Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Goals....The Verdict

I wrote a blog about my goals for the year and now it's accountability time.

My goals for 2014. And here we go:

I'm definitely in much better financial shape now than I was at the beginning of the year. That said, while I didn't publicize it, I did have a goal in mine as to a dollar value and I did not accomplish that. So, while I can't beat myself up too much, I have to chalk this up as a NOT QUITE.

...and, perhaps more importantly, blogged about.

Pretty early on, too, thanks to some encouraging friends at the gym. I think I had this one sewn up within a month of publishing my blog.

This is the 60th blog I've written this year (50th since my goals blog came out in April). Last time I checked, there are 52 weeks in a year, and that'd mean about 40 weeks from mid-April to year's end. Pretty happy about this one, getting back into the swing or writing again....

....which leads me to my last goal....

Yep, this feels like the eternal goal, and while I got more work done on my novel this year, I certainly don't feel it's ready yet....

....so I guess I know what'll top my Goals 2015 blog.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adventures in Roller Skating

I went roller skating. That doesn't sound like such a big deal, but keep in mind the following:

* Prior to this I've only been on roller skates once in my life.
* I wouldn't describe that previous occasion as a successful experience.
* I don't remember exactly when this previous occasion was, but I'm pretty sure it was sometime during the Clinton administration.

So when a female friend proposed that we do this, I can't exactly say it was my idea of a dream Saturday night. But 2014 has been a year where I've tried a lot of new things (line-dancing, boxing, jumping rope, the list goes on). It couldn't hurt to add this to the list, could it?

I put on the roller skates, tentatively stood up, and like a cartoon almost immediately collapsed and fell to the ground. This was going to be more of a challenge than I thought. But hey, I had to give it a shot.

FIRST LAP: Basically I kept my hands along the wall for balance the entire time. I still fell three or four times. It took awhile but I eventually got around the track. I was pretty content to be a spectator the rest of the night, until a random guy asked why I had skates on if I was sitting on a bench.

SECOND LAP: Motivated by that guy, I went around one more time, spending less time hanging onto the wall and doing a lot better.

THIRD LAP: My friend offered her hand for me to hold. (Before you get any ideas, she's already involved with someone, but she did pay me some nice compliments that made me feel really good about myself.) I was able to take the whole lap without any wall assistance, though she said I may have broken her hand I was clutching it so hard.

FOURTH AND FIFTH LAPS: Now I was starting to get a little bold, so I went to the DJ station and requested two songs that I thought might be fun to roller skate to -- "Blow" by Ke$ha and SAIL by AWOLNATION. I was starting to feel a lot more confident now. I did take probably my most violent spill on one of these laps, but it was because I was starting to experiment with going for speed, and it actually made falling a little more fun.

I'm not going to say I'd be up for roller skating every Saturday, but overall I'd say it was a fun experience. It's usually a good experience for me wen I broaden my horizons. My friend seemed happy as well. Everybody wins.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

NFL Week 17 Predictions

So, with one week left in the 2014 NFL regular season, here's where I stand against the douchebags on CBS' The NFL Today pre-game show:

Phil: 161-79

Bart Scott: 155-85
Bill Cowher: 150-90
Tony Gonzalez: 146-94
Boomer Esiason: 145-95

(I'm counting that tie between the Panthers and Bengals earlier this year as a loss, since I picked the Bengals to win and Cincinnati did not win.)

So, mathematically, the best Esiason can do is tie me (if he gets every pick right tomorrow and I get every pick wrong). Everyone else would have to pretty much school me -- if I go 11-5 or better tomorrow nobody can catch me. After the first two weeks (in which I went a miserable 13-19 and began to question whether I really follow football all that well anymore), I've had 13 winning weeks and one .500 week.

Here's hoping I bring the title home, and that CBS Sports takes notice.

This week's picks:

Ravens 20, Browns 16 -- I would say the Johnny Manziel Experiment gives Cleveland zero chance to win. Then again, the way Joe Flacco played against the Texans last week....

Texans 42, Jaguars 28 -- Houston still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Jacksonville still has an outside shot at the 2015 No. 1 draft pick.

Chiefs 27, Chargers 24 -- Another improbable, clutch road win last Saturday by the Chargers (who control their own destiny for a wild-card berth) virtually assures San Diego will lose this game.

Jets 20, Dolphins 7 -- Jets will win this one for Rex.

Vikings 17, Bears 13 -- Bears acquired Jay Cutler from Broncos several years ago, still have him. Denver now has Peyton Manning. If this is end of the Cutler era in Chicago then holy shit what an epic fail.  

Bills 34, Patriots 20 -- All I'm really looking for in this game is for Jimmy G. to look good in his limited appearance.

Giants 42, Eagles 7 -- Giants could be a scary team next year. This year they were scary for their own fans.

Saints 42, Buccaneers 17 -- Could totally picture New Orleans mailing this one in, except that Tampa Bay is in a dogfight with Tennessee for top overall pick.

Colts 23, Titans 20 -- See above thumbnail, replace "New Orleans," "Tampa Bay" and "Tennessee" with "Indianapolis," "Tennessee" and "Tampa Bay," respectively.

Cowboys 28, Redskins 18 -- Bad midseason loss to Washington virtually eliminates any chance Dallas has of getting home field throughout the NFC playoffs. That said, since for once Cowboys don't have to win their final game of the season to make playoffs, they'll probably kick some ass.

Panthers 21, Falcons 20 -- It's true: someone really has to win this division.

Broncos 34, Raiders 14 -- Thank you, Cincinnati, for that early Christmas present beating the Broncos and clinching AFC home field for New England. Your card is in the mail.

Packers 45, Lions 41 -- This is the Lions team everybody thought Detroit was building three years ago, but I think the Packers slightly better. Then again, Green Bay lost to a Buffalo team that turned around and lost to the Raiders last week....

Seahawks 27, Rams 9 -- St. Louis: beat both of last year's Super Bowl participants (Seattle and Denver), yet still finishes with a losing record. Gotta think that's never happened before in NFL history.

49ers 23, Cardinals 20 -- Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco can't end with five straight losses, can it?

Bengals 23, Steelers 17 -- I'm 7-8 picking Steelers games this year; I'm willing to bet that's my worst record picking any one team in the NFL in 2014. Kinda feel like the Steelers will win this game, so I'll pick against them and see what happens.

LAST WEEK -- 10-6
SEASON TO DATE -- 161-79

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Phil's Top 10 Xmas Songs: 2014 Update

I try to do some sort of Xmas-related blog every year. Around this time four years ago I blogged about my favorite and least favorite holiday songs.

Well, like the college football rankings, things change and I've updated my list. Some songs have moved up or down, a couple have dropped out. Here's my 2014 list:

10) The Ronettes, "Sleigh Ride". I feel like I've heard this song more often than in past years, and for whatever reason it's grown on me. Maybe I need more '60s girl groups in my life.

9) Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Linus & Lucy". This still technically isn't a holiday song; you'll hear it at some point on nearly every Peanuts special. But it only gets radio airplay around the holidays, and if I'm fiddling with the radio in my car and stumble upon it, it's a total win.

8) The Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping". I used to have this song up higher. I'm not necessarily down on it; I still like it a lot. I think it's just that it's become a little too much of a default Xmas song on every radio station. Still, a great holiday love story....

7) The Royal Guardsmen, "Snoopy's Christmas". I mean, let's face it Snoopy is a World War I Flying Ace. A great (if a little goofy) war story for the holidays, about Snoopy' epic battle with the Red Baron.

6) Vince Guaraldi Trio, "O Tannenbaum". Continuing on the German theme. Also, a song that you feel like you could jam to on a Saturday night at a jazz club has to make the list.

5) Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24". Now we're getting to the point where it's really tough to sort out the top 5. This is such an intense song -- I used to hear this song at December Patriots tailgates all the time. So intense, and we all know I have a thing for intense songs.

4) Straight No Chaser, "The 12 Days of Christmas". This mashup is so random it's tough not to love. The best part is when the Jewish guy in the chorus breaks into "The Dreidel Song."

3) Vince Guaraldi Trio, "My Little Drum". This is a song that doesn't get radio airplay but it's on the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Kinda wish they would bust it out on the radio.

2) Barenaked Ladies featuring Sarah McLachlan, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings". Like all other songs, holiday songs become stale when you hear the same song over and over again, but I feel like I could listen to this song 10 times today and not get tired of it. Canada's greatest contribution to Xmas.

And of course....

1) Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Chrsitmas Time Is Here". This is pretty much the Xmas staple -- you know "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is just coming on when you hear it on TV. Still #1. The dynasty continues.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

NFL Week 15 Predictions

Oh man, the season is almost over. This has been exhausting. Two more weeks left. (There are playoffs, of course, but only at most four games a week in the playoffs.)

This week's picks:

Jaguars 23, Titans 17 -- For its Thursday Night Football finale tonight, NFL Network schedules arguably the worst game of the entire 2014 season. Not to be outdone, tonight NBC schedules The People Magazine Awards.

Eagles 27, Redskins 20 -- Philadelphia rallies from 21-0 down Sunday night to take lead over the emotionally fragile Cowboys, and then blow the game in the fourth quarter. Not a good sign for Eagles' playoff prospects.

Chargers 38, 49ers 15 -- I went back and forth on this one. 49ers have clearly quit on the season and Jim Harbaugh. But Chargers have a way of putting themselves in playoff position and then quitting.

Panthers 13, Browns 6 -- Derek Anderson has a slim chance of starting against the team where he had his one good season in 2007, just like Johnny Manziel has a slim chance of being a good NFL quarterback.

Lions 26, Bears 21 -- Jay Cutler benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen. The sad part: I didn't even realize Jimmy Clausen was still in the NFL.

Ravens 23, Texans 19 -- Ryan Mallett and Ryan Fitzpatrick both now out for the season, meaning Texans NFL-record streak of games started by a QB named Ryan comes to an end.

Dolphins 20, Vikings 17 -- Maybe for once, the Dolphins will win some clutch games next December.

Saints 26, Falcons 13 -- All rational thought should lead me to pick Atlanta here, because it'd mean Saints, Falcons and Panthers would be within a half-game of each other going into the final weekend in this godawful division. What the hell am I thinking?

Patriots 31, Jets 21 -- Not gonna lie: it won't be the same without Rex Ryan.

Steelers 24, Chiefs 19 -- Steelers have had an abusive relationship with their fans this year, thumping the Bengals, Ravens and Colts while losing to the Buccaneers, Jets and Saints. Just what exactly that means against the 8-6 Chiefs is unclear.

Packers 17, Buccaneers 14 -- The way Aaron Rodgers played last week against Buffalo, I think maybe he needs to switch up his Hans and Franz workout routine.

Giants 31, Rams 10 -- Giants have a way of looking pretty damn good once they're eliminated from playoff competition.

Colts 37, Cowboys 13 -- Picking the Colts because, by law, the Cowboys are required to have a playoff berth on the line in their final regular-season game.

Bills 37, Raiders 21 -- Just when you thought the Raiders might be the best team in the Bay Area (not setting the bar high, I know), the old Raiders returned last Sunday and got pummeled by Kansas City.

Seahawks 17, Cardinals 10 -- Cardinals and Texans combine to use 37 quarterbacks in 2014.

Broncos 24, Bengals 23 -- Can someone please beat Denver!? Anyone?!

LAST WEEK -- 12-4

SEASON TO DATE -- 151-72-1

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Week 15 NFL Predictions

After an off-week in which I went 8-8, I bounced back and went 13-3 last week.

Anyway, let's just get this over with. This week's picks:

Cardinals 30, Rams 28 -- Arizona's slumping; Rams have shut out two consecutive opponents. So of course those trends are due to reverse themselves.

Falcons 57, Steelers 33 -- The last three matchups between these two teams have gone to overtime, with each team winning once and the third game ending in a tie. As for the 2014 edition, we've got a team (Pittsburgh) coming off a gut-check win over Cincinnati but also has the AFC North's only two losses against the NFC South, and a team (Atlanta) that is 5-8 but tied for the division lead and playing better of late. Who the hell knows?

Ravens 27, Jaguars 7 -- Jacksonville is dead last in the NFL in point differential in 2014 (-157). Baltimore, despite being on the outside of the playoff picture as of now, is third (+101). This has the makings of an ugly game.

Packers 29, Bills 20 -- Nice bounceback season for Buffalo but it's starting to look like the party's over.

Buccaneers 24, Panthers 0 -- Cam Newton misses opening day game against Tampa Bay, gets into car accident this week and looks to be out again Sunday. Looks like someone's too scared to play the 2-11 Buccaneers....

Bengals 23, Browns 20 -- I think I speak for all of America when I say that I hope Johnny Manziel's first start for the Browns is an absolute trainwreck.

Colts 29, Texans 17 -- Roger Gooddell catching shit again: nothing in the NFL's new personal conduct policy would force Andrew Luck to shave his beard.

Chiefs 29, Raiders 23 -- Oakland trying really hard to piss away the first pick in 2015 draft.

Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Got a little nervous when I picked New England to win 45-7 last week and Chargers got off to a 14-3 lead. Hopefully Patriots take care of business and clinch AFC East.

Giants 20, Redskins 7 -- Giants suck, but they have a way of running off streaks (lose 2, win 3, lose 7, win 4). Redskins just flat-out lose.

Broncos 48, Chargers 20 -- Would love to see San Diego pull the upset here.  Would also love to see a scantily clad Jennifer Lawrence fall through my bedroom ceiling.

Jets 35, Titans 10 -- There are five teams currently tied with the league's worst record at 2-11 and two of them are featured here. Hence, the outcome of this game will send shockwaves across the league, just like Geno Smith did when he said he's "flashed Pro Bowl potential" this year.

Lions 34, Vikings 28 -- Detroit offense so disappointing this year, team will be referred to for the rest of the year as "Detroit Lions Featuring Calvin Johnson."

Seahawks 40, 49ers 21 -- Let's face it: Jim Harbaugh has pretty much quit on the 49ers.

Eagles 30, Cowboys 27 -- After watching Mark Sanchez play for Philadelphia this year, Geno Smith probably can't wait to leave the Jets so he can latch on with another team and actually play well.

Saints 27, Bears 24 -- Here's how bad the NFC South is: if the Bears were in the NFC South, this game would be for the division lead.

LAST WEEK -- 13-3
SEASON TO DATE -- 139-68-1

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Icy Walk To Stop & Shop and Back

Yesterday morning I woke up and realized I needed to go grocery shopping. Only problem: we were in the midst of an ice storm. I ventured outside and in less than 90 seconds saw two cars on my street slide across the pavement and into a ditch, while a third tried unsuccessfully to get up the hill.

The meteorologists said it'd change over to rain by late morning. Meteorologists are wrong a lot. Also, I was hungry. I wasn't going to be able to wait that long.

According to Google Maps, the Stop & Shop on Lincoln Street is 1.3 miles from my place.

That's it, I thought, I'm walking.

This required a plan. The sidewalks were just as icy as the roads. I started walking along the edges of lawns and on dirt embankments, which, not having as smooth a surface as the pavement allowed me better traction. At some point I had to cross Plantation Street. There's a crosswalk there, and Public Works seemed to have done a good job clearing the ice but drivers don't always handle storms well even when precautions are taken. I started thinking about a line from the blog I had written the previous day, "I could walk outside tomorrow and get hit by a bus," and cringed a little.

I got to Stop & Shop and it was devoid of customers. This really was a great time to shop. I picked up a few days' worth of groceries and headed home. On the way home I got a little bolder and walked more or less at a normal pace, which caused me to nearly fall on my ass a couple of times. By this time I'm more amused than anything else.

Back on my street a couple of people said, "Oh my God I can't believe you walked all the way to Stop & Shop," which I thought was funny. What else was I going to do? The entire event took less than an hour, and I promptly made breakfast for myself. Now I just need to do a better job of remembering to shop before the storm hits.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Relaxation (Or Lack Thereof)

One of the things I've gotten back into this past year is yoga. It's a surprisingly good workout, but it also helps me -- a classic Type A personality -- de-stress and feel more relaxed.

Or so I thought.

The other day we're in the cool-down period at the end of a yoga session, and after it's over the instructor tells me I need to relax better. You're supposed to close your eyes and lie completely still for 3-4 minutes. Apparently the entire time I was drumming my fingers or tapping my feet or doing something other than being motionless.

Oddly enough, I was unaware I was doing any of this. I actually felt pretty damn calm.

Is it possible to suck at relaxing? I guess I've found a way.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Appointment(s)

Back in the spring of 2010, I got a letter from my doctor saying that he was retiring.

Around this time last year, I stared thinking to myself that I haven't had a physical since then (actually, I think my last physical was in 2009). I might be seriously ill and not know it. This suddenly became a source of considerable stress for me. Still, time constraints are a powerful motivator to keep pushing off seeing the doctor.

Until one Friday night this past August, when I had to drive myself to the emergency room of Marlborough Hospital. (It wasn't as serious as it sounds. It was just one of those things where, something happened and I needed to be seen, it's after hours and hell, I didn't have a doctor anyway.) They prescribed some medication to take and a list of primary care physicians in the area who are accepting new patients.

It's time, I said to myself.

So I called up one of the doctors on the list, and we scheduled an appointment for early November. I told him it's been four or five years since I've had a physical. And, because of my family history of certain conditions (diabetes, heart disease), he scheduled me for two other appointments. Fun. I got my arm shot up with a needle to give a blood sample, and then a few days later got myself hooked up with electrodes and spent about 20 minutes running on a treadmill for an EKG/stress test.

After a battery of tests for blood sugar, cholesterol and bad cholesterol, blood pressure, resting and active heart rate, triglycerides, and other stuff I can't quite think of right now, the end result: as best as the doctors and nurses can tell, I'm in pretty good shape. The only improvement they wanted me to make was to lose some weight (I've lost quite a bit of weight over the past year since joining the gym, and we have a slight disagreement on how much I need to lose, but on the whole I could still stand to lose a few more pounds).

Testing isn't foolproof. They could have missed a terminal disease. Or, no matter how good my health is I could walk outside tomorrow and get hit by a bus. But around this time last year I wasn't happy with the kind of shape I was in, I wanted to do something about it and I've made great strides. There's still some work to be done. But I'm happy with myself.  



Thursday, December 4, 2014

NFL Week 14 Predictions

I went a mediocre 8-8 last week, the first time since Week 2 that I failed to have a winning record for the week.

I can do better. (And by "I can do better," I mean, "I can write another non-football-related blog in the next few days.")

This week's picks:

Cowboys 45, Bears 28 -- Our punishment: Thursday Night Football in 2014 means we have to listen to Phil Simms twice a week now. Phil Simms' punishment: he has to watch the Bears on back-to-back Thursdays.

Steelers 23, Bengals 7 -- Pittsburgh: kicks Indianapolis' ass, loses to lowly Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Cincinnati: beats Tampa Bay and New Orleans, gets ass kicked by Indianapolis. Welcome to the schizophrenic division.

Colts 41, Browns 23 -- Johnny Manziel leads Cleveland on one garbage-time TD drive and he's the second coming and Browns are now in QB Controversy Hell. Way to ruin your team's playoff chances, Mike Pettine.

Lions 23, Buccaneers 16 -- When I was writing this blog I accidentally almost skipped this game. By a weird coincidence, Buccaneers skip most of their games on purpose.

Texans 27, Jaguars 0 -- Here's how good JJ Watt is: if he had played quarterback vs. Tennessee last week, he, too, would've thrown 6 TD passes.

Ravens 22, Dolphins 16 -- Baltimore Twitter still erupting over controversial pass interference call on Chargers' game-winning drive vs. Ravens last week. The way Dolphins played last week vs. Jets, no late-game letdown will be possible.

Jets 23, Vikings 21 -- I've decided that Teddy Bridgewater is the Geno Smith of the NFC.

Saints 31, Panthers 13 -- Classic trap game for New Orleans. Then again, 2014 Panthers have pretty much quit....

Giants 32, Titans 29 -- Giants can't truly be this bad, right?

Rams 23, Redskins 20 -- Rematch of the 1945 NFL Championship Game (won by Rams, then in Cleveland, 15-14). That's about all I can say that's interesting about this game.

Cardinals 34, Chiefs 24 -- Two teams in freefall mode. That's about all I can say that's interesting about this game.

Broncos 30, Bills 19 -- Would love to see Bills pull the upset here. Would also love to see $100 million dollars fall through the sky into my bedroom.

49ers 38, Raiders 7 -- Never has a matchup of the two Bay Area teams been so uninspiring.

Seahawks 27, Eagles 20 -- After a somewhat disappointing season, imagine how insufferable Seahawks will be if Richard Sherman has truly gotten his mojo back?

Patriots 45, Chargers 7 -- San Diego travels to the East Coast, gets physically dominated, somehow finds a way to pull it together in the end and upset Baltimore. That was totally the kind of game Chargers normally lose. So it seems logical that they'll turn around and lay an egg at home. Then again, I hope I haven't jinxed the Patriots....

Packers 35, Falcons 31 -- Here's how bad the NFC South is: if Bears and Vikings were in the division, they'd be tied for first place.


LAST WEEK -- 8-8

SEASON TO DATE -- 126-65-1