Archive for June, 2009

The Empty Nest

June 30, 2009

We have a wide variety of birds in our yard.  One type, the Cowbird, lays its eggs in other bird’s nests.  The surrogate parents raise the cowbird young as their own.  I think I know a couple of human parents who have the same traits.  This spring our cowbirds imposed on a sparrow family.  A cowbird is nearly the size of a robin.  The sparrow is a quarter of that size.  Sparrows must be the….simpletons of the bird world, because they never noticed that they were raising a giant “sparrow baby”.  He dwarfed his parents.  When he was learning to fly he’d perch on a branch near my office window and beg for food all day.  The sparrows, good parents that they were, would run themselves ragged to accommodate baby Hughie’s requests.  Finally, suffering from exhaustion, they ditched him.  Eventually their “baby” realized he was a cowbird and not a sparrow and went off in search of other lazy cowbirds.

 Now that my girls are away at ballet summer intensives I’m feeling like an empty nester.  I’m not sure I like the feeling.  Check that.  I don’t like the feeling.  It crept up on me like an M-80 with a short fuse.  I’ve spent their entire lives getting them ready to fly on their own.  They are doing a great job, but I miss them.

 My youngest has dreamed of dancing professionally since she was ….born.  She as wanted to attend the School of American Ballet in New York for high school since she was six or seven.  She works toward that dream every day.  I’m big on visualizing.  I mentioned that she should list everything she needed to do in order to accomplish her dreams.  Not one to mess around the list was posted the same day.  Not everything on the list had to do with dance accomplishments.  Some of it involved learning to do laundry, cook, read road maps etc.  So when we drove to The University of Alabama to drop her off for American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive I was more proud than sad.  This was a stepping stone.  It was something she could check off the list. 

The drive was eight hours.  We listened to music, played thinking games and stopped for lunch near Nashville, TN.  There I met Hussein.  He’s a truck driver from Iraq who moved to the US in 1996.  He lives in Iowa City with his wife and kids in a 4-bedroom home.  When he’s not driving trucks he drives a Camry.  His Birthday is July 1st.  He becomes an American citizen July 1st and ….most importantly he doesn’t like pickles.  He is the happiest trucker I’ve ever met.  He is the chattiest trucker I’ve ever met.

We spent the night in the Sheraton, Birmingham because it’s less than an hour from the Alabama campus and Priceline.com gave us a great deal.  There was a Jehovah’s Witness convention at our hotel.  There were hundreds of them, Keeping the Watch, according to their badge.  I was keeping a watch on the hotel elevators.  There were so many of these guys coming and going they had the elevators at capacity 24/7.  Keep a watch for the sign that says stairs because I’m not waiting fifteen minutes for an elevator again.

The Alabama campus was nice.  Dancers were moving into the dorms as we pulled in.  Based on the volume of belongings these girls were lugging they had brought ALL of the comforts of home.  They were filling bellman’s carts with stuff.  I do mean – filling – the – bellman’s – cart!  Once her dorm room was situated she looked at me and said, “Daddy you can go now.”  I had to work the next day.  I had a long drive ahead of me and she was ready to fly.  Like that my daughter had stepped out of the nest.

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Time

June 25, 2009

Our lives revolve around time.  There is time to wake up, time to shower, time to work, time to take a break, time to work again, time to take lunch, time to cook dinner, time to play with the kids, time to do chores, time to argue about doing chores, timeout because of arguing about doing the chores.  We are always chasing time. In the end there is never enough time because the clock eventually runs out on all of us.  I’m not a fatalist and that’s not what this is about.

I have a friend who, for forty eight years didn’t understand the concept of being on time.  Every one would stand around looking at their watch waiting for him.  I did a roast for his 40th birthday….so this was…oh…nine years ago.  It was a video.  The concept was to make fun of his idiosyncrasies, time management for one.  In the video he was late for his party and we were looking for him around the city.  I went into a clock store thinking he may be buying a clock that worked.  I showed the clerk a photo of him.  She said, “I know him. He’s the guy who shows up just as we are closing.  No I haven’t seen him today.  He’ll probably walk up as I’m locking the door”.  It was fun to roast him for something that had been a pain for so many years. 

 Our garden works as a time machine.  Every time I step in it to work I go back to my grandmother’s farm.  I see her crooked fingers.  I hear her stories.  I see the smile on her kind face.  I taste her cooking.  I spent hours in her kitchen helping her make jams and jellies.  Her time was up before my youngest was able to benefit from her wisdom.  I try to pass it along.  This spring we have had a bounty of strawberries and raspberries.  The raspberries are still going….and going…and going.  Our briars average a gallon of berries every day.  When they are ready you have to pick them or they rot or dry up.  Time….is of the essence.  I’ve made sixteen pints of jam, frozen a bunch for pies, and given away gallons.  My grandmother never grew the berries herself.  They grew wild in the fence rows of the fields.  We would walk, talk, and pick.  The briars would scratch up your arms, the berries would stain your fingers, and the chiggers would crawl undetected into your waistband and other areas where they would bite.  You wouldn’t know about it until the next day when a welt would raise up and itch.  The itch was relentless and would last for days, but the time spent with my grandma was worth it.  Our briars are in the garden.  So we don’t have the chigger problem.  My problem is having enough hours in the day to work a full day in the business, cook dinner, pick berries, make jam, and get my other chores done.  I’m the only one driving the bus these days.  My wife is in month # 2 of grad school.  My girls are away for the next 5 weeks at a ballet summer intensive.  It’s all me, all the time.

 The ballet summer intensives are just that, intense.  They dance 60 hours a week.  The kids who dance in the intensive were invited because of their ability.  They want to be there.  They dream of dancing professionally in theatres.  They are willing to sacrifice social time to get there.  There is so much peace in following a dream.  Time has no meaning when you work at something you love.  I’ve learned that and I made sure my girls understand the value in that knowledge.  My seventeen year old is at the Jordan Academy of Dance at Butler University.  We moved her into the dorm Sunday.  I do some pro bono work for the school because of the beauty they bring to our lives.  That morning I received a call from the director asking if I would design the t-shirt for their summer intensive.  They needed the design done immediately so they could have the finished shirts back from the printer in time to give out to the dancers by week three.  That meant I had three days to get the design done.  I work 60 hours each week for my job, I had berries to pick, jam to make etc.  I said yes.  The design is done.  The berries were picked.  Nothing fell apart while my focus was shifted.  I never felt like I lost any time because the investment was made with love.  Time spent with love is time well spent.

the t-shirt design

the t-shirt design

 

Father’s day

June 18, 2009

The best thing in the world to me is being a father.  What a beautiful gift.  These little babies have come into my world to teach me about life.  Each came into the world differently.  Each has a different purpose, personality, path, and because of those differences they have each taught me differently.  One came into the world in a sterile hospital environment.  We took the child birth classes.  They talked about the roll of the husband/father in the birth.  Then when the chips were down and time had come they attempted to move me to the side line and relegate me to the roll of audience member.  We were a number and the OB had a tee time.  I’ve never felt more in the way of the system as I did that day.  There were rules, protocol, and ice chips….lots of ice chips.  None of that mattered once my daughter was born.  It all melted away when my daughter was born. Our youngest was born at a midwife center in a hot tub.  That birth was so different.  My wife was more relaxed.  Grace was born in 2 hours.  There was a lot more screaming, because there weren’t any pain meds….for me…but the environment was nurturing and full of love.  We actually traded the cost of her birth for a landscape design and installation.  Bartering for Birth, I think there is a book in that.  Buy two books and get a jar of organic jam and a tie die shirt…hmm

 

I decided early on that my place was at home with my family in the evening and on weekends.  I had friends going to Pacer Games or Colts games and on fishing trips, but to me it was more fulfilling to play with my girls.  Every day was a new adventure and a chance to expand your imagination.  Playing relieves stress and keeps the creativity flowing.  The stress of work took a back seat when I came home.  Our front yard has been the scene of many squirt gun battles, games of kick ball, tag, hide & seek.  Someone would always fall, get hurt, and cry, but the laughter always far out weighed the tears.  Our kitchen table doubled as an art studio and our family room became a “restaurant”.  We didn’t buy video games because we wanted our kids to develop their imagination.  All it takes is a drive through any retail area to see that creativity has been sucked out of the American culture.  It’s a challenge to be different.  All of the years of playing, creating, doing and being with my girls is the best time I’ve ever spent.  Day in and day out I’ve demonstrated to them that they can count on me.  If they have a question, a problem, or they just need to bounce an idea off someone I’ll help. 

 

I think dads are responsible for more injuries than moms.  Dads play differently.  When my 17 year old was in the second grade we were roller blading in front of our home.  It was 4th of July weekend.  My wife went into the office to get some work done while everyone was gone.  My daughter was on her bike.  I was on my skates, hanging onto a rope while pulled behind the bike, “skiing”. 

We were laughing and having a blast.  Then it was her turn.  She fell face first onto the street.  Blood was every where.  I couldn’t tell what was broken and what was missing.  We spent the evening in the dentist’s office having emergency dental work.  He determined that her top front permanent tooth was no longer permanent. I drove back to the spot, found the tooth, and he implanted it.  We taught her to visualize the tooth growing every night.  It worked.  I felt like crap, still do.

 

My youngest came to me early this spring.  She was planning her 8th grade schedule.  She wanted to take Latin at the high school because it would help her with English.  The closest I’ve come to Latin is when I fill a prescription.  She must have inherited from my wife because that didn’t come from me.  It brought back just how little I valued my education when I was her age.  I didn’t want my kids to make the same mistake.  I’ve worked on teaching them accountability from an early age.

 

Now that they are older the squirt gun battles don’t happen as frequently.  My roll is changing.  I’m more of a counselor.  Their ballet schedule has dominated.   Our conversations are about music, boys, and dance.  We go to shows together and play when there’s time.  I build things for them and we share pop corn during down times in the evening.  We are close.  We are more than I ever could have dreamed in a family.

 

Last week my youngest ask me what I want for father’s day.  I said, “mulch for the yard”.  She didn’t like that answer even if it was true.  She asked what she could give me.  I said, “You’re my gift”.  When I see them in ballet pieces I see grace and beauty.   I know they are happy doing what they love.  I see that dedication and devotion has a reward.  I see the future and I feel love.   I’m glad the theatre is dark because I cry at every show.  I’ve spent more perfect moments with them than at any other place or time.  You can’t buy that type of gift at the store.

 I would have any of this if it weren’t for my parents.  Happy fathers day dad!

my girls are my father's day gift

my girls are my father's day gift

Customer Service?

June 9, 2009

My wife came home from grad school last weekend.  The kids were away for the week visiting family.  It was one of those perfect weekends.  She had a lot of studying to do so I worked around the house, but I knew she was there.  I could walk over and kiss her.  We could have coffee together in the morning listening to the birds.  We could hold hands without interruption.  There were no schedules to coordinate and no sibling rivalry.  The weather was nice so we ate on the porch…when we wanted to.  There was no food compromise.  Just two people who love each other sharing time.  She left mid afternoon on Sunday.  I kept working in the yard while I focused on what I needed to do Monday.  I reflected our time together and felt the love.

 I use a Dell computer at work.  It has been trouble free for over three years except the “palm rest”.  My Dell is a lap top.  The palm rest is the mouse/finger pad contraption that allows you to right and left click.  It’s a spring loaded button that has broken twice.  The second time was Monday just after lunch, just after my weekend of bliss.  I was sending e-mails to my customers and vendors when my mouse began dragging the icons all over my desk top.  Suddenly I was closing out of applications for no reason.  I was moving things, opening things, changing things against my will.  It was like my machine was possessed.  I realized it was a mouse issue.  I powered down and then tried to begin again.  When I tried to open the first application it stuck and before I say, “click” or a dirtier version of that word I was dragging things around my desk top and opening Internet Explorer five times.  My business is all about communication on the computer. This was not working for me.  I quote jobs, keep track of jobs, prospect for clients, look up numbers, on my computer.  It’s my company life line.  I was dead in the water.   I called Dell.

 One of the questions everyone is asking these days is, “What could GM and Chrysler have done differently to avoid bankruptcy”.  My gut reaction, first answer, they should have listened to their customers.  Dell needs to do this too!  Stop…I repeat…stop… out sourcing your customer service positions over seas!  It took me two hours speaking with fifteen different people who used fake American names, two dropped calls, and twenty five “f” words to reach and unsatisfying resolution to my problem.  One of the automated tips they give you when you call Dell is to visit Dell on line if you want faster resolution to your technical questions.  Let me get this right.  The brilliant minds that created the personal PC and marketed it to the masses have not considered that fact that when PCs break…YOU CAN’T GO ONLINE!  You have to speak with someone…Human interaction, get it?  Don’t pick corporate profits over real customer service!  I realize that you wear a pocket protector and mismatched socks.  I understand that you could never relate to people in high school.  I get the fact that your social life is relegated to discussing strategies involving dungeons & dragons, Star Wars roll play, and other games of science fiction fantasy, but your consumer is not like that.  We carry real conversations with people.  We shower daily.  We shop at bricks and mortar groceries and a little e-bay too.  We need to speak with a person who does not follow a script.  We need to speak with someone who has a grasp of the English language…so keep the call centers out of Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, and the mountains of Tennessee when you move the business back to the states.  Let me talk to a real person who doesn’t need to transfer me from one region of the world to another while I force fed automated advice and sales pitches.  I traveled the world so many times on the phone yesterday that I should quality for enough frequent flyer miles to travel to Mars and back on the space shuttle. 

After an hour and ten minutes I reached the person who could order the part I needed.  His name was John.  First he assigned me a case number….because its all about the numbers…number of calls, number of dollars, number of jobs, number of times that I was transferred!  Case number?  Yeah as in the doctor will see you now…you have been committed to the asylum because they pushed you over the edge…case number.  Any way John assigned me a case number…really John?  I wanted to say dude come clean your name is not John.  I know you’re over seas.  I know your name is Sonjya or something and that’s OK.  Your name doesn’t add to the level of customer service or my comfort.  Getting the part I need in 10 minutes without angioplasty adds to my level of customer service.  I don’t care what your name is our where you live.  I only care about making my computer whole.  That way I can service my customers, a notion that seems to be foreign to Dell!  It should be noted that I was nice to everyone I spoke with, all fifteen of them. My dilemma is not their fault.  That said, my call was dropped before I could actually order the part from John.  I had to start the process over again.  No one had or could fine the case number John assigned me.  After the two hours of world travel I was no closer to servicing my customers.  It was time for plan “B”.  I climbed into my car and drove ten minutes to Best Buy.  I purchased a wireless mouse without hassle.  My lap top was up and running less than a half hour after I put the key in the ignition.

 I long for the feeling I had when my wife was home.  I long for the day when large companies chose customer service over the savings of a nickel.  I know for a fact that if I treated my customers the way Dell treated me I would be out of business.  Now if you excuse me I need to check my blood pressure and meditate.

 

The Month of May

June 4, 2009

I love living in Indianapolis during the month of May.  The flowers are blooming, the fishing is great, spring has sprung, and you can hear the cars practicing on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  To me the sound of an Indy Car is magic.  It has the ability to transport me back to my childhood.  As a kid I would ride my bicycle around the block in our neighborhood with a transistor radio hanging from my handle bars.  I dreamed that I was Al Unser leading a pack of cars around the brickyard.  The drivers were all heroes of daring and valor similar to an astronaut.

My parents stopped going to the race the year Eddie Sax was killed in front of them.  So my childhood memories of the track all come from attending random practice sessions I would sneak in to see and the voices from my radio. I was very young and very full of dreams.

I turned sixteen late in the year of 1976.  That age gave me the freedom to be where I wanted to be on race day.  I chose the track.  I also realized it was a better place to spend the afternoon than math class.  So during high school several days each year were spent skipping school to hang out in the infield, drink beer, throw the Frisbee, and watch the cars practice.  The magical sound of the cars couldn’t help me with Algebra, but they could help me forget that I felt inferior in class.  The beer was another way to buck the establishment and insulate me from the pain of failure.

My friend had an early 70’s Ford LTD station wagon with fake wood panel.  The rear window moved up and down.  On race day we would load that car with friends, put a keg in the back with the tapper tilted out the rear window.  We would slowly crawl up 16th street toward the main gate of the track.  The traffic flowed much slower than the beer.  It took hours to move one mile.  I pity the fool that accidently happened into that mess.  The cars backed up for miles as 200,000 people made their way into the infield alone.  Another 250,000 people had seats.  On race day that 550 acres had the second largest population in Indiana. Indianapolis was first.  The infield became a human stew that resembled Mardi Gras crossed with Woodstock.  There was sex, drugs, rock n roll, freedom, and the sound of the cars.  Unlike the 250,000 reserved seats on the outside of the track, the infield was more of an unsettled, wild west land grab.  Once the gates opened at 6 am with a cannon blast it was every man for himself.  Unless you were headed to the infield by car, then you weren’t dashing any where.  You were slowly crawling to a spot.  Once inside, the first turn was relegated to the biker crowd.  Nicknamed “The Snake Pit” there was a dangerous Hunter Thompson meets Hells Angels vibe.  Bikers, felons, and anyone in leather was welcome.  People in polo shirts were probable flown from a flag pole in effigy.  I gave the area a wide birth while strolling around before the race.  This was before the age of litigation for every minor injury.  If you could drag it, pack it, or drive it, the IMS staff allowed it to be brought in.  Scaffolding would spring up from all around the 400 plus acres of infield grass like min sky scrapers adorned with flags.  People would erect building, stages, swimming pools, and tent villages.  We just brought the LTD station wagon and a keg.  As we crawled along 16th street people would friend us.  The tapper protruding from the back acted as a beacon calling out to all.  Once we entered college the LTD would sit idle for 364 days.  We would bring it back to life for the race.  The day before the race we would clean out wasp nets, change the plugs and fire it up.  The window still worked….down it went, out the window went the keg…presto…instant friendships…all day long….we never drank that much beer, but the novelty of the bragging rights combined with the cost of multiple cases of beer made it a cost effective proposition. Once we were approached by guy who offered to give us each hits of acid if we adopted him for the day.  Everyone in unison changed…climb aboard mate!!!!!!!!!!  It was a parent’s worst nightmare, but my parents were divorced.  I didn’t fit in at school.  I was seeking acceptance by my peers, only.  Don’t ask don’t tell. 

I met my wife in 1987.  At that point I was ready for something more.  I wasn’t running from my demons as much.  I was looking for fulfillment.  To quote Dean Wormer from the movie, Animal House, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son”.  While I didn’t fit the “fat” description, the rest of it was spot on.  I had a career plan and a dream.  11 months out of the year I did my best to work toward that plan.  Come May, I needed to get my fix.  Driving or walking through the main gate sent chills down my spine.  My mind would flash with the faces of drivers and the feeling of moments gone by.  Hearing the sound of a turbo charged engine was like a breath of fresh air after holding your breath underwater.  My wife had been to the race once.  She went to the infield with a guy who was into the drunken infield experience too.  She wasn’t into it.  Her date was loaded and she was stuck in the land of cat calls.  The drone of race cars made it worse.  She couldn’t see them…she could only hear them.  For four long hours that was all she could hear.  She promised never to return.

I asked her to go with me to the 1988 race.  She’s an incredibly cool woman.  She overlooked the bad experience and gave it one more shot for me.  We bought tickets from a scalper and sat high on the outside of turn four.  I couldn’t believe the difference.  My head was out of the clouds, but my seats were high.  The largest lesson I took from the experience was emotion. I could feel the emotion.  Since 1911 men had come to this spot to test their skills.  Because I wasn’t numb to it all I became caught up in all of the prerace pageantry.  The bands, songs, prayer, flyover of the military and the famous words, Gentlemen, Start your Engines”.  To this day I get tears in my eyes when I hear those words.  I lose my breath when all thirty-three cars come screaming past on that first lap.  I appreciate the choreography between drivers as they challenge gravity, and machine charging to be first to cross a thin yard of bricks to be crowned winner of the Indianapolis 500.

As I’ve grown up so has the track.  They re-landscaped the golf course in the infield, created a road course for F-1 and did away with the snake pit.  Gone are all of the make shift huts, scaffolding, and much of the debauchery. 

I began taking my girls to the track the year they were born.  I found myself changing diapers in the infield and changing the way I looked at life.  I understand myself.  I share my thoughts, my lessons, and my passion with my family.  I’m about nurturing, teaching, learning and love.

This year I was lucky enough to score pit passes for the first time.  I took my daughter, Carly.  We were like kids in a candy store.  We went up and down pit road drinking in the moment, watching the collaboration between drivers and crew.  We ended up in Helio’s pit.  We talked about his trial.  I see him as a guy who truly loves his job.  Think of the peace and joy that comes with that love.  That lesson is ever present in our home.  I kept thinking, “After spending thirty two years at the track I was standing in a driver’s pit box”.  The fantasy of a child was as close to reality as I could get.  I felt special.  Like a kid who was allowed to ride with Santa on Christmas Eve. 

Race day had a different luster this year.  I felt the connection with the drivers that I’d felt as a kid.  It was cool to spend an afternoon watching thirty three drivers pilot their car for 200 laps in search of a checkered flag, a yard of bricks, a drink of milk, and an opportunity to have their face sculpted on the Borg Warner trophy.  The magic is there.  The first lap takes my breath away.  The emotion of the command makes me cry.  As I’ve grown up and become comfortable with myself and my past I’ve realized it’s OK to cry, it’s ok to express emotions, it’s beautiful to dream and to share.  This May the gift of sharing has brought me full circle.  I’m a kid on a bike again who’s dreaming big dreams.