Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Good We Have With Us Forever

On the one year anniversary of Rob's passing, I'm going to try and forgo the descriptions of how much I miss him, and how this has been a tough year. Instead I'll share a few funny stories of great times I had with him.

When we were both in college, and he was back on summer break, we went out to Nokomis beach on occasion to hang out and swim. I had just come in from swimming, and was drying off up by our stuff, when a girl came up. Of course I thought she was hitting on me, but what she really said was "Hey, would you do me a favor and give this to your friend when he comes in?" I said "Sure, and ahem, yeah, he's my brother" thinking that I would enlighten her to my good looks. She wasn't bitin' though, and reminded me that it was for him. It turns out it was her phone number. Rob had no time for her however and just discarded her number. With Rob it was easy come, easy go. Until Jane came into his life. Then he never looked back.

We had many funny fishing stories, but one of the best was when we were fishing in Mercer and when he wasn't looking I managed to cast my line over a branch that was probably 12-15 feet in the air. When I said "Oooopsie," he looked at me and said "What?" I pointed to my line and he just broke out laughing. Both of us did.

"How did you get it way up there?" he asked.

I didn't have an answer, but when I think of the incident, and his great laugh and reaction, it is wonderful.

I used to have some pretty big house parties when Mom would go on vacation out of state. I'd invite all of my college and work friends over, turn on some music and have some beers. It was always a lot of fun. I remember one where Rob came in after his own night out and not one, but two of my girlfriends came up to me and said "Who is that?"

"Oh, that's my brother Rob," I'd say, trying to play it down.

"Gosh is he good looking," they'd say.

"Ahem, yeah, and he's my brother," I'd say, trying to remind them of the blood relation/gene pool thing. Needless to say, they weren't looking to get any deeper in the gene pool.

I was beginning to see a pattern.

There were the funny stories from our childhood; riding his bike off the porch for a quarter, (forgive me, Rob), the fire he started in my closet, (I forgive you, Rob), his diet pill binge, the cat in the truck cab, (forgive us, Tom). There were the fun trips we took with him and our family to Hackensack, Mercer, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, the BWCA and tons of others.

There were the countless fishing outings including carp fishing at the Mississippi, Lake Phalen as kids, Como Lake for whatever we could drag out of it, White Bear with cousins, Mille Lacs with brothers, the St. Croix river at Bayport with step-sisters/brothers, the BWCA, Forest Lake, Spider Lake and his great musky, and many, many more. He loved fishing, that's for sure, and he did it well.

Those are just a few of the many GREAT memories I have of my time with Rob. If I'm having a hard day, I try and draw on some of these great times and it makes my day a little easier.

I miss his smile, I miss his fellowship, I miss fishing with him, but most of all, I miss laughing with him.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Steam Roled

Ben's football team, the Waukesha South Jr. Blackshirts 8th graders had their first game this week versus the cross town rival Waukesha West Wolverines. Waukesha West has always managed to have a decent varsity program and typically it filters down to the lower levels as well. It is always a priority every year for his coaches to "beat West". They seem to always give them a good game, but I don't remember them beating them. This year was different. They managed to rather soundly beat the Wolverines by a score of 30-20. There were a couple of big plays by a couple of players, but for the most part this win was a team win. Everybody participated, no one boy really stood out as being indispensable. Everyone worked together and it seemed to be a really good start to the season.

Watching Ben always brings back memories of my playing days at the grade school level. Like him, I played 6th through 8th grade. 6th and 7th grade was at the intramural level, so I managed to be a starter. Eight grade was different; more organized, more focus on winning. Like Ben, I was small for eighth grade. Like him, I was a second stringer - at best - and sometimes a third. Like him, I was just glad to be a part of a team. Like him, I questioned my ability at times, because I was always "second best". Like him I had moments of brilliance on the field. I may have had a bigger love for the game, but otherwise, our similarities are more than our differences.

I recall the one game I actually started as an eighth grader. I was nervous going in, but the coach had enough confidence in me and wanted to get some of the smaller guys some playing time, as well as the ability to "start" a game. I played defensive end. My main job was "box the ends." Force the play inside by boxing the ends. So I boxed away.

Well, the opponent decided to run a sweep my way. I boxed the end only to see a guard and fullback forming  a wall that I was soon to be a part of. They came at me hard and I took a full shot. Absolutely came up spitting dirt. I barely knew what hit me. It turned out the play didn't gain but a couple of yards. I ran back to the huddle and I remember the star linebacker Tim Godfrey came up hit me on the shoulder pad and said "Nice play Jimmy."

I think my response was "Wha? I got steamrolled."

He said "No, you broke up the interference. Nice play."

It was then that it occurred to me that EVERYONE has a role, regardless of ability. It's not about wins or losses, size, speed, or strength. It's about DOING YOUR BEST. Giving 100% for your team.

That's what it's all about.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dirty Girl - Waukesha, WI August, 2012

I spent my Sunday morning this past weekend with 20.000 women at the Dirty Girl Run at the Waukesha County Expo Center in Waukesha. I went in support of my wife and her friends who as a team of 12 or so women, chose to run/walk the course together. If you haven't heard about it, it is a non-competitive event that covers 3.1 miles and is riddled with obstacles that the women must climb over under and around. It's a bit like a 5K obstacle course. The event is intended to raise money for Breast Cancer, but I think ultimately it does much more.

What I saw on Sunday was women having an absolute blast, challenging themselves, encouraging one another and getting pretty dirty along the way. Some did it to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone, others for something different than another 5K, still others did it just to have fun with their friends. All of them however did something in the name of breast cancer support. And while I've heard people question what percentage of the proceeds this and other cancer runs actually donates to cancer research, I don't think that is the point here. The point is women empowered. In these times of "the war on women", it was refreshing to see an event where they and their efforts are the focal point.

I have to admit, I was a bit ill-informed as to the competitive level of the event going in. I thought it was going to be a full-on run, but after watching it, it was just a case of too many people. There were too many  backups at the obstacles to really make it a "timed event". At the same time, I don't think that's what it was meant to be about. It was about goal setting, achievement, accomplishment, and self realization. All of these women were pushing themselves in one way, and you cannot knock that.

What I loved about it was there were women of every size, age race, and fitness level competing. Thin, heavy, tall, short, black, white, old and young. There was music blasting at various locations and the mood was festive, to say the least. My wife was a sport about the whole thing and did every obstacle thrown at her, which is a stretch for her and I recognize that. I am proud that she not only had the guts to sign up for it in the first place, but to actually complete it.

I've run into a few people that say they "don't get it, I guess" when I tell them what the Dirty Girl Run is all about. The people that don't get it, don't get "cancer" and how much it sucks. They don't get how doing something bigger than yourself once in a while might make you a better, more humble person. They don't get how relationships and friendships are sometimes strengthened when people encourage, support, challenge and cheer each other on in a team spirit at these events. They don't get it because they don't want to get it, and you know what? To each his/her own.

The whole thing got my son Ben to thinking he wants to try the Warrior Dash next year. That is a somewhat more competitive, co-ed event that I am thinking I may do with him. It would be a good chance to push each other in a competitive environment. We'll see.

In the meantime, I want to say to all the women who did the Dirty Girl this year, Congratulations and Thank You for doing your part to beat cancer. You are awesome.

Blogging off...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Table For One

Many of you know that I am an introvert, I don't think that's a huge secret. I've been thinking a lot about how I got this way, what the implications are and how people perceive me as a result of what I wrongly consider a character flaw.

Much like other personality characteristics, I think it ebbs and flows. There are times when I crave interaction, and times (more frequently) when I retreat and want to be alone or with just family. I've said before how being around others seems to energize some people, for me it is more of a drain. That DOES NOT mean I don't want to be around people, because I do. I'm just saying that while it's fun, and I love talking and laughing with people, typically it requires a significant recovery period of alone/family time. Put in back-to-back social events and I'm likely holed up for a week after. Energize me it does not.

I think back to my first and last sleepover as a kid, when I was about 10 years old. I got homesick about 9:00 and had to have my mom come and get me. My son, on the other hand, would probably be happy to have a sleepover every night. Why the difference? He's flesh and blood, shouldn't he be like me? Evidently not. Am I the weird one, or is he? I say me, again wrongly, as neither of us are weird. (Quiet you!)

The weird thing is I do enjoy talking to people. My wife would argue that I'm coming out of my  shell more as I age, and I think it's true. Why is it then, that if I see someone I know in the grocery store I'll switch aisles? Nine times out of ten, if I talk to them I end up really enjoying it. Why the initial fear and avoidance? I can't tell you. All I can do is ask forgiveness. It's something only another introvert can appreciate and, hey, I'm working on it, OK? For years I've been trying to "cure" myself of these "weird" tendencies. Maybe more exposure will help, I think to myself. Well, it hasn't happened in the last 50 years, I doubt it's going to in the next 50. Please don't hold it against me.

Another example was my first concert. I can remember loving The Electric Light Orchestra so much that I thought I am going to the concert whether I can get anyone to go with or not. I tried a couple of people and no one wanted to go. So I went alone. It was awesome, but I was the weird kid who went alone. I've done that at other music venues, because I'm a music lover and rather than drag someone to something that they don't want to go to, I go alone. Weird? Maybe, but I'm OK with it.

At our ESRI Conference every year, I dread the opening day when they tell everyone to turn to your neighbor and introduce yourself. Oh God, not that again. The thing is, I always come away having met someone who's interesting and, often times, from a far away place. Why, then, the initial dread? I dunno. It sucks and, like I said, I'm working on it. Help me out here.

My brother Rob was an incredibly social person. Loved people. Looked forward to being around people. People energized him. You had to drag him away from parties. The difference in me is that I do not necessarily look forward to being around people, but when you get me there, sometimes you have to drag me away from the party. This is because I love talking to people, its the thought of talking to people that I dread. Does that make sense? What is that about? Where does that come from?

In grade school I was voted runner-up as "most shy." I was always a bit of a loner. Loved having friends (mostly my brothers' friends) over to my house, but didn't like going to theirs. So, evidently it's been with me for life. Again, those of you that know me know

Tonight I was at a party with old friends and co-workers. (Thanks Brad and Donna!) Despite being apprehensive about not knowing anybody (not true), and dreading going, (as I always do), it turned out I had a GREAT time talking to people. Again, much worry and dread for naught. Wasted energy. I talked about fishing, biking, writing, football, life and death. Why would anyone dread that? Yet I do. And I always end up a better person for having gone out of my comfort zone, going and people like you.

So that's where I'm coming from. I don't mean to slight you when it seems I'm slighting. It's just my makeup; it's how I tick. Don't hold it against me, cuz I love you man. Even if I'm switching aisles as a way of showing it.

Blogging off...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Guitars and Growing Up

My son turned 14 this week. It's hard to describe how much he's matured in the past few months. Not only has his voice dropped an octave or two, but when he came back from New York after a week away, he looked like he had grown two inches. He is now almost as tall as my wife. I'm not sure he'll make my height, but he could have a late growth spurt like I did as well. I was a shrimp until about my Junior year when I shot up a few inches.

The physical changes are the obvious ones. He seems to be taking charge of other areas of his life in as well. He got a guitar for his birthday and seems to be intent on learning how to play it. We took him to Outpost Music and kind of let him pick out his own acoustic guitar. He chose a real nice Oscar Schmidt (by Washburn) black acoustic. It's a lovely instrument with a nice sound. I hope he sticks with it and does well with it. Mastering an instrument is a gift I never had, despite being a huge music fan. (Listening to music as I write this). We all go through phases, (I did) where we want to learn and master an instrument, and few stick with it. I hope he does.

I think his football coach has had an impact on his sudden growth and maturity. I got the chance to hear this coach's philosophy a couple of days ago and it was interesting. He said that he told the boys that football is more than just two hours of practice 3X a week and a game. He told them that he expected them to carry the principles of the sport, teamwork, courage, discipline and respect into the other areas of their lives. He also preaches good health; eating well, getting enough rest, and more than once he has said "be sure and get off the XBox and move around."

And finally, he's taken a keen interest in becoming better at his position. More than  once already he has asked me to throw him some passes. In doing so, I've seen him become more confident and more skilled at it. The other day when I picked him up he said that they had done tackling drills, and he wished there was a way he could practice tackling. I wish I could help him with that, but told him he'd just have to do his best and not be afraid of kids bigger than him. I just thought it was good of him to recognize an area that could be improved on and want to improve it. A sure sign that he's growing up.

Something has resonated with Ben because he seems to be slightly more conscious of what he eats, how he schedules his day and how he treats adults and his friends. I always knew he was a good kid, but now he seems to be proving it in a more mature way. (Side Note: I realize that he is a teen, and this whole behavior is subject to radical change at any time and I fully expect it will. Until it does though, I'm going to ride this wave. I'm loving it.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Just Why?

This past weekend we had a tragic shooting (is there a non-tragic shooting?) in Oak Creek, WI. Six defenseless Indian Sikhs were killed in their house of worship (Temple). As it turns out it was a white supremacist, ex-Army guy that did the killing. He was eventually gunned down as well, in what turns out was a bit of sweet justice.

This comes only a couple of weeks after the Aurora, Colorado Batman shootings where twelve innocents were killed in a gruesome killing spree by another maniac, James Holmes.

My questions are many.

When will the insanity stop? What possesses these men to get to the point where killing innocent, defenseless people can be done with calculated precision and zero emotion. What will it take to restore common decency to our culture? Why are semi-automatic weapons laws so weak? Where is God in all of this?

Short of draconian gun laws and national adoption of the death penalty, I see no answers to how we solve the problem. Even with those two pieces in place, bad people will continue to find ways to kill.

We didn't watch a single minute of news coverage of this tragic event as a family. I wear this claim with pride. We relied strictly on internet updates and newspaper coverage.

I do this intentionally.

Part of the reason is I want to shelter my kids from the endless media hype around tragic events like this. I attribute the news media with being a big part of the whole problem. News hype begets more nut-jobs trying to get news coverage. Things like this are traumatic enough for adults, I refuse to inflict the endless 24/7 news anchor talking heads on my kids. It puts them in a state of fear and despair. It puts me in one just reading about it. I've been through enough disasters with my kids to know that the news only puts them in a heightened state of fear and confusion. This includes Katrina, 911, Columbine, etc.

So I continue to take a partial head-in-the-sand approach to these kinds of things. I'm brutally aware that they are going on, and they will continue to go on as long as guns are made and hatred is spewed by extremist groups. That doesn't make me want to watch wall to wall coverage of it. It only makes me want to crawl in a hole and pray for this messed up world.

Blogging off...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Football On The Brain

My son Ben started football practice this week. He goes through about a 5 day "conditioning" stage with no pads, then progresses on to full-pad practices after that. They will be practicing 3-4 days a week from now through mid-October when they finish up.

I must say his attitude toward football is totally different this year. He started preparing a few days before his first practice by doing some sit-ups and push ups. He's taking charge and making sure he's ready for practice and has not griped about being sore, or not wanting to go to practice. He has matured significantly in the past 3-4 months in many ways, and, believe me, its a beautiful thing to see. On top of that when he walked in the door after being in NY for a week, it looked like he had grown 2 inches in a week. He's like his father, thin, lean and lanky. He seems to have hit a growth spurt and is showing no signs of slowing.

I went to pick him up from practice yesterday and got there a few minutes early to see how the new coach was working out. It was refreshing to see Ben and his teammates "clapping" a struggling player to the end line during some sprints. They went out to where the big kid was and ran alongside him and encouraged him to finish strong.

Now, if my son gets nothing else out of his whole football career, I think this practice is enough to make him a better person. If we cannot "clap each other in" in life, then what kind of people are we? Kids need to see this, practice it, and know that others would do the same for them. If people would treat each other as teammates (especially in the realm of politics) instead of opponents, the world would be a better place, agreed?

Much like Ben, I played football in 6th through 9th grade. I LOVED IT. It was what I lived for as a kid. Also like Ben, I was small for my age. I was a starter, but it was just an intramural league, nowhere near as organized as what he is going through. I remember the director of the league would show up in his Ford Galaxy rag top, open the trunk and we'd all have to pick a helmet. If you got there late, you got the crappy, ill-fitting helmet. Concussions didn't happen. If they did, they were not recognized as such.

Today things are much more closely regulated, and I think that's for the better. We had fun, but it was a different time. Our culture was not sue-happy and sports were not elevated to the insane level they are now. It's all good, both then and now. I can't wait to see where it takes him, especially if he decides to play in High School. Hope he does. He's my son, and he makes me proud.

Blogging off...