Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Not Silent Night

Being alone is rough. Being alone on Christmas, I think, will just plain suck.

No kids. No loved ones. No special someone. Nobody to enjoy a cup of egg nog (does anyone actually enjoy egg nog?) in front of a fire (if I had a fireplace) with.

No squeals of joy from little ones when they see what Santa brought them this year.

It would be easy to mope. To get down. To say "screw this" and turn Christmas into a 12-pack induced pity party.

But as I stood on my balcony tonight, pondering my first real Christmas all alone EVER in my life, I realized it could be much worse.

I could be alone, and homeless.

I could have nobody who cares about me...which I know is not the case.

I could be hungry and not sure where to find a meal.

I could be estranged from my childrens' lives and not know that they like raisin bran more than cheerios, and donuts over bagels.

I could be fighting for my country halfway around the world, worrying about being blown up by a guy with a garage door opener, away from my loved ones with no chance of seeing them anytime soon.

Or I could be gone from this world, dust in the wind, and not be able to wake up Christmas morning and take a deep breath of the cold air and thank God for being alive this day.

So Christmas Eve, I'll put on my snow boots and trudge through whatever amount of snow down the street, go to a Christmas service, and thank God for what I have in my life:

- Two amazing sons who never cease to amaze me or bring a smile to my face.
- Countless friends who are always there for me and always find a way to make me laugh.
- An amazing family who has helped me out through some rough times in the last few years (Thank you Mom, Dad, Dave, Jim, and your families).
- The fact that I understand that my life is not about my possessions, my income, my things, but about who I am as a person, and how I treat the people around me.

Standing on the balcony alone tonight, I heard from across the street ice skates shushing across a rink, and the sound of a puck being smacked off a stick, then hitting the rink wall with a loud "thump." As the snow lightly fell, I heard the sound of a shovel scraping against a sidewalk, scratching its way from clean white to dirty gray. From a distant snowbank, the sound of children taking delight in the early stages of the "stormegeddon" can be heard.

What a beautiful, peaceful and not so silent night.

Merry Christmas! May your nights never be silent.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What matters in life...a no brainer

As 2009 winds down, I look back on what without question was the most difficult and challenging year of my life.

Losing my job, and being on unemployment for nearly 10 months.

Losing my townhouse, and having to scramble to find a place to shelter my sons and continue to feed them.

Losing what I thought was a solid relationship, and in the process learning so much more about people and what to look for in the people I allow in my life.

But the old saying has never been more true for me than before, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

As I look forward to 2010, I look forward to a major career shift, one that will allow me to use my skills in a new way, and one that rather than always facing catastrophe when the economy gets shaky, will allow for growth.

I also have streamlined and simplified my life in a way that has really gotten me back to the basics, like many Americans still need to learn. My sons have learned that "things" are not what is important, but people...and that when they get some special things, they appreciate them even more.

And, most importantly, I have learned that the true friends in my life are there no matter what my job title is, no matter how much is in my bank account. Really the true friends are there no matter what, period.

And you know who you are. You have stood by me and let me vent out my frustrations, or helped me move on a moment's notice, or helped me find some part time work to help pay the bills. You've given me reasons to laugh and smile, and thanked me when I helped you laugh or smile. To each and everyone of you, I can't say thank you enough for being a true friend, and for all you did.

As 2010 approaches, I have re-learned such a simple, but true lesson - you cannot measure a person by their wealth in dollars, but you can measure a person in their wealth of friends and family. And I am the richest mofo I know in that regard.

Happy Holidays to everyone, and may 2010 be an amazing year of self-discovery and growth for all of you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Date #1; Delayed #2

Tonight's version of my blog is another retelling of an old story. More than two years ago, in fact. But it's a night which will live in my mind forever.

Two years plus back, a good friend of mine who was down on his luck needed a place to crash for a few weeks or so (it ended up being over 6 months, but I digress). So I spent an entire Saturday helping him move things either to my meager two bedroom townhouse, or to his storage locker.

Around 5 or so, I had to bow out because I needed to get ready for a first date with someone I was excited to meet. I ended up dating her for over a year, and she to this day is an incredible friend to me. Again, digressing.

The new roomie and his girlfriend had a few more loads to bring yet that night, so I gave him my house key to finish the job.

As I was getting ready to leave for my date, the new roomie and his girlfriend arrived with their last load. I asked him for my key, a habit I have since I'm always paranoid about what would happen if the garage door suddenly wouldn't open due to power failure or some other factor. He said fine, but wondered how he'd lock up when he was done.

I thought about it and suggested he just lock the bolt on the front door, then run out the garage door after pushing the button. Easy enough, right? I guess not, and you'll see why later.

So I go on my date, have a fantastic time at dinner, then end up hanging out until almost 2 a.m. sitting on her patio watching her dog and her roommate's dog chase each other around. I decide it's time to head home, and set on my way.

About halfway home I realized I really really had to go to the bathroom. Not the "pull over and hide behind a bush" kind either. The big deuce.

I pulled into my driveway and hit the garage door opener. Nothing. I pull the remote off the visor and shake it and try about 20 more times. "Good thing I got that key," I think to myself.

I walk up to the front door, insert the key, and...nothing. Yeah seriously. It didn't work. I tried calling my new roomie at his old apartment where he was staying one last night. No answer.

30 attempts to awaken him did no good. FML.

I quickly went into panic mode, thinking that I was going to have to drop a deuce in my 6x6 manicured lawn, without toilet paper. I envisioned running to a neighbor's house, but then remembered that a) nobody there knew me, and b) nobody was awaked at 2:30 a.m.

Yet nature was calling. I even was starting to sweat profusely on my forehead and feared what they might find the next morning. A dead man, smeared in poo and sweat, his hand frozen as if he were clawing at his front door.

But damnit. I had to sleep tonight too.

So I called a locksmith, and searched in my trunk for duct tape to prevent me from having an accident before he arrived.

The locksmith arrived. A chatty fellow. Slow too. Every word made my stomach rumble more and more. He tried to open the lock. And tried some more. And some more. After an hour of trying, he said his only option was to drill through the current lock and replace it. "That's fine. Just make it fast, please!"

30 minutes later, he finally broke through the lock and the door was open. "Now I'll install the new lock," he pronounced. "I tell you what, while you do that, I am going to go take care of some business that is urgent inside."

After ripping off the duct tape dam (no, I didn't really do this, but just making sure you're still reading), I rushed into the little boys' room and took care of my mighty deuce.

The next morning I learned that the new roomie had 1) inadvertantly given me his apartment key instead of my townhouse key, and 2) when he went to go out through the garage door, he inadvertantly hit the combination of buttons that makes it automatically lock to all openers. Nice.

The lesson for the evening? Always wear Depends on your first date.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shark bait: Continuing the bucket list

So back in June, my friend Mike and I jumped out of an airplane (see previous blog entry from June) to kill some time in our unemployed lives and overcome a few fears and even more make women think we're all that and a bag of chips.
Since that time, we decided to create a bucket list of sorts, things we wanted to do before we kicked the bucket (cue up John Mayer's Say What You Need To Say). And one night during The Discovery Channel's Shark Week, we both came up with our next addition. We were going to go swimming with sharks.

How on Earth do we do that on the budget of an unemployed loser? Certainly we couldn't afford to get scuba certified, or a plane ticket to the Australian reef to come face to face with a Great White.

Our answer came from a rather unlikely, and somewhat non-preferred source - the dreaded Mall of America. UnderwaterWorld, nestled in the basement of the most dreaded mall to all Minnesotans, is home to 5,000 creatures roaming 1.2 million gallons of water. Only one problem. Money.

To swim or scuba with the sharks would set us back quite a bit...nearly as much as skydiving if not more. So we scaled things back and decided to feed the sharks instead.

We both arrived with little adrenaline compared to the feeling we had when we were about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at 13,000 feet. "Oh, wow, yeah, going to throw some chopped up fish into the water and see a shark eat it," I was thinking to myself.

After a short tour of the facilities, including the lab where they study dead fish and the kitchen where they chop up dead fish for nourishment, we were above the shark tanks, being told the intricacies of properly feeding a nurse shark, a brown tiger shark, and a black-tip reef shark.

I was up first, and after being strapped into a harness (just in case, nobody has fallen into the tank, yet) and another reminder of how to feed them (hold the headless mackerel firmly in the feeding pole until just a few seconds before the shark comes near it, then release. If the shark grabs on to the pole, let go of the pole, etc. etc.), a large tiger shark neared the area where I was moving the fish around about a foot under the water.

I felt a gust of adrenaline as the shark got within a few feet of the fish. "Ok, Steve, don't screw this up, get ready to release, get ready to release, get ready to release." The next thing I know, the shark strikes from over 2 feet away in what seemed like a millisecond, swallowing the fish, and the pole, and trying to pull me into the water. The guide told me "let go, let go, let go" and I let go of the fish with the clamp on the pole. He again said "let go of the pole, let it go." It didn't process in my brain quick enough, and I was wrestling with a 400 pound plus beast who could, quite easily I might add, take off a limb or two from my finely aged human self.

As I let go of the fish, the shark chomped a few more times on the feeding pole and tugged a few good more times before I was able to pull it back out of the water, noticing my feet were covered with water from the shark's struggle.

While the adrenaline rush was nothing compared to skydiving in terms of longevity, it was every bit as intense as I realized, "Holy crap, I just fed and grappled with a shark, yet another thing I fear in the world."

After Mike did his feeding, we went back through the underwater tunnel to see the sharks we just fed from below. As we made our way through, we looked at the various sharks, and taunted them over our superior abilities through a very thick plexiglass tunnel. "Yeah, shark, you think you're bad? You're not so bad. I pwn3d you, shark!"

So now, Mike and I are planning our next adventures. Tattoos? The Running of the Bulls? Drinking the water in Mexico? The sky and the sea are the limit. But the bucket is getting filled.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A letter I never sent

I wrote this letter three years ago today, to the father of Matthew Bohn, a young boy who passed away on United Flight 232 exactly 20 years ago today. Matthew was the first body to come through the makeshift morgue where I worked with my fellow lifeguards as volunteers on July 20, 1989.

July, 19, 2006

Dear Jim and Cindy (please share this with Cindy, Jim) –
This is by far the hardest and most difficult thing I've ever had to write in my life, which is saying something given my career as a writer/communicator. For 17 years, I've been wanting to communicate with you both, but have not been able to find the right words for what I want to say to you.

Obviously this letter is about Matthew…and I know that this isn't probably something you like to be reminded of on a daily basis.

As a father myself today, I can't imagine what it would be like to experience what you did on July 19, 1989. But I want you to know that Matthew had a tremendous impact on people that he didn't even meet – and I am one of those people.

On that fateful day, I was working as a carefree Lifeguard at a swimming pool in Sioux City, enjoying my summer after my freshman year in college. I was 18 years old, and like any other 18-year-old, I thought I knew everything and had the world in the palms of my hands…as I was taking a break in the Lifeguard room at the pool, I heard a news report crackling on our cheap radio. There was a plane crash at the Sioux City airport…big news for around there…but it didn't even phase me at that point that it would impact me.

Within 24 hours of that moment, my life would be changed forever, and your son was at the very heart of that change. That night, on the 19th, the local Red Cross asked for lifeguards to come out to help serve food and refreshments to the rescue workers. As an 18-year-old, being naïve and thinking I was indestructible, I served kool aid and hot dogs to firemen, national guard troops and EMTs covered with soot and sweating from the intense Iowa summer. I strained to get a look at the crash site some 1000 yards away, but could not see anything. As I left that night, I assumed that was as close as I would ever come to this disaster.

The next morning, I received a wake-up call that will never be paralleled in my lifetime. I was told that I was needed back at the airport for volunteer work, and that the pools were going to be working on a skeleton crew basis. Without going into too much of the details that you don't need to know…I ended up working in the makeshift morgue that morning, and Matthew was the first person we had come through that morning.

I was in the phone room when you or one of your loved ones called in with descriptions of what Matthew was wearing, and I recognized the clothes the minute he came in the morgue. I couldn't begin to describe what I felt at that moment, but it was a moment that forever changed me.

As a lifeguard, I was used to teaching and coaching kids like Matthew to swim, either just for the sake of being able to swim, or for competitive purposes. It had never before occurred to me that we as humans did not have control over our lives or deaths…but Matthew changed that for me in the blink of an eye.

Today, the father in me can't imagine how each of you has survived through this…and admire your courage and bravery just in waking up each day and living your life. But I also know that there is a positive that came out of this horrible time in many peoples' lives…the fact that we all learned that life is not in our control, we don't know when our time will be up, and it is up to us to wake up each day and live it as if it might be our last on earth.

It is a lesson that most in life never learn, and yet, because of your son, I learned it at a very young age and have applied it to my life. I am not a particularly religious person, but I do believe in a higher spirit, and that our souls go elsewhere when we leave here. I have a tendency to think about Matthew on a fairly regular basis, and even "talk" to him sometimes to thank him for the lesson he taught me…but I wanted this thanks to come to you as well…so you can see at least a sliver of the good that came out of his death.

He did not die in vain, but instead impacted not only me, but everyone who was in the morgue that day. I hope that this letter does not cause discomfort for you…my intention is for this letter to give you, and probably to some extent, me, some peace on this. Matthew, from all that I've read about him, was the typical All-American boy, much like my childhood was for me, and I have never been able to shake the fact that he had no control over what happened that day. I tell my story to as many people that will listen, hoping that they will get something from it…to learn to live life more deliberately and not take anything or anyone in life for granted.

Your son was a hero to me, even though we never met. I wanted you to know this. I hope that this letter gives you a positive feeling, and I apologize if it doesn't.


Steve C
Plymouth, MN

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Daddy Mack Will Make You Jump, Jump!

Have you ever wondered what goes through a person's mind as they fall to the ground at 70 mph 13,000 feet in the sky?

Yeah, me too. Now I can say without a doubt that it is everything and nothing going through that person's mind. It is like every amazing moment in a person's life melds together with a Zen sense of nothingness...nothing that happened before or will happen in the future matters at that moment.

How do I know this? Because last Saturday I decided to tempt the Gods and do a tandem skydive jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

A friend had brought it up casually with me a few months ago, and he said he was putting together a big group of people to jump sometime this summer, probably in July. Things changed, and he found out he'd not be able to have the larger group outing until later in the summer, so we made a spontaneous decision to go, just the two of us, without the bigger group.

We met at the skydive location about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to check in, and were greeted with 25 mph gusts on the ground. That equates to somewhere over 100 mph winds at 10,000 feet. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. 3 hours later, the place was packed with all of the people who had scheduled a jump for the previous 3 hours.
And who was lucky enough to be the very first tandem jumper out of the plane for the day? Yours truly. As I donned the jumpsuit, I had visions of Goose and Maverick...and then got snapped back to reality when I passed a mirror and saw how ridiculous I looked in the too tight jumpsuit. In hindsight, I really should have followed through on my original plan to don parachute pants for the jump.

As we boarded the plane, the fear I had over the previous few weeks suddenly subsided. As we took off on the grassy runway and slowly climbed to 13,000 feet, my tandem instructor went over last minute instructions, then handed me a lifesaver candy and said "Here's a lifesaver, because you can't count on me for that." Ha. Ha. Wait, was he kidding?

As the door rolled open on the plane and we were given the thumbs up to prepare for our leap, a really quick but fleeting sense of panic came over me. Just inches away from me, 13,000 feet below, were houses that looked like dots. Buildings that looked like postage stamps. Farm fields that looked like patterns of a quilt.
Then with a last minute thumbs up to the camera man, we were out of the plane and shooting toward earth at 70 mph. Let me tell you that if you ever want to see what your face would look like if it were made of rubber, go skydiving. Oh, and they tell you to smile, but I recommend just keeping your mouth shut. Same principle as when you are on a don't know what can make it into your open mouth at 70 mph.

After a freefall of about 60 seconds, my tandem instructor tapped my shoulder which told me to grip on to my shoulder harness, and he pulled the chute. There is an odd sensation that occurs as you drop a few inches lower from the tandem jumper when the chute goes out...for a second it feels as if you are going to drop to the ground. A little bit like that feeling you had as a kid when your older relatives used to pretend they were going to drop you when you were in their arms. Only you are thousands of feet above the ground at this point.

From there, it was a calmer, peaceful journey to the ground. After a quick popping of my ears so I could hear my instructor, we began our way down to our landing point. Slowly, the ground went from what looked like a miniature museum display of smalltown America to familar landmarks...Oh I recognize that road. Oh I recognize that car. Oh I recognize that person.

"Lift your legs. We are coming in fast," my instructor yelled. Time to land already? Wait. No. Rewind it back up again and do it all over. Please!

I have to admit, outside of the witnessing the birth of my sons, this was without a doubt the coolest moment I've experienced in my life so far.

So you can count on me returning to two miles above the ground sometime soon. I'm hooked.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Simpler Summer times.

As school is wrapping up for my sons in the next two weeks, I take myself back to my own summer memories growing up in Morningside.
It was a neighborhood where everyone, every single kid, got along. It was The Sandlot meets Stand By Me meets The Wonder Years.

Whether it was a game of backyard football, or rigging up plastic sheeting to serve as a slip n' slide, a full day of playing army in the backwoods, or a night of kick the can or hide and seek, it was rare that there wasn't something happening in the old neighborhood.

I wish so much that my sons could have that same experience. But it is a different time indeed.

We didn't have cable TV, well maybe we did, but we barely got to watch it.

We didn't need to play video games. Granted, there were daylong Atari tournaments for sure, but it wasn't the same addictive quality that video games have over today's youth.

We didn't have sports practices and games, music lessons, swimming lessons, etc., etc., etc., stacking up on our daily summer schedule.

It is sad, really, to think that there was a time when we used to let kids wake up, and start an unknown adventure every day. Explore the woods. Pick up a baseball. Gather up change and walk to the corner store, Johnny's Market. Look for buried treasure. Go snake hunting.

I look back on those days as some of my favorite in life. Everything was so innocent. So pure. So right.


Friday, May 15, 2009

The Online Dating Scene: Top 5 Tips

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, The Hickey Date, I've had my share of online dating over the last 3 years since my divorce.

There are some very important tips that you should follow if you are about to venture out into the cyberworld of matchmaking. Here are my top 5 online dating tips:

5 - Never agree to go on a date with someone who has more pictures of their pets on their profile than of themselves. Let's face it...if they have that many pics of Fido, they are either a) a person who treats their pet like a child, a big red flag, or b) a person who looks worse than their drooling bulldog...a ginormous red flag.

4 - "That's an old picture of me. I don't look anything like that anymore." Um, hello? Then why do you have it posted? NEXT! People using old photos on their profile are either saying "this is when I looked my best, 6 years ago" or "I can't afford a digital camera or I don't have a friend with a digital camera, therefore, I am not worthy of your time."

3 - If you show up and you notice an Adam's Apple on Tiffany, you are fully authorized to fake a heart attack to get out of your date. This rule is recognized in over 36 nation states currently.

2 - Talk on the phone with your potential date before the actual meeting. I learned this the hard way. I had been emailing a woman that I seemed to be getting along great with, and we agreed to meet. We never spoke on the phone before that date. I showed up, and as she spoke, I could hear her voice combining one of Marge Simpson's sisters with Fat Albert. Do. Not. Want.

1 - Use creative wordplay on your dating profile to lure the women in for dates. An example: "Activities: Currently unemployed and staying home playing video games all day drinking beer" becomes "Economically self-sufficient man taking stock of his life and exploring his options." Or "Lazy fat guy seeks sugar mama" becomes "Artistic soul in search of a woman who has it all, but needs companionship and love." It's not that hard. Give it a try.

Happy dating!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reconnecting with my hometown, that SUX

There was always a little bit of George Bailey in me as a kid. I was convinced that I was going to leave my hometown and travel the world (and to a large extent, I have)...and never look back.

When people used to ask me where I was from originally, I'd say "Sioux City. A great place to grow up. And leave." I really am glad I had my eyes opened to how lucky I was to grow up in a place like that.

Then a funny thing happened. I grew up. Last summer I had my 20-year HS reunion, an event I was dreading in many ways. I was probably one of the few single members of my class for one thing, I figured. In addition, I didn't exactly have a blast at the 10 year reunion. You could say my excitement level about the 20th reunion was somewhere between getting a root canal or doing your tax returns.

But I went to the reunion, and surprise of all surprises, I had an awesome time. And I reconnected with people I hadn't talked to in years, as well as began conversations with classmates I never took the time to know back in the day. And that has continued over to the Internet through email and Facebook, as well as text messages and phone calls.

Over the last 11 months, I've been in Sioux City visiting family and friends more than I had in the previous 20 years since I left. I've talked with friends over a dog at Milwaukee Weiner House, or enjoyed a fresh out of the oven Jerry's pizza with my sons, and hearing them get excited when we go to visit my parents about the prospect of ordering "That one guy's pizza."

Every time I've been back, I have been lucky enough to hang out with people from my past, and found that it is easy to pick up where things left off, and reminisce about childhood and high school memories.

And now each time I pack up and head down to Siouxland, I think to myself, I'm going home. To Sioux City. A great place where I grew up. Period. Someone order me a Charlie Boy!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Here soooooeeeeeeey, sooooeeeeeeey!

I may just be too cynical to be cynical at this point, but I'm confused at what the big deal is about the Swine Flu, aka H1N1 Virus, and the hype surrounding it.
I like pigs. A lot.

There's bacon, and ham, and pepperoni. Canadian bacon, hot dogs (at least some part of the pig goes in there), and if you venture up into Canada, they even have back bacon. Pork chops, pork tenderloins, pork on a stick. *Pausing to wipe the drool off my keyboard*.

Not to mention my favorite pig, Floyd of Rosedale - a bronze statue trophy that the Iowa Hawkeyes and Minnesota Gophers play for each year. Ol' Floyd spends alot more time in Iowa these days. I guess pigs are more at home there?

Ok, but back to this virus. I seriously have friends who are freaking out about this, as if they are about to die. Now I know that you can't just scoff at the reports of a pandemic or epidemic, but at the same time, is it really worth the wasted energy to sanitize your entire house, dig a bomb shelter and put your kids in HazMat suits when you send them off to school?

I guess if I'm going to die, I'd rather have it be from a virus caused by making out with a pig then to have a man-eating pig eat me. It's also much better than falling off a 30-story building into a vat of acid. Or falling down a flight of stairs into a bed of steaming hot nails.

I guess my point is, while it may make sense to stay home if you don't feel well, and wash your hands when you are in public places, beyond that, if you are altering your life drastically, well, you are nothing but a Pigist. And I don't have any time for any more haters in this world.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"You better run faster than small town gossip"

There are few people who come into your life that truly leave an imprint that lasts beyond their time. Let me tell you about one of them for me.

Walt Fiegel was unparalleled. This man simply commanded your respect the minute you met him, but he reciprocated that respect with a respect for you. It didn't matter if you were his starting quarterback, his student manager, or someone he just passed in the hallways at my alma mater, Sioux City East High School.

Walt was one of a kind, and he taught me, and literally thousands of others, some very valuable lessons in life.

"Don't forget where you came from."
I did do this, for a long time, unfortunately, but in the end this life lesson came back to me. When I left my hometown of Sioux City, I had no intentions of ever looking back or reconnecting with people from there. I was George Bailey in "It's A Wonderful Life." I was going to leave that crummy town and do bigger things. But then I realized that so much of who I am as a person was shaped by that place. Those people. And now I won't cut that reconnected bond.

"Go home and tell your mother that you love her."
Every football practice in high school ended with this one. It was key to Walt, and it was a great lesson to learn. Our mothers, perhaps like nobody else, have a connection and bond to us that is unbeatable. That bond deserves our respect. It deserves our honest and truthful words. And it is a simple thing to do. Which is why it is so fitting that the annual fundraiser to remember Walt is always held on Mother's Day weekend.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do."
This one speaks to me more than anything else. I've had my hard times in life, as we all do, but over the last year, I've felt more negative scenarios than ever in life. And every time I'm about to give up and say "why me?" or "are you kidding me?" I can reflect back on the days of being at best a mediocre football player on Walt's team, and realize that this was what it was all about. He taught every one of us to go out into the world, and when adversity hits, to not give in. Don't give up. Keep fighting. Find a way to smile every day. Find a way to look at the positives. Don't succumb to the enemy. For this, I owe Walt more than any other of his lessons.

If you would like to honor this incredible man, it is quite easy. On Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, the Walt Fiegel Foundation will be holding an auction/dinner and a golf tournament. Pay your respects to this incredible man by either attending one or both of these events, or by sending a donation to the foundation, which is dedicated to providing scholarships to local athletes who embody what Walt stood for.

While I myself will likely not be able to make it to the events this year, I plan to send a donation so that his spirit can continue on and others in Sioux City will realize how blessed we were to have someone like Walt to touch our lives. Visit for more information.

And remember, if nothing else, that tough times don't last, to hug your mother, and don't you ever forget where you came from. Thanks Coach, and may you have a smile on your face as you watch all of your former players and students live out your life's lessons.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Considering a new hobby - Stand up comedy

So some of you may know that in my grad school days and thereafter, I started doing Improv comedy with a troupe in Iowa City. Some people hear that and say "oh, cool, tell me a joke." Improv is not the kind of comedy where someone is standing up on a stage telling jokes from a routine, for those who don't know. It's like what was done on Drew Carey's show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Well that was an awesome experience that I miss tremendously, but since moving to the Twin Cities, it is much harder to get into a troupe for Improv. They are either fully professional actors doing it all the time as a career, or a group that only does it for their own entertainment in some church basement.

But recently, after a conversation with a good friend in which I had him rolling on the ground in laughter roughly every 30 seconds, I learned about an open mic night at a local comedy club, and he has told me that he thinks I need to go and try it out.

SO, I'm in the process of coming up with a few different routine ideas, and may within the next month or so tackle one more thing on my bucket list, if you will.

For those who live in the Twin Cities, I'll let you know when I'm taking the stage, and will slip you a $20 bill if you laugh.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Getting back into shape...the beginning of the journey

When I was 17, it was a very good year...

Back then, I was a competitive swimmer, specializing in backstroke and individual medley, and had a washboard stomach and much more hair. I continued competing in swimming until my sophomore year of college, when burnout and a bum shoulder made me look for other options to occupy my time. But up until that time, every summer, I used to participate in a mini-triathalon to celebrate the University of Okoboji Homecoming festivities (and if you aren't an Iowan, you likely don't know that there is not really a University of Okoboji).

Since leaving the pool, somehow over the years, my six-pack abs turned into "buddhalicious."

I've decided recently, after hopping in the pool and doing some laps, that before I turn 40, a year from this August, I'd like to return to doing the Okoboji triathalon. This year seems highly unlikely, as it is only 3 months away, and I have a lot of work to do...but by this time next year I'm hoping I'll be on a workout regimen of swimming, biking, and running that will make it realistic for me to do the event.

Today was my first day on a bike that didn't involve pulling a Burley full of little ones in quite some time. I had planned to ride a 10 mile portion of a trail near my place, but instead ended up doing a 12-mile loop that included some roadways as a result of a close trail due to construction.

It felt really great. I even managed to go to a full sprint for the last mile, and the burn in my legs was something I hadn't felt in quite some time.

I'm sure by tomorrow at this time, my butt will be killing me and my muscles will be aching, but you have to start somewhere. Who knows...if I'm lucky, maybe I'll manage to get rid of some of this buddha belly in the process?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A funny story...The Hickey Girl date

I decided since my first blog post was covering a serious topic, I'd give you all something humorous to chew on this time. A year ago right around this time, I was going back into the dating world after ending a one-year-relationship the month before. This is a summary of one of my first dates after dipping my toe back in the dating pool (and after reading it you'll wonder how I possibly could have jumped back in the pool at all).

I had been interacting with J for a few weeks on a dating site through email and chat, and found out that she was a native Iowan like me. She also lived in Plymouth, not too far from me, which seemed like two points in her favor. Things so far were looking good.

The day of the date arrived. We had decided to meet at a bar/restaurant that was about halfway between our places...just 5 minutes drive for each of us.

She called me up about an hour before we were supposed to meet and asked to change our location to a bar in the north metro that she liked to go to. I told her that was fine, but since I didn't know where it was, maybe we should drive together. She said she'd drive if I just went to her apartment.

As I'm driving to her place for the date, she calls my cell phone. "Hey, there is something that I should tell you before you get here...I have a hickey." WHAT? A hickey? Seriously? I thought to myself, and the last time I remember hearing anyone discuss a hickey was probably in 9th grade of high school. I just responded with a soft "Um, ok," and she went on to explain that it happened Saturday night with some guy that was really into her, but she wasn't into him, she was just too drunk that night. Red flag #1...and it was GIANT!

So I get to her place and she meets me in the parking lot. I found myself averting my eyes from her neck and staring at the sky alot. We hopped in the car and off we went. We arrived in the parking lot of the bar about 20 minutes later, and as we are pulling in, the car behind us is weaving and honking non-stop. "Oh shit," J says. "What? Who is it?" I asked her. "My sister. She's probably drunk, too." GREAT! A family affair.

We proceed to the door of the bar, with her drunk sister in tow, and as we walk in the bartender looks at us and yells the announcement of our arrival. "HEY EVERYONE LOOK, HICKEY GIRL IS HERE!" I was ready for Dr. Kevorkian to interrupt this date at this point.

We sit down, and look at the menu, and her drunk sister joins us and asks if I'm buying her dinner too. Sure. Why not? I mean, we might be in-laws soon. NOT. Her sister proceeded to sing karaoke the rest of the night, usually on the stage every other song, even if she wasn't scheduled to be up there. She would glare at us after every song and tell us that we weren't cheering loud enough for her performances. I was looking around for an ejection button on my bar stool.

After about an hour, in walks J's other sister, who was supposed to be watching J's 7-year-old son. "I got bored so I dropped him off with his cousin." J's newly arrived sister was going through a divorce, but had a boyfriend. She liked to come to this bar to hit on a tattooed NASCAR fan who wore jorts (look it up) and a Megadeth t-shirt. Can never have enough guys like that in your life, right?

By this time, it was about 10:30, on a weeknight, and I had to get to work the next morning early. I told J that it was probably about time to head home. "Yeah, I suppose I should get my son and get him to bed since he has school tomorrow." Ya think? Really? I mean because maybe if you just keep him up all night the learning experience will be more surreal for him.

We go to pick up her son from the cousin's house. I make it a rule that my kids don't meet anyone I'm dating unless it is serious - they have only met two of the women I've dated in the last 3 was a year-long relationship, the other 6 months. But here I was with J's son in the backseat, trying to explain when he asked who I was.

This was also a perfect time for her son to decide that he must be getting sick. So every 5 minutes on the 20 minute drive back to her apartment, he made us pull over the car so I could join him on the shoulder of the road and listen to him make fake puking noises. The 20 minute drive took 45 minutes. As we were nearing her apartment and my salvation, she suddenly swerved quickly into the next lane, lamenting "Oh crap, I forgot to pick up my prescriptions. Can we go through the Walgreen's Drive Thru?" Sure, of course, I thought. See if they have any samples of Prozac I might be able to borrow.

Finally, we arrive at her place, and as I begin my semi-sprint to my car, she yells out "I'd invite you up for a nightcap, but I have my son." No shit? I didn't notice him.

Needless to say, that was the last I ever saw of Hickey Girl.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Welcome to my crazy world...the rubber ball bouncing back

Remember those super balls that you had as a kid? Throw it against a wall and then get ready to duck because it would fly back and forth forever.

My life has essentially mirrored this over the last 8 weeks. I was whipped against the wall, bounced off another wall, and then yet another, and another. And like the super ball, instead of stopping, I'm no worse for the wear, and I'm still going...bouncing into better places for the first time in a long time.

Flash back to last Fall to begin this story. I had reconnected quite unexpectedly with a woman I knew since childhood, and there was spark that felt very natural and unforced.

While it was a long-distance relationship, we managed really well to make it work, spending time together in our hometown, Sioux City; or in Des Moines, the mid-point of our locations, or in Iowa City, watching both of our favorite football team, the Iowa Hawkeyes on multiple occasions. Then there were trips to her home in Kansas City, and vacations to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Tampa, Florida. Every minute we spent together was like something you'd read about in some cheesy romance novel that women love to read. In just six months time together, we created memories that would last a lifetime for most people.

Then, the super ball started the bouncing journey. Around the second week of February, out of nowhere, she began to grow more distant, and within a week, she ended the relationship. It caught me completely by surprise, and would have been enough to devastate alot of people. I tried to stay strong, but not having a full picture of what led to the break-up drove me crazy in my mind.

Then, just three days after getting my Dear John email, I was laid off from my awesome job. Again, this caught me completely by surprise, as I was one of the less expensive employees for my company -- my job had been shifted from 40 to 25 hours back in September, and my medical and dental benefits were lost.

Now these two things would have been enough to put alot of people I know in a straight jacket...and for a brief time, I was afraid that I would end up in one. But I persevered. Leaned on my friends and family to talk through things, and tried to remember that a positive attitude can go a long way.

Fast forward about 2 weeks later, and the super ball continued the journey. My townhouse went into foreclosure the previous September, and I had been trying to find out from my mortgage company the date I had to be out of there without a sheriff coming to my door and forcibly removing me. After leaving voicemail after voicemail for a 3-week period, with no callbacks, I finally got a live person on the phone at the attorney's office representing my mortgage company. This was on a Thursday. They confirmed for me that I had to be out of my townhouse by end of day the following Monday.

GREAT! Compounding the stress was the fact that I had agreed to take a short-term 3-day job with my friend that required a trip to Milwaukee, WI, and we had to leave on Sunday night. So I essentially had 72 hours to pack everything I owned up, and put it into a 10x20 storage unit I had rented. Could I do it? By myself?

Just 20 minutes after hanging up with the mortgage people, there was a knock at my door. The Repo Man cometh...and he taketh away my car. I had been waiting for a severance check to be deposited into my account to get the car payment current...and it had just been deposited that day. But it was too late. Repo Man had to take my car. So Thursday night I began the process of getting the car back (how do you move out of a townhouse without a car?).

After wiring the payment, and jumping through silly hoops for the car loan folks, I was finally given clearance to retrieve my car around noon on that Friday. The catch? I had to get to St. Cloud (an hour drive from my home) by 2:30 that afternoon. Luckily a good friend was able to drive me up there, I got the car, and was back home by 6 that evening. A day in which I needed to be packing was completely blown. 48 hours to pack everything I owned and moved into the storage unit.

I did get everything into the storage unit, thanks to some incredible friends...and made it for the job in Wisconsin. For the next week and a half after returning to the Twin Cities, I lived in the same cheap flea-bag motel I lived in for a time during my divorce 3 years ago. I finally secured an apartment that was close to my old townhouse, and would allow me to continue to have my sons the two school nights I have them without creating too long of a drive to school in the morning.

I also began to heal on the ended relationship, realizing that there was nothing I could do to have changed the outcome. It is still a mystery to me how and why it ended, but I guess even if I never know the full story, at least it ended before I got so far into it that it would have been even more hurtful.

Now, my sole focus is sending this super ball back into the job market, whether it is in my old field, or a new one. I am essentially living a clean slate and starting from scratch in all facets in my life, and it actually feels GOOD.

The super ball hit the ground, and is now soaring quickly back up into the air, and is not looking back.