My Own Personal Time Machine

To know me is to know I have a sketch book with me almost at all times. These books are filled with many notes, thoughts and personal expressions that document my creativity in the time in which it was used. There are thumbnail sketches and quick gestures. There are detailed perspectives of planes that I draw to pass the time of a 1, 2 or 3 hour flight, and notes that i write to myself so I don’t forget. This may sound crazy but these sketch books become an extension of my memory. A paper hard drive that stores a short stints worth of “good times and potato salad”.

The latest sketchbook is particularly hard to retire. It spans a year that has seen so much. Starting with a trip to NYC, followed closely by an American Advertising Federation(AAF) Conference in Orlando that was the first of 3 trips to Florida for me. This trip introduced me to new friends, opportunities and was the catalyst for me changing careers. There were family trips to Baltimore and Disney, work sketches, WTG float drawings, logo designs, cartoons and jokes. The book ends with another AAF trip, this time to San Diego followed closely by the “mushroom drawings” for the Golisano Children’s Hospital Gala happening this Fall.

For me, this book is a time machine. Flipping through the pages takes me instantly back to the time when I drew each picture, sketched the thumbnail, or penned the note. A time machine that brings me back to the family and friends that share the history of each picture. Move over Einstein… I have a time machine in my hands.

Powerful stuff.

There is only a dozen or so pages left in the book now. It needs to be retired, but I’m not ready yet. I need to draw just a couple sketches more before it’s filed away on the shelf. Just a couple more sketches to help my brain remember when i pick the book up 6 months later. Just a couple more sketches to fuel the time machine to take me back to places that i enjoyed so dearly.

Then I can say “hello” to the new book. I’ll say, “Nice to meet you, please pay your respects to your predecessor as you pass by the hall. You have big shoes… er pages, to fill.”


I Started Jogging Again for a Girl

I hated to jog when I was younger. I never understood it. Jog for extended periods of time, sweat like a pig and ruin your knees. Yeah, sounds like fun… sign me up. When I was younger we had a French foreign exchange student stay with us for a summer. Bruno, and he could run. LIKE FOREVER. We would jog and I would try to keep up. trying to keep pace with a Frenchman who was in shape was laughable for me. I wondered if Bruno would ever stop, all the while I fought the urge to quit because I was to embarrassed to give in and say I was not in shape to keep up with with the almost 18 year old Frenchman. Bruno kicked my ass.

I was always a bike guy. It seemed to me that if I was going to put in the energy I would rather ride a bike, travel three times as fast and cover more distance. Well, that was when I was younger. That was before I started to train for my role in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last fall. That was before I realized what jogging really was. I always thought of jogging, or running as a physical torture, but i have come to realize that it’s more psychological medicine than torture. Running is workout for the body and soul, and that I like. Frankly, now it’s what I need. My training program for Joseph was designed by Marcus, a friend of mine at Fit For Trips, and he wanted me to jog pretty much every other day (and I wish I had). I have to say it was much better than expected. I found that I enjoyed the solitude and it was a challenge for me to stay focused. (Staying focused is something I found to be difficult for the me over the past 37 years…oh look, shiny object #7 again.)

Just before the Christmas holiday I screwed my back up and was not able to do pretty much anything for about 3 months. Doctors orders. Well I am all healed now (well except that I still can’t feel the outside of my right foot, but there is no pain.) and ready to get back on the roads. This time it’s different. I wanted to get back to jogging not for a role in a play but for my daughter Rebekah. She loves to run. Loves the freedom, and she fancies joining the track team when she starts middle school in the fall. So together we run. Side by side, although her speed tends to vary a lot more than mine. She’s fast, slow, fast, fast, slow. I figure if I stay a comfortable pace that eventually she’d be able to keep the pace with me. It’s just going to take some practice. And we have the whole summer. Don’t worry bike… we’ll ride again, just right now I need to jog with my girl.

…and for my friends who jog, I am on the lookout for my first 5k that I’d like to run in the fall. I’ll try to keep pace with you as long as you promise not to kick my ass like Bruno with a super fast pace. Who knows maybe I can convince my girl to be at my side too. If Rebekah sticks with it he’ll be kicking my ass in no time. Guaranteed.

Beating Heart Baby.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right? Isn’t that the saying? If that’s the case, the month of June has turned me into Superman.

I have had more blood pumped through the chambers of my heart over the past three weeks than I have in years. And no need to bring out the small violins to play for me. I like it, and it feels pretty good too. I like that my June has challenged the way I think, what I knew I could handle and what I understood to be true. June has pushed the capacity of my brain. It has chewed me up, spit me out and smacked what remained with a folding chair to the back followed by a swan dive off the top turnbuckle. In all, I came out the other side feeling more alive than I have in awhile, and in part I have baseball to thank for it.

Today’s playoff game was a heartbreak. We took a one run lead into the bottom of the seventh. Lost that lead, forced extra innings. Took a four run lead into the bottom of the eighth only to see the game winning run scored by a bases loaded walk. A crap way to end a thrilling baseball game if you ask me, but that’s what happens sometimes. We certainly have been on the winning side of that scenario before. To complicate matters, my son Joey was on the mound and surrendered the walk that pushed across the game winning run. At the end of the game Joey took it hard. He blamed himself, and for once I had no words of baseball encouragement to say. At that moment I was a Dad who felt heartbroken for his son. And wanted nothing more than to give him a hug, and tell him it was okay (and no I didn’t that would have been more horrifying for him being a 13 year old boy, but the thought did cross my mind). Rather, how as a coach do you console a ballplayer that feels like they were the reason they lost an extra inning playoff game? More importantly, how do you do that as a parent?

Well on the car ride back to the house we talked about that final inning. I told joey that I was proud that he asked to pitch. Joey asked for the ball knowing full well he was coming into the game with the bases already loaded with the tying and winning runs on base. He was confident about his pitching. He was confident and strong. Despite the outcome I am proud of him. At the start of the year he wanted no part of pitching. The stress of the thought of being on the mound with all eyes on him caused him to shy away. He caught the bug a few games ago when he had some success and he gained confidence. Enough confidence that he wanted the ball in the final inning of an extra inning playoff baseball game. As a parent, isn’t that all you can ask for? In reality, games are not won and lost by one singular play. (Well I guess technically they are but it’s a series of events that lead to the win or loss.) I told Joey “that as a father I am impressed by him every day of his life on the planet.” Which in turn prompted Joey to correct my grammar and say “no, it’s every day of your life… not mine.” Which I responded not that phrasing was intentional, “Every day of your life I am impressed by you.” He disagreed again and after bantering back and forth for awhile we both ended up laughing by the time we got to Route 104.

In an earlier post about baseball I talked about how every play is a potential lesson in character building. That every out or base hit a learning opportunity of sportsmanship and team play. I am going to add to that statement: These opportunities could be successes or failures. It’s how you handle yourself coming out the other side that defines who you are.

Elementary Pain

Aaron: Day 365, 7-18-03

The reality of a move has started to set in with the kids. No more apparent than with Aaron, our youngest. And while Joey was going to the high school next year, Rebekah, the middle school, it’s only Aaron, a soon to be fourth grader, who is the only one that has to leave his friends behind in one school to start fresh in another. Today is the last day he will attend Dewitt Road Elementary School.

I know Aaron can handle it. At open houses, school chorus concerts, art fairs, or fill in the school activities here, we are told by other parents that Aaron is their child’s best friend. The conversation usually goes something like this. “Oh your Aaron’s Dad! Yes Conner talks about him all the time, they are like best friends. You have such a good kid.” Input 16 other names and there you have it. Aaron, our social butterfly, who is a nice balance of smart, witty, self deprecating, caring, sensitive and charismatic. I understand the gravitational pull towards him.

I know he will be just fine acclimating to his new surroundings. He however is not so convinced. The reality of his separation from his friends (and his first crush) hit the breaking point last week and he showed us his vulnerable side. I feel for him. I never had to change schools. Some of my closest friends to this day are ones I have taken to adulthood from kindergarten. We tried to soften the blow by looking ahead with the classic parental tactic of diversion. We told Aaron that when he transitions to middle school that he would then be reunited with his friends from his former elementary. Both eventually feed the same middle school, so as a result, he would really know twice as many kids as everyone else. Our social butterfly would be primed to achieve rock star status. Right now he’s not buying the logic. He is focused on the now, like any normal 8 year old does, and my heart breaks for him.

Hang in there Little Buddy.

For Love of The Game

Oh my I love baseball.

I love baseball for it’s rich history. It’s design and strategy. I love that every play is a potential lesson in character building. Every out or base hit a learning opportunity of sportsmanship and team play. I have been a coach or assistant coach for my son Joey’s baseball team for the past 8 years. This will most likely be his last year of organized baseball, and for me it’s bittersweet. The realization that another chapter of parenthood with Joey is coming to a close is a hard pill to swallow. I have been cherishing each moment of this season, and nothing was more exciting than tonight’s game.

Tonight’s game will go down for me as the pinnacle game in my eight years of coaching. The ultimate highlight. This game will be talked about, romanticized, and remembered for years, and it’s games like today that reassure me that baseball is the greatest sport in America.

Today we were playing the Yankees. A pesky full throttle team that never lets up. Our kids today were ready, or so we thought. The top of the first inning was a comedy of errors. Literally. Four errors leading to four runs. We had our first ups and went down “one, two, three”. The second inning for the Yankees was a continuation of the first for the Orioles. Walk. Walk. K. Base hit, Error, Error. Overthrow. Base Hit. Walk. In an instant we were down 10 to zip. Nothing. Goose egg. The kids were deflated, frustrated, and snippy. Okay so were the coaches, and I totally felt their pain. The Yankees were pouring it on, not by good play or solid base hits, but by capitalizing on mistakes that we were making on the field. It’s one thing to get beat by a better team. It’s another to get beat by yourself. After three innings were were looking down the bat barrel of an 11-1 deficit, and frustration was at an all time high with the team. Buck, Steve (the other coaches) and I, sat the kids down on the bench before we took our turn to bat in the bottom of the third and I proceeded to speak to the kids like I have never spoken to a team before. I think this was the jist…

“Orioles! Everyone on the bench! Pay attention and listen! Baseball is supposed to be fun. I don’t see any smiling faces on this team right now. We have 12 guys on this team… we only need 9 to play so if you want to sulk and give up, them by all means leave the bench now. (uncomfortable pause) But we are not giving up today! Myself and the coaches are voulunteers. We don’t get paid to be here. We’re here because we love this game. We love this team, and we know you are better than what we see on the field right now. In fact, your parents have paid to have you here so let’s focus! Let’s have some fun, and let’s not look back at the first three innings and only look ahead. Let’s play solid head’s up baseball. Let’s stop the bleeding and let’s get back in this game.”

Thankfully no player took me up on my offer to quit. Not sure what I would have done had one of the kids called my bluff. The next three innings were as I was expecting. We played better defense, hit the ball, sole bases, and played solid fundamental baseball. And by the time we got up at the bottom of the sixth the score was 14-3. I felt good about our effort. I was proud of the kids and how they bounced back after probably the worst three innings of baseball I have seen in awhile. Now, one of the reasons why I like baseball so much is that in order to win you need to make all the outs. In the major leagues teams are required to get all 27 outs in a nine inning game. There’s no running out of a clock. No playing keep away to preserve a lead. Baseball makes you accountable to do your job if you want the win, and I like that. In little league games, teams play seven innings instead of nine, each game however does have a time limit. By the time we got up in the bottom of the sixth our time limit was very close to expiring and the sun was starting to disappear behind the treeline. I had already planted the seed with the umpire that if we had the opportunity to start the 7th inning before 8:25 that I wanted to play. Despite the 14-3 deficit. I wanted our kids to finish out the game and not give up. We did score one in the bottom of the 6th to cut the lead to 14-4 and we started the 7th and final inning.

This is how the bottom of the 7th started for our team: Base hit. Double. Walk. Base hit. Walk. Five kids up—three runs in, and one tough call at third placed us with one out and 6 runs to make up. The kids were standing on the fence, cheering, they were vocal, and more importantly, they were smiling with rally caps on. The next five kids. all got base hits. Let me stress that again. THE NEXT FIVE KIDS ALL GOT BASE HITS. Each and every hit was met with more cheering and smiling. These five hits accounted for another 5 runs. In a flash the score was 12-14, we still only had one out and we had the tying runs on base. The go ahead at the plate. After a fielder’s choice play and one base hit later we were only down by one run. Two outs. The tying run on third. The stress was amazing. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and my voice was hoarse. My kids were on their way to making the most unbelievable comeback I have ever seen. One hit, or one passed ball ties this game. Ties it! The drama was thick. The tension was high. However, the game ended with an Oriole strikeout and a Yankees win. The Yankees finally got us out but not before surrendering 9 hits, 2 walks 9 runs and the most exciting half inning in all of my 8 years of coaching. Final score: Yankees 14, Orioles 13.

I was astounded. So impressed of my team for for not quitting. So proud that Buck, Steve and I were able to coach this game. So thankful for the parents sticking with us and not revolting because we were stressed too. So happy I insisted on playing that last inning.

My kids left the field with their heads high, their spirits up, and despite the loss they left the field feeling like winners tonight. This game was a lesson in character building. It was a learning opportunity of sportsmanship and team play that i relish to share with my grandchildren some day. Even though we lost, the kids learned a valuable life lesson. They learned to never give up, because you never know. You just never know.

Oh my I love baseball.

A Blessing and a Curse.

Those who know me know that I like to sing. Always have, always will. I remember one incident in particular during my 3rd grade class at Wiley Elementary School were we had the opportunity to listen music with headphones as an inside recess activity. I will never forget Mrs. Ensley tapping me on the shoulder and physically removing the headphones off my head to tell me not to sing along with the music. Apparently I had forgotten where I was and I was belting out the words to the song in the middle of classroom. Kids were laughing and I turned as bright as a cardinal in the snow. To say I was embarrassed was an understatement. So no surprise to tell you that a flash forward of 30 years and my love to sing has not diminished at all. What has diminished is the embarrassment factor. I still am found singing in the halls of my office, outside while working in the yard, or even to fill uncomfortable silence when I am left without words to say. I have sung for my church choirs, weddings, funerals, at karaoke, theatrical productions, and in a band. This post is about my experience singing at funerals.

This is going to sound odd, but I enjoy singing at funerals. It is a blessing. I like that God has given me the ability to give comfort to those who are grieving. The first funeral I sang at was for a former choir member at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. A group of us went to sing, and i was nervous, scared, and humbled. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to sing for friends and relatives during this most trying time. It allows me to take my mind off the pain of loss if I am focused on the songs… remember the whole uncomfortable silence thing?

I remember singing at the funeral for my Aunt Marge (My Father’s older sister) at St. Clement Catholic Church in Michigan. The choir director was not familiar with the song I brought to sing so I insisted I sing it by myself. No musical instruments. Nobody to sing with me. I still remember her confusion. “Wait, your going to just sing alone?” she said puzzled. Selfishly I closed my eyes when it was time, and sang to Aunt Marge wishing she were still here. (Okay a confession: I was also singing to my Father wishing he was still here too. BTW, the song was by Colin Raye, Love Remains. ) After the song came the curse. When I was done I became very aware that I was all by myself, separated from everyone. It became abundantly clear that I did not expect or was ready to handle the emotional drain. Fighting back the tears is really hard when you dig deep for the reserves to get through the song. So, this is also going to sound odd, but I also hate singing at funerals for those I know and love. I dread that I will not be able to grieve like I should. The pain I feel usually gets suppressed into some locked away place deep in the brain so that I can focus on the songs at hand. Only to resurface like a firestorm on some random Wednesday afternoon (read: last week). I have gotten good at locking away feelings. If there was a game on the Wii, I would have “pro status” by now.

My Grandma Mayernik’s funeral was the hardest funeral I have had the honor to sing. The service was painful, and magical. Painful, because I was not able to walk in with her casket with the rest of the grandchildren because I was up at the pulpit getting ready to sing. I did not want to miss out on those feelings… that experience. To grieve. Magical, because I got to sing the entrance song Here I am Lord at my Grandma’s request (she had a great sense of humor), and then proceeded to sing the most beautiful Psalm I have, and ever will ever sing, in my lifetime. I think back to this moment a lot. I miss my Grandma Mayernik very much and it comforts me to know that I was given the strength to sing for her and my family that morning.

I often wonder who would sing at my funeral. My children? A niece? A nephew? A good friend? A random person with no connection to me or our family at all? Who will be there to give some comfort to those who are left behind to grieve?

Occasionally, I will have family members give me their requests for songs they want me to sing at their own funerals. I am honored and horrified. It’s strangely weird. Oddly flattering. And a blessing and a curse.

M is for Mature, or Maybe.

Joey... 2 days old 11-6-97

Okay, change of plans. I had written another blog last night to post today but Joey’s topic of conversation tonight after the baseball game trumps it. Joey, for about a year now, has asked if he could play the video games Call of Duty and Halo on the XBOX 360. Every time, Julie and I have both responded with a quick “No”. See those two games are rated “M” for mature, and clearly at 13 he is not old enough. Ratings are ratings. His argument however, is one befitting of a teenage boy, “All of my friends can play, why can’t I? “I am the only 8th grader that does not play Dad.” “I’m left out of many conversations at the lunch table.” “Because I can’t play Halo, I’m a social outcast Dad, and everyone laughs at me because you’re the strictest parents ever!” (okay so I added the last one, he really didn’t say that, but that’s how I know he feels).

Joey has a good head on his shoulders. He excels in school. Tries hard. Does his homework, gets exceptionally good grades and has afternoons filled with extra curriculars (One of which is baseball which we just finished this evening.) He is very mature for his age. Joey could be nicer to his siblings, especially his sister, but again he is a 13 year old boy. My fear for letting him play those games stems more from messing with his innocence than whether he is mature enough to play them. Life is harsh. At times it can be down right cruel, and as parents isn’t it our job to protect them? Even when it’s obvious that we cannot? (I never said my argument was rational) Sometimes I forget that he is maturing at an alarming rate. Hell, he is a freshman next year. I still think of him as the tiny little guy that followed my every step. It’s quite hard to think of him as a young adult with his own opinions, stress, problems and hardships. I still have plenty of my own demons to deal with, how can I realistically help him navigate his? So will we let him play the mature games? Maybe. I’m not sure yet, but we will talk about it later after we are in the new house, and settled. Oh yeah the new house…that’s a whole ‘nother blogpost.

Bottom line is this: No matter how much I try, the reality is that Joey is getting older. And well, I guess am too.