november 2013

Will wanted to be a robot for Halloween this year (after spending a few weeks considering other options like dinosaur, fireman, Buzz Lightyear, etc.), so Julie decided to try to make him a costume because the premade ones we found were pretty lame. She's not normally very crafty, but this turned out pretty good:

In the background you can also see our pumpkin for this year—we only did one because we waited until the last minute to get ours and after an hour or so of calling around different places, we really only found one that was still in decent shape and a suitable size for carving.

We hadn't moved into our neighborhood at this point last year, but we had purchased the house and used it as a home base for trick or treating. We followed pretty much the same route as last year, and Will did amazingly well considering that 1) it was about a mile and a half walk with about of third of it uphill walking; 2) he wore his costume the entire time; and 3) his costume was so bulky that I couldn't carry him to let him rest.

He got a pretty good haul considering that we probably only stopped at 20 houses or so—many people had bought more candy than they needed and so were generous, handing out two or three pieces of candy. We didn't see as many kids as we did last year, and we also ran into a strange pattern of houses with lights on and decorations up who didn't answer their doors when we knocked (four total, almost all in our first ten houses).

Once Will got into it (for the first couple of houses he was more into collecting leaves from the yard, a recent obsession that has led to a pile of dried up leaves stored under the coffee table in the living room), he was really fun and energetic, and people really seemed to love his costume. I'm sure soon enough he'll be into Spider-Man or Star Wars or some other franchise with lots of movie and toy tie-ins, but maybe Julie will get another couple of shots to make a costume for him.

Okay. Coming off a bye week when all the players were supposed to be healthy and the coaches were supposed to have fixed the problems with the playcalling and blocking schemes, there is no doubt now that the Ravens are just a bad team this year. Yes, it was a close game, just like all the other ones they've lost this year (except for Denver, of course), but the Ravens failed in every aspect of the game and didn't deserve to win.

The problems that have been extant in all the units all season were still evident this game—nothing different than two weeks ago in their last game heading into the bye. The offensesive line couldn't block and give the run game a chance, and they couldn't protect Flacco so the passing game was terrible too. Flacco added to this by making some very poor decisions and even worse throws. And special teams, which has come up with at least one colossal screwup that leads to easy points to the other team, did its part by having the punt returner drop the ball for a Cleveland recovery only a few yards from the Ravens endzone, which led to a touchdown a few plays later.

The defense has been reasonably solid this year (again, barring Denver), but no one can prevent the other team from scoring points when they're on the field for so long. The offense has so many three-and-outs that don't give the defense any time to rest that it's a wonder that the defense is even able to take the field by the fourth quarter (the Ravens are the second worst in the NFL in terms of their percentage of three and outs—a full third of their drives end after only three plays and a punt). But even given those trying circumstances, the defense was pretty terrible on Sunday, making a weak Browns offense look like pro-bowlers and getting even worse at closing out opposing drives on third down (they forced a third down several times, but couldn't stop the drive, a pattern that started with the Pittsburgh game that has just gotten worse since then).

The offense is anemic to the point of non-existence, the special teams look like a bunch of clowns, and the defense just isn't scary—Suggs is having a great season, but if he gets 20 sacks and wins defensive player of the year, it's going to be cold comfort to a fanbase that was expecting a serious playoff run after last year's Super Bowl victory. The Ravens can't put together serious drives, they make stupid mistakes on punts and kickoffs (both offensively and defensively), they aren't forcing many turnovers, and they can't get the other team off the field. Forget a long shot at the playoffs this season—I'm beginning to think that a winning record is now out of reach, and I'm even concerned about the team's ability to duplicate its first half. If something doesn't change soon, I don't see how their even going to scrape together three wins in the second half of the season.

Cincinnati next week is their last real chance to begin to get their season back on track, but even if they win they'll still be a game and a half behind the Bengals and at best tied with Cleveland for second place in the division. They need to go a minimum of 6-2 the rest of the way, and I just don't see this year's team catching fire and making a run. There's something lacking this year—a passion for winning, and real anger about losing. Harbaugh and Flacco are praised for staying calm and not panicking when they have a bad outing, but sometimes a more emotional reaction can help jolt a team out of its doldrums, and after three straight losses, this team still looks like a bunch of zombies when they take the field, especially when they have possession of the ball.

When my mom was in town a couple of weekends ago, I decided to surprise Julie with a nice dinner out. We still haven't had a babysitter for Will who isn't family, and family hasn't come to visit much recently, so our opportunities to go out just the two of us have been fairly limited.

Because of that, I decided to splurge and try Cakes and Ale, a relatively new restaurant (it opened in 2007) that has not only rapidly become known as one of the best in Atlanta, but which has also been recognized as one of the top 10 new restaurants in the US twice in the past four years (they gave it a second "new" designation when it relocated to its current location in Decatur in 2011). Needless to say, I had pretty high expectations.

And while it was good, I'm not sure I saw why it was earning all these accolades, at least not with the menu that they had on the night we went. The appetizers were pretty uninspiring, so we tried two of the house specialities, arancini (fried cheese risotto balls) and an burrata plate with greens (burrata is a type of cheese that combines mozarella and cream). Both of these were good, but not bowl-you-over good or unique.

The entrees weren't any more special than what we had seen on the appetizer part of the menu. I usually like to try something new or interesting when we go out to a place like this, but I went with the ribeye simply because there was nothing else that even remotely appealed to me. Also: they had three fish dishes (out of seven or so entrees), and when you add in the vegetarian option, more than half of their entree menu was immediately of little interest to me (I'll try fish sometimes, but none of the species they had on offer were ones that I like). Julie got something so similarly common that I don't even remember what it was even though I had a bite.

Dessert might have been the biggest disappointment of all. One of the big features of their new space is that it's attached to a bakery, so the desserts are typically a highlight of the meal. I don't really eat dessert much when we go out for dinner, but I usually try something when we go out to a nice place just to have a complete experience. The reason this course was a disappoinment was not because the desserts were bad, but because they simply didn't have that many. Before I could even order, our waiter let us know that my first choice, the pumpkin cheesecake was already sold out, so I ordered a hazelnut cake instead, only to have the waiter return a few minutes later to tell me that this item was sold out as well.

I ended up ordering the flourless chocolate cake, which was pretty good, but again, my third choice. We didn't go to that late a seating—our reservation was for 8:30—and for a place with a bakery attached and what should be a pretty good idea of how much they'll need to get through a Saturday night, it's pretty inexcusable to run out of two desserts.

The service was pretty good, though—it took them about 15 minutes past our reservation time to get a table, and so they comped us two glasses of champagne to start our meal. Our waiter was attentive and had answers to all our questions about the food, and was appropriately apologetic/embarrassed about the dessert situation. I did like the overall quality and price well enought to give this place another shot, but I think I'm going to make sure the menu offerings are sufficiently intriguing before I make a reservation.

I'm liking this season of The Walking Dead so far, maybe even more than I liked last season, which was far and away the best one so far. Yes, they introduced a ton of new characters, many of whome were promptly offed just as we were starting to invest in them. But while that can be frustrating, that's the way this show operates (and should operate)—anyone can die at any time.

One of my ongoing frustrations with the show is that they make it painfully obvious when a major character is going to be killed, but then they drag out the process, so much of my time each episode is spent wondering whether this is the episode they die or whether we'll have to wait another week. But this season there's no one who seems to have been tagged for termination, meaning whatever deaths they do have in store are likely to come as a real shock (and while it wasn't a death, one prominent and likable character's exile from the group last week was certainly unexpected and surprising). There are a few of the newcomers who seem sketchy, but they aren't so obviously evil (like the Governor last season) that you know they're eventually going to end up dead (because while this universe does a lot of arbitrary killing of decent people, there does seem to be a cosmic sense of karma/justice that catches up with the genuinely bad guys eventually).

I still wish they had ended last season with a genuine exit from the prison, though—one of the things I like best about the show is that it's fairly realistic and believable within the context of a zombie apocalypse, and I just don't believe you'd be able to set up camp permanetly anywhere. The road is where you would live in a world like this, but it seems like the writers are determined to keep them rooted in the prison going forward.

The sickness aspect also adds a intriguing new twist, although when it was originally introduced I thought it was going to be a new airborne form of the zombie virus (instead it's just a really nasty flu that can kill you, which will turn you into a zombie unless someone stabs you in the brain before the virus can claim your body after its death). I like the idea that some of the members of the core group now have to be separated from each other physically because some have been exposed and some haven't. These folks have been through too much together to have any tension and drama from fighting with one another—everyone who was disruptive to the group has been killed, usally for reasons related in one way or another to their disruptiveness—so this is a way of introducing dysfunction into the group without having the conflict come from each other.

Anyway. Very pleased with how this season is unfolding so far, and I'm hoping they can continue to produce great episodes and have an overall story arc that is as satisfying as last season's.

After I finished Michael Lewis' The Big Short, I decided to jump back into the world of Game of Thrones, picking up at book 4, "A Feast for Crows". Two things about this one: I finished it much faster than I expected given how long it had taken to complete its predecessors, especially the second and third books in the series, and I spent most of the book asking myself, "Where the hell is Tyrion? What is Daenerys doing? What's going on at the Wall?", because these characters/storylines had been prominently featured in book 3.

Instead, of the characters we were already familiar with, we were mostly limited to Cersei, Jamie, and Brienne, none of whose heads I particularly enjoy being inside of, and even with the King's Landing/Lannister-centric focus of much of the book, we still didn't get much from Littlefinger or the Spider, whose dialogue and machinations always add intrigue. And of the featured characters who I really liked, such as Arya, we got painfully little compared to the first three I listed. Yes, we introduced to some new characters/locations/storylines, but still, Tyrion and Daenerys have some of the most compelling stories, and it's clear that the Others and Beyond the Wall are going to play a major part in the resolution of this story, and it was odd not to get updates on any of them.

It was only at the end of the book that Martin explained what had happened: the book that he originally envisioned had gotten so big and unwieldy that he decided to split it into two books with mostly concurrent timelines, and the stories of Tyrion, Dany, and the Wall would be set forth in book 5. This is still an irritating approach, but it would have been much less irritating if the author's note had come at the BEGINNING of book 4 instead of the end.

I'm probably about a third of the way through book 5, "A Dance with Dragons", now, and I'm getting the distinct sense that both book 4 and book 5 are just going to be a setup for book 6, which Martin is in the midst of writing. I don't think there are going to be climactic battles or events like in the previous books—this is all just exposition setting up some future showdown, but we're not actually going to get a real sense of forward progress until those showdowns happen.

Another thing I worry about: in his author's note for book 4, Martin says that book 5 will be published a year after book 4 since he had already done so much work on it while writing book 4. But it wasn't actually published until 2011—six years later. Martin has stated in interviews that he expects he will finish the whole series fast enough that the HBO series won't catch up to him and be waiting for a new book to film, but that seems incredibly unlikely. The best case scenario is that Martin may finish book 6 sometime next year and that it will only take him another three years to finish book 7, which is currently planned as the final book (although the entire series was originally meant to be a trilogy, so take that statement with a heaping spoonful of salt). If that happens, and if HBO decides to spend two seasons each on books 4, 5, and 6 (up until now they've done one season per book, and done one season per year, but indications are that the fourth season will still include many events from book 3 and that the volume of material will allow them to do at least two seasons per book going forward), then this timeline may work out—HBO wouldn't need book 7 to be finished until 2020.

But if it takes Martin five years to finish books 6 and 7 (and remember, it took him five years each to finish books 4 and 5), then we're looking at Martin not finishing the series until around 2021, and even assuming his cooperation with the televesion crew in releasing material early to them, they're still not likely to be able to release a season based on book 7 until a year later, meaning not only that there could be a two year (or more) gap in new episodes for the television show, but also that the actors playing these characters will have to 1) survive and 2) look substantially similar for more than a decade. And what happens if Martin takes LONGER than five years each for the last two books, or that, god forbid, he doesn't live long enough to complete them?

I like the series well enough and have invested enough time in it that I'm willing to give him books 4 and 5 to setup final resolution to these stories in books 6 and 7, but given the slow pace of things actually happening in books 4 and 5—there's lots of plotting and scheming, but very little in the way of dramatic resolution (which in this universe usually means somebody's head getting cut off), I'm starting to wonder if he actually has an endgame or whether he himself is so enmeshed in this world that he's capable of writing endless chapters about these characters without getting us to some sense that the tumultuous world he's created will be given a sense of peace and stability.

It's making me nervous that so many people associated with the Ravens aren't more angry about their current record, and that even in the face of a 3-6 record that would put them 3 1/2 games behind in the division race if they lose to Cincinnati this Sunday, they aren't willing to call this a must-win game. Because make no mistake about it: if they lose this game, their season is over, and if they don't feel that sense of urgency in the locker room at this point, then maybe that's all for the best.

Well, the Ravens managed to turn one of their best played games this season into a real nailbiter, and even though they kept themselves in the running for the division title (they are 1 1/2 games behind the Bengals and now tied for second with the Browns), they still face a very long road if they want to have a chance at the playoffs, and it's not a stretch to say that almost every game is a must-win now (although the whole division stinks right now—it's not inconceivable that the winner of this division could have a losing record, which is especially jawdropping considering that just two years ago the division sent three teams to the playoffs, half the teams from the AFC).

The tipped ball with no time remaining at the end of regulation that dropped into A.J. Green's hands to tie the game and send it to overtime was a stupid mental mistake, but if Baltimore had done its job in the first place, a miraculous hail mary wouldn't have made any difference anyway. Heading into halftime, Baltimore was up 17-0 over Cincinnati, and if the defense had just played a little better the Bengals wouldn't have been in striking distance at the end of the game. The defense is solid and getting better, but they weren't as good as they appeared on Sunday—rather, Cincinnati was just plain awful, and their quarterback Andy Dalton was one of the few signal callers in the game who had a worse day than Flacco.

But of course, the real problem for the Ravens was the offense. They never got anything going in the second half—even a couple more field goals would have put the game solidly in the Ravens' hands. They didn't take advantage of turnovers, they couldn't sustain drives, and, as has become the norm this season, the running game did absolutely nothing. Up until the last couple of games, it was easy to blame the offensive woes on the lack of a ground game and an offensive line that lets defenders get to Flacco way too often, but now Flacco needs to start taking some of the blame himself. He's been inaccurate, he's underthrown deep balls way too often, and he's holding onto the ball for way too long instead of throwing it away, resulting in sacks and fumbles, mistakes that he hasn't made that often since his first couple of years in the league.

This is a deeply flawed team, and the coaching staff seems to be incapable of correcting any of the issues on the offense, so it's hard to see how the Ravens are going to make a run that will return them to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row. But this is the NFL, where anything can happen, and the rest of the AFC North has been kind enough to be almost as bad as Baltimore, keeping their postseason hopes alive. But unless they figure out what's wrong, and fast, even if they do get to the playoffs, they're going to get wiped off the map in the first round—you can't count on the other playoff teams being as bad as their division-mates have been so far.

Will has been on a real sea creature kick recently (he's currently sleeping with a stuffed beluga whale, shark, jellfish, and octopus), so we took him back to the Georgia Aquarium on Saturday. He hasn't been since his birthday in July, and even though that wasn't that long ago, it was amazing to see the difference in his interactions compared to our last visit.

He was much more engaged with the actual exhibits (before he had a tendency to stay glued to the interactive screens near the bigger tanks), especially the jellyfish (the jellyfish stuffed animal is his current favorite). He also loved watching the sea otters—he's got an otter character that he developed after watching a Curious George episode that features otters (I call Will Mr. Stinkus when he's being an otter because the otter used to only come out during bathtime, and we aren't religious about giving him baths unless he needs/wants one). We also went to see the dolphin show as usual, and while he liked it, I'm wondering if he's getting a little tired of it—this was the first time that I can remember when he didn't sing along for the part where the audience is supposed to join in, and he seemed almost a little bored during some parts. He still liked it, but his enthusiasm just didn't seem to match his previous viewings.

After the aquarium we went to the Varsity for lunch, which was surprisingly uncrowded (I mean it was pretty packed, but the line to order was only about two people deep instead of the normal seven or eight). Will gobbled up his entire lunch and also ate three of Julie's onion rings. He's always been on the skinny side, and he typically eats at best half of his grilled cheese/chicken fingers/mac and cheese when we go out, but he must be in a little growth spurt because he's been eating everything in sight when we go out.

I got a Kindle Paperwhite just over a year ago with the hope that it would get me back on track with my reading, and I'd have to say in that regard it's been a worthwhile investment. Here are the books I've read over the past year:

  1. See A Little Light—Bob Mould
  2. Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Forger—Ken Perenyi
  3. Kitchen Confidential—Anthony Bourdain*
  4. Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil—Tom Mueller
  5. The Hunger Games—Suzanne Collins*
  6. Catching Fire—Suzanne Collins*
  7. Mockingjay—Suzanne Collins*
  8. Game of Thrones—George R. R. Martin
  9. A Clash of Kings—George R. R. Martin
  10. A Storm of Swords—George R. R. Martin
  11. A Light that Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths—Tony Fletcher
  12. A Short History of Nearly Everything—Bill Bryson
  13. The Map that Changed the World—Simon Winchester
  14. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality—Jacob Tomsky
  15. The Biographical Dictionary of Pop Music—Dylan Jones
  16. Steve Jobs—Walter Isaacson
  17. Perfect Circle: The Story of R.E.M.—Tony Fletcher
  18. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of
  19. Belief—Lawrence Wright
  20. The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France—Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
  21. The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code—Sam Kean
  22. The Devil and Sherlock Holmes—David Grann
  23. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry—Jon Ronson
  24. Them: Adventures with Extremists—Jon Ronson
  25. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas—Chuck Klosterman
  26. Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who's Lived It—Matthew Berry
  27. Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries—Jon Ronson
  28. The Men Who Stare at Goats—Jon Ronson
  29. Liar's Poker—Michael Lewis*
  30. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine—Michael Lewis*
  31. A Feast for Crows—George R. R. Martin
  32. A Dance with Dragons—George R. R. Martin

*These titles were acquired through the Kindle Lending Library and were free for me to read

I'm still finishing the last book in the list, and there are a few others I've purchased but haven't read yet, but I'd say my average number of books read per year for the decade before I got the Kindle was no more than ten and in many years was closer to five. So I've probably read more in the past year than I have in the previous five years combined, and I do have to credit the Kindle for a lot of that.

I still have major issues with many aspects of digital publishing/ownership—I don't like that you can't loan, share, or sell your digital books with friends and family like you can physical books, and the law is still unclear about whether you can even transfer ownership of digital files upon your death, but in terms of convenienc and ease of acquiring new titles, the Kindle/Amazon ecosystem is hard to beat.

The new default iPhone ringtone for iOS 7 sounds all the world like background music from an exposition scene from Revenge of the Nerds or WarGames. Also, was WarGames the first pop culture use of camel case?

Less than two weeks to Thanksgiving, and it's still hard for me to believe it's not September anymore...

Ugh, Ravens. Just ugh. These close games are so heartbreaking, and although they are still somehow in the playoff hunt thanks to the AFC apparently having approximately two teams worthy of playing in the NFL this year, it would almost be better if they weren't, because every game is THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON and every time we lose one it's another dagger to the chest.

Game stoppages aren't doing them any favors, either—they were up 10-0 before high winds and tornado threats stopped the game for two hours, and when they resumed, the field was a dangerous mess and the wind gusts were so strong that even short passes could quickly veer off-course. But the Bears had to play in those conditions, too, and they just played better than the Ravens. Yes, Baltimore was able to tie the game at the end to take it to overtime, but despite getting the ball first in OT, they couldn't take advantage and let the Bears get within field goal range on their first posession.

This is their second overtime game in a row (although last week's game should have never gone to OT in the first place), and four of their six losses have been decided by three points or fewer. But the fact that they are keeping the games close and are just having some bad luck at the end doesn't mean they deserve to get to the playoffs this year; the NFL is a tough league and you should expect that most games are going to be close. The teams that win usually win because of more than luck—it's because their coaches and players know how to control the game and/or get the big plays in the final few minutes. Last year's team played in plenty of close games, too, but they found a way to win more often than not, and that's why they were able to get to the playoffs and go on that remarkable run to the Super Bowl.

The only real bright spot in the game was the that the offensive line was protecting Flacco better and opening running lanes for Rice and Pierce, and Rice took advantage, scoring his first touchdown in five games, notching his longest run of the season (47 yards), and passing 100 yards rushing for the first time this season. In addition to the o-line blocking better for him, Rice also seemed explosive for the first time this year. Granted, this was against one of the worst run defenses in the league that had also lost four starters to injury, but they played Jacksonville, another terrible defender of the run, a few weeks ago and got completely shut down in that game.

Next week is another MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON at home against the 5-5 Jets—with a win, the Ravens could climb to 5-6 and be in a tie for the final wild card spot in the AFC with the Jets (and potentially several other teams, including both the Browns and the Steelers). It's highly probable that at least one AFC playoff team will have a losing record, and possible that maybe both of them will (and it's not out of reach that there could be a division winner without a winning record), so the Ravens terribleness this year is well-timed, at least. But I still wish they stop being so awful and really give me something to be excited about as a fan.

On another heartbreaking football note: UGA was pretty much out of the running for national title consideration anyway, but beating #7 ranked Auburn would have at least kept them in the top 25. And it looked like they had pulled it off, too—that is, until they poorly defended a hail mary pass in the closing seconds of the game and tipped the ball right into the hands of an Auburn receiver who scored a touchdown as a result of that gift.

After watching the EXACT SAME THING happen in last week's Ravens game against Cincinnati, it was the worst kind of deja vu, and probably the worst way to see the Bulldogs' season go instantly down the drain.

I've only watched about half the episodes so far, but I'm loving the new series Hello Ladies on HBO. It stars Stephen Merchant, who co-created the original The Office with Ricky Gervais and also co-starred with Gervais on the HBO series Extras. The new show is a weird little cocktail of Extras and Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiam, although Merchant's hapless main character has his own unique appeal.

The only thing I have to criticize so far is the quick introduction of the female friend who is clearly destined to become the love interest (likely sometime in season 3 and/or just before the end of the series)—they're telegraphing the eventual consumation of this relationship way too early, especially for viewers who have seen Extras (which I'm guessing is a significant percentage of their audience).

The soundtrack is amazing, though, mostly because I think the only way I could like some of these songs is because of how they are used in the show. It's mostly 70s lite rock, stuff that NO ONE will admit they are a fan of anymore (stuff like Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat"  and the theme song, Hall & Oates' "Alone Too Long"), but which takes on real meaning and poignancy in the context of the show. It's a brilliant repurposing, and it's infected me so much that I've considering going back and adding some of these songs to my music collection. I've also already had one experience where I heard a song from that period and thought, "That would be perfect for Hello Ladies".

Usually by this time of year, we've got all of our imports, processes, adn reports that support our online application piece up and running smoothly, and I'm looking forward to a mostly uneventful holiday break. This year, however, mostly due to the stunning incompetence of the Common App in launching a new version of their application, we are weeks behind where we should be, and although we've managed to stay one step ahead of the reading team so that they don't really know the difference, behind the scenes we're scrambling every day, and we don't even have all the pieces in place yet that we need to have online by the first week of December in order to meet our current release date for Early Decision.

The worst part of this is that I may have to ask two or more people on my team to work significant time over the holiday, and while none of them have travel plans, it still sucks to have to do that, especially because they've been driving hard for months and they really deserve some time off. But given how far we are from reaching the goals that we have to reach by the first of December, I don't see how those goals are going to be met in the next few business days.

I really do think things will settle down a bit if we can get the remaining parts of our process online in the next couple of weeks so they can enjoy the December holidays, but I wish we weren't where we are, even though I also think we've done about as much as we could have done given the obstacles we had to overcome from our vendors and from our internal central IT issues (great people, but the policies and procedures are not designed to allow them to be agile and adaptible when unexpected external pressures change the timelines on projects).

It seems like just about every game for the Ravens this year has been a must-win game, but if they don't win against the Jets on Sunday, it may finally be the death knell on a season that, if the AFC as a whole weren't so terrible this year, would have ended two or three weeks ago. It's a home game against a team coached by their former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who the Ravens have never lost to, and winning would put them into a tie with the Jets for the final wild card spot (and likely several others—it seems like nearly half the conference shares the Ravens current 4-6 record).

The magic just doesn't seem to be there this year like it was last year, but the football gods have given them a situation where they can still survive if they somehow find that magic and go on a run for the rest of the season. As a Baltimore, my heart is desperately wanting this to happen; as an observer of the NFL, I know this is pretty unlikely, and I think even my fan's heart will have to give up on this year if they can't find a way to win on Sunday.

The Ravens are still scratching and barely alive after a decisive victory over the Jets (although with so many red zone opportunities that ended in field goals, I have to be disappointed that the 19-3 score differential wasn't much, much larger). The Ravens still have a losing record (5-6), but they are amazingly still in the hunt for the playoffs.

Still, the postseason is a longshot, and the upcoming game against the Steelers on Thanksgiving night will either make those odds slightly better or knock them out of contention once and for all. There are a ton of teams knotted up at 5-6 (or thereabouts) in the AFC right now, all of whom are currently in the running for the final wild card slot, but this next week of games should serve to thin the herd a little bit. It's unlikely that the Ravens will be in sole possession of this wildcard slot even if they win against the Steelers, but they could put themselves closer to the top of the heap if things go badly for the other teams they're currently tied with.

My dad and stepmother are coming to spend Thanksgiving with us, but they're the only family that's coming into town, so things should still be pretty low-key and relaxing. I was considering ordering the turkey from a gourmet grocery store, but after my stepmother told Julie how much she was looking to my brined turkey, Julie convinced me to get a small bird and cook it myself. So I'll probably spend a lot of the afternoon on Wednesday and most of the day on Thursday prepping and cooking, but that shouldn't be too stressful—the casseroles can be done the day before, and the turkey is no big deal once you actually get it into the oven.

We don't have any plans, really, and it's hard for me to imagine us going anywhere on Black Friday, so I imagine it will be a few quiet days of them hanging out with Will and me catching up on some reading. If I'm lucky, work emails will also take a break and I'll actually get to enjoy some downtime.

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