Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Underdogs... again

The Kansas State Wildcats enter Saturday’s game against Oklahoma ranked ahead of the Sooners in the Associated Press poll. They sit higher in the Bowl Championship Series standings. They’re undefeated, with their seven victories including one over Texas Tech, the sole team to defeat OU this season. To top things off, the contest will take place on K-State’s home field. With so many factors seemingly in favor of those adorned in purple, it’s only natural that the Sooners are favored to win the game by 13.5 points. 

… Wait, what?

It’s been that sort of season for Kansas State. The Wildcats entered the season expected by most to have as much impact on the Big 12 championship race as Bob Krause’s mustache comb. The season opener did little to build expectations, as the Wildcats squeaked past an Eastern Kentucky squad so obscure that most fans were not even aware that it was not the Kentucky school with the Grimace-like Hilltopper mascot. K-State followed with a 37-0 drubbing of Kent State (“NOT KENT,” as the team’s media packet not-so-subtly reminded), but game three brought a legitimate challenge. The Miami Hurricanes entered fresh off an upset of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The game was the sort that coach Bill Snyder had specifically tried to avoid scheduling in his first run as the face of Kansas State football – an early season road matchup against a historically strong program. The Wildcats entered as underdogs, but left the city of Will Smith’s affection with a win, thanks in large part to a defense that exhibited a stout ability to come up with big stops.

One week later, the Wildcats played host to the Baylor Bears, a squad with a high-powered offense led by a multidimensional quarterback whose success had brought adoration from sports journalists around the country and from NFL scouts. The task? Large. The odds? Not good, according to the folks in Las Vegas. The result? The slimmest of victories for Kansas State, as the Wildcats won 36-35.

As for games 5 and 6? Different opponents, but the games brought more of the same. Few thought the Wildcats would top a Missouri team pining for southern living or a Texas Tech squad that played a Texas Tech squad (hello, insane offensive numbers). Alas, Kansas State beat point spreads, beat opponents, and basically beat down the doors of the national polls.

Week after week (aside from the matchup with the University of Kansas’ intramural squad… Wait, that was their D-1 team?), the Wildcats have been underdogs, and week after week, Snyder’s youngsters have prevailed. This is a team that was picked to finish 8th out of 10 conference teams in the preseason. Today, they are the eighth-best team in the country according to the (for better or worse) goulash of football evaluation that is the BCS. Despite pollsters taking notice of the success emanating out of Manhattan, the sports-betting overlords have refused to consider K-State anything but an overachiever. Chances are that they see a team with no overwhelming strengths, an underwhelming passing game, and a run-game that is far too reliant on its quarterback. They have an argument, but opposing head coaches whose scouting yielded the same results have had no luck in seizing a victory against the Wildcats. For whatever reason (cough*BILLSNYDER*cough), each week K-State has been able accomplish just enough (or - in the case of the game against the Kansas LastLaughHawks - much more than enough) to walk off the field as winners.
The season has already had a “Rudy” feel (sans inspirational soundtrack), with all in purple playing the role of the hobbit-like walk-on. With upcoming contests against Oklahoma and BCS No. 3 Oklahoma State, the season could potentially attempt to infringe on the “Rocky” series’ copyright. The Sooners are your arrogant Apollo Creed-like crew who, though strong, are not invincible. The Cowboys can be Clubber Lang – knocking opponents out with a high-powered offense and led by a coach whose rant a few years back sounded a lot like something Clubber might have spouted. After the Oklahoma double-dip, the Wildcats will welcome the SEC-bound Texas A&M Aggies… I should probably refrain from making any comparisons between them and Cold War Russia’s Ivan Drago.
With seven wins, the Wildcats have already eclipsed the total that most “experts” had them pegged for in the preseason. No matter what happens from here, whether it involves losing every game left or announcing the football team has disbanded to form an a capella singing group (my guess is they’d be light on sopranos), K-State is the conference’s surprise team of 2011. Can the Wildcats keep the wins coming? Could this team potentially win the Big 12 and/or find its way to a BCS Bowl Game?
The odds certainly aren’t in their favor.
… which may be precisely what Snyder and the Wildcats want to hear.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Of heat, grass, and gridiron

It happened. I caved.

No, dear readers, I did not do anything extremely rash; I still haven't seen a Twilight film, begun a pilates workout, or started using the term "bro" on a regular basis. I did, however, turn on the furnace at my home. With temperatures expected to dip below the freezing point of our most basic beverage this week and my thermostat already reading a somewhat brisk 60 degrees when I arrived home from work today, I figured it might be time to take the plunge. After all, a friend put in an awful lot of working making sure that all the ductwork would be completed in time for my house to close, so it would probably be rude not to give the heater a run. (That's what I'll tell myself to avoid extreme guilt, anyway.)

The good news is that the furnace works without faults (that I'm aware of... I'm obviously no heating-and-air specialist. I can barely spell HVAC). As I sit typing this Writing, the furnace hums to keep my home at a comfortable 64 degrees (hey, propane ain't free). Life, it's good.


Of course, even good days have challenges. One such hiccup presented itself on Saturday. Alas, deeming the issue "hiccup" is a fairly kind gesture. If that's the case, it was certainly the loudest hiccup that I've ever heard.

Saturday marked my first ever opportunity to mow the lawn at my new house. (Don't worry, someday I'll quit referring to it as "new." That's a promise to you... Also, someday I'll avoid immature rhymes like that one. One step at a time...) The mowing marathon was one that taught many lessons.

Lesson #1 - My yard is anything but flat.

Lesson #2 - I'm unbelievably out of shape.

Lesson #3 - Lawnmower blades are no match for the metal water meters that one might find embedded in his or her lawn.

Lesson #4 - Oops.

Yes, I rendered my mower useless by allowing the whirling blade to strike the water meter. The results? An unbelievably loud clang, a mower that quit running immediately, a semi-loud utterance of something the author should not make a habit of saying in public, and a blade mangled in the sort of way my hand might be if I stuck it in my garbage disposal. Good times.

After attempts to fix said blade proved futile (What do I even own you for, hammer and pliers? Weak effort on your part.), I had to run to my parents' home to kidnap my dad's lawnmower to finish my lawn's inaugural buzzcut. Luckily for me, at no point did my dad's mower attempt to escape and call the mower abuse hotline.


The mower incident was pretty frustrating and served as yet another bit of proof that I should not be allowed to have nice things, but all was nearly forgotten later that day. Good football can have that effect.

Yes, the Kansas State Wildcats are off to their best start on the gridiron since 1999, and all of the success has come with nary a mention on The Writings. In the past, I've made a point to provide some sort of coverage and/or analysis and/or lame jokes (okay, mostly lame jokes) concerning Wildcat football, but this year I've lagged.


It's Sunflower Showdown week, meaning that Saturday Bill Snyder and the crew have the opportunity to declare KU's home Bill Snyder Vacation Home Stadium and push their record to 7-0 before facing a national powerhouse in Oklahoma. Come Hell or high water... err, I mean, come broken furnaces or spirit-possessed-mowers-seeking-revenge, this team is going to finally get some love from The Writings.

Stay tuned. (Or whatever the blog-following equivalent of staying tuned might be.)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Home-Buyer's Chronicles - What we've learned

If the title of this Writing fails to explain the gist of its content, well, it's time for me to give up and attempt to teach myself to play Parcheesi. I have a home. I have a mortgage. I have much more time on my hands now that I'm no longer playing "Will there be more paint on my home or on my shirt?" every night. Here's a bit of what I learned along the way... 

Waiting for a credit report while applying for a loan is a nerve-throttling experience.
Essentially, your entire credit history floats through your mind. In the 30 seconds I waited to hear whether or not my credit was good enough to be approved for said loan, I managed to worry about everything from paying an electrical bill two days late to poor investment decisions. (The autographed 8x10 of Angel Berroa seemed like a really good idea in 2003.)

Negotiating with home sellers is not easy, either.
Baseball cards are not typically viewed as proper currency in a home transaction... Who knew? Beyond that, I generally fall into the "pushover" category in life. If my niece can convince me to watch a Disney film for the 433rd time instead of a live football game, what chance do I stand when someone asks me to pony up a little more money? Answer: none.

Home inspectors... They can be a pain
I had to paint my home in order to be approved for my home. That was no problem, as the old paint was peeling in a manner that gave the place a "recently condemned" feel. Today, thanks to the paint job, the place looks great... Well, good... Well, better... Well, you get the idea.
Unfortunately, I then had to make the most of tools at hand (razor, flat-head screwdriver, pocket knife) to cut through layers of paint to ensure that all my windows could still be opened. Sure, I'll probably appreciate that if I ever want a nice breeze from the outdoors or if I need to escape through a window and I don't fancy diving through glass, I'm just not sure the whole sale of the house should have been dependent on whether or not my third living room window might budge.
I had to have air duct work completed to receive said loan. That was not a major issue, as it provided a good opportunity to go ahead and have central air-conditioning installed. Something tells me that I'll appreciate that next summer when I'm not wearing a scuba mask to bed to avoid drowning in a pool of my own sweat.
Unfortunately, I then had to pay to have propane put in my tank so that the inspector could test the heater. Obviously this was going to happen at some point, but I needed something to complain about here and it was not much fun writing that check.
I had to have ground fault interrupters installed to get the house. No worries. I don't fancy the idea of being electrocuted.
Unfortunately, I then had to have more ground-fault interrupters installed. The reasoning? I never got a real great answer. I just assume the inspector enjoys redundancies.

If you have no clue what you’re doing when it comes to general home improvement, make sure you have friends that do.
If not for friends and family, I’m fairly certain that I would have fallen off a 20-foot ladder, been stung by a bevy of angry wasps, been electrocuted, and probably would have been in danger of suffering many other fates that one typically only associates with Wile E. Coyote by now. Thanks, friends.

Collecting is okay. Hording is not.
While packing things at my old apartment, I found many, many items that serve no practical purpose, but that I keep anyway. Sentimental value is not something to be ignored, after all. Then I found a Blockbuster Video coupon that expired in 2003, four years before I even lived in that apartment. Yes, I am seeking help.

Home ownership leads to the disease of wanting more.
I bought a new ottoman for my living room. And a new couch cover. And I paid far too much to have a poster of Bramlage Coliseum framed to serve as a wall decoration. Now, I want to get a recliner. And a new table set. And a shed for the backyard. Oh, and I could probably use some new shelves around this place. Did I mention that my television seems smaller in here? I think I'm going to need a third job.

You should never judge a book by its cover.
When my house hunt began, I happened upon an online listing for a former schoolhouse.  The text mentioned that the interior had been renovated, but the website had only one picture of the place: an exterior shot that was not flattering. After one quick glance, I moved on.

Weeks later, at a new website I came across an exterior picture I had seen before, but this shot was accompanied by pictures of an interior that stood out. Wood floors, stainless-steel appliances and slick cabinetry caught the eye. True, it was small, but small meant affordable. The asking price was much more reasonable than many other places I’d seen that I hadn’t been impressed with.

After showing the listing to family, I decided it was a place that I needed to check out. From here, you can guess what happened: the place was hit by a meteorite and the search continued… Wait, sorry, wrong story. I visited the home, liked it, and (eventually) made it my own. Had I dismissed the house as forgettable again due to the outdoor pic, odds are quite strong that I'd still be paying rent at an apartment and dealing with a neighbor who enjoyed strumming the guitar but refused to take requests that I attempted to pass telepathically. Jerk.

With that, my home-buying adventure is done, and I better not be back in the housing market for years. What's next? Unpacking would probably be a good start. Note to self: Quit putting that off.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Home-Buyer's Chronicle - Wrapping Up

I have a mortgage.


The phrase is exciting and terrifying; bursting with possibilities and
laden with responsibility. I now own a home (well, the bank does, but let’s
refrain from picking nits), meaning I can do whatever I wish with it. Do I want
to embrace my inner Tony Hawk and build a skate ramp in the basement (despite
the fact that you regularly exhibit the balance of an inebriated octogenarian)?
Done. Do I wish to devote an area in my backyard for nothing but creating grass
angels (snow angels itchy cousins)? Just post the sign. Do I think the
crawlspace would make a really cozy reading area? I’ve got extra pillows.


Though possibilities are endless, the lofty stack of papers that now
bear my signature could be a heavy burden. I’m legally bound to these payments
for 30 years, meaning I could potentially be writing checks for this home when
I’m 59. I’m responsible for everything in the home, meaning that if the water
heater ever bursts like a water balloon, I don’t have the luxury of simply
calling the landlord. In a nod to Vanilla Ice, if there’s a problem, yo, I HAVE
to solve it. The snake that has been playing hide-and-seek (thankfully it has
just been hiding so far… once it starts seeking, I have a problem) in my
basement won’t be hunted like an escaped felon by any maintenance guy. Either I’m
taking care of it (removing it from my home) or I’m taking care of it (adopting
it as a new pet, naming it after a sports figure, and patiently feeding it
crickets every night). It’s on me.


Now that papers have been signed, the For Sale sign has been removed
from my yard, and I no longer have to worry about a home inspector entering my
home while I shower (yes, these are the types of things I worry about), it
seems like a good time to look back at the things I learned throughout this
whole process; like a good time to pass on tips to future home buyers; like a good time to actually populate this blog with the sort of writing the title might convey... Novel idea, no? 


Whatever the case, I know one thing: I have a mortgage.*

*No, this does not mean I'll be charging admission for reading.