Friday, December 6, 2013

World Cup 2014 Brazil Groups My Take

So the draw took place today and the teams I really want to see do well had mixed results. I'll explain as I tackle the groups and predict what will happen in the group stage.  Overall history states that a South American team will win the World Cup this year since it is being played in this hemisphere. However, I have a feeling this will not hold. My top 5 picks to win the world cup (in no particular order) are:

  • Holland
  • Brazil
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Argentina
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here are my group analysis and picks:
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon

The host team is always in the first group and gets to play the first game. Most times if the host is a team that is highly ranked, the drawing is very favorable for an easy path to the round of 16. In this case it isn't as easy as hoped. Brazil will advance, but they will get a test from at least Croatia and Mexico. Cameroon could play spoiler to Croatia and Mexico's chances of making the round of 16. In the end here's how I see it:

Winner: Brazil
2nd Place: Croatia (by either one point or goal differential)
3rd Place: Mexico
4th Place: Cameroon 

Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile and Australia

Once Chile and Australia came up Spain's path to the round of 16 was clear. The best match will be the rematch  of the World Cup Final between Spain and Holland. Chile could prove tough for the European teams, however I don't think it will matter in the end. The group should fall into a neat order as follows:

Winner: Spain (by either one point or goal differential)
2nd Place: Holland
3rd Place: Chile
4th Place: Australia  

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Cote D'Ivoire and Japan

Colombia should have easy sailing through this group. However, Greece is unpredictable and Japan plays hard. Not sure if Cote D'Ivoire will make a splash or not. We should see our first non South American/non European round of 16 qualifier from this group. My take:

Winner: Colombia
2nd Place: Japan (by beating Greece and Cote D'Ivoire)
3rd Place: Greece
4th Place: Cote D'Ivoire  

Group D Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

As the draw was happening, I had this pegged as the Group of Death. I'm calling it the "Group of Death'" (Group of Death Prime for those not mathematically inclined). Costa Rica is the real loser here and should expect to play the role of spoiler as the other three teams will be too much for them. England was one of the teams I was hoping to get a good draw. They did not and a battle awaits them in this group. The group will provide for lots of commentary and second guessing, but at the end of the day I think it will fall as follows:

Winner: Italy (by virtue of beating 2 of the three teams and drawing the other)
2nd Place: England (goal differential over Uruguay)
3rd Place: Uruguay
4th Place: Costa Rica 

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

This group should be easy for the European teams. The question is which one will take the group? Looking at it I believe that it will come down to goal differential to determine the group winner. This will also be the first group where a South American team finishes last. My picks:

Winner: France (by goal differential and I hate saying it)
2nd Place: Switzerland
3rd Place: Honduras (by goal differential)
4th Place: Ecuador  

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Could it be any easier for Argentina? Yes, they could have been the top seed in Group H. Messi is going to have a field day with this group and may secure the golden boot after the group stage. The battle for second should be interesting and I think that Nigeria has the edge. Picks:

Winner: Argentina
2nd Place: Nigeria (by beating Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran)
3rd Place: Bosnia-Herzegovina
4th Place: Iran  

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

The real Group of Death. Any of these teams could win the group and any of them come in last place. This is really a poor draw for the winners of the CONCACAF region. FIFA should look at it's "1st Pot" rules and let the winners of the conference be in that group. Seems only fair, but I digress. The group has some very interesting story lines. When Germany plays Ghana we will see brothers play against each other (Boatengs). The USA beat Portugal in the 2002 World Cup and essentially denied them access to the round of 16. Ghana beat the USA in the 2010 World Cup round of 16. This is going to be a tough group to call. Here goes:

Winner: Germany (win, draw, draw - goal differential)
2nd Place: USA (win, draw, draw)
3rd Place: Ghana (draw, loss, loss - goal differential)
4th Place: Portugal (draw, loss, loss) 
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea

By far the easiest of the groups. Hand Belgium a place in the round of 16. The other three will put up good fights against each other, but in the end whoever ends in second place can thank the draw for getting to the next round. Picks:

Winner: Belgium
2nd Place: Korea
3rd Place: Russia
4th Place: Algeria

Friday, October 18, 2013

What Should Government Look Like?

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

- Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America (emphasis added)

So let's take each of the words/phrases in bold above and see what government should look like.

1. Perfect Union - A union is a coming together. This means that we should be unified. Government has a responsibility to unite the country. This doesn't mean we agree on everything, it doesn't mean we shouldn't debate. It does mean that we should work together. It does mean that we should be respectful of others and not resort to childish tactics such as name calling and bullying. If our government cannot unite us, then we need new representatives.

2. Domestic Tranquility - To me this means that we should be able to live our lives without fear of upheaval. That in general we should expect that we can go about our daily business without being wrongfully impeded. This means that we need to have a set of laws that protect us and help to deter wrong behavior. It also means that the laws that are created need to be enforced in a manner that is just but yet showing mercy where warranted. Now I know that's a simplistic thing to say, but sometimes the Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) method is the best.

3. Common Defense - Do we have enemies? Are there people who want what we have? Yes to both counts. Therefore we need to have the ability to defend ourselves. This means a military. This does NOT mean we have to involve ourselves everywhere and anywhere. We need to be smart and understand what areas we need to focus on to ensure our safety. This also includes funds to foreign nations when it is deemed that without said funds our safety will be compromised. Notice I said "will" and not "could", these are different. "Will" implies that we have the necessary data to back it up. "Could" implies that the data we have is fuzzy and that there is a chance.

4. General Welfare - To me this means that we need certain laws to keep things in check. Our government today is based on checks and balances. We need to do the same with laws that apply to the private sector. This does mean regulations on certain things. It also means we should have the ability to "audit" certain areas to ensure that in general things are going well. Audit does not mean run however. It means that there are certain standards that apply to areas (say education for example) that must be met. Auditing allows for improvement as well as demonstration of what works and what doesn't. This also allows for certain freedoms from a States Rights standpoint. There are several areas in our lives where we would benefit from this "auditing" instead of having a Federal agency "run" the area.

5. Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity - This means that we are a people who are free. Free to become who we want to become. Free from oppression. Free from financial burdens. Free so that our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on will have the same freedoms. Government is there to ensure that burdens are as light as possible and removed where not needed. Government should NOT create unnecessary burdens and should get out of the way as much as possible.

At the end of the day if the government can provide these five things it should be:
  • Right sized - Not too big, not too small
  • Efficient
  • Trusted
  • Helping, not impeding
  • Financially responsible - after all it is the citizens money it is dealing with
  • Civil
To me, it currently does not meet this test. It can, but there are changes that need to be made. That can be done, but only if we hold true to the framework setup by our forefathers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Making Family Home Evening More Fun

Every week (mostly on Monday nights) we hold Family Home Evening (FHE). It's a time for all of us (and there are 7 of us not counting the cat) to spend some time together as a family without electronics. Recently Cheryl and I have discussed making FHE more like Mutual Night. For those that don't know, Mutual Night is when the youth (ages 12 - 18) of our church get together for various activities. Some of these are just fun and some are more spiritual in nature.

So yesterday as I was thinking about what we would do for FHE it hit me: Minute To Win It. This activity is:

  1. Quick - games last only a minute and everyone can try them
  2. Purposeful - You have to think quickly how you're going to complete the task in a minute. 
  3. Entertaining - The activities can lead to much laughter
  4. Encouraging - The activities allow the non-players to root on the player and show support for completing the task.
Now if you have children with short attention spans (that should be about 99.999% of you, and yes if you're keeping track that is "five 9's") this is a perfect way to keep them attentive without "dragging on". So we implemented the plan and had two Minute to Win It activities last night.

The first was "Spoon Frog". This involves flipping a spoon into a cup. The layout is easy. You need 3 cups and 6 spoons. You lay the spoons so that the stems are on top of each other (two spoons per cup) and then once the time starts you catapult a spoon towards a cup and try to get it to land in the cup. Hilarity ensues when the spoons start flying. For example, Grace flipped a spoon and landed it in a cup that was next to the one the spoons were lined up for. As for myself, I'm so good I got the spoon to land so that it was balanced on the cup.

The second activity was "Cup Stack". Normally you would start with 36 plastic cups, start with one stack (all 36 together), then separate them into a pyramid (base of 8 followed by 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1), then stack them all together in one pile to finish. Now we had to improvise and changed the number from 36 to 10 in order to make it easier for the younger kids. This game also produced hilarity. It also produced creativity. Sam showed an easier way to go from the pyramid to the single stack by sliding the cups together from top to bottom. Levi showed that the perfect pyramid wasn't in the rules and so his pyramid wasn't triangular. Again fun had by all.

Of course after the activities we had to have a treat. Cheryl had made Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies earlier in the day (you can ask her for the recipe). We broke those out and of course in my infinite knowledge of all things pumpkin had to break out the whipped cream to top the cookies. For some strange reason all but Grace (age 6) and Lia (age 6) were the only ones who thought that was a good idea.

Anyways, it was one of the more enjoyable FHEs that we have ever had. Even our almost teenager appeared to enjoy it and that is saying something.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We're Going To Brazil, but...

Last night the US Mens National Team clinched a birth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup to be held in Brazil. The 2-0 victory over Mexico in Columbus along with a draw between Panama and Honduras assured us a top three finish in "The Hex". For those who don't know "The Hex" is the World Cup qualifying finale for CONCACAF (basically North and Central America). It involves six teams that play home and away games to determine who automatically qualifies. The fourth place team has a "playoff" against a team from the Oceania conference (this time around New Zealand).

World Cup qualifying is NOT easy no matter what region you're in. Having to play road games in Honduras, Costa Rica and at the Azteca (Mexico's national stadium) are grueling. Sometimes the pitch is not well maintained, sometimes the crowd is extremely hostile, and sometimes the weather does not cooperate (anyone see the US - Costa Rica game in Denver earlier this year in the snow?).

The US has qualified. They have survived the qualification with 2 games to spare. However, the work is not done. I watched a report on USA Today that said the US can relax in their last two games, I disagree.

For starters, the defense needs to coalesce. The last two matches have shown weaknesses in the back four that other teams that make the World Cup will be able to expose. This needs to be worked on and strengthened. Especially on the outside where left and right back have to gain confidence. Too many times last night (and last Friday) the ball was given away by a defender which led directly to either a goal or a very good scoring chance.

Second, a midfielder that can back up Michael Bradley needs to be found. Kyle Beckerman is serviceable, but not up to par with Bradley. In my opinion we need to look at Mix Diskerud. His ability to be calm in traffic was shown last night as he took a deft touch into space and provided the cross that led to Donovan's goal. If Mix can get the confidence to play the same role as Bradley, then the midfield will be strengthened.

Third, starting the game on the right foot. Historically the US has started games slow. I don't know how many times we give up early goals and have to fight our way back. This has to change before we arrive in Brazil. The key to starting the game right is possession. It seems that it takes the US a good 15 minutes before settling down on the ball and stringing possession and building attacks. This is where the game can be lost. We saw it last night as Mexico had several chances early that they were (thankfully) unable to finish.

Juergen Klinsman has done a great job to get the US qualified for the World Cup. With two games left and a few "friendlies" before Brazil, the US should focus on the three areas above. Strengthening the defense, having another midfielder of Bradley's quality (or close to it), and starting strong will ensure that the US not only gets out of the group stage (something that should be expected by now) but will also help to move further into the tournament. The goal should be to get to the quarterfinals in 2014, the semifinals in 2018 and the final in 2022.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Of Roller Coasters and Miracles

I know I promised to update more here, but once again life had other plans. The last month has been a roller coaster ride and it has taken me this long before I could write about it. So here goes...

We were getting ready for school to start. We had purchased everything, backpacks, supplies, you name it we bought it (all except the $150 calculator for the oldest). We were prepared and ready for school to start the following Monday. Little did we know that things were about to change...

My oldest daughter has a good friend that she loves to hang out with. This friend has horses and Ellie has been there several times mucking out stalls and doing some riding. So the Saturday before school starts Ellie gets a call to come over and hang out. Ellie takes her helmet and goes over to the house.

The girls clean out some stalls and decide to take a ride on a horse named Turbo. Things seemed to be going well. The girls had the right clothes on, including Ellie with her helmet. They had been riding a while when it started to get dark and so they decided to head back.

Something happened on the way back that spooked the horse. Ellie was riding in front with the reins while her friend was in back. The horse reared and Ellie's friend slid off the back of the horse. The horse then bucked at least once and probably twice. Ellie was thrown from the horse and landed on her right side. The horse, still spooked, proceeded to step on Ellie's left side leaving a hoof print on her skin.

Cheryl and I get a call from Ellie's friend telling us that she fell off a horse and that her mom has called an ambulance. We were of the opinion that the ambulance wasn't necessary, I mean she had just fallen off a horse how bad could it be? Turns out, pretty bad.

Cheryl arrived at the house seconds after the ambulance. When she saw Ellie she was extremely grateful that the ambulance had been called. The EMTs were awesome. They handled Ellie with great care and concern. They got Ellie loaded into the ambulance and asked Cheryl what hospital to take Ellie to. Cheryl said Gilbert Mercy and plans were made. The EMT examining Ellie turned to Cheryl after a couple of minutes and said "If this were my daughter and she had these injuries, I'd take her to Maricopa County". Cheryl didn't hesitate, "Then we take her there". Good thing she did. Maricopa County is a Level One Trauma center in Phoenix. It's not only level one for adults, but for children as well.

Cheryl arrives with Ellie at the hospital and within a half hour Cheryl was escorted out of the room to do the admittance paperwork, while the doctors started doing what doctors do. Turns out Ellie had the following:

  • Two collapsed lungs - one of them punctured, this meant a tube in her chest to drain fluid
  • Six broken ribs - two on the right, four on the left
  • Damaged portion of her left kidney
  • Severe trauma to her spleen
  • Bruise on her heart
I arrived later along with our Bishop and his wife. Ellie received a blessing from mine and the Bishop's hands.  She seemed to rest a little easier after the blessing, however the night was far from over. We got results back from x-ray and CT scans that revealed some internal bleeding. A specialist (interactive radiologist?) was called in to perform a procedure to stop the bleeding in her kidney and spleen. The procedure started at about 2:30 AM and lasted until 4:30 AM. All the bleeding was stopped, but Ellie had to keep her right leg still for about 9 hours as the incision point went into the vein in her leg.

Ellie spent over 8 days in the hospital where she was constantly poked, prodded, tested, x-rays, etc. She was a trooper, even though it wasn't easy. She wasn't allowed to eat or drink for at least 24 hours. Then when she could start to eat, nothing tasted good. It made it hard to get the nutrition into her that she needed. Eventually she had to get a feeding tube put in which was one more unpleasantness to endure.

Like I said earlier, this was the weekend before school started. The other four kids had to be ready to go and had to get to school. Lia (our youngest) was starting kindergarten. Levi was starting Middle School. Chaos and mayhem were raining down on us. Luckily, Cheryl's sister Chris was able to come down and spend a week helping out. Cheryl stayed with Ellie and Chris and I took care of the house and other kids.

Did I mention we were also in the process of selling our home? So add keeping the house ready for people to see. Good thing our other kids were very helpful. The house was kept in great condition and this was a big bonus for us while Ellie was being cared for.

After a week, Ellie was still in the hospital. Cheryl's mom came down to take over for Chris and provide a level of help that I still needed at the house. I was able to relieve Cheryl one night during this ordeal and stay with Ellie in the hospital. It was the night the feeding tube was put in and so I got to be there for that. Eventually Ellie progressed enough to get out of the hospital and come home. This was a great day for all of us as Ellie's siblings missed her dearly.

Ellie still had issues eating (and continues to today) as foods don't taste right yet, and sometimes don't smell right either. However her spirits are up and she has started doing schoolwork even though she is not yet attending school. But just when you think the roller coaster is coming to an end, another hill, another corkscrew, another loop-the-loop appears.

Ellie had a follow-up exam last week and there is a possibility that her diaphragm is detached. The point of detachment appears to be near her aorta and this mean a surgery we are hoping is not needed. This past weekend we fasted and prayed that this surgery will not be needed, however we don't know yet and are waiting on word from the doctor. So we will be going in (probably this week) to run some more tests, drain some fluid in the chest and diaphragm areas and determine if the diaphragm is detached.

I titled this post "Of Roller Coasters and Miracles". You've read the roller coaster part. The miracles are as follows:
  1. Ellie is alive - The doctor told Cheryl that had this happened in a different country that she wouldn't be with us. Thank goodness for our country, its technology and the professionals in the medical field
  2. At every step things were found - The thoroughness of the injuries found and fixed is a miracle. The list above was not discovered in one shot, it was done over days of care
  3. Prayer works - I have no doubt that the prayers said on Ellie's behalf were answered and that she has been blessed because of the love of others
  4. Ellie will get better - It will take time, but she will get better and she will get to be a 10/11 year old girl. Someday she will look back on the events of this month and see the miracles that occurred
  5. The right people - From the EMTs, to the Doctors in the hospital, to Chris, Mom White and Carma Ono, to Ellie's friends and teachers, the right people were in place at the right time to help our family during this ordeal. Without them this would have been much more traumatic to our family.
And so we have our seat belts fastened, the bar has been lowered into place, we are ready (but frightened and nervous) for the next section of roller coaster. We will make it however and we will be stronger for having ridden.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

We just returned from vacation. Of course now we need a vacation for our vacation, but that's to be expected. Three weeks ago we set out for the wild hills of Eagle Mountain/Saratoga Springs Utah. My wife's family lives there and we were fortunate to be able to camp out at my in-laws house. The great thing about this trip is the "Pass of All Passes" which allows for several "free" events. Here is a brief list of what we did the three weeks we were in Utah:

  • Trafalga Family Fun Center - Laser Tag, Miniature Golf, Rock Climbing Wall, Mini-Go-Karts, Arcade Games
  • Seven Peaks Water Park - Water Slides and more
  • Orem Owlz Pioneer League Baseball game
  • Provo Canyon trip (2x) - Park in the canyon where kids can run and play
  • Lagoon Amusement Park - Two days of Rollercoasters, rides and all around fun
  • Snowbird Chair Lift ride with Disc Golf on the way down (more later)
  • Geode Hunting
  • Canoeing on the Provo River
Grace and Brittany up the Canyon

Here Geode, Geode, Geode

About to ride the Samurai (not so happy after)

Lia and Sam climbing the rock wall

As you can see we kept the schedule packed. My favorite part was when we did the Chair Lift at Snowbird. We arrived at the resort and were able to catch one of the last rides up the mountain. While traveling up the lift we were able to enjoy the ski runs without snow and even saw a Moose. We get to the top and start the Disc Golf course when the thunder started rolling in. We asked if we could ride the chair back down but were unable due to lightning in the area. So we started playing Disc Golf. On the 3rd hole of play the rain started, and it kept coming. We quickly abandoned play and started making our way down the mountain. The thunder and lightning were amazing and all was well, until it started to hail. Being pelted by hail was not a lot of fun and made things somewhat miserable, but it didn't last too long and then it was more rain. We had to watch our step as there were slippery areas on the path. However, we made it down successfully. As a reward we went to The Pie Pizzeria for dinner where bellies were filled and bodies warmed. Just one of our successful adventures during this trip.

The best part of the vacation was the ability to spend quality family time. Sure there were moments when we wanted to be away from each other, but overall we got to spend time with family and strengthen our relationships. It was sad to come home in a way, but good as well. School starts in just a couple of weeks which gives us just enough time to get ready for it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Good Game (Series)

The Stanley Cup was won last night by the Chicago Blackhawks. They won the cup in six games after a frantic end to the game which saw them turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory in the final 2 minutes of play. That is an amazing accomplishment as the visiting team, but that's not what this post is about.

The NHL (and hockey in general) has a great (almost unheard of elsewhere) tradition for the end of playoff series. The two teams will line up at center ice and shake hands. It's a formal lining up and a nod to the hard work both teams put into the series. No one skips it. In fact, while watching this display of sportsmanship my wife asked what would happen if someone skipped it. I said that the guy's teammates would probably pummel him. That's how much it means to the game.

Watching the opposing side celebrate right after the final horn sounds cannot be easy. I would bet that most players want to get off the ice and away from the celebration that slipped their grasp. However, there were the Boston Bruins players and coaches waiting for the handshake. Boston's team captain Zdeno Chara led his side's handshake. I'm sure that is not an easy task for the captain, but to see him congratulate the Blackhawks is something we don't always see in other sports. Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks captain, in turn congratulated the Bruins in a heartfelt manner.

There was no taunting, no "no time for losers, cause we are the champions", no "nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah"s. There was respect, There was "great game", "good job", "congratulations" all around. Hockey may not be the most popular sport in the US, but it does have the tradition of putting aside the competitiveness of what happened in the game to congratulate the other team, whether you won or lost.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Long Time No Musing

Wow, when you fall off the wagon, you really fall off. I haven't written here in so long that there is no way I could catch up. So instead, I'll try and get things up to speed for the recent year.

In March I finished (note I say finished) tearing my rotator cuff in my right shoulder. Two events precipitated this. The first was playing co-ed indoor soccer where I got turned in a wall by some guy in a pink jersey (let the jokes commence). The second was playing in the parents-kids game for Sam's soccer team. The problem with the second event is that I was sprinting when it happened. Nothing like crashing into a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds, nor going shoulder first into a goal post. Just the natural action of pumping my arms to sprint for a ball finished it off.

I went in for surgery in April and when the bandages came off the Dr said "Oh yeah, the shoulder from hell". I was like really? He also went on to say that someone my age shouldn't have a shoulder that looked like that. Of course that made me feel really good about how I'd been treating my dominant arm over the years.

I spent six weeks in a sling and slept in a "recliner". The only saving grace was the Cold Therapy Unit (CTU). This device uses ice water pumped from a base unit into a "pad" that is strapped to my shoulder. This delivers the cold needed to reduce inflammation and provides some blessed relief from pain. Of course the medication I was given kept me in a blissful state for the first couple of weeks.

After 2 weeks I started Physical Therapy. This is a glorious system where you get to pay people to basically "beat you up". Ok, it's really not that bad most days, however when the therapist stretches you out there are some really good grimace moments. I like to think that I handle pain well and am determined to not invoke the "$5.00 charge for whining" that is posted on one of the walls.

Physical Therapy also comes with "homework". This is designed to help speed recovery, but I also think it is a devious plan to make me feel like my kids who are in grade school. Of course it also means that I get to use the CTU (I'm pretty sure I'm addicted to its cooling properties at this point).

All in all this hasn't been too bad. I'm at the point now where I feel like I could do everything I could before, so I still have to be careful because well I can't. So don't expect me to be making plays at shortstop anytime soon. On the other hand, I've been cleared to jog again, so I can start preparing for soccer season and playing the game I loved.