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Showing posts from 2013

The nightmare of '80s Christmas decorating: One light goes out, they all go out

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A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
------------ The most elaborate Christmas displays, with their lights dancing in a retina-burning yuletide tribute, are dazzling. Some houses are so intricately synchronized and professional-looking that I expect to open the front door and find slot machines, poker tables and David Copperfield.
Vegas, baby!
Even if a display’s vibe is more Sin City than Feliz Navidad, I enjoy the results of the Christmas can-you-top-this. I even watched a little of “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” the ABC reality show that debuted this month.The show follows decorating gurus (or gluttons) as they search for the true meaning of Christmas -- and heavy-duty extension cords.
As I put up my own decorations, which offer the dazzle factor of a new pair of Christmas socks, I admire the commitment of the over-the-top decorators.I also think back to the Christmas lights of my youth and perhaps t…

Black Friday scavenger hunt: Score points amid the lunacy

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A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. Please check out the site.
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After years as the recognized start of holiday shopping, Black Friday has been victimized by a line-jumper. Thanksgiving night is now the starting point for many bargain hunters worried that a second helping of turkey could leave them stuck with the door-buster leftovers.
“Gray Thursday,” some people are calling it. Combine it with Black Friday and we get a 30-hour shopping frenzy that can be described as thrilling (or depressing), exciting (or torturous) and a must-see (or must avoid).
Sometimes I need to – ahem – help Santa with gifts for my kids, so the Black Friday crush isn’t new to me. For others braving the crowds later this week, I offer a sort of scavenger hunt to help keep you focused during the first 30 hours of “yeah, it’s the thought that counts, but I really wanted this.”
Keep track of your points as you cross names off your Christmas…

I'm an adult, you can't scare me on Halloween

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A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
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For a month now, I’ve been driving by billboards for haunted-house theme parks. They’re not very subtle, of course, but they are very effective.
The billboard for Dollz Haunted House, featuring a doll with piranha teeth, grabs your attention. And the sign for Dark Hour, with a Freddy Krueger-like guy experiencing serious dental issues, gets in your head. I also thought WinStar Casino had a haunted house until I realized the creepy-looking guy on its billboard is singer Robin Thicke.
(The look on his face is ridiculous. But, then again, he is pretty ridiculous. He's certainly creepier than his Beetlejuice lookalike.)

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has nearly two dozen haunted attractions, and these places go way beyond someone jumping out and yelling “Boo!” The elaborate sets, high-tech special effects and animatronics are perfect for people who like a really good fright.
Tha…

Pepsi-flavored Cheetos? The chocolate éclair hot dog? Yes, yes, wow

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A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
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Once upon a time, in a land where people walked down busy sidewalks with large unwrapped chocolate bars and lidless jars of peanut butter, collisions created deliciousness.
You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!
It was a happy-go-lucky world in the commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Everyone was smiling, everyone was thrilled, and nobody seemed concerned about the wellness of a woman publicly eating peanut butter with her fingers.
A little crazy. But perhaps not any crazier than the current trend of food hybrids, which can be far more bizarre than any of the fried heart-stoppers you’ll find at the ongoing State Fair of Texas.
(This year’s winner for most creative in the Big Tex Awards was Fried Thanksgiving Dinner. If you want to try it, I think you can find it near a booth that serves something on a stick. I hope that he…

Throwing away the kids' crafts can feel like trashing memories

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A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
------------------ (Note: Some kids returned to school earlier this month, but in Texas, most of them return next week. That includes my youngest son, Nathan, who will be making his kindergarten debut.)

The kindergartners starting school next week, with their anxious smiles and double-knotted shoelaces, will make any size backpack seem big. They’ll spill into classrooms looking like snails hunched under colorful shells.
But the backpacks are a must, of course. They’ll be needed to carry home the precious mementos of a kindergartner’s life that parents will want to hold on to forever.
Or, uh, throw away after a few days.
I feel bad saying that as my 5-year-old starts kindergarten. But Nathan has already produced a plethora of preschool keepsakes. He also has two older brothers, so our family needs occasional memorabilia purges to avoid getting buried by posterboard projects, shoebox dioramas and S…

Life before the Internet: The '80s are now the 'olden days'

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A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
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My 5-year-old son, who always seems to be collecting data on my life, wanted to know if I played games on my phone when I was a kid.

“We didn’t have phones with games on them,” I told him. “Our phones only made calls.”
“But … you did have phones?” he said.
I was a little offended by the doubt in Nathan’s voice. Yes, we had phones. By the middle of the ’80s, we could even dial by touch-tone instead of that primitive rotary style. We also had cell phones that were large enough to be used as a weapon when attacked by a Tyrannosaurus.
What we didn’t have, and this is amazing to all my kids, is the Internet as we know it. No online videos. No online shopping. No online updates about someone’s lunch (with photos). We had no idea, or little idea, of what was to come.
What we did have in 1989 was the movie Back to the Future II, which gave us a prediction of life in 2015. Shoes tied th…

The station wagon's Very Back was very dangerous, very awesome

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This column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
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In a time when cars can be equipped with satellite radio, Internet access and DVD systems, I know this is going to be a tough sell. But as the ultimate family road-trip vehicle, I’m going with a 1978 banana-yellow Ford Fairmont station wagon that guzzled gas, dripped oil and smelled like french fries and Amway cleaner.
Nostalgia is distorting my logic, of course. The Fairmont, although often described with expletives by my father, was the main vehicle of my childhood.
But there’s more to it than that. And as thousands of families head out on road trips this summer, I think the new generation of parents in the front will understand why I have such fond memories of the back.
Maybe they even took trips in a car like the Fairmont, which had a feature you can no longer find on any vehicle:
Blissful ignorance.
When my family would go on road trips, my dad would fold down the back seat, creating a…

Fathers believe in your dreams -- even the crazy dreams

This column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
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My son Cooper announced recently, in a sort of informal kitchen-table press conference, that he is going to be a professional baseball player. I figured a dose of reality was in order, but with Father’s Day approaching, I didn’t want my latest parenting achievement to be the destruction of a 7-year-old’s dream.
So I tried to be gentle.
Keep practicing your baseball, I told him. But remember that even some really, really good players don’t get to be pros.
“Well, if I’m not a pro baseball player,” Cooper said, “I could be in Star Wars movies.”
Smart boy. He’s got a backup plan.
My other sons are also making contingency plans. Ryan, 10, wants to be a famous artist but will settle for testing video games. Nathan, 5, has his heart set on being a professional backyard trampolinist, but given the complication that there really is no such thing, he’s open to becoming a race-car driver. Or maybe a g…

Texas High School Football: Friday Night Flashback

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Over the last decade, I've had the chance to cover Texas high school football for The Dallas Morning News. I've met a lot of great people, seen a lot of fantastic games and experienced high school football in a state that does it bigger than anywhere else.

 As a side project to what I do at The Dallas Morning News, I decided to put together a book that revisits some of the classic matchups of Texas high school football and shares the memories of players and coaches who were part of the games. Some of the players and coaches reveal stories behind the unforgettable plays. Others give a glimpse at what the amazing moments mean to them years later.

Friday Night Flashback is now available on Amazon.com. It can also be viewed on a Kindle device or on free apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets.

Here's the link to the book:

Friday Night Flashback

Here are the links to free apps for iPhone, iPad and Android

 iPhone, iPad app
Android app

Games included:

Ced…

From the Class of 1989 to the Class of 2013, #congratulations and LOL

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This column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com. You can find more interesting stuff on the Lifestyle/Entertainment section's Whatever blog.
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Congratulations, High School Class of 2013. As I look out at your faces beaming in achievement, or perhaps that’s from the glow of your smartphones, it’s time to discuss the future.

Which I’ll do by starting with the past.
I, too, once sat proudly with my graduating class while draped in a shower-curtain gown and wearing a cap that looked like something from the Disneyland gift shop. The members of the Class of 1989 were just like you. Heads full of hair, minds filled with big dreams, and absolutely no clue whether the cap tassel should hang on the right or the left.
Unlike you, however, we couldn’t look up the answer on our phone.
Mobile phones were around in 1989, but they weren’t very smart. They were bulky, cost thousands of dollars and featured designs with less style than a neck brace. Air t…