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.