend average Philadelphians, as we had the worst server I have ever experienced. I didn't want Mark chalking this one up to the stereotypical attitude that most southerners view big city northerners as having. This guy went well beyond that, as he essentially chastised Mark for politely requesting a separate tab. He received the tip he earned (I would like to note that this is perhaps the first time I have stiffed someone on a tip since Rachel and I moved away from Knoxville almost 5 years ago).

From Chickie and Pete's, we headed over to the Wachovia Center to see the Philadelphia 76ers play the Oklahoma City Thunder. I am not a big fan of NBA basketball, but I wanted Mark, Rachel and I to experience a 76ers game. It was some of the most uninspired basketball I have ever seen played. When the most entertaining aspect of the game is the announcer, you have a serious marketing problem. This marketing problem is evidenced by the absence of butts in seats. Don't waste your money on seeing the Sixers, if you visit Philadelphia.

On Sunday, Mark, through comments a UT Ag alumnus had made, asked that we visit Longwood Gardens.

Longwood Gardens is the premier botanical gardens in the United States. Based on this description, my enthusiasm for visiting was about as great as my enthusiasm would have been for attending another Sixers game that afternoon. Once I arrived and began walking around, that view quickly changed.

Longwood Gardens resides on 1000+ acres of land originally owned by William Penn, namesake of Pennsylvania. In the 1700's, he sold the land to the Pierce family, who began planting various species of trees on the land by the late 1870's. Longwood Gardens was purchased by Pierre DuPont in 1906 to prevent the trees from being used by lumber mills. At the time Pierre was CEO of DuPont Chemical Company. He would later run both DuPont and General Motors as CEO simultaneously.

The DuPonts continued to add to the collection of trees and flowers. They also built a massive greenhouse that is quite spectacular and designed several massive European-style fountains on the ground. All of these additions make the grounds breath-taking.

While we were there, they had a glass pumpkin display shown here. These pumpkins are hand-crafted and blown and are absolutely beautiful. They are actually made locally in a nearby county.

They make changes to the greenhouses seasonally. I want to go back sometime when everything is decorated for Christmas. I would also like to go back for the Fireworks shows with the fountains on Independence Day.

Enjoy the pictures of the greenhouses contained below.

Reflection - Tim Tebow

I write this reflection somewhat tongue and cheek, as I am a big believer in positive role models, like Tim Tebow. I am also a believer that when someone, like Timmy, is raised on a pedestal, the media, society in general, and jerks like me, try to bring them down. My purpose here is to more poke fun of ESPN's and others' handling of "St. Tebow". I think he is a great guy, and I truly believe that the world would be a much better place if there were many more Tim Tebow's... as long as none of them went to Florida, Georgia or Alabama.

The Tebow family truly is remarkable. His parents are missionaries, and Tebow has spent a lot of his life ministering outside of the country. His older sister is also a missionary. Even now, Tebow takes time to visit prisons and minister to inmates about Jesus.

If you watched the ESPN football awards show the other night or halftime coverage of any Florida game this season, you know exactly why I might make fun of the coverage. They constantly show the "Tim Tebow Humanitarian Special" as I like to call it (it disturbed me greatly that ESPN used the exact same footage for his award the other night that was used during the half-time special at each game this season). The film is absolutely OVER THE TOP. They can't just report on the work that Tebow did as a missionary with his family in the Phillipines while on spring break. They have to go into detail on how he, with the help of a medical assistant, performed circumcisions on Phillipino babies (he also did this to several SEC defenses,including ours) while there. They go on to show the little kids saying despicable things, like "Go Gators". In the interviews after the film, Corso and others absolutely fall all over Tebow and the family with "oohs" and "aahs". And, of course, they have to refer to him by his "Superman" nickname.

According to ESPN, he is all powerful, all knowing and omniscient. Here are a few recommendations for future undertakings for Superman St. Tebow (in addition to the fact that you can accurately plug his name into any Chuck Norris reference):

1) Lead the auto-bailout. Who could possibly be more qualified to be the Car Czar than Tim Tebow. Toyota and Nissan would shutter with fear.
2) Take Jay Leno's spot. I know, I know... which one? The answer is both. He could take Leno's new spot in Primetime and fill his Late Night Spot, too. Sorry Conan. "Conan" is no longer as tough of a name as "Tim Tebow".
3) The Bachelor - this would allow him to hold ESPN's parent company - ABC's ratings high. Plus, no more boring dates of ice cream, movies and hot tubs. Tim could see how well they perform minor surgical procedures in third world countries or talk to inmates at San Quentin.
4) Coach - who is that guy Auburn just named head coach? Didn't he have a losing record at Iowa St? Why did you fire Tommy Tubberville for that?
5) Hedge Fund Manager - through his sheer will, Tebow could boost sectors of the economy.

You could go on and on, as there appears to be nothing that Tebow cannot do.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sienna Austin

A couple of weeks ago, Kelly Birdwell Austin presented at a medical convention in Philadelphia. We were lucky enough to catch up a couple of times while she was in town. She and I had dinner on Thursday evening, when she arrived. Her husband, Eric, and little girl, Sienna, arrived on Friday. Eric did his undergraduate work at Penn, so they caught up with some of his friends on Friday and Saturday nights. Sunday morning, Rachel and I took them to brunch and got to see Sienna in person for the first time since last Christmas. She is about a year and a half old now, spunky and talking. She is a ball of energy (takes after both of her parents in that respect).

Friday, November 21, 2008

New York City - The Return of Schwabbie

Rachel and I visited New York City on Saturday November 1. This time, we drove to Trenton, NJ (about 35 minutes from our house) and caught the New Jersey Rail into Penn Station. This is the economical way to do NYC. Round trip tickets were $25 each.

When we arrived at Penn Station, we quickly spotted a couple of girls, in costume, who were obviously on their way home from the night before (Halloween). Mind you, we didn't arrive in NYC at 8 AM. We got there after lunch!!! These girls were ROCK STARS!!!

Thanks to Katherine Todd and her son, Ethan, for letting us stay at their apartment. KT and her boyfriend, John, are pictured with Rachel outside of the Wharf Bar in Manhattan. We watched UT get blistered by South Carolina, with Jim Schwab (pictured in the title shot), who was visiting from Switzerland. He works overseas for Honeywell.

We spent the afternoon with Katherine and John, catching up on old times. We then went out for a nice dinner in Manhattan and headed to the bar to meet Jim. It was a wonderful weekend catching up with old friends. I won't mention the UT vs. South Carolina game other than to say, "We watched it." Luckily, the comradery took my mind off of the huge loss.

Sunday, Katherine and John took us to a wonderful brunch at Bubby's. After brunch, we went for a walk near KT's and Ethan's apartment. This picture, and the one in front of the United Nations Building (below) were taken on our walk. It was a beautiful day, especially for November.

We caught a 3 PMish train back to Trenton. We were home by 5:30 PM to begin getting ready for the upcoming week of work.

REFLECTIONS - Pharewell Phil

Much has been written on this story already, so I will keep it brief.

I wish Phil Fulmer good luck and God speed. He has been extremely loyal to the University of Tennessee and has brought a lot of good memories into the lives of Tennessee Football fans. He is a class act, who never threw any of his players under the bus, even when he probably should have.

That said, it is time for a change. I defended Coach Fulmer through the early part of this season. As I watched Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, I thought, "Things could be worse." It was apparent at the South Carolina game that change is needed. Wyoming proved that "Things cannot get worse."

Some out there like to point to Penn St. as a shining example of how to treat a coach. They have allowed Joe Pa to stay around WAY past his prime. I have 2 responses to that. 1) The Law of Averages states that given enough seasons, Tennessee would have returned to glory for a year, much as Penn St. has in 2008. How many losing seasons are we willing to endure? 2) UT is in the SEC. In the Big 10, you can get by with mediocrity. That is why someone from the SEC whips the Big 10 winner by 3 touchdowns each year in the BCS Championship game. Speed kills, and it sure as heck kills a mediocre team.

For those who criticize the decision by the argument, "When did college football become about the money?" Answer: When we got million $ TV contracts, lucrative athletic sponsorships, ridiculous coaching salaries and rising ticket prices. I am more guilty in supporting this injustice than most, as I pay way too much for season football tickets, and I am glued to the TV every Saturday watching overpaid coaches of schools with big shoe deals throw the pigskin around. Unfortunately, as long as my team wins, I will continue to buy those season tickets and pay Direct TV for the College Game Day Package, so I can watch them play. Fulmer stopped putting butts in chairs, and that is why he is gone.

I conclude with this... I have heard many hurl insults and very hurtful comments at Coach Fulmer during this disappointing season. He may have not earned the contract extension that Hamilton gave him last year, but he has darn sure earned our respect for the success he has built at the University of Tennessee and for the class he has displayed throughout his tenure.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The University of Tennessee

For the Mississippi State game, Jeff Cathey and Dave Pavlonis booked a house in Gatlinburg for a guys reunion. Although Keith Carver stood us up to allegedly work on his PhD, the rest of us had a really great time shooting pool, talking smack and catching up with each others lives. Will Carver, JJ Brown, Howie Avery, Bert Sams, Mark Clark, Jerry Adams, Patrick Wade and Brian Light were all in attendance (in addition to Jeff, Dave and myself) for various parts of The Guys Weekend. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of the actual participants, but I did get some nice pictures of campus.

We actually won the game!!!

REFLECTIONS - Congratulations Phillies!!!

In case you did not know... and judging by the Fox TV ratings, many of you may not... the Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Series Champions!!!

That's right. Once again, the Kennedy's have brought a world championship in baseball to their new city. When we moved to Chicago (south side) in 2004, the White Sox ended their 80+ year World Series drought. So, when the Kennedy's moved to Philadelphia in 2007, it was a foregone conclusion that the Phillies would reign victorious this year.

On Friday, the Phillies and 1-2 MM of their screaming fans descended on Center City for the Championship Parade. I thought it appropriate to share my observations from this parade.

5) Honking horns - OK, anyone who has ever visited Philadelphia, or any other east coast city for that matter, knows that a true Philadelphian does not really need a reason to honk their car horn. However, for the parade day, EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, was honking their horn for the Phillies. (For those of you reading this that may be natives of east coast American cities, take note. You are the only people in the U.S. who use a car horn so much, and you absolutely mortify all southerners. In the south, a car horn is never used to express anger, rage or frustration at someone. A southern car horn is only used to acknowledge a buddy, who is out on his front porch enjoying some sweet tea, as you drive by, or to say "Hello" to the neighbor, who is driving his tractor down the middle of your two lane road.)

4) Allegiance - Philadelphia fans are loyal!!! I have not seen so many people descend on one place. There were hundreds of thousands of fans that came out in force. Parents held their kids out of school, people skipped work, working people left work to attend the parade. The side effect of this was that the public transportation, designed to accommodate 50,000 people, became extremely bogged down. I was not able to catch a train out of the city Friday evening until after 7 PM. The crowd began dispersing at 1:45 PM.

3) Spirit - fans were adorned in their finest Phillies wear. Hats, T-shirts, jackets, jerseys, you name it. I saw a pimp on a street corner in a bright red suit with red shoes, red socks and matching red hat. The only thing not red was his cane, which had a large "P" ornament on its top.

This raises a question for me... The Philadelphia Phillies that I grew up watching wore maroon uniforms. At what point did they switch to a candy apple red color?

2) Dedication - The fans who descended on the city for the parade showed great commitment. My best illustration of this is the gentleman that rode in front of me on the train, as I went to work Friday morning. I caught the 6:40 AM train. This guy was decked out in his Philly jersey with matching cap. He carried with him, one lawn chair, one 30 pack of Budweiser and a cell phone, which he used to announce to his buddy that he was laying out of work and would meet him at 30th Street Station to start drinking in 35 minutes. I guess 7:15 AM in Philadelphia is 12:00 somewhere.

1) Priorities - Although I, nor anyone else, could move anywhere downtown on Friday, Philadelphia transit worked when it had to. It just so happened that I attended a corporate function in our lobby at 11 AM. Outside, I watched a police escorted 3-truck Budweiser convoy come screaming down Market Street, going towards the parade. It was a model of efficiency.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Northern Illinois Game

A few weeks ago, several of our college friends gathered in Knoxville for the yearly football reunion. This year, we selected the Northern Illinois game because it 1) fit everyone's schedule; 2) would be easy to get tickets (little did we know that we could have probably gotten everyone tickets for Alabama this year, with the way the team is playing); and 3)Rachel's and my friends from Chicago, Danielle and Andy (pictured above) are Northern Illinois graduates.

I actually had some business in Nashville, so Danielle and Andy flew down on Thursday. We met Rachel's sister, Heather, for dinner at Cabana in Hillsboro Village. It was a great restaurant; they served gourmet southern food. It was probably one of the better eating experiences I have had in several months. Rachel's highschool friend and freshman roommate, Jennifer, joined us for dinner and then led us out to the Honky-tonks on Broadway and 2nd Avenue (we wanted Danielle and Andy to get the full impact of Nashville and Tennessee).

To leave the ultimate impression on our friends from the north, we pulled Dr. Hargis's (Rachel's Dad) 1970 Cadillac DeVille out and took it for a spin Friday afternoon. This picture earned me the nickname, "The Colonel" from Andy for the rest of the weekend.

We drove the Caddy down to the river, where Rachel shot this picture of Danielle and Andy. Later Friday afternoon, we headed to Knoxville and met up with Clark, Ben (Clark's brother), Jeremy and Jenny Graves and Cooney at Crown and Goose (a really nice new restaurant and bar in the Old City of Knoxville - 2 Thumbs up).

Saturday, we headed over to Neyland Stadium around lunch time to tailgate(game at 7 PM). It was great to see everyone. Several people came into town for the game and stopped by the tailgate. Many are pictured below. Melissa Cooney eeks out Jeremy and Jenny Graves, who drove from Phoenix, AZ for furthest distance traveled. She flew in from Rio de Janeiro for the weekend. Larry, Keri and Emerson Wray drove from Wilmington, NC. Danielle and Andy - Chicago, Rachel and I - Philadelphia, Sarah and Greg Cornell - Jacksonville/Gainesville, FL, Jennifer Hutson - Nashville, Kristen Lee - Nashville, Mark Clark, Ben Clark, Ben and Elizabeth Blanton - Knoxville.

L-R Jenny Graves, Jeremy Graves, me, Rach, Larry Wray, Keri Wray. Special thanks to Larry and Keri for bringing crab cakes and a seafood broil. It was definitely the best food we have ever had for a tailgate. It is also good that Larry brought his cooking equipment, as my grill reliably did not work again for the tailgate. Strangely, my dad can get it to work. However, me nor none of my friends can at a tailgate. It must be the elevation of the parking garage (actually, we learned that you have to tigthen the hand fitting with pliers).

Larry and Kerri, with their 2 year old daughter, Emerson. Emmie is extremely intelligent and outgoing. She was a lot of fun to have along at the tailgate this year. She brought her own pottie with her, which was pretty cool. She also affectionately renamed Ben (Clark's brother) - Tito. We have no idea why she started calling him Tito, but we are pretty sure that the name is gonna stick.

Mark Clark holding Emerson Wray

Jeremy and Jenny Graves

Sarah and Greg Cornell

Melissa Cooney and Kristen Lee

Rachel and Jennifer Hutson

REFLECTIONS - The Before and After

You may have remembered that I blogged about Rachel's best friend - also named Rachel - a few weeks ago. For those of you who do not remember, below is a "Before" picture of Rachel Bomar, two weeks before delivery.

Below is the "After" picture, taken approximately 3 weeks after delivery (yes, this is the same person).

Many of you are probably wondering what could cause such a dramatic transformation in one person's figure over a one month span.

Enter Exhibit A - Libby Jane Jerrell (or "The Little Sumo" as lovingly described by her own mother). Tipping the scales at 11 lbs 13 ounces and 22 inches long, Libby dramatically altered Rachel's appearance, as one might imagine.

Mrs. Hargis and Libby