Tag Archives: family

Roll The Credits

30 Jan

This was a momentous week in the Stew’s Brew household – our oldest son, Joel, has officially headed out of the nest and into the real world. He moved this week to the Bay Area of California to start his professional career with Tesla Motors as a process engineer in their big plant that turns out all the awesomeness like the Model S P85D with Insane Mode. He will be working on the paints and finishes team integrating new products into the production stream. Pretty amazing stuff!

His mom, Robin and I, would love to take all the credit for his success, but as Hilary Clinton most famously said, “It takes a village to raise a child” and Joel truly is the product of that. Obviously whatever we did as parents either a) didn’t screw him up that badly; or b) was great parenting (somewhere in the middle is the truth), and his own amazing hard work, singular focus, putting himself into position for success, etc., had a everything to do with it too.

But I’d like to acknowledge some of the tons of positive influences he had on his life as some of these folks really helped guide him. There are many, many others that I’m sure I’m not putting on the list.  As in the usual practice, I’m not going to use full names, but I’ll use first names, nicknames, etc. to identify folks.

We have to start with his grandparents, including one who never met him, his grandfather Donn Campbell. Starting with my Dad – Joel entered this world about 5 weeks after my Dad’s passing. He is so much like his grandfather Donn, as to be uncanny – his love of sports, obsession with making lists, success drive, general kindness, easy to meet people, etc. – all of that was expressed in my Dad too. None of us truly know how things work beyond this life, but we like to think that perhaps there was a meeting somewhere prior to Joel’s being born where he got some great coaching. My Mom, LindaC also has been a huge positive influence. From Joel’s love of cooking and the finer things in life, his crossword obsession, to the great experiences of going to “Camp Grandma” during the summer (and allowing Robin and me to travel and keep a great marriage) – and so much more – lots of Grandma Linda went into making Joel.

Robin’s folks, Julie and Merle, being the local grandparents, have had an enormous influence. Merle took care of Joel shortly after he was born to allow Robin to continue working – Robin used to go to her house to feed Joel on her lunch breaks – this daycare, at a time when we were struggling financially was just enormous. They also were big contributors to childcare for us – allowing us to travel and do things that couples should have time to do, and helped us out in so many ways. Thank you.

The rest of the family also continually provided such positive influences -his aunts and uncles Becky & Tom, Shari & Micah, Jon & Erica, his cousins, “greats and grands” like Steve & Linda, Reisa & Warren, and his departed great grandparents that he adored so much. The family is filled with secure, successful people and huge collection of long-lasting, great marriages. Much to emulate for him.

Joel, of course, loves his sports and is a soccer player, loved playing baseball and basketball – all of his sports coaches contributed – from his BGRA coaches like Ray, Steve (the Starbucks man), Elliott, and more; to his soccer coaches – Sherm in particular who coached him mulitple seasons – all of them instilled competitiveness in him, a sense of fair play and taught him the importance of playing on teams.

His work experiences of course have really guided him – and I’d like to call out two special couples.  Dave and Lucia, who own Tamarak Day Camp in Lincolnshire, were Joel’s first “bosses” – Joel started out as a camper at their camp – an experience all our kids enjoyed – immensely positive – and then as soon as he was eligible to do so, he started working there as have his brothers who continue to work there. Joel learned early on the value of a fair but firm boss in Dave and Lucia and the value of hard work, teamwork and more in his formative years there. Dave and Lucia, I hope you understand how important your mentorship is of not only your campers but your employees – all of my kids have said they enjoy working there even more than being campers there, and that they have learned so much from both of you.

The other special couple I’d like to call out are Mark and Ellen. Mark is a high school mate of mine, and despite not having seen each other in pretty much more than 30 years, he took on the role of “how to navigate the car business” advisor for Joel as he is an engineer at Nissan. He guided Joel early on as he was heading into Engineering school at Illinois, and then continued to guide him as he got involved in Formula SAE racing (crucial to his success) and finally, applied a bit of “runway foam” as Joel went after his first internship at Nissan’s tech center in Detroit, where Mark works. Which would have been plenty! But there’s more – that summer, when Joel was interning for Nissan – Mark’s wife Ellen took Joel under her wing, fed him dinner once a week, took him shopping when he needed it and generally adopted him as one of her own. Amazing! You two are truly special people.

Lastly, and not leastly, we’d like to thank all of our friends – we are firm believers that the family you choose is as important as the family you have – and you all are the family we choose. Our close friends, Chris & Gail, Bill & Robin, Steve & Pam (Faltese and Mitzi), Jason & Andrea, Les & Angie, Mark & Jodi, Harry & Liz, Gary & Jill, Joel & Tammy, Marc & Susan, Greg & Molly, and many more have all had such a positive influence on Joel in so many ways.

We always like to joke that Joel is one of the luckiest people we know and that “the universe works for Joel” – but that discounts his hard work, and that discounts the influences of all the people who positively influenced him for his growing up years. We have to chalk this success up to his intelligence and hard work, shaken and stirred with a lot of wonderful people who all rubbed off a bit of themselves on our dear son.

Thank you friends and family! We wouldn’t be at this point without you. And we love you all.

As you were,

Stew

Thankful

30 Nov

By now, Sunday morning of Thanksgiving weekend, most people will have spent the long holiday period (not exactly a weekend) getting hammered (Wednesday night – AKA “Black Wednesday” – the drunkest night of the year – even worse than New Year’s eve)j, overeating (Thursday, natch), overspending (Friday), overwatching football (all weekend long), drinking even more, etc. etc.  Many people approach Thanksgiving weekend with both excitement and dread and the dread comes from a variety of sources – time spent with family you don’t care to see, travel worries and hassles, dividing time among various family members (Thanksgiving is considered to be the most complicated holiday for that), etc.

Notice the key missing element of the above is what the core of the holiday is supposed to be about? Giving thanks?

It seems like in our efforts as a country to over-program everything (admit it, we do) is extracting the basics of this holiday. The “first official shoppng day” of the Christmas season is now the day where everything USED to be closed, and people were home with family. Black Friday was officially usurped this year by Thanksgiving Day, according to the National Retail Federation’s tracking.

I have to admit to participating a lot in the overindulgence – but at least I think it is focused on family and friends. Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Professor Troutstream and I, plus our families and some select close friends gather at a pub for our annual “Burgers, Beer and Bourbon (and Tots)” fest. We do get a wee bit, umm, happy there, but the biggest feature is just great stories and tons of laughs.

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Robin and I hosted 22 for dinner at our house Thursday evening. We choose to do our big TG dinner in the evening – and that conveniently allows those who are having to split time, to hit multiple Thanksgiving celebrations. Most of our crowd was family – my mom, Robin’s parents, her aunt and uncle from Ohio, their kids and spouses – but we also had two couples that are among our best friends there – both couples are empty-nesters with no local family to go to. Happy to be their “local family”.

Friday was a chill day – I used it to get some house projects done, the most notable was getting my music studio organized in the way I have been planning to organize it since we redid our basement 2 years ago. Have a small PA system set up, a dedicated computer for playing and recording music, mutliple amps for visiting players, etc.  Pretty sweet. Still need to get all the guitars on the wall, but step by step. Friday evening, my inlaws hosted a wonderful dinner for the whole family plus a few more at a local Greek restaurant – and it was a huge treat and much fun.

Yesterday, on the idea of son #1, I got The Fanbulance out of storage, piled the three sons into it, and headed to Evanston IL to pick up Professor Troutstream and watch the Illini of U of Illinois play the Wildcats of Northwestern. The Prof and I enjoyed a bit more Kentucky “brown water” at the tailgate (goes great with Egg McMuffins!), and then left the game about halftime and headed to a pub where his wife joined us and we waited out the rest of the game and the arrival of the sons.  Last evening, was just a chill night – my mom made a delicious gravy to accompany the leftover turkey and we made “stuffing waffles” (heat up stuffing in a waffle iron – best idea ever!) to put all the good stuff over. Our local high school, Stevenson, was in the state championship football game and I watched them win that – enjoying the 4th quarter from bed.

Today, it’s just another chill day although we need to put the house back in order from the bash Thursday night as well as I need to put away our patio, run the gas out of the power lawn tools, etc.

So, now that I have bored you with a rundown of my weekend, I’ll return to the point of this post. I spent the entire weekend in the company of all of those I love the most – family, closed and dear friends, and more. Did we overeat and overdrink? Bet your ass we did. To me, that’s what Thanksgiving weekend is all about though – spending the time in the company of your friends and family.

And I have so much to be thankful for – my wonderful wife of 28.5 years, the three amazing young men that are my sons, my mom, and the fact that at 78, she is as sharp as ever and in generally good health and able to travel to us, live on her own, etc., Robin’s family and how they all travel in to make this such a fun weekend, my great pal Professor Troutstream, all of our other close friends, the fact that I have a challenging and rewarding career with a continued upwards trajectory, a nice home, a loyal dog, etc. etc.

Overindulge I did. Did I gain a few pounds this weekend?  I’m sure of it – back onto track with my Weight Watchers program this week. Do I creak and ache like a typical 50-something person? Sure do. But that’s how I know I am alive.

If you follow my blog, you most certainly know that my focus is on living life. It is entirely too short. I’m thankful for the opportunities I have to be able to live life so well with people I love.  There’s the sentence I was looking for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

As you were,

Stew

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Wheels

28 Mar

Well, last weekend, I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and that is buy my oldest son, Joel, a car. Which is only the ending part of the story. As I mentioned in my story from last spring, when we bought our twin sons a car to share, we’ve always been in the camp that kids don’t need their own cars. Neither my wife nor I had our own cars until deep in college, and so we never bought the kids cars when they turned 16. Is it more convenient for them to have their own at that age? I’m sure it is – but it just wasn’t how either of us were raised, and therefore, it wasn’t how we were going to proceed. But at some point, necessity wins. For the car we bought for Alex and Brian, it was Brian heading off to community college every day this year that forced the hand. And for Joel, well, it was landing the coolest summer internship we and he could possibly imagine.

In case you’re living somewhere under a rock, Tesla Motors is the “it” car company right now.  It has been compared to Apple computer in the mid-80s – it is inventing the future as we speak, and that future is electric cars with rapid charging ability, high performance (rather than the whiny little golf-cart-esque things that other car companies are putting out), extreme luxury, unimaginable features, best-in-class-safety and incredible beauty all in one.   They are inventing a nationwide rapid charging network just for Tesla owners, they are building a battery plant that is 10X the size of anything around today to serve the industry, and again, they are inventing this category.

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And they hired my son, Joel, as an intern this summer in their paint engineering department at their production plant in Fremont, CA, in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area.  Wow. So suddenly, the necessity requirement for the car purchase is being met.

This story wouldn’t make sense without getting to know my son a bit. This little boy has loved cars and everything to do with cars since he was old enough to make the Pbbbbbbbbbbbb sound with his mouth – and would push around non-car objects like they were cars – that at 7 months old. His favorite toys were all cars. At the ripe age of 3, he had the starting lineup of the NASCAR Winston Cup series committed to memory, and I’m not talking about just drivers names, but their sponsors, their numbers, their engine builder, their owner, the whole shebang.  I could have won bar bets with him, and when I took him to his first NASCAR race (a Busch Series race at the Milwaukee Mile) just after his third birthday, he demonstrated that prowess and got people to buy me beers (“Buddy, you’re raisin’ that boy right, lemme buy ya a beer.”).

He would watch NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, World Rally Car (WRC), Super Bikes, etc. etc. non-stop on Speed Channel (RIP!), ESPN, national TV, etc.  He cried his eyes out when Dale Earnhardt was killed.  I bought him a pedal-powered Indy Car and a little play helmet and he’d strap that helmet on and race around the driveway, and then declare himself the winner, stand up in the car and conduct a winner’s interview with himself, perfectly mimicking the winner’s speech of “Well, the DuPont Pepsi Hendricks Chevrolet was just awesome today, and the work of the crew is what got me here.”

He would hold races of his 1/64th scale Indy and NASCAR toy cars on our dining room table, carefully logging the starting positions, the ending positions, the series points and more in notebooks. As he got older and got into video games, he would consistently completely ace the latest computer or console racing games. Right now he’s in the top percentiles of all registered players on some of the best/hardest racing games like Forza and others.

Most kids, when they get their licenses, do stupid things, get tickets, wreck cars, etc. Not Joel. Not at all Joel. He guards his driving privilege closer than anyone I know. Other than one unfortunate encounter with the corner of our garage and our minivan’s bumper a week after getting his license and one scrape of a mailbox a couple of months after that, he’s not had any accidents driving. He went five years with his license before he got his first ticket and that was driving back and forth from his internship with Nissan in Detroit last year.

He went to school to get a job with a car company. He started out as a mechanical engineering major and during his junior year, he realized that wasn’t for him and changed majors to his current one, Technology Systems Management, which, is really the applied side of engineering. Everything he’s done at school has pointed to that – the biggest of which is Formula SAE.  FSAE is a racing program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. FSAE teams design and build from scratch a “formula-style” race car (picture below) every year.  They then compete in FSAE competitions where they have a business proposal competition (how much does it cost to build it and what are the projected production costs in a volume run), a design competition and competitions in a variety of tests of the car itself – static tests where the car is still, and dynamic tests like acceleration, braking, skidpad, and then autocross and endurance racing. He started as a freshman apprentice, being a general go-fer, and has worked his way into the team leadership this year.

Here is Joel at the wheel of the 2013 Illini Motorsports FSAE car in a testing session last summer:

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So, I guess I’ve set the stage for “Joel is a car guy”. As part of his run up to a career in the automaker business, the next stage is interning – and last summer, he hit a great one.  He interned at Nissan in their technology center in Farmington Hills, MI. Nissan paid well, provided him a company car to drive (and damn nice ones too) and he spent the summer kart racing with an old friend of mine from high school who works there too (and helped foam the runway).  Unfortunately, Nissan wasn’t able to pick him up for this summer – with his change from Mechanical Engineering to Tech Systems Management that took him out of contention. He had fairly well planned on going back to his old summer job of being a camp counselor at a local day camp (which is a great job, so don’t take that the wrong way), when out of the blue, the dream internship happened. He got a call from Tesla Motors where someone that knew him from FSAE had recommended him. After a very short interview period, he got the job and he’s headed to California for the summer.

As a car guy myself (the Brits call it being a “petrol head”), it has pained me that I haven’t been able to buy my petrol head son a car, but it just hasn’t been a necessary expense. And when you’re dealing with five-figure expenses, it needs to be necessary.  But with the internship in California and all, it became time. So he and I started doing research – I should say he started doing research, with me sort of following. My wife was still pretty soft on the idea – she recognized the need but the expense scared her – and it does me.  But, we’ll manage. On Saturday, he came home for the weekend, and we set out to look at two cars, with no intent on buying either. But the second one we looked at, a pristine 2007 VW GTI just spoke to me.  Joel was meant to drive that car. The car looks and drives like new and had a perfect record on CARFAX with all service details documented.  Doesn’t get better than that. After much “gut wrenching” thought, and a quick phone call to Robin, much to Joel’s surprise, I said to the dealer “Ok, if we take it today, what can you do on the price?” I thought Joel’s head was going to pop. The look on his face was completely priceless. We did the deal and I thought the kid was going to do cart wheels on his way to the car.

One HAPPY kid:

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As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I also have a VW GTI – a 2011.  It is the perfect blend of a performance car and practicality. Tons of room inside to haul people and stuff. And when it’s just you, a curvy road and the gas and brake pedals, it flat hauls ass.  So Joel and I have “dad and son VW GTIs.”  And while he’s over the moon happy that he finally has a ride of his own, I’d stack my happy against his and probably win that I was able to do this for him.

The boys with their toys:

 

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To him, I’ve said – “Have fun with it but drive it safely everywhere that’s not a race track.”  But I also said, “and when you do hit the track, look out for the guy in the midnight black GTI, because it’s going to be dear old dad who is not going to give an inch to you.”

As you were,

Stew

Dirty Room Problems

23 Sep

My wife and I are very, very blessed with three young men that we’re pleased to call our sons.  They are smart people, who have always made great choices.  In high school when other kids were having drinking parties or smoking weed, our guys were doing things like board game parties or “LAN” video game parties.  Nerdy?  Perhaps a bit, but also just simply they had great friends who shared their values and they would have the kind of fun that they would prefer to have.

In short, they really didn’t give us a lot of worry – they weren’t out late carousing, they weren’t out tearing around in the car, they weren’t drinking or doing drugs, they generally got decent-to-great grades, they have kind and respectful friends and well, we didn’t have much to worry about.  But like everything, “water seeks its own level” – which means in this case that without much to worry about, little worries become amplified.  I firmly believe that the parent/child relationship requires a bit of this dissonance to work – yes, you can be good friends with your kids, your kids can be pretty golden, etc., but at the end of the day, parents and their kids naturally need to go at it a bit.  Which brings us to  the topic of this post:  Dirty Room Problems.

We always have joked that the biggest problems our kids gave us were dirty rooms.  Which, is a nice way to say, we are counting our blessings with them.  Literally our biggest source of conflicts were about socks all over the family room, their bedrooms being kept very cluttered, the basement “man cave” being an absolute mess, and more. Absent of other conflicts, these were the problems we chose to argue about with them. 

But having gone through the teen years now for the most part – all three are in college now – and watching our friends and acquaintances with their kids, and the challenges they frequently have, our phrase “dirty room problems” becomes our triumphant cheer.  When we have our blessings to count, we love those dirty rooms.

The “dirty room problem” concept can be carried to pretty much everything in life.  I firmly count my blessings every day, and can honestly say that I have little to worry about in this life.  Sure, the financial burdens of putting three kids through college are stifling, but we’re fortunate to both have good careers that pay us well.  Sure, my health could be better, but being 50 lbs overweight and having a treatable problem in my heart is infinitely better than what some face.  Is my house perfect?  No, but I sure do like it and we continually work to improve it.  Etc. etc. etc. 

Years ago, when I was facing an especially rough patch in my life – it was 1992 – I had lost a great job in the 1991 recession when the company I was working for began to fail.  I joined another gent from that company to start a business, and it was failing.  My dad had just died of cancer, and my first son was just born.  While I wouldn’t say I was in depression, I would say that I felt pretty bleak.  I took a three-day course called “The Forum”.   It was interesting in that it taught me to choose the life I have versus fighting it.  And especially, recognize exactly the truth about the journey that brought you there.

The clarity of thinking that I learned those three days has really informed me going forward.  And it leads me to recognize things for what they are, to not dwell on the negative but just to deal with it.  And of course, to appreciate the positive and enjoy the life that I have versus wishing for the life I don’t have. 

Dirty room problems.  At the end of the day, the vast majority of my problems are just that.  Dirty rooms.  A bit of picking up, run the vacuum through it, and problem is solved.  And for that, I am immensely thankful.  

As you were,

Stew

Flexible Holidays

17 Dec

An interesting thing about being someone who made a drastic change in religious faith – Christianity/Protestant to Judaism – is the concept of the holidays. As I was making my very slow progress into choosing to be Jewish – a process that took more than 20 years – much was always talked about with “the December Dilemma” – aka “to tree or not to tree, that is the question.” That’s a topic onto itself, but an additional observance I made is the different viewpoints on the importance of dates to holidays.

As you may or may not know, Jewish life follows a lunar calendar, which means that, in reference to the standard calendar we all follow, Jewish holidays jump all over the place – one year Rosh Hashanah is in early October, another it will be right after Labor Day (2013 happens to be one of those years), Hanukkah sometimes starts right after Thanksgiving, other years practically runs into New Years, etc. Contrast this to the standard calendar and how Christianity has “fixed” dates into the calendar for Christmas (although curiously, the whole Easter season still “floats”), and what that means for celebrations.

Growing up in a Presbyterian household, of course, we were all about Christmas – and my mom and sister’s families still are. The families gather on Christmas eve, and Christmas morning, and everyone gets together for Christmas dinner, etc. All this happens with perfect regularity on December 24th and 25th. Meanwhile, contrast that to our Jewish holiday traditions – now always, we celebrate high holy days on the dates proscribed, and same with Passover – mostly because those are more “outward” holidays, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur being devoted to prayer and reflection in the synagogues, and while Passover is “in home”, it is focused on specific dates when we gather with family and friends to retell the ancient stories of Passover and eat the traditional foods.

Hanukkah, being a minor “festival of lights” holiday that somehow got cast to compete with Christmas, and therefore is amplified into something way more important than the sages who created the holiday thought it should be, also though, like all Jewish holidays, floats in date. And of course, because it last 8 days, it also tends to be much more vague in terms of scheduling. Nonetheless, Jewish families in the US (and presumably elsewhere, though the “alternate Christmas” is more of a USA phenomenon than anywhere else) use it as an opportunity to gather with family and friends, exchange gifts, etc.

That said, because it occurs at a time of year that is a) busy as hell, b) already has built in Federal/work holidays, etc., many take the opportunity determine for themselves when they celebrate it. They light the obligatory candles on the proscribed dates of course, and many families do small/daily gift exchanges during that time, but because kids have schedules, families have schedules, etc., doing a big Christmas-style family gathering over a meal and gift exchange is pretty often scheduled conveniently, versus within the “8 crazy nights” of Hanukkah.

Examples of this are everywhere and especially within our family. With our oldest son Joel not getting home from college until next week, even though Saturday night was the “eighth crazy night!”, we’re gathering with the family this coming weekend and doing the big shindig then. Some years, it has shifted after New Years. One year a few years ago, it shifted to MARCH! (we all agreed that was a bit ridiculous). But shift it we do, but we still do all the traditional stuff like lighting the menorah, singing the Dreidel song, having gelt chocolates, frying latkes (fried potato pancakes), etc. etc.

And that is in stark contrast to Christmas – with our Christmas tradition with my family, we pretty much always gather on the 24th and 25th, come hell or high water, and in fact, only once in recent memory did any shifting of date. A few years ago, there was a blizzard in Iowa on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and so we made plans to shift the celebration to the following day – the 26th. Well, my mom was fit to be tied – walked around in a blue funk all day on Christmas day and clearly, the world was out of balance. Meanwhile, for us Jews in the house, it was simple – the holiday is about the celebration, not about the date … but when you’ve never missed the date, you get a bit ferklempt.

This year, we’ve got another conflict, but we’re not shifting the date – much. My sister needs to fly to California to be with her oldest son/my nephew while he has knee surgery the next day. She’s flying on Christmas morning, of course. Me, being the Jewish guy in the family, of course suggested we shift the celebration – and shift we will – to the 23rd in the evening with my sister. I also saw an opportunity – that meant Christmas day could be a free day, so I suggested we have a traditional Jewish Christmas day – sleep in late, go see a movie and have Chinese food for dinner. Let’s just say that while my family found that to be a great idea, my mom shot that down in an instant. So, we’ll still do our traditional Christmas morning of coffee, fresh baked cinnamon rolls and watching the “A Christmas Story” marathon on TBS, followed by my sister’s family arriving, sans my sister, for more gift exchanging, and Christmas dinner.

However you celebrate the holidays, any holiday for that matter, to me it’s all about being with family and friends – gather, share a meal and drinks, tell stories, laugh a lot and just be together. And that is hard to schedule. Which is probably why we have proscribed days to celebrate holidays, so at least, even if we shift it, we’re still sure to get together.

Happy Holidays – Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, etc. etc. etc. Whatever you celebrate, enjoy celebrating it. Regardless of when you do it.

As you were,

Stew


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Miss ya, Dad.

1 Jul

Twenty years ago today, my dad, Donn Campbell, passed away.  Hard to believe it’s been 20 years.  I was only 30 years old when he passed – my wife Robin was pregnant with my now-about-to-turn 20 years old son, Joel.  He was born only six weeks later.  I’m 50 now.  Hard to believe how time flies.

I wanted to write about my Dad today for a number of reasons.  There are so many people in my life now that never knew him, and I’d like to introduce you to him.  Obviously, another reason is simply in memory of him.  And, well, I miss him. Earlier this week, an old friend from my hometown, Sharil, wrote a beautiful missive on Facebook about her dad, who had passed in 2005.  I never met him but after reading her story, I felt I did.  So, thanks for being my muse today, Sharil.

I’m going to attempt to introduce you to my dad today.  This isn’t a sad story about a life ended too early (It was.), or a tearful drone about missing him (I do.) – instead, I’m just going to tell you about him.  And hopefully, you’ll get a glimpse into who he was, what he was about, and why everybody who knew him thought he was pretty much the nicest guy they had ever met.  I’m going to try to make this NOT sound like a eulogy.  We’ll see how I do.

My Dad was sort of the epitome of the song “Small Town” by John Mellencamp.  In that song, Mellencamp talks about a guy who was born in a small town, lived in a small town and will probably die in that same small town.  My dad was born and raised in Newton, IA and lived his entire life there, and well, died nearby, and is buried there as well.   He was fiercely proud of his hometown, his state and his alma mater.  Out traveling, he’d be the first guy to proudly speak up with “we’re from Iowa”.

Being one of those rare folks that lived his entire life in the same small town, he was immensely proud of his town. Newton IA is a tidy little town, 30 miles outside of Des Moines, with a population of about 15,000 people.  When my Dad passed, Newton was still riding pretty high – Maytag Co. hadn’t yet overgrown its opportunities and gotten sold off to Whirlpool, dealing the town a hard blow.   He went to the local high school, where I graduated as well, and played football there.  He had season tickets to the Cardinals and went to nearly every football game there, following them like someone might follow an NFL team.  Newton’s football nights are the embodiment of Friday Night Lights, and without the presence or distractions of nearby pro sports, it’s everyone’s outlet for sports fan activity – an outlet my Dad always enjoyed.  He was actively involved in a number of aspects of the community and I think was one of its most ardent supporters.

He was a broad-based sports fan in general – he’d pore over the Sports section in the Des Moines Register every morning, especially the stats page – that’s a habit my son Joel has today.  He was also a tremendous fan of his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes – he had season tickets to the Hawkeyes for years, and when I was in school, my favorite thing was to roll out of my dorm or frat room bed and head across campus to my parents tailgate bashes.  He rarely missed a home game for the Hawkeye football team, and frequently made it to Iowa City for basketball as well.  When he went to Iowa, he was part of the championship-winning team in that era, as a manager.  He was still wearing his letterman’s jacket years later – I remember him wearing it when we’d go sledding.

After college, he went into the US Air Force – he was in ROTC in college and went in as an officer – a 2nd Lieutenant and left the service 3 years later with the rank of Captain.  My dad was fiercely patriotic – shortly after we moved to the house my mom still lives in – in 1971 – we erected a 20 foot flagpole in the front yard and proudly displayed the Red White and Blue every day.  We’d have an epic 4th of July brunch every year with a flag-raising party.  I think that was one of his most favorite days of the year.  Those that know me locally know that ever since I’ve had a single family home (20+ years now), I’ve had a 20-foot flag pole in my front yard too.  And it displays Old Glory every day.

His career, and his “other” life was his business – Maytag Dairy Farms – makers of the delicious Maytag Blue Cheese.  His dad/my Grandfather helped the Maytag family found the Blue Cheese business in the late 1930s/1940s, and when my dad graduated from Iowa and returned from the Air Force, he worked for the Maytag Company for a few short weeks before the Dairy Farms hired him to work at his dad’s side.  When my grandfather retired as Chairman, and died shortly after, in 1973, my dad ascended to President of the company and ran it until his death 20 years ago.  He loved that business – loved both the cheese and the farm operations side of it (in addition to making cheese, Maytag Dairy used to have a championship-winning Holstein dairy herd.  He had a strong partnership with his “boss” – Fritz Maytag, who is widely known now as the father of the craft brewing movement.  Together with Fritz, they built Maytag Blue Cheese into the brand that is widely known today, and expanded production, introduced new products, build brand buzz through press, restaurant menu distribution, events and more.  I was never given the opportunity to work there, and in fact when I asked my Dad about it two years before his passing, he discouraged me from it, saying he believed that I would be bored there.  He was probably right. But it was his favorite thing.

So, what was my dad like?  He was just a great guy.  Very simply.  He was always that guy that would invite you to join into whatever he’d be doing at the time with a hearty smile and a firm handshake.  My best memories of him as a kid are a mix of adventures – such as hiking in the Rocky Mountains, fishing in Northern Minnesota lakes, and of parties and entertaining.  It seems, as I look back on being a kid, that my folks were always entertaining people – from their epic Hawkeye game tailgates, to parties, to simply having others to our home for dinner or even just a beer on the patio in the afternoon, my parents were the consummate hosts.  My mom, of course, has much to do with that, being an incredible cook, and an even better host, but my dad was an equally willing partner.  This is something that has carried forward, of course, with me.  I would much rather cook and serve dinner for friends in our home than go out to dinner.  People ask Robin and I where we get that, and it comes from our families.  It’s what we do, because it’s what we’ve done for our entire lives.  And I can put a lot of that inspiration on my Dad.

My dad was also naturally outgoing,  a “friendmaker”.  He would make a new friend everywhere he went, and naturally engaged strangers in conversation, and of course within seconds of the start of the conversation, two points would be made that a) he was from Iowa, b) have you had Maytag Blue Cheese?   And everytime, he made a friend.  I can’t imagine anyone ever meeting my dad and afterwards saying anything derogatory about him.  He also generally had a great sense for people, and well, a bit of a naive trust that everyone was a good to the core, and as nice and well intentioned as him.  My favorite “dad made a friend” story comes from one of our Colorado skiing vacations we took during high school and college.  He had ridden the chairlift with a couple of interesting guys from Columbia, who were staying in what was at the time in Breckenridge, the ritziest condo development in town.  Later that day we were invited to their condo, and of course it was incredibly opulent.  My mother and I, being the skeptics in the family, started putting two-and-two together when we were hearing that these guys flew to Breckenridge in their private jet, had houses in multiple cities, etc.  These were cocaine moguls.  My dad would hear none of that, though a few years later would just chuckle and say “Yeah, well, that’s probably right.  But hey, they were still nice guys!”

My dad loved life.  He liked both simple pleasures and big times as well.  He loved home improvement projects like painting the house because it allowed him to just relax and do things – a pleasure I understand well.  He’d derived just as much pleasure from a good walk after dinner as he would from going to a big event at their local country club.  His favorite thing was to provide for others – treating you to dinner, entertaining you in his home or at his tailgate, providing cheese for a charity event, or just volunteering.  I write a lot about “the little things” in this blog.  I learned this from my Dad.

At my dad’s funeral, our next door neighbor, who was the Chairman/CEO of Maytag at the time (Leonard Hadley), came up to me and gave me a big, uncharacteristic hug (this guy wasn’t a hugger), and with tears in his eyes (again, incredibly uncharacteristic), said to me “Your dad was the nicest man I’ve ever met.”  Wow.

I think a lot of folks would agree.  As would I.  For those that never met him, I hope after reading this, you’ve gotten a sense of that as well.

Miss ya, Dad.  Love you.

As you were,

Stew

That “This is Amazing!” moment

12 Jun

There is a fairly famous and popular “bit” by the comedian Louis CK, that he titles “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy”. In the clip he talks about stuff we take for granted now that is truly incredible, and we get upset when it doesn’t work right. His point: HELLO! It’s amazing that it exists at all! The best little bit of the clip is where he talks about people on airplanes using the in-flight WiFi and when it drops out they get all pissed off. His point to them? You’re in a metal tube, sitting in an armchair like in your living room, shooting through the sky at 500 miles per hour. That little feat is amazing enough. And now you’re pissed off that somehow you can’t connect from the internet from there? Here is the clip:

This post is somewhat close in relation to my “FM Technology” post – in that post, I talk about how so much of what we do works by FM Technology – defined as “F’ing Magic!”. I’m writing this right now in a “This is Amazing” moment. I’m on a speeding Metra train, using my tiny little, screaming fast laptop, connected to the internet via a Sprint 4G USB device, and somehow the words I write are getting published in real time to my Word Press account by the process of my laptop taking my information, turning it into a stream of data, that my little 4G device transmits to a series of towers as I speed along, which then gets transmitted through a telephone network, out to the Internet network and to some data center somewhere where that stream of data is stored. You then, once I click my “publish” button and enable to you see it, can then through whatever connectivity you have, send a request to that server, which then sends my words through a series of wires, satellite links, fiber optic cables, Cable TV lines, etc. into your computer or laptop or tablet or smart phone, which then decodes it and creates a visual image of my words that you can read.

Excuse me, that’s Amazing.

It seems like these days we do all take it all for granted, but I have to admit that I try as often as possible to have an “amazing” moment. My favorite Amazing moment has been when I’m hurtling through the air in the steel tube connected to the internet – that alone is plenty amazing as Louis CK says. But, add to that the rest of the story, whenI really experience that “This is Amazing!” moment is when I’m chatting through Facebook in real time, with my good friend, Simon, who lives in the UK, whom I met on the internet through an online travel site, and where he and I finally met in person last summer in Cancun. He and I are chatting in real time, and when I start deconstructing all the “This is Amazing” things to enable that to happen – all the way down to him reading my review of a resort in Mexico on CancunCares.com (that’s how we “met in 2007) … well … Ok, that’s all kinds of Amazing.

I could go on and on about all the little Amazing things we have these days – 10,000 songs in your pocket (iPod), computers in our hands (smartphones and tablets), cooking with radar (Microwave ovens), a whole room full of maps in our cars (GPS), etc. etc. As I noted in my “FM Technology” post, I often think of my grandfathers and my dad – all men that left the world too early – who all appreciated cool stuff, and try to consider what they’d think of all of this now. Anyway, onward to a different “This is amazing!” moment.

This past weekend, we went to Galena IL to go stay at a friend’s vacation home on the Eagle Ridge golf resort. Beautiful place. Galena, if you’re not familiar, is a town in FAR northwest Illinois, near the Mississippi. That area – pretty much all of Jo Daviess county in Illinois, is an area that opted out of getting scoured pool-table flat by the ice ages somehow, and does Illinois’ best imitation of actually having terrain. Northeast through south-central Illinois is table-top flat. I’m from Iowa. People joke about Iowa being flat, but I’ve ridden across it 4 times on a bicycle. Trust me, it is anything BUT flat. Maybe flat compared to Colorado, but compared to the flat parts of Illinois, Iowa is positively hilly. Well compared to the rest of Illinois, the Galena area is positively mountainous. Beautiful!

One of the unique features of this vacation home (besides being beautiful) is that it was totally disconnected. No cable TV or satellite TV, no internet. No phones. The owner has it that way intentionally. He does have a mad-good home theater installed –and a killer house-wide music system. But beyond that, pretty much a disconnected zone. That forced my internet-deprived sons out of their usual routine of online video games, YouTube, Netflix, etc. etc.

Anyway, it is also miles from any big city, and is considered by the government agency that considers such things to be a “protected dark sky” area – there are observatories and such there and they restrict the amount of light pollution to preserve the sky visibility. Tucson is another such area. Tucson is so dark it is as if they have piped in the darkness. This is one area where big government is accomplishing something great. These skies are incredible!

Therefore, our “this is amazing” moment this past weekend came not from high tech, but the heavens. We got back to the house after dinner and it was DARK. We all headed outside to look at the stars – and it was truly Amazing. In the Chicago area, our light pollution is so bad that you can barely see the Big Dipper. This was the total opposite of that. We could see so many stars, constellations, planets, satellites, shooting stars (meteors), distant airplanes, etc., that we all five of us pulled up chairs, fixed beverages and turned our faces to the skies and enjoyed stargazing for nearly 2 hours. And said “This is Amazing!” multiple times. We talked, we didn’t talk, we ooh’ed and ah’d, we all yelled “Hey, did you see that??” when a meteor shot across our view. We watched the show together. It was great.  We are so used to a sky with very few stars and a vaguely orange glow from all the street lighting, that when met with a truly dark sky filled with stars, well, it stopped us in our tracks.

Now that is Amazing. On so many levels.

Go have an amazing moment today, OK?

As you were,

Stew

The Indy 500 – why it belongs on everyone’s bucket list

30 May

If you’ve read my blog before, you know well that I’m a bit of what the Brits call a “Petrol Head” – I like cars. And I like driving fast cars on race tracks and watching fast cars race, both in person and on TV. Folks that are not racing fans don’t get why I like seeing cars going in circles and well, I don’t pretend to enjoy watching soap operas or golf on TV either (can’t stand either of them). That said, I think everyone ought to go to the Indy 500 at least once in your life. It truly is an American spectacle where the enormity of the event outweighs what actually takes place at the event itself. Going to the Indy 500 isn’t about cars making 800 left turns at better than 200 mph (although that’s way cool) – it is about witnessing something truly and uniquely American.

I have been going to the 500 for more than 25 years now – my first 500 was a spur of the moment thing that happened with my long-time hometown pal Tom called me the Thursday before Memorial Day in 1987 to ask me to go as his father-in-law couldn’t make it with him. Of course I said “Hell yes!” and a life-long tradition was born. I’ve only missed three races since then – one when a friend of mine was getting married (and didn’t wind up getting married that day … whoo that’s a long story, one when my twins’ birth was potentially imminent (it happened just three weeks later), and once when my sister-in-law was getting married. Two out of three of those were worth missing the race. The race was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I’ve already ordered my tickets for next year. Two days after the race.

For those that don’t know it, here are a few cool facts about the Indy 500:

  • This year was the 96th running of the race, and the 101st anniversary of the race. There is not a single sporting event that has gone on this long.
  • It has been for years, and continues to be the single largest-attended event in all of sports. Even though attendance is down from the heyday of Indy racing in the late 1980s, when attendance was nearly 500,000 people, 300,000+ people still go to the race, with more than 250,000 seated in the stands. Pretty amazing.

The track itself is stunningly huge – the track is 2 ½ miles as a square-cornered oval. The straightaways are 5/8s of a mile long, the “chutes” between the corners 1/8 of a mile long each and the corners are about ¼ mile each. The actual facility is huge – more than a mile from north to south, and ¾’s of a mile from east to west. There is an 18-hole golf course on the grounds – 9 holes of which are in the infield of the track! The track also features a nearly-3-mile per lap road course that uses about 1/3 of the oval and then snakes through the infield. The roadcourse is used for the US Moto Grand Prix.  I’ve heard a stat that 15 NFL-sized stadiums would fit inside the track.  I believe it – it’s huge.

The track was originally paved with bricks – and hence earned itself the name “Brickyard” – the namesake of the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race held there in August. There is one yard of the bricks left exposed – at the start/finish line.

The speed at which the cars go around this track is simply stunning. There’s nothing in your life that can calibrate your senses for it. They go by so fast that your eyes cannot track them unless you pan your head like a camera. Seriously. To give you a sense – this year’s qualifying speed around the track was a four-lap average of around 227 mph. That’s straightaways and corners combined – which means that the cars are going nearly 250 mph at their peak in the straightaways and more than 210 mph in the corners. To give you another idea – jet airliners typically leave the ground at approximately 165 mph.
… and more and more.

So, you’re asking, “OK, it’s huge. The cars go really fast. It’s got a great history, and lots of people go. Meh. Why should I go?

Again, the 500 is America with a capitol ‘MERICA!. For starters, it is held on Memorial Day weekend every year, and the entire race day is dedicated to those that serve our country and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. In the lead-up to the race, they have:

  • A parade of military personnel walking up the main straightaway as part of the opening ceremonies – always gets a huge standing ovation.
  • A parade of the same military personnel riding around the track in the back of convertibles or trucks waving to the crowd – again, a standing ovation.
  • A haunting moment of silence to remember those that died for our country, where all 300,000 or so people all stand silently – followed by the most haunting rendition of “Taps” you’ll ever hear – a lone bugle, ringing over the sound system across this gigantic facility. With all 300,000+ people standing silently, remembering.   Goose bumps!
  • Performed renditions of America The Beautiful, God Bless America (sung by Florence Henderson), and “Back Home Again in Indiana” (sung by Jim Nabors).
  • An invocation prayer – this year’s was especially great.
  • A military jet flyby (this year was “multi-generation warbirds” that included P-51s from WWII all the way to an F-16. In years past, there have been stealth bombers, Harriers, F-16s, F-14s, B-52s, etc. etc.) at the end of the National Anthem.
  • The Purdue marching band playing all sorts of march music
  • And more … all kinds of America there.

Plus, there’s all the traditions – the bottle of ice-cold milk served to the winner along with the rose wreath (that always makes the winner look like some sort of racehorse), Gasoline Alley – the garage area, where fans can walk and mingle among the drivers and crews, the three-abreast start, which is the only place in motorsports that this occurs (interestingly, at the narrowest oval track in all of motorsports), and much more.

And it’s family traditions – we know so many people where going to the 500 is something the family does together. You see it all over the stands – people renew their seats over and over and get to know the people next to them – it’s like a strange, annual family reunion.

My own traditions on this are even more fun. For starters, where we park – we park in the yard of this small house in Speedway, IN – here’s a Google Maps view of it. A kindly old woman by the name of Mary Ann owns it – her husband, Art, passed away a few years ago. I’ve been parking at Mary Ann’s house for more than 20 years now. There’s a whole group of folks there where, for one day a year, we catch up with each other’s lives. We’ve all seen our kids grow up from babies to toddlers, to grown men (as my sons are now) – we’ve seen new friends introduced. There’s also been a few of those touchy moments where someone who has been there for years, just isn’t anymore … as the person has died. Divorces, new husbands, kids coming “out”, etc. A little microcosm of life on Cole Street in Speedway, IN.

Staying at Mary Ann’s is like staying at your grandma’s house – and comes with all the comforts of home – she just opens her house to those that park there. Most are not strangers and are repeaters, but … once a year friends. We’ve slept in the house when the weather has been bad (this year, Joel and Brian slept inside in the A/C while Alex and I “marinated” in the tent outside in the heat), we can take showers in the morning. She feeds us a wonderful breakfast of egg strata (I like to call it “cholesterol express”) and Monkey Bread – other folks bring donuts, and there’s always a steady flow of coffee.

Our usual race weekend has us driving to Indianapolis on Saturday morning, arriving at Mary Ann’s place in early afternoon. Job 1: Open the coolers and grab a beer. Job 2, unload, and set up camp – a tent in the back yard, portable grill, table and chairs, etc. From there, we usually head over by the track to walk around – outside the track’s main straightaway stands is Georgetown Road. It becomes a pedestrian mall of sorts – there are food vendors, RVs parked and playing music, wacky people hanging out, etc. Indy has a reputation of being Mardi Gras like, and the tradition is the guys encouraging the girls to, umm, “share” … so that’s going on all day as well. There’s a fan fest at the track itself, with big companies having exhibit tents, games, etc. And the Speedway Hall of Fame museum, which we toured this year for the first time.

From there, we get back to Mary Ann’s later in the afternoon, sit in the shade of the big tree in the back yard and have a beer or two – this year, we got into a spirited Eucher game (it’s a card game). We snack, and then fire up the grill and grill some nice-sized steaks, with baked potatoes, a salad, etc. Later in the evening, we usually wander back over to Georgetown Road to people watch – that’s when the weirdness cranks up to 11. Besides the aforementioned Mardi Gras action, there are wandering bands of evangelicals trying to convert the sinners, many, MANY more sinners pointing out to them that it’s not happening. Families, guys and girls walking together, groups of goofy drunk guys, etc. It is quite a scene to see. We usually split from there by 11:00 or so – as about then, it starts getting pretty crazy, and I don’t need to be around when a fight starts.

We dive into the tent and go to sleep – only to be awakened at 5:30 AM by a ground-shaking BOOM! – the military bomb that they set off in the infield of the track to announce that the track gates are now open. We usually manage to drop back off to sleep for another hour or so, then emerge from the tents and head inside to line up to take a shower, get coffee and be around as the rest of Mary Ann’s crew arrives – there are only a few of us that camp. After enjoying Mary Ann’s homecooked breakfast, it’s time to strike the campsite, reload the van, and head across to the race – about 2 hours before the start, where we enjoy all the pre-race festivities, and then, of course, the excitement of the race itself.

When I decided to start ordering tickets, I was looking forward to someday attending with my wife and kids – our plan was always to have two children, and even if it were two girls, this was something our family was going to do. We didn’t plan on having three boys though, and this has turned out far better than I ever imagined. Over the years, I’ve of course done a bunch of “guys weekend” trips – myself and three buddies – a 24 hour exercise in competitive drinking, eating and general silliness. We’ve done couples trips where Robin goes and we bring another couple – and those are always a blast. And, for the last several years, it’s just been me with my three sons. As I said, I never imagined ever when I started this, that I would be bringing my three boys with me. And to boot, I’ve got one studying to be an engineer, and he hopes to be working for a racing team for his career. I can’t imagine coming to the 500 as his guest. But I hope it happens!

As I said, the Indy 500 is truly something to add to your bucket list. I do have to say I’m blessed with a wonderful set of memories because we luckily found a “once a year” home at Mary Ann’s house – I look forward to that scene as much as I look forward to the race itself. The race, and the events around the race do have to be experienced once in a lifetime though. You’ve never seen anything like it. And you owe it to yourself to experience it. Just once. And if you like it as much as I do … well, 23 times so far for me …

As you were,

Stew

Tech Support Top 10

15 May

When you spend a major portion of your life working in digital marketing and information technology, you tend to wind up being the local expert on all things computer related. The irony of which is that you wind up generally hating goddamned computers. I enjoy using computers and technology – comes with being a serial early-adopter, but I do have to say at some points, I think I want to just skip them all across a pond and move to an island and never seen another one as long as I live. As usual, because of my helpful nature, I have managed to cast myself as being tech support for my family and for a lot of friends. I’m generally able to diagnose networking issues, sort out misbehaving iPhones/iPads, etc.,help out buggy email, eradicate viruses, rebuild computers and I’ve even built a number of “frankenDell” computers for the family out of obsoleted Dells that were castoffs from Robin’s family. So, I’m pretty good at this. But it doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Additionally, because I am, A) a social media addict; and B) work in the digital marketing realm where online search, social media and other online experiences are the stock in trade of what we do, I’ve become an expert in those arenas as well, both from a user perspective and from a business perspective, so plenty of people seek my advice there as well. As you can imagine, I don’t mind talking about this area – although while many of the principles that big brands use to achieve dominance in online marketing DO translate to local business, the scale at which big brands do this also enables their tremendous results – therefore, it frequently boggles the mind of a small businessman who is for example, struggling to get search ranking on his site, to find out that a company like a major brand spends multiple millions of dollars per year on just search engine optimization.

On the tech support side, by and large the questions relate to internet connectivity – why can’t I get online, why does my internet connection seem so slow, how come my emails aren’t coming through, etc. etc. From an internet perspective, the questions generally run to how things work – how does Google decide which item to rank up first, how come Facebook changed to timeline, why, when I talk about something on Facebook, an ad pops up that seems to mirror that topic, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind helping out – in fact, for the most part, I enjoy it, unless I’m trying to undo a problem that was self-inflicted, like some horrifying piece of spyware that a family member got by clicking on something that they shouldn’t have clicked on.

One interesting thing about working in the tech business for all these past years is the number of silly acronyms that we seem to have regarding users of computers or products. “RTFM” is an admonition to someone that should consider perusing the product documentation. “PEBCAK” is an acronym that is used to classify a problem that seems to be rooted in user error. It stands for Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard. And of course the old fave: IIOHOINHAA. Actually, I’m pulling your leg – that’s not really an acronym. But it certainly represents a bit of advice I’ve given numerous times over the years when asked a question about “why did it do that??” In fact, it’s my first answer below.

So therefore, in no particular order are more or less the ten most frequent answers that I give when someone asks for help with a computer or internet question. Note that a few of them are questions to answer the question. You can supply your own questions:

  1. If it only happened once, it never happened at all.
  2. Just type that into Google. It will give you your answer.
  3. You can buy that on Amazon.
  4. You have to understand that the monetized product on Facebook isn’t the thing you interact with but instead is you – you’re Facebook’s product that they make money on.
  5. Just because you read about it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
  6. Sounds like your web connection is down.
  7. Because Google has all the answers to everything, that’s why.
  8. That’s not good. I can fix it, but we’re talking serious bottles of scotch to get it done.
  9. Restart your computer.
  10. It’s FM Technology. And Science!

Happy computing!

As you were,

Stew

Triple D Road Trip and My Three Sons

19 Apr

Ostensibly, this post is NOT about the Triple D Road Trip – it’s about my sons.  The impetus, is of course, the Triple D road trip.  I have to count myself among a very tiny minority of exceptionally lucky people who have teenaged children that a) would want to go on a road trip at all (“17 hours in a compact car? Like, whatevurrrr …”); b) would want to go on said road trip with Dad, of all people; and c) would make the highlight of that trip two big museums, and the featured city of said road trip, Cleveland, OH.

Yet, I hit the lottery on all three.

As I’ve stated before, Spring Break is not anything special for us, between Robin working for an accounting firm, and now with Joel, the oldest, at school, not having even coordinated spring breaks.  So in years past, just to get the kids out of the house and away, we’ve packed up for Iowa and headed to my mom’s home, where the guys would hang out, be bored, play video games, occasionally go to the Y to burn off steam, and I’d eat and drink too much with my mom and our friends out there.  Therefore, this year, when the guys asked me, “so, when are we going to Iowa this year during spring break?” my answer was “well, actually, I was thinking we’d do something different.  Let’s Road Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (aka Rock Hall).   And that was met with “Hey, that sounds fun!”

On road trips, our guys are long accustomed to them – as I’ve said before, we’ve been a road tripping family since they were born, with 4+ annual trips to my mom’s in Iowa (5 hours) and multiple trips to Boston/Cape Cod, New York, Colorado, etc. – they feel like anything short of 3 hours there’s not even a reason to stop the car, and 5 hours is just a lob. So, a trip of this length wasn’t new territory for Alex and Brian.   And, I did make this Road Trip friendly for them as well – A&B, by the nature of being twins, have always been on the short end of the travel accommodations stick.  On trips where we’ve stayed in hotels, they’ve always had to share a bed – which as teen boys now, isn’t so fun for them.  They’ve always been the passengers, not the directors of the trip.  On this trip, I made it different.  For our hotel, we stayed in an extra-large suite at the Embassy Suites in Cleveland (overall hotel rating?  Meh.) – when we checked in, we got to the hotel, I said “you guys have the bedroom” – they pop open the door to the two queen beds and “Hey!  We’ve got our own beds!”   And they had an active hand in every decision on the way – from when we would stop for the bathroom, to buying road food (Jerky.  Road food of champions.), to destinations, the Triple D restaurants, etc.  And they were champs.  There were zero conflicts between us, between them, etc.  And other than “ugggh … I’m so full!” after yet another Triple D restaurant stop, no complaining either.

This trip really reminded me of this – I feel truly blessed with my sons – and this includes Joel, my oldest, of course.  Somehow, in the lottery of parenting, where nothing quite goes as planned, we are blessed with three sons who count long family dinners, sitting at the dining room table, time spent hanging out with mom and dad, time spent hanging out with mom and dad’s friends, and time spent with family in general, as among their favorite things.  I’d love to say it was all in our parenting style, but there’s got to be something more to it.  Clearly, all we did was raise them as our parents raised Robin and me, so maybe it’s that.  Maybe they are genetic anomalies that are born without the “whatevurrrr” gene.  Maybe it’s because that yes, while as their parents, we treat them as our children, we also recognize that they have a pretty much equal voice in our household and their votes do count.

I’d be remiss without spending a bit of time on them individually here.

Let’s start with Joel.  Since I’ve been writing a lot about A&B for the past few posts, Joel gets some “inches” here.  We’ve known since pretty shortly after he was born, that Joel was indeed a unique animal. He is scary intelligent, with an analytical brain and a memorization capability like none I’ve ever encountered.  The kid was making lists and organizing things since he was two.  As a little boy he was a HUGE NASCAR fan –  Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, the Labonte brothers, the Waltrip brothers, etc. – all his idols.  And so, he had a huge collection of the little 1/64th (“Matchbox” sized for those of us of a certain age) scale NASCAR toy cars and he’d have races on our dining room table with them.  He’d set them all up on the middle of the table like they were in the garages in the infield, literally grouping teams of them together (he knew all this info at like 3 years old, by the way), and then he’d have them qualify, methodically writing down the qualifying order, then he’d line them all up, and he’d have a race.  Somehow moving 30 or more cars around and around the table, and the best part was giving audible play by play as if he were the booth announcers.  I really am sorry I don’t have this on video.  As he got older, and got into sports, and video games and sports video games, he’s pursued the same thing in those areas – pressing the capabilities of those systems to create games, seasons, schedules, tournaments, etc.  He’s an engineering major at Illinois now – the car thing has carried over, he’s actively involved in building race cars at University of IL.   Joel was always our challenger – when you’re that smart, and that independent, it’s hard to grow up and still be a kid.  And well, it was hard for us as well – his senior year in HS was rough around the house – and well, we all didn’t get along.  He was pulling hard at the ropes and we were hanging on for dear life.  It was because we hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he really was already an adult. The best thing that happened in our relationship was him was him going off to school.  Now, he gets us, and we get him.  There’s still some battles of course, and normally it’s because, well, we’re still not quite ready to cut all the ropes yet.  That said, of my three kids, I worry about Joel the least.  He will make a great living, he will be a great husband to the lucky girl that gets him, and will be a great dad to his kids.

Alex has always been our complex one – he is also brilliantly smart, but instead of being analytic, he’s expressive.  Both he and his twin brother have embraced Rock music as much as their old man, and took several years of guitar lessons.  I’d love to see them pick it back up and continue with it – they were both becoming pretty accomplished players and they can still pick up the axes and jam with the old man.  Alex also has become a huge lover of film – and again, same with Brian.  I’m not sure if there’s a “who was first” thing there – but the way they analyze movies, film, etc. and by extension now, web video is amazing.  Lastly, Alex is positively hilarious – he never, EVER fails to make me laugh, and his humor is wacky, dry and amazing.  On our road trip, he was definitely the supplier of the wacky wit.  Alex also has a quiet intensity about him, he is amazingly handy, and has always been the “no problem” guy – you ask him to do something, it just happens.  Between his love of film and the internet, I’m thinking he will find his way into doing something in the internet content world – and in video.

 

We’ve always called Brian our “hippy dippy man”.  One of our favorite phrases has been to say to him,  “Dude, what color is the sun in your world.”  He looks at things from a different perspective.  He is the embodiment of “Hakuna Matata” – no worries in Swahili, always being relaxed and carefree.  Now, that has its ups and downs – school doesn’t come that easy for him, although he’s just as intelligent as his brothers – but hey, he’ll get to it.  But the thing with Brian is,  he is one of the most happy guys I’ve ever met.  Things just don’t seem to bother him – he finds the cool in everything and cool in the little things, he is relaxed and easy going, he has great friendships, he’s artistic and more.  He LOVES children and little kids – he’s really found a groove as a swim counselor at the camp where the boys work in the summers.  When we took a family vacation to Hawaii back several years ago, there was a guy working at our hotel that was the “beach concierge” – literally a hotel concierge, situated on the beach.  He could make you dinner reservations and also sign you up for the surfing classes, the snorkeling, etc.  He was the most easy-going chill guy ever, with huge local knowledge and was an instant friend to anyone he met.  We continually say that that would be the ideal situation for Brian – he makes friends instantaneously, he is extremely comfortable talking to anyone and he loves helping people.  And he’s mellow.  So, he could be that guy.

Anyway, in closing on this, we are just incredibly blessed with these three guys.   And the Triple D Rock Hall trip, and the trips that we take as a family, and just us guys (Indy 500 in just over a month – all four of us.  Look out.) and, most often, family dinners, continually prove that to me.

This ends the Triple D road trip saga.  Now I have to find something else to write about.

As you were,

Stew

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