Archive | November, 2012

Sometimes you just have to say …

19 Nov

This may come as a huge surprise to you if you’re a regular reader of my blog, but I like to have fun. I am a firm believer in the idea that life is too damn short to not have fun while you live it. I really pity people who are burdened with “significance disease”. Everything they do must have some sort of significance to it, be filled with meaning, educate you, broaden your horizons, etc. The idea of doing something really silly and stupid is the antithesis to what they are about, and to them, I say, try it. You just might enjoy being an idiot now and then.

Recently, in talking about my latest indulgence in silliness (more on that below) with one of my friends who is a conspirator in the effort, he told the story of when he was dating his wife. She was talking to a friend about him and said “he’s really a great guy. But the Peter Pan Syndrome is going to take some getting used to.” In case you can’t figure out what that is, it’s the idea that “I don’t want to grow up!”. Growing up is for dead people.

As they said in the movie Risky Business – “Sometimes, you just gotta say ‘what the fuck.'” Sorry for the f-bomb, but they are right. Just say it – “Aw, what the fuck.” And then go do it.  To continue to quote that movie:  “What the fuck gives you freedom.”

Some of my favorite pasttimes are just being goofy with friends – watching old movies like Stripes, Caddyshack, Animal House, Sixteen Candles, and shouting all the best lines at the TV as they happen. Our group of friends in Alabama that I have written about have this “being silly” thing down to an art form, and that’s why we love them and love to hang out with them. When we get together with that band of fools, we are guaranteed to laugh until our cheeks hurt. And you know what, there are lessons to be learned.  Bill Murray demonstrates the ridiculousness of seriousness, and the power of being silly and insignificant.

My solo indulgences tend in this way too – as you know, I LOVE music – and I love to play guitar and sing. Now you can argue that that’s not being silly and stupid – that it’s mind expanding and all that, and perhaps you’re right. That said, when I do it, which isn’t often enough, it’s just for the pure joy of banging out a song and singing along with our friends. And I love to dance – the nights when we are in Cancun with our friends there and dance every night until our feet throb are the best nights ever. Lose yourself in the music. Laugh, sing, rock out. Heaven.

So, onwards to the latest stupid indulgence. I am now proud partial owner of a decommissioned ambulance that has been converted into a rolling Chicago Bears football tailgating party machine. It’s the ultimate indulgence in silliness. It makes our tailgating parties even more fun, especially as one of our goals is to draw in passersby to our party – this thing will be a draw. All the lights and sirens work, so it is a huge indulgence in being a little kid. What little boy wasn’t fascinated by fire trucks and ambulances and fantasized being the guy that ran the siren and blew the horns? Well, all the stuff works – so we can do that!

My friends that are in on this – Steve, Bill, Corey and Marc – all have a deep stripe of silliness in them. Steve is the guy who told the “Peter Pan Syndrome” story, and Bill and I have been pals for going on 20 years now and every time we get together we spend time plotting on the next stupid thing we’re going to do. All of us recognize the abject absurdity of this giant little boy’s toy, and that’s the beauty of it. Of course, since we’re grown men and have a bit of financial means among us (although the total investment is still very, very small), this is a bit more than buying a Three Stooges DVD set. Nonetheless, all of us have come into this project with a healthy dose of “whatever money we put into this we will never, ever see again.” But we sure are having laughs.

Being goofy and silly has become doubly important to me since discovering I had a serious case of coronary artery disease with a partial blockage that had to be repaired about 4 ½ weeks ago. Again, life is too damn short to not laugh about it.

So, go ahead. Go for it. Do something purely for the silliness of it. Ditch the pretense and the significance. Watch an old favorite movie. Reread a favorite book. Get together with friends and just laugh. Do something silly. Just say “what the fuck.” Trust me, it’s good for you.

As you were,

Stew

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A young man’s quest to vote in his first Presidential election

8 Nov

This is the story of my son Joel, who, despite some poor planning on both his part and the part of his parents, still managed to vote on Tuesday in his first ever Presidential election.

[Author’s note:  I published this story yesterday in a bit longer form, but the title and the first couple of paragraphs had folks who are feeling remorse about the outcome of  Tuesday’s election reacting wrongly about the article.  Therefore, I’m republishing today under a new title to make sure the story is clear.]

I am always and continually in awe of the democratic process in the US, especially the process for choosing a President. While I firmly believe that our campaign process is seriously flawed, and the existence of the Super PAC/Citizens United money has absolutely corrupted the process, that said it is still stunning that a country of 350 million people can, in the space of about 18 hours, all vote, have the vast majority of the votes counted, and 95% of the time, have a decision as to who the winner is. That is truly a great feat and it is something that the rest of the world admires about the USA.

The right to vote is absolutely sacred in the United States. It is our birthright: every one of us of more than voting age can remember stepping into that voting booth the first time and voting, and you can REALLY remember the first time you voted for a President. My first Presidential election was the 1980 election – Ronald Reagan was the Republican nominee (after a big convention fight), and the incumbent Democratic nominee was President Jimmy Carter. Believe it or not, I was a Republican back then – a product of my upbringing for sure. But I campaigned for Reagan on campus, and when I stepped into the voting booth on that first Tuesday of November, 1980, I had chills and goosebumps.

I have felt those chills and goosebumps every time I’ve voted in a Presidential election since. Even when I’m not terribly enamored of the choice on the ballot (I still wonder why the hell the Democrats nominated John Kerry in 2004), I still feel the thrill of democracy. And I felt it again Tuesday when I stepped up into the booth and voted for whom and for what I believe in.

My son Joel, who is away at University of Illinois, in Champaign/Urbana IL (or “Chambana” as we like to call it), called me about 1:30 PM on election day. I could hear the concern and dejection in his voice. He said “Do you think there’s any way I could get home to vote?” Umm … wow … nothing like a two-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning play! We shared together how both he and my wife and I had screwed up in not making arrangements for him to have an absentee ballot or to vote early or something. He told me there was a bus that could get him into downtown Chicago at 5:45 but I told him that wouldn’t work as his polling place was 35 miles from there in Buffalo Grove, in rainy rush hour traffic. Not a chance we’d make it by 7:00 PM and that was assuming his bus was on time, which it would certainly not be.

He hung up and a few seconds later I called him back and said “Have you checked every bus line?” He had not – there was one line he hadn’t checked that runs to the Chicago area: “LEX” or the Lincoln Express line, that he hates as their busses are stinking pieces of junk, but he said “I’ll check LEX.” He called me 10 minutes later to say he had the ticket and was headed to the bus stop. It would arrive at Woodfield Mall (about 20 minutes away) at 6:10 PM. Game on.

I called Robin and she just laughed – she knows that when our son sets his mind on doing something, it happens come hell or high water. Additionally, our son Joel is also blessed with a heaping helping of Karma. Generally speaking, things just work out for him – as my father-in-law likes to say “The universe works for Joel.” If there is luck to be had, it generally falls well for Joel.

We kept in touch over the next 3 ½ hours – the bus had to go from Champaign/Urbana to Bloomington/Normal to pick up passengers there, then north to Chicago. And it was raining. Oh boy, this might be close. At 5:30 PM, they were into the Chicago area, crossing over I-80 on I-55. Then they hit traffic near where the bus would leave I-55 for I-355 to the Northwest ‘burbs. Uh oh.  But, they quickly cleared that and soldiered on, stopping first at Woodridge at a mall there to let off passengers, then onwards to Woodfield mall where I was waiting. They pulled into Woodfield at 6:32 PM. It’s dark, and rainy and without traffic, we’ve got a 20 minute drive. This is going to be close.

Luckily, with a bunch of really lucky stoplight catches, we jumped on the expressway, and I did my best “point and squirt” action through the traffic to get into the fast lane and cranked our ancient minivan as fast we could safely go. We pulled into the polling place, Grace Lutheran Church at 6:56 PM – 4 minutes to spare. He was the last person to vote Tuesday at that polling place.

As we walked out, he was all smiles. We stopped and got the picture below. Then he shared with me another “the universe works for Joel” moment – the bus he was on was SUPPOSED to go to O’Hare Airport from Woodridge before stopping at Woodfield. If that had happened, we’d have missed by an hour. But there were 9 passengers headed to Woodfield and only one for O’Hare and that passenger was OK with being the last to get dropped off. Amazing.

I am absolutely full of pride at how much my son valued his right to vote – so much so that he spent all afternoon riding a bus from Central Illinois to arrive just in the nick of time to vote. We came home afterwards, had a wonderful family dinner and watched the election returns together. It was a great night, made 10 times better by being able to share it with him.

I am reminded of something my high school biology teacher (“Jungle Jim” at Newton High School) once said to me – it was in the context of managing to revive a plant that looked otherwise dead by simply watering it religiously for a few days. He said “don’t ever deny the desire of something that is alive to continue to live.” He felt it applies to plants, to animals, to humans, to every living thing.

I would add to that: Don’t deny the desire of an American to participate in democracy. Especially when when that American is my son.

Joel at the polling place at 7:00 PM, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. Immediately after voting:

As you were,

Stew

Democracy won’t be denied

7 Nov

I’m sure everyone is sick to death of the election, no matter which side of the election you were on. Those that know me well, know that politics is my favorite sport. I was a political science major in college and I’ve worked on multiple political campaigns over the years. Presidential elections are my Olympics, my World Cup, Super Bowl, World Series and Academy Awards rolled into one. With my educational background, I know just how important democracy is, and our democratic process.

I’m always and continually in awe of the democratic process in the US, especially the process for choosing a President. While I firmly believe that our campaign process is seriously flawed, and the existence of the Super PAC/Citizens United money has absolutely corrupted the process (and so nice to see that the Koch Bros. and Sheldon Abelson still failed to buy the election!), that said it is still stunning that a country of 350 million people can, in the space of about 18 hours, all vote, have the vast majority of the votes counted, and 95% of the time, have a decision as to who the winner is. That is truly a great feat and it is something that the rest of the world admires about the USA.

The right to vote is absolutely sacred in the United States. It is our birthright, and much blood, sweat and tears has been shed by so many as the right to vote has expanded – to minorities, to women and to ensure that everyone has a voice in the process. And to that end, every one of us of more than voting age can remember stepping into that voting booth the first time and voting, and you can REALLY remember the first time you voted for a President. My first Presidential election was the 1980 election – Ronald Reagan was the Republican nominee (after a big convention fight), and the incumbent Democratic nominee was President Jimmy Carter. Believe it or not, I was a Republican back then – a product of my upbringing for sure. But I campaigned for Reagan on campus, and when I stepped into the voting booth on that first Tuesday of November, 1980, I had chills and goosebumps.

I have felt those chills and goosebumps every time I’ve voted in a Presidential election since. Even when I’m not terribly enamored of the choice on the ballot (I still wonder why the hell the Democrats nominated John Kerry in 2004), I still feel the thrill of democracy. And I felt it again yesterday when I stepped up into the booth and voted for whom and for what I believed in.

Which brings us to the point of the story. My son Joel, who is away at University of Illinois, in Champaign/Urbana IL (or “Chambana” as we like to call it), called me about 1:30 PM yesterday. I could hear the concern and dejection in his voice. He said “Do you think there’s any way I could get home to vote?” Umm … wow … nothing like a two-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning play! We shared together how both he and my wife and I had screwed up in not making arrangements for him to have an absentee ballot or to vote early or something. He told me there was a bus that could get him into downtown Chicago at 5:45 but I told him that wouldn’t work as his polling place was 35 miles from there in Buffalo Grove, in rainy rush hour traffic. Not a chance we’d make it by 7:00 PM and that was assuming his bus was on time, which it would certainly not be.

He hung up and a few seconds later I called him back and said “Have you checked every line?” He had not – there was one line that runs to the Chicago area “Lex” or the Lincoln Express line, that he hates as their busses are stinking pieces of junk, but he said “I’ll check.” He called me 10 minutes later to say he had the ticket and was headed to the bus stop. It would arrive at Woodfield Mall (about 20 minutes away) at 6:10 PM. Game on.

I called Robin and she just laughed – she knows that when our son sets his mind on doing something, it happens come hell or high water. Additionally, our son Joel is also blessed with a heaping helping of Karma. Generally speaking things just work out for him – as my father-in-law likes to say “The universe works for Joel.” If there is luck to be had, it generally falls well for Joel.

We kept in touch over the next 3 ½ hours – the bus had to go from Chambana to Bloomington/Normal first to pick up passenger first, then north to Chicago. And it was raining. Oh boy, this might be close. At 5:30 PM, they were in the Chicago area, crossing over I-80 on I-55. Then they hit traffic near where the bus would leave I-55 for I-355 to the Northwest ‘burbs. Uh oh – they cleared that and soldiered on, stopping first at Woodridge at a mall there to let off passengers, then onwards to Woodfield mall where I was waiting. They pulled in at at a mall there to let off passengers, then onwards to Woodfield mall where I was waiting. They pulled in at 6:32 PM. It’s dark, and rainy and without traffic, we’ve got a 20 minute drive. Ooh, this is going to be close.

Luckily, with a bunch of really lucky stoplight catches, we jumped on the expressway, and I did my best “point and squirt” action through the traffic to get into the fast lane and cranked our ancient minivan as fast we could safely go. We pulled into the polling place, Grace Lutheran Church at 6:56 PM – 4 minutes to spare. He was the last person to vote last night at that polling place.

As we walked out, he was all smiles. We stopped and got the picture below. Then he shared with me another “the universe works for Joel” moment – the bus he was on was SUPPOSED to go to O’Hare from Woodridge before stopping at Woodfield. If that had happened, we’d have missed by an hour. But there were 9 passengers headed to Woodfield and only one for O’Hare and that passenger was Ok with being the last to get dropped off. Amazing.

I am absolutely full of pride at how much my son valued his right to vote – so much so that he spent all afternoon riding a bus from Central Illinois to arrive just in the nick of time to vote. We came home afterwards, had a wonderful family dinner and watched the election returns together. It was a great night, made 10 times better by being able to share it with him.

I am reminded of something my high school biology teacher (“Jungle Jim” at Newton High School) once said to me – it was in the context of managing to revive a plant that looked otherwise dead by simply watering it religiously for a few days. He said “don’t ever deny the desire of something that is alive to continue to live.” He felt it applies to plants, to animals, to humans, to every living thing.

I would add to that: Don’t deny the desire to participate in democracy. Especially when it belongs to my son.

Joel at the polling place at 7:00 PM, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. Immediately after voting.

As you were,

Stew

Visualizing the Issue

1 Nov

In one of my posts over the summer where I talked about how I’m “remodeling the house” for my next 50 years on this planet, (which, in itself is a visualization couched in a metaphor), I talked about how one of the ways I motivate myself to lose weight is to visualize the weight I’m carrying around my middle like an object – and the goal is to gradually reduce the size of that object over time. I talked about how last summer, at 245 lbs, I was carrying around the equivalent of mid-sized Golden Retriever around my middle every day. My goal weight currently is 185 – so that would be quite a drop!

Imagining how hard it is to hold such a heavy object – much less carry it throughout the day, up and down stairs, in the shower, to bed, etc, and well – the idea of making that object much smaller is quite motivating.

Stepping on the scale this AM, I’m down to 233 lbs. That includes weightloss over the summer, plus about 6 lbs since my surgery 3 weeks ago today. That’s a 12 lb. drop – the equivalent of losing my mom’s toy poodle around my middle – I’ve LOST A TOY POODLE! LOL – that was for comedic effect. But still – I have lost this:

And, a correction – my mom tells me her dog only weighs 6.5 lbs, so I’ve actually lost THIS:

So, onwards. My big “next goal” focus is to drop another 13 lbs (or another poodle) and hit 220 lbs. At that point, I will have dropped 25 lbs or the equivalent of one of those double-packs of Kingsford Charcoal that you buy at Sam’s club (those are actually 26 lbs – two 13 lb bags).

Once I hit 220, the next goal becomes 210 lbs., and that’s when the heavy shit starts getting lost. When I hit that, I will have lost the equivalent of a 20 lb. tank of barbecue gas (20 lbs of gas + 16 lbs dry weight of the tank) – and those sumbitches are really, REALLY heavy when you have to take them out of the car and haul them to the backyard – something I know all too well with my penchant for barbecuing constantly, and my preponderance of propane-powered backyard toys.

And of course, my goal weight, which I hope to hit by about August of next year, is 185 lbs – at that point, from my starting point of 245, I will have lost that mid-sized Golden Retriever.

I use this visualization technique constantly – I have a visual memory and a very visual imagination. When I lose my keys or something, I start mining the mental photo album to see where I last left them. I have very, very visual memories, including colors, and incredible details of what things looked like from my past, and scenes and such. So it only makes sense for me to use visualization as a way to motivate myself, solve problems, etc.

One of the best books for business that I’ve ever read is called “The Back of The Napkin” by Dan Roan – it’s an outstanding book that talks all about visualization in terms of problem solving, in terms of presenting complex ideas and thinking, and more. I highly recommend it for anyone in business who has to explain complex thoughts.

Other things I visualize – if I’m having trouble falling asleep, I try to visualize being in water, and with each breath, I submerge a little deeper – yes, I know that sounds like I’m fantasizing about drowning, but that’s not the idea – it’s the idea that you’re sinking slowly lower, deeper, darker. It works great for me.

Lately, I’ve been doing a LOT of visualizing about what’s going on inside my heart. I visualize those coronary arteries, and when I walk past a potato chip bowl, or see French fries on a menu, or get the urge to have a big greasy burger or some bacon, well, I imagine all that fat sticking to my artery walls, and well … clogging up, and killing me. I know that’s REALLY dark, but I can tell you I have had exactly three French fries in 3 ½ weeks, and those didn’t really taste good, and about 1 slice of bacon and … that tasted marvelous. But, it’s what I need to do.

Today I’m visualizing how great I feel after knocking down day 1 of my “Couch to 5K” effort. With each step on the running track, I was visualizing those being outside this spring in my first-ever 5K race. When my “C25K” iPhone app announced “Congratulations, you’ve done it!”, I visualized crossing that finish line, feeling great – winded, thirsty, hungry and triumphant.

I’m going to win this battle against this thing called heart disease. That’s the final visual.

What could you visualize today that will help you? Give it a try!

As you were,

Stew

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