Monday, November 15, 2010

Do Over

When reflecting on where you are in life, it's possible you may look back on the events that transpired and think to yourself, "I wish I'd done that differently." I'm not talking about the ugliest person you dated, buying a lemon of a vehicle, or actually paying to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in the theatre. I'm talking about the huge life events. Something that inevitably changed the outcome of your life to date. I was recently reminded of my 'do over'. In the mid-90s I was in my mid-20s and had it pretty sweet. I had a nice apartment within walking distance of my two good jobs. I made decent money and drove a really cool Jeep. On the surface, it was truly ideal. But I was in my 20s and 'ideal' wasn't good enough. So when my culinary Yoda called me and wanted me to move 2,000-plus miles to become his sous chef in Oregon, my mind was made up before I hung up the phone. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't the most confident young man back then and didn't have the stones to move cross-country all by myself so I brought along my on again/off again girlfriend of the past eight years. After the first day on the road, I knew I had made a mistake, but I was a man true to my word so we got married and I put my best foot forward. Our lives quickly fell into a pattern. Our days off together were so routine that we didn't even have to discuss what we were going to do. I guess that did save time. She had got a husband, which is what she wanted. I got someone who willing to follow me anywhere and pay her half of our bills. I think we both secretly hoped for more, but it never came to the surface. On the professional front, my life was a whirlwind. New positions, new restaurants, new cities, new challenges came at me at blinding speed. Near the end of my time in Oregon, I crossed path with a woman who owned a vineyard in the Willamette Valley. The word around town was that she was contemplating opening a restaurant at her vineyard so I called to offer my services. We talked for a while and she explained that a full-blown restaurant was a few years off and right now the operation didn't require someone of my experience. We agreed to stay in touch, and that was that. I hadn't given that conversation another thought until a few days ago when I was reading an article about Pinot Noir in a trade magazine. The backdrop of the article was the bistro at the Ponzi Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. The lustrous photos of the dining room and surrounding Oregon countryside brought back feeling of regret and resentment. A longing to have done something differently plagued me for days.

When you're standing at the cross-roads and have to make those big decisions, all you have to base that decision on is the information and experiences you have before you. It's easy to beat yourself up over the 'should've, could've, would'ves' of your life when you can look back at them in the distance. And even when you look and those defining moments of better or worse, would you really change them? To change a moment in your past, you must also realize how everything in your life would be different now. The people you wouldn't have met, the experiences you would have missed, and places you may never have seen. This is why Hollywood can't do justice to a time travel movie, there are just too many variables. Are any of these variables worth giving up? Again it's easy to make the calls in retrospect. Even if you can choose the things you'd do and places you go, you'd still be cheating yourself out of the spontaneity of the experiences.

Before you go down that road of self-pity, thinking 'if only I'd done this...', look around you now. I'd be willing to bet that right here and right now isn't worth losing a single second of. Especially to another set of blind circumstances.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

If The Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX Trail Running Shoe Fits...

Sometime during the era of me moving to a big city and the emergence of the grunge scene, it became impossible to '...gage a man by the cut of his suit.' The obscenely wealthy rock stars were growing their hair long, not shaving, and wearing thrift store flannels. Roughly the same get up as the average homeless man. This coming in the wake of the 80's decade of excess where clean-cut, but usually broke college graduates showed up en mass to Wall Street dressed to the nines in a mortgaged three-piece suit to become the next Donald Trump. There had seemingly been a wardrobe paradigm shift. But through it all, I observed there was a foolproof way of identifying the posers from the real deal: their feet. No matter what you choose to wear; no matter what genre you align yourself with; your choice of footwear will always reveal your true identity. Whether you're a rock star wearing $200 Doc Martins with your $5 flannel shirt or the wet behind the ears college kid in an Armani suit and the same penny loafers he graduated high school in -- the shoes never lie. This being said, what to your shoes say about you? Are your shoes expensive and stylish, but barely comfortable enough to wear sitting behind a desk all day? Are you still wearing the same Birkenstocks you wore following The Dead? Either of these scenarios paint a pretty vivid picture, don't they: A corporate stuffed shirt and a idealistic hippy. I confess that all too often I let my somewhat distorted self-image sway my shoe purchases. "These are perfect! I can wear them hiking around here. And if this is the year I make it to Tibet, I'll be set there too." Image plays a big role in one's personal choice of footwear. Its not always so much what we need as what we want to need. For example; if you notice a guy in a nice pair of New Balance running shoes and he happens to be standing behind you in line at the grocery store buying a TV Guide and cat food, he probably wishes he was that guy stretching his legs at a picnic table in the park. His well-worn New Balances barely discernible through the mud and wear of a marathon seasons' beating. I bought a pair of $110 high tech water shoes that would much rather be portaging a kayak though the Boundary Waters then strolling on the shore looking for beach glass, but someday when I head back up to Ely to see my cousin and his family, I've already got the shoes. Or at least that's what I tell myself. Sometimes though, function compromises with function. Even if its not by design. I have a nice pair of cross-trainers and they really work well for my particular brand of cross training: running my Blue Heeler, and.......well, running my Blue Heeler. That's likely where most of us land. Somewhere between qualifying for the Boston Marathon and putting our feet up on the ottoman. Mom buys expensive running shoes because maybe she'll start running every day again. But the shoes will come in handy chasing around her kids all day. Dad buys a $200 pair of Air Jordans not because he's going to try out for the Lakers, but so his knees don't ache after basketball league night at the YMCA. I'm sure if you look down at your feet now you could think back at why you bought the shoes you're wearing and what you've actually worn them for up to this point. Since you probably didn't buy 'reading shoes,' you'll find your mind wandering. Were they for a job interview? To go with a pair of jeans that are completely worn out by now? For a trip you did (or didn't) take? I'm sure that the ten minutes you spent reading this is the longest you've spent thinking about shoes since you pondered buying a new pair. But now the next time you go to your closet to pick a pair of shoes, you may pause for a second to think about what image you're conveying by choosing the pair of you're about to reach for. Or maybe I'm blowing this completely out of proportion. I can tell you this though, if I met you tomorrow I'd look at you to greet you, maybe shake your hand, and then I'd glance casually down to see if you were wearing wing-tips or Keen sandals just to see if you're someone I'd be interested in knowing. It still may be true that clothes define the man. But its the shoes that show who we really are and who we really want to be. Perhaps that's why its called the sole(soul)?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spontaneous Parenthood

Five days before my forty-third birthday, I prematurely spent my gift money on a puppy. It wasn't a very well thought out purchase to be sure, but it wasn't completely irresponsible either. I've wanted a pet since I was a little boy. Who hasn't, right? Getting a dog has come up in casual conversation on and off over the last year or so. Even more regularly in the last few months now that Koval has overcome his fear of four-legged anythings. About a month ago, Ellie came up on our radar. A 10-month old Blue Heeler who was living in a kennel in Appleton. It sweetened the pot considerably that she was a breed I was fascinated by since my days in Oregon where a friend of mine raised them. Plus, it was a Heeler that played the supporting actor role in one of my favorite movies, 'Last of the Dogmen' opposite Tom Berenger. Heelers are an active and protective breed known also to be highly intelligent. Everything seemed right, so we jumped through the appropriate hoops, got the needed approvals and glowing references needed to begin the adoption process. We then drove the 90-miles to meet the pup in question and interview with the agency who'd been caring for her. While Lori talked shop with the agency rep, Ellie and I romped though the field behind the kennel. It was somewhat surreal that after 35 years of not having a pet, I was most likely about to become the owner of this dog who was presently gnawing on my forearm. It's a lot like owning a Ferrari: it's something cool to think about, but I've accepted it would never happen.
Ellie's story began when she moved to Wisconsin from Ohio to work as a herding dog on a dairy farm. After almost being hit by a tractor several times her first day on the job, the farmer brought her to a vet where it was determined Ellie was deaf. Having no need for a deaf dog, the farmer dumped her at the local Humane Society. Being handicapped, her fate seemed sealed until an animal rescue agency saved her. She was then adopted by a family in the Fox River Valley and moved north. Her stay in that new home was short lived when a sudden and serious illness forced the family to surrender Ellie back to the rescue agency. This is where we enter the story. The therapist who helped Kovi over his fear of dogs, gave Lori a link to a friend of hers who was associated with O.A.R.s (orphaned animal rescue), the agency responsible for Ellie. She had been staying with a foster family that was a couple who did wedding photography, so the pictures of Ellie on the O.A.R.s web-site were of this beautiful, smiling (yes, smiling) puppy. We were smitten. I wouldn't be writing this if we hadn't been approved. We wrote a check and headed home, completely unprepared to bring home a dog. Two stops and a couple hundred dollars later we were on our way.

Part ll: Raising Chaos

The best part of having a deaf dog is that you can change her name every day if you'd like. It was Maui for a day and a half. Then, while we were on a walk, Sydney and I came up with Zooey, and it stuck. One of the things we had going in our favor as being responsible pet-owners is that the dog would only be home alone for six hours a week. However, in her first 30-minutes alone, Zooey opened the bread box and mauled a bag of kaiser rolls, ate my last peanut square (white cake frosted on all six sides and coated in peanuts) bag and all, leaving only the still sealed zip-loc closure, and turned Lori's decorative driftwood collection into a pile of mulch like a canine wood chipper. It wasn't long before we realized this was going to be a long tough road. I described it to a co-worker as "...having a baby without the nine months of preparation." How do you call, scold, or praise a dog that can't hear? A Blue Heeler is a breed that wants to run. And I mean run. I could run her to the county line and back, and after a 20 minute nap on the end of the couch she'll look up at me as if to say, "So are we going for a walk, or what?" She's 35lbs of pure energy. I think she alone could disprove Einstein's E=mc2. Zooey's 'E' is greater then her M (mass) at rest! I'm just sure of it. The first couple of times Zo and I were alone she was laying in the sun on the dining room floor after our walk and I found myself thinking, "nap or lunch?" I opted for nap both times. You sleep when baby sleeps! Having this dog is going to take a truckload of patience as we still have to be in the same room with her to make certain that she doesn't disembowel the furniture. It'll take crafty planning to make sure everything gets done and everybody gets the attention they need. Zooey's another piece in a big complicated puzzle that comprise the family. And like the rest of the kids, she's fairly spoiled. She's slept on our bed since day one. On her first night with us, we put her in the brand new kennel we had just bought. She whined and barked until Lori came downstairs. They ended up spending all night up and down between the couch and the floor. Indigo suggested we move the kennel up to our room so Zooey wouldn't feel alone. Again, she cried when when we kenneled her. This time Lori brought her pillow onto the floor and spooned with the puppy next to her kennel. By the time I got out of the shower, Lori was fast asleep on the floor and Zooey was curled up on the down comforter. She's spent every night there since. Will Zooey continue to run this household? You decide... The issue of the dog sleeping on the bed has been solved: We're getting a bigger bed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Serendipity, Syncronicity, and Other Phenomenons I Can't explain (or spell)

It's easy to say "everything happens for a reason," when you can look back to the events of your life and connect the dots. But when it's happening around you, you have to take a step back and scratch your head. For me, there were two big events to my summer. They couldn't have been less similar and yet were only possible because of a food vendor. As bizarre as it seems, I got to mountain bike on the private trails of Trek bikes because I started buying appetizers from a new source. Here's how it all started...
Last year, I was approached by a new specialty vendor out of Madison that was bringing in high-end appetizers, desserts, and imported items. The fine dining chef in me salivated at some of the possibilities (at last, I can get squid ink). I accepted the fact that the only thing I'd probably get was the smoothie base that would save me a fortune at the coffee house where my wife and daughter loved to get insanely over priced beverages. I tacked on a few appetizers for our Christmas party and that seemed to be that. As their company grew, they expanded their sales force. Now I had a sales person checking in on me (and bringing delicious samples) almost weekly. As sales people are known to do, a good deal of small talk took place during these sales calls. At one point, she mentioned that the owner had just bought a place up on Washington Island, in Door County. I mentioned that a long lost colleague of mine was last seen on the island. Low-and-behold, two phone calls later, I was holding the number of the chef who I had worked beside at three different restaurants, in two different states. The chef who became my mentor 20 years ago. The chef I had last seen just before my now 10-year-old daughter's birth. A few months later, my family and I ate at The Wild Tomato, his new restaurant in Fish Creek. It was a fantastic reunion and it felt so good to be back in touch with him.
Fast forward another six weeks... I received an invitation to the Elegant Foods' open house in Madison which was conveniently scheduled on a Monday (my guaranteed day off, as the club is closed Mondays). "Hmmmm," I thought, "I have a standing invitation to tour Trek that was extended to me by a pro mountain biker." Did I dare make that call? I hadn't been in contact with said racer since last Christmas. Well, if you don't know how that story ends, read my last blog: Creepy Friendly and the Introvert.
Two seemingly polar opposite events connected, oddly, by a food supplier. Albert Einstein once said, "Coincidences are God's way of staying anonymous." Sometimes it's hard to argue with that logic.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Creepy Friendly and the Introvert

It was about a year ago that I wrote a blog entitled 'Hero Worship.' It's inspiration came with the realization that at 42 years old, my idols were all now younger than me. It traced the individuals that I looked up to from Kiss bassist Gene Simmons to mountain biker extraordinaire Jesse Lalonde. In the end it was not so much about who you look up to, but how they impact you. And as a result of that impact, who will, in turn, look up to you. Through our intermittent correspondence following that blog, Jesse offered a standing invite to show me around the Trek campus. After a year of wondering, I set out to Waterloo Wisconsin.
It all started with a brief stop at a food show being hosted by one of my relatively new purveyors. That was my initial rationalization for being in Madison in the first place. From there it was about a half hour to Waterloo. If it hadn't been for GPS, I'm sure I would have turned around and figured there was nothing but corn out there. Yet after miles of tiny farming hamlets, there it was: the mother ship! After a year of scattered e-mails, I was about to get the grand tour of Trek cycles by a guy I've looked up to for years, but have never formerly met. Hell, I didn't even think I'd recognize him, as I'd never seen him without a helmet and sunglasses. Jesse had always referred to himself as just a regular guy 'living the dream.' And he is. On the surface, he blends in with the rest of the crew at Trek. As conservative of a company as Trek is, there's such a laid back aura to the place. Everyone seemed as though they just got back from or were just about to leave for a bike ride. No one seemed to wear sleeves. And there sure wasn't a tie to be found in the entire building (at least not in the creative side of the shop). The tour started with the lobby where a decade of Lance Armstrong's tour bikes were displayed. There was the obvious uncomfortable formality between Jesse and I as we were two complete strangers, so it was perfect that all the touristy stuff came first. Eventually we got to the door that led to the more behind-the-scene stuff. At this point I had to turn off my camera. Now it was going to get good! I got to see projects that are still in the works, like custom bikes for pros world-wide, Lance's mountain bike, and a rack of frames from the Tour De France. After snooping from one end to the other, it was time for the crowning moment of my visit to Trek: "Ready to hit the trails?" Jesse asked.
Nine miles of the best single-track around. That's how I'd have to describe it. Tons of rough-and-tumble obstacles, but each had an alternative route for white-knucklers like me. The trails were all hard packed single-track with minimal roots and rocks to slow you down. It was a dream ride. I found myself fantasizing about how good I'd get being able to ride this labyrinth every day. Chasing Jesse through the woods, I realized what separates the good from the great. Watching Sidney Crosby skate, Nolan Ryan pitch, Micheal Jordan soar, or Tiger Woods swing; you see the same thing: effortlessness. The fluid movement of what they do gives a whole new meaning to the word natural. As my shoulders grazed saplings and tires slid uncomfortably off rocks I hadn't hit squarely, Jesse hopped up and down stumps and boulders the size of Volkswagons with what only can be described as grace. He can ride smoother then I can walk. It was something to behold. The ride was amazing. I didn't feel self-conscience or slow or unworthy to be riding with a three-time Elite champion. It was amazing. Now it was time to eat.
When we returned to Trek, he needed to shut down his office before we headed back to Madison for a bite. I took the opportunity to slump into my Jeep seat and pound a 32oz Nalgene of water. I was spent. He led us to a hip brew pub near the capital where we feasted on more meat then any two adults should consume.
The day was nearing it's conclusion, and the conversation never lulled. It was kind of funny that way. Usually conversations follow certain rules. Not tonight. I credit that with Jesse's unreserved ability to put the whole situation at ease. I think that comes from small town/Midwest sensibilities. We seemed to cover all the usual stuff, yet bikes and cycling were never far off. In the end Jesse is living the dream. I can't conceive working at a place that brings your career and your passion into the same building. I wonder if Trek's got any plans to add a food service facility in in the near future? He even offered to have me come back when Gary Fisher himself is back in town. It was definitely a day worth bragging about.
Being the introvert that I am, most of my 'great times' are well thought out and include people I am already close to. I'm 42 and still have the same four friends that I did twenty years ago. I'm sure for an outgoing person days like this are pretty normal, but for someone like me, they're extraordinary. Putting myself out there is uncommon. But when I do, great thing have happened... And a bike is usually involved.

Thanks again to all who made the day possible: My wife for taking care of the juggling act that is our family's Mondays, my folks for the GPS and picking up Kovi from school, and Jesse Lalonde for the generous gift his time and his easy-going kin-ship. Bikers rock.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cookin' it Old School

I'm a chef. It was a fact I used to be very proud of. People made reservations weeks in advance to eat my cooking. The cities biggest chefs stood next to me and graciously accepted their silver medals while I was bringing home the gold. I got to travel to cool cities and be immersed in their trendy scenes, while headhunters tried to lure me to the next big thing. It was a very cool life. Recently I feel I've lost that flair and passion that inspired me to dazzle all those years ago. I feel I've whored myself out for a paycheck because I have a skill to do something better than most others. My desire to impress has been replaced with a desire to pay my bills and have a little time left to spend with my family. Every once in a while, however, something happens... A few weeks ago, I was saddled with a project. I was to create a menu of appetizers representing the nine countries that would be taking part in an event being hosted by my restaurant. The pre-event reception would be attended by VIPs, sponsors, and the countries' athletes. So it was time to put on my game-face. Instead I did what I usually do: I started shopping for where I'd find these appetizers. Actually, that's not entirely true. I ignored the whole thing for two weeks first, then I started shopping. Six days before the event, I was laboring over the preparations for a different event and the weight of this VIP gig loomed heavy on my mind. I had to get moving on this. Somewhere during the course of regular dinner service, it happened: I had an epiphany. It's the only thing I can call it. Without the presence of any reasonable catalyst, I went from an inside the box mind-set to an outside the box state of mind. My brain literally went from thinking, "Where can I buy a lamb-based appetizer?" to "I'm going to make braised New Zealand Lamb tartlets with Cabernet creme fraiche." Once that happened, I was inspired to create something for each country (don't be too impressed, I'm still doing mini chili-cheese dogs to represent America). {The rest of this was written the week following the event} Success! The afternoon of the event, after regular lunch service was over, I sent the rest of the staff home and changed into my chef's whites for the first time in months. You see, it was the first time in a long time I was proud to stand behind the food that was leaving my kitchen. The event want smooth. I was in the zone. And without anything or anyone to slow me down or riddle me with questions, I was able to just rip through the cooking and serving like a precision machine. It felt good. When the dust settled and the last hors d'oeuvres had left the kitchen, I grabbed my legal pad and went outside to catch up on some book work. I was seated about fifty feet from the hospitality tent where the event was being staged. I couldn't hear anything, but I could see the guests congregating around the food. Eventually the crowd started breaking up and had to pass where I was sitting to get to the parking lot. Several of them stopped by to extend their congratulations and gratitude as they passed me. Some rather enthusiastically. I smiled and thanked them politely, but inside I was aglow. Over the next several days, more and more compliments come pouring in. Ironically, one of the biggest compliments come from the individual who asked 'where did you buy these appetizers?' Because I can answer, 'I made them, dumb-ass,' (well, at least I can think it). The next day, life at the restaurant went right back to normal. People went back to ordering hamburgers and perch dinners, and I went back to cooking them. Late the following afternoon, my phone rang. It was the events organizer calling to extend a heart-felt 'thank you' for making the event a great success. She told me she had received a number of compliments from the guests, and was extremely pleased with how the event turned out. I humbly thanked her for the kind words, but again I was doing a big gloating dance inside my head. All I could do was reply, "It's what I do. I'm a chef."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Face to Phone

Three-Dimensional Conversation. I'm copyrighting this phrase and defining it as something nearly extinct in our current culture. It revolves around two people talking to each other while in the proximity of one another. Its not the easiest thing to do, which may be why it's become a dieing art-form. It is so much easier to tell people you're mad at them while hiding behind a computer. You never need to see the hurt you inflict or be around for the consequences. On the down side -- the same holds true for the opposite. If you tell someone something nice, you're not there to see them react and bask in your words. Imagine Cyrano be Bergerac having to text message Christian what to tell Roxanne; and poor Christian trying to de-code it, "What the heck does 'I heart u' mean?" I may be old fashion, but I believe that in order to have a conversation, you need to be face-to-face with the person to whom you are speaking. In order to truly communicate, you must see the reaction of your words on another individual, as well as read the un-spoken body language that accompanies what they are saying. I'm no exception to the recent onslaught of new ways we've developed to misunderstand each other. Instant messaging, texting, tweeting (I still haven't figured out what this is, but I hear its all the rage), social networks, blogging, and even the seemingly now arcane e-mail give us infinite ways to talk without speaking. In my house there are almost daily instances where someone is being misunderstood or taken the wrong way or out of context. As it turns out, nuances like sarcasm don't translate well to a text message. My poor daughter and her friends have spent half this summer mad at each other because someone misunderstood something somewhere in the course of someone else's instant messages. I can't even conceive how the typical 14 year-old can keep it all straight. Often I'll see her at the computer at eleven o'clock at night IMing three or four friends simultaneously and grabbing her phone to text a few more. This can go on for hours, and no one is saying a word. The temptation to live like that is strong. Impersonal chatting is simple and uncluttered. How often I grab my phone and text someone only minutes after being with them? It's certainly easier to articulate and craft what you want to say, and write it to someone. Especially for me because I have a knack in conversation to let my mouth outrun my brain. Then what comes out is a garbled mess of unfinished thoughts and incomplete mutterings that end up sounding something like "I'm coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs." Truth be told, talking to one another is a hugely intimate and personal form of interaction. How else could we develop the secret ways we talk to certain people? 'Inside jokes' are those subtleties we reserve for those whom we share something special with. In other words -- those we can really comfortably converse with. In my house the medicine cabinet and the glove box have forever been interchangeable because of a goofy laugh-filled conversation from many years back. My closest friends from high-school knew that when we held up the three fingers on our right hand that it was time to move (bear with this sub-story: Three fingers held up to the left bicep makes the letter 'E'. When a group of us would congregate at a locker and then move down the halls together, we'd resemble a moving blood-clot, or embolism. So the 'E' was to say, "Let's get this clot moving." Admittably, we were an odd bunch.). Those board-members at work that can't even seem to get out of their own way are toast people. Only certain people understand this sub-language by design. These are the people we feel closest to and most comfortable with. Cramming a story, emotion, or news flash into 160 characters on a phone isn't easy or practical. Don't get me wrong, every form of communication has its place. Go ahead and text that you'll be home at quarter after three, but when you need to let someone know how you feel don't try to find a way to fit or abbreviate something like Cyrano's "A kiss, when all is said, what is it? .....A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered," into a text message. Talk to them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stay of Execution

We've all been down this road before: a job that's going to end, an inevitable break-up, a pending move and the teary good-byes that go along with it. My friend Jim named this condition Impending Doom Syndrome back when we were in high school and fretting over tests and swim meets. Two summers ago I impulsively bought a $5,000.00 mountain bike. There's a great story around it, but ultimately I bought a bike that was way beyond me and my skills. This spring I contemplated selling it. It took me until a week ago to work up the nerve to set it up on e-bay. Everyone close to me insisted that I don't let it go, but I was comfortable with my decision. In the description, I told the complete tale of how I came to own and love the bike thinking that the other prospective shoppers out there would appreciate it when they were debating laying out that kind of cash. Naturally, as soon as I hit 'post item' I regretted it.
In every new Gary Fisher bike catalog, Gary himself pens a piece in the opening pages. In the 2006 catalog, he wrote a bit entitled 'Does a Bike Have a Soul?' In it he refers to a bike as a machine intended for use. He says "If I put my soul in Gary Fisher bikes, there wouldn't be room for yours." Gary also talks about if he were to obtain a guitar played by Jimi Hendrix, he wouldn't hang it on a wall, he play it and try to eek out any of the mojo Jimi left in that instrument. This is the part that put me at peace with the decision to sell my Pro-cal that had once been ridden by the very man who penned that article. It's an awesome machine, to be sure. But I wasn't a part of it. I added personal touches like my favorite grips and pedals, but alas, I gave it no part of myself. I only rode it when it was dry so it wouldn't get dirty. I rode a different bike in spring when I wasn't in tip-top shape and much more likely to crash. I literally cared too much for this machine, yet didn't love it enough to treat it the way it deserved to be treated. How's that for ironic?
Yesterday afternoon the auction ended with the bike not selling. In spite of the fact over 240 people checked it out, no one bid on it. Now I'm faced with starting the process over. It took me the week to accept that in a few days time, I'd be mailing this piece of me to Colorado or Vermont or Oregon. Now it sits in my basement unsure of its future and I'm still out riding, living, and sweating on a different bike. Even if I rode more single- track, I don't think my choice of bikes would sway. Unless I sold my 'old faithful', I would still only use the Pro-Cal as my 'special occasion' bike. If I had money maybe I'd collect bikes. It would still go against Gary's philosophy of giving a bit of yourself to these art-like machines, but I could ride them all once in a while just to form a little bond between us.
As I get older I've accepted that I need to let go and lose a bunch of stuff. I've worked hard at letting go of physical as well as psychological baggage that there's no longer room for in my life. The nature course of that down-sizing would tell me that I don't need five bicycles. In the end its not which bike I chose to ride that matters, its that I do ride. Gary says it best, "I don't think bikes are sacred. But I know biking is." As long as I've got a bike to ride, I'm at peace. So... know anyone looking for a bike?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"How Much Do You Think a Tan Weighs?"

Ah, summer! The time of year when we pack away our jeans and sweaters and haul out our shorts, tank tops, and swim wear. The time of year where we shop for all the newest & hottest summer so we can stand in front of the mirror and....complain about how we look. Ah, summer. What is it about bright sun and warm weather that pummels our self-image into submission? In my house we have both side of the spectrum: There's my 14 year-old who put on her size one shorts and obsesses about whether or not she is bigger or smaller than her mom was at her age. And then there's me... I'd shove my 50 pound overweight body into my high-school swim team Speedo and stand in front of the mirror thinking to myself, "You, my friend, are a few sit-ups away from People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive!" To picture me at the beach, imagine a 6'6" cross between a low-land gorilla and a manatee stuffed into a bright pair of board shorts. Yet there I am at the beach almost weekly. The other summer anomaly I don't understand is the inverse law involving confidence level and sheer girth. When I see that Stay-Puffed marshmallow of a human packed into toddler sized clothing with what appears to be 30 pounds of bread dough bursting from every gap in material strutting down the beach like Angelina Jolie on the red carpet, part of me stares in horror and part of me stares in awe. Do they love that look or do they accept that look? And should it really matter to anyone but them? Personally, I blame Disney. The Disney Company trawls out 'perfect' young people that can sing, dance, act, and look perfect in the eye of the camera. That's what our kids have to hold themselves to. Every boy is compared to Zac Efron and every girl to Ashley Tisdale (post nose job, of course). Indigo (my 14 year-old) can move you to tears with her voice, she won the lead in her school's production of 'Annie', is a high honor roll student, and is developing into a beautiful young woman. However, she won't leave the house without doing her hair and has to constantly be monitored so she doesn't wind up Tammy-Fae Bakering herself up to fit in with her other overly made-up freshmen peers. Someone like her has absolutely nothing standing between her and a monster ego and yet... Does this insecurity come from us the parents? Of course it does.... up to a point. We, as caring responsible grown-ups, just find it so much more convenient to place the blame on peers or other outside influences. How much blame, though, comes from the home I really can't say. I mean, my mom's been on a diet since Rock Hudson was straight and smoking cigarettes was considered healthy; and yet neither my brother, sister, or myself are really hung up on our weight. It still really doesn't answer how some people are completely comfortable with who they are, and some aren't. We constantly tell them they should be proud of who they are. But honestly, that like telling someone not to worry. The only time you tell someone not to worry, is when they're already worrying. Ultimately, self-esteem has to come from inside each of us. The number that pops up on the scale is a fact. It doesn't tell us we're fat, skinny, or pretty. It's just a number. What that number tells us shouldn't define who we are, or even what we should wear. What we see when we look in the mirror is a heck of a lot more important then what we see when we step on the scale. Embrace we you are! Put on that bikini or tank top and I'll see you at the beach. I'll be the manatee in the obnoxious board-shorts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lost Art of Boredom

Last Wednesday I took a nap. I was home between the lunch and dinner shift and everyone was engaged in something; Kovi was home sick and currently sedated by Disney, Indy was at an after-school meeting, and Lori was happily typing away at the computer. No one needed anything from me. It seemed like a perfect time for a little escape. Fifteen minutes of decompressing, 30 minutes asleep, 15 more minutes of re-booting for the afternoon. It was perfect. At what age did we decide naps were a bad idea? While that may not seem like a big deal to some, it probably seems like an impossibility to others. I'm either lazy or lucky! We hear that old mantra 'stop and smell the roses' all the time. But seriously, do we even know where to find roses to smell? We pack more and more into our days and have completely ruled out time for nothingness. What time we don't allot for working, family, or sleeping, we quickly fill with recreation assuming its going to relax us, but hurrying to get a bike ride in between work and dinner only fills the time, it doesn't necessarily undo the stress of the day. We need to make time to do nothing. Time to be (and appreciate being) bored. I learned this from one of the hardest working people I know: Koval, my seven-year-old son. His typical day begins with a shower at 7:30a.m, school from 8:15 to 3p.m. One-on-one therapy from 3:30 to 6:30p.m, and bed time at 8. That leaves him with 90 minutes of time for himself out of a 24 hour day. So what does he want to do with that time? Nothing! He doesn't want to go to a park, or go hiking, or anything else for that matter. He wants to sit with his superhero books and Pixar DVDs and do nothing. There are a few things that sometimes trump 'nothing'. Kovi will almost always spring off the couch to go swimming. And lately his favorite thing to do is take our bikes to McDonald's under the promise of french fries. But ultimately he chooses to be bored. It's his prerogative and I will respect it. The other day he and I were walking ahead of the girls from the parking lot to the beach and he was already planning where on the beach we were going to sit and rest. I mocked his laziness, but followed him to the rocks to 'rest.' Sitting there we watched the clouds roil over-head and tried to guess where the sun would peek through next. It was here that I began to accept the body's need for boredom. I work in a kitchen, so I stand 8-10 hours a day. Biking and hiking may get my mind to focus on something other then the kitchen, but my legs sure aren't going to think anythings changed. We all need to power-down completely from time to time. Perhaps that's why meditation is becoming so mainstream right now. It's a grown-up version of watching the clouds. We're realizing that its inconceivable to adequately unwind with a week or two of summer vacation after spending the other fifty weeks working ourselves stupid. Now it's time to sub-divide our already scarce free-time. We need to spend time freeing our body (back to hiking & biking), our mind (I just read a great book about growing up in the 50's, and I write this blog), and we can't forget to rest our soul. Can you imagine a simpler time then when you were seven? When we look at kids, we assume they're happily taking their childhood for granted. But perhaps they are not really taking anything for granted. They know that the river they throw rocks in will still be there to throw rocks into even after they grow up; the wind will still blow the clouds across the sky; and we'll always feel better after a nap. It is us, the grown-ups, who take life for granted. Life is what happens while we're busy making other plans. That shouldn't be the case. Don't be envious of the inspired by them.

Dedicated to Jeff & Dana -- New parents to be.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Third Place

Remember being a kid? Spending from dawn to dusk on those long summer days exploring the neighborhood. When you learned how to ride a bike that neighborhood doubled in size and so did your exploring options: the railroad trestle, the stepping stones in the woods, the corner store with the best selection of candy to blow your allowance on. These were our first escapes. Our first 'third places.' In the 'special feature' section of the film You've Got Mail, director/ producer Nora Ephron credits the success of places like Starbucks to our inner need for a place that's not our home or work. A third place where we feel comfortable and safe. When I heard that hypothesis, it seemed so obvious that I wondered what took coffee shops so long to arrive in our culture? From the moment we developed a sense of wonder and curiosity, we developed a yearning to find a third place. Not home or school or work or even our best friend's house. As we discover ourselves, our needs change; and our third place grows with us. From a back-yard fort to the corner cafe, our third place defines us -- as we define our third place. How we spend our leisure time also plays a role in our choices. I bike. While this may not seem like a tangible place to find comfort, I chose to ride the same routes because I find comfort in those familiar places. Whether I ride around town early Sunday mornings or head out of town to ride the trails of the Kettle Moraine Forest, I find solace in knowing where I'm headed and where the route or trail will take me. I find the same kind of peace (although without the satisfaction of physical exertion) spending an hour in a coffee house just re-setting my groove. To me, an hour nursing an iced mocha can be the spiritual equivalent of spending a morning in church. I feel better, I focus easier, I work more efficiently, and I can be more patient. That may be the reason that when I head out for a mountain bike ride I quip, "Daddy's riding for a mocha," as I leave the house. It's the best of both worlds. I can't pin-point where my third place is, because I suppose it really depends on the mood I'm in. As I stated earlier; our third place grows with us. Even if its on a daily basis. In this day-and-age our free time is limited. Thankfully our third places are not. Be it in a bustling coffee house down-town or stretched out in an open kayak in the middle of a calm lake, peace can be anywhere you find it. One thing I have learned is that in order for a third place to actually be a place in which we can feel comfortable and safe, it cannot be a place to use as an escape. A true third place isn't a hiding place, it's a discovery place. So in order to be able to really find peace in a place, the first place we need to be able to find peace and feel comfortable is within our own skin. After all, if you're not comfortable there, the only thing you'll be able to find at Starbucks is coffee.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


In the fall of 1982 I was a freshman in high school and had just joined the swim team. It was my first time in organized sports since my stint with rec. department basketball in 6th grade. Personal electronics in the early eighties were huge and cumbersome, but the idea of portable music easily outweighed the inconvenience. As I stood outside the bus waiting to head to some other pool in our conference, the seniors swaggered aboard carrying a boom-box roughly the size of a chest freezer. Once we were on the road, the entire team couldn't help but to listen to whatever the seniors were listening to. On that trip, I heard David Bowie's Changes for the first time. Our lives are filled with such moments. Events big and small are brought to vivid memory because of a song. These songs are our lives' soundtracks. I can recall sitting around the high school lunch table with my closest friends listing off the songs that would be on our soundtracks, and why. It wasn't until recently that I actually decided to finally sit down at the computer and attempt to plot them out. Thankfully personal electronics have become sleeker and more efficient. Back in the day, I would have been reduced to 20-22 songs on a TDK-SA90 (the preferred blank cassette of my friends and I). Thanks to iTunes, I now have infinite possibilities.
The greatest thing about our soundtrack is that it is really the exact opposite of our bucket-list. We may sit at work dreaming of the tropical vacation we'll probably never take, when suddenly a song comes on the radio that reminds us of something great that we've already done: a road trip with friends, a stellar show, a family vacation. A simple song makes us realize that our life has already been pretty cool. When compiling my soundtrack, I didn't stick to any one theme. Meaning I included songs that inspire me today as well as songs that take me back to specific moments in time. It's this freedom to express creativity that makes the process unique and freeing. My friend Jim saw U2 in Hamburg Germany when he was part of an exchange program. U2 on his soundtrack is going to have a whole different significance then any U2 song on my playlist. But that doesn't make it more or less important to us. After all, no one's soundtrack is better than anyone ese's. That is the best part: Yours is the best soundtrack out there! As is mine. It doesn't matter if you heard Bowie in Europe, on a school bus, or in that hilarious episode of Flight of the Conchords, it's your music, your memories, and your life.
The songs that made my soundtrack are all over the map. The earliest music-related memory I have comes from my car-pool experience going to and from pre-school. Only one of the moms ever played the radio. And it was during these trips to and from St. Luke's pre-school that I came to love Johnny Nash's I Can See Clearly Now and The Who's I can See For Miles. I often wonder if there some deeper meaning that I can recall two songs about vision from a time in my life when my eyes were being opened to the larger world that is formal education. Along with those songs representing my earliest music related memory are ELO's Don't Bring Me Down, (representing my first rock album purchase); Journey's Stone In Love (first 'real' kiss); Gin Blossoms' Allison Road (song that was playing when I crossed the border into Oregon for the first time); The Police's Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic-Live (represents spending my best friend's birthday with Sting, Andy, and Stewart); and Shinedown's Breaking Inside (my recent reinventing of myself). There are also a smattering of 80's one hit wonders that remind me of summers at the beach, Marillion tunes that just inspire me, and a great representation of concerts I've been to. One thing I've noticed in creating this masterpiece, is that there are very few songs about work or responsibilities or pain. Every song, even if it represents a bitter-sweet love long gone, rekindles a smile. All music is good music when it takes you somewhere that makes you happy. Now it's time for you to sit at your computer with your iTunes, dig your albums out of the basement, rummage through that box of cassettes you can't bring yourself to get rid of, and put your soundtrack together. I know you'll be pleased with the end result. First concert? First kiss? Backpacking through Europe? Moving into your first dorm room? A song from a mixed tape she gave you (or you gave her)? A song you and your best friend always sang? What will be on your soundtrack? It is your life -- Play it loud!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Saturday Night Shower (Touchstone part 2)

After re-reading my Words of a Feather blog, I found I was still disappointed at where it landed (or rather, failed to land). I was trying to make a point referring to personal peacefulness and what I use, and cling to in some cases, to center myself. While I was in the shower last week contemplating why I hadn't written in so long and what I might write about next, it all kind of came together. Why not write about my shower? Well, oddly enough, it goes deeper then that.
A number of years ago, I was a salesman. I was often gone 12-14 hours a day, and twice a week I stayed in a tiny hotel room. It was a very hard time for me and my family. While selling may have taxed my body and my time, it didn't tax my mind the way cooking does. At the end of my week I could come home and not think about sales again until Monday morning. Fridays would inevitably be a late night. Sometimes 10 or 11:00pm. But when I got home I could shed the weeks' uniform and hit that shower... Oh, that shower! I could wash the week off me it fifteen minutes of soap and hot water! I came to live for that shower. At rough patches in the week, I focused on how good that shower was going to feel. That may have been my first 'touchstone'. After that shower I could be husband or dad or friend or son without any distraction.
Last week was a good week. Things at home were on an even keel (and for this family, who always seems to have a dozen or more balls in the air, that's really something), work is picking up for the summer, which challenges me a little more, and on Thursday there was a food show and a bike show on the same day! That Thursday was special. It was a day of me getting to be me. Talking the trade with vendors and salespeople in the morning and cruising the bike show in the afternoon. To add some proverbial whipped cream to the already ice-cream sundae of a day; I had the best hour long Mexican Spice Latte ever! Good times plus good company makes for a great day. Even the ride to and from Milwaukee was nice. Great tunes always makes for a relaxing drive. The week just kept chugging along with two beach-worthy days at Fischer Creek park combing the sand for beach glass, chasing Koval through the waves and baking in the afternoon sun. As the sun set on my week and lunches were being made for Monday morning, I began to feel that familiar yearning. After all the dinners served at work, after the bikes were awed, after the good-byes, after the lattes, after shaking the sand from my shoes, after the kids are asleep, after the last episode of House M.D. is watched; that shower is calling me. Beckoning to wash me clean and get me ready for whatever comes next. Another week -- another lather, rinse, and ready to repeat.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Like vs Love

I remember my mother saying, "I may not always like you, but I'll always love you," a lot during my weird teenage years. I'm sure every ones either felt it or said it in some way, shape, or form throughout the years. I'll go further and bet that every ones been on both the receiving and giving end of that particular emotion. Having said that, I'd like to go on record as saying, 'I'd rather be liked than loved.' I listen to my wife tell everybody that she loves them; whether it's her own mother or someone on facebook that she hasn't seen in ten years. Now I hear her daughter tell everyone she knows, 'I love you.' And why not? In this day and age it's become impolite not to love. Love that new car? Love one another? Love thy neighbor? I don't even know my neighbor! In a love/hate black and white world, 'like' has become the grey area. No one would say, "hey, you're alright. I like you." When they can exclaim, "I Love you, man!" I'm done with that. I'm done loving an ice-cold Coke after a hot summer day at the beach. I'm through loving that perfume my wife wears on our days off together. Don't get me wrong, I love the neck it's on and everything that goes with it. Just not the perfume. I like the perfume. I love the neck. Taking this philosophy to the next step is where it becomes harder to swallow. I would compare likability to friendship. I was taught: Like your friends. Love your family. So I use my best friend as a unit of measure. How much do I like _____ in relation to Jeff? If there's no comparison, I must not like ____.
The reason for my new curiosity into liking something or someone stems from two unique observations. The first happened last weekend during 'family game night.' I realized that both my wife and myself were being very guarded in what we said, or even how much fun we had as so not to offend each other. Yet little animosity still ended up seeping into the game. Casual friends wouldn't let something like that happen, yet it can happen to a husband and wife. Are we no longer friends? If not, does that mean we don't like each other? We say 'I love you" all the time, but I never remember hearing 'I really like you.' Is that just me being corny? I mean really, who says 'I like you?' maybe that is the problem -- Maybe we don't bother liking before we love. Perhaps it's a foregone assumption that 'liking' falls under the 'love' umbrella. This theory is the second anomaly I am referring to: the complete loss of the word like. People in popular culture love it or hate it, because liking or disliking would take time and effort to get to know and understand something or someone. Time that no one seems to have any more. Are we so afraid of learning that we need to make instantaneous decisions about everything? Do we assume taking our time is synonymous with dawdling or being indecisive? Perhaps I'm at this point because I am guilty of this rushing. I was afraid of what I might learn so I skipped right past like and on to love, because if two people love each other, that's all they'll need to live happily ever after. I guess that may be true, so long as they don't plan on spending any time together. Which, of course, is preposterous if you really expect 'happily ever after' (and I do). So it's time to put forth the effort to like not something but everything. Like pizza, Saturday night showers, the sun on your face. And especially put forth extra effort to like your wife and kids and mom, because they already know you love them. On the other side of this particular coin: be likable. Don't settle for being loved, that's the easy part. Be nice, say 'please' and 'thank-you,' and listen. People love you for who you are. People like you for what you do. Doing is always harder than being. My only hope now, is that when my wife reads this, she doesn't hate it.