31.8.09

Day 253. The Acting One.

My sweet cousin, Kristen, came for a visit a few weeks ago. She came for a time to be with family before she heads off to an extremely prestigious acting conservatory in New York. Its a really cool thing that she's been invited and the way in which she was selected is pretty cool - by the conservatory's founder herself.

The visit with her was so much fun. We shared what's going on, we reminisced about our lives together, we made fun of each other, we shared memory after memory about what it meant, and still means, to grow up as a child in our family. It was fantastic.

Kristen is "much" younger than me ;) and it is so exciting to me to watch her life blossom as it still is. Its also so meaningful to me to have her as a permanent piece of my history and my life. Being with her flooded my soul with all the reasons why its so important to keep connected with your family - however you define it, and however big or small that is.

Best of luck to you, sweet K, and I'll see you in a month in the Big City! (don't forget what we taught you about subways :) )

Day 252. The Training One.

This is a quick little one - about a very BIG person - Shaquille O'Neal. Not gonna go on and on about his personal life or tremendous athletic talent, but I am going to talk about his latest endeavor, Shaq Vs. This is a little summer show on ABC that has "Shaq" getting ready for his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers by cross training in a rather extreme way - challenging the premier athletes in sports other than his own (Basketball) to a match up. I have since learned that the idea was not his own (apparently it belongs to Steve Nash and this may cause some "challenges") but Shaq's the one doing it, and here's why it deserves mention.

First of all, the show is fun. Its good, clean, family fun. Second, its a pretty cool look into athletes' lives and, without getting too meta, it shows how unique the professional athlete personality is - competitive about everything, always looking for the edge. Third, I think its very impressive of Shaq to put himself out there like this - showing that he's not good at "everything" and allowing himself to be humiliated (watch the most recent epi with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh and I'm sure you've also seen some "after" photos on line). Also - while wrapped in fun and teasing, I think its pretty darn cool that this show is giving the spotlight to some sports that aren't "most popular" and, at the same time, showing that all professional athletes are amazing and talented - their differences are often only the sport they choose.

So, while its mindless summer fun, I applaud Shaq and encourage you to check out this show. Its doing a lot of good for all sports - thanks for that, Shaq!

27.8.09

Day 251. The Gamblin' One.

I mentioned earlier the super fun dealer that we had during our "Casino Experience" during my sister-in-law's birthday party.

By the end of the night, the gang was having so much fun that they even made me lose my blackjack virginity and play at the table. I sat down next to Heather, (SIL's sister-in-law via her hubby) who immediately started spewing off blackjack advice, terms and interjections like an old pro. The funny thing is, she just learned how to play a few hours earlier from Stephen and from our dealer.

And that's why Heather is fantastic. She grabs life with both hands full - she lives the heck out of every minute. She's 100% welcoming and is always looking for the fun and the joy in a moment. I realized over the weekend that this was the first time I was hanging out with all my SIL's (and their SIL's :) ) without their kids - and it really let me get to know them even better - in a totally different way. Heather's personality just magnified and became brighter. She knew just how to egg everyone on - she knew just how to play a joke - and she made sure that everyone around her was having a great time.

26.8.09

Day 250. The Yippee One.

I have talked before about the amazing group of friends that Stephen has. The benefits for me have been huge in not only getting to be friends with these cool guys, but also to build relationships with the women they've each chosen to spend their lives with.

One of Stephen's friends, D, holds a special place in my heart - he's got a passion for living and a passion for the outdoors and adventure, and his personality can't be beat. The girl he chose (and boy is he lucky!) Nan, turned out to be even more amazing. First of, the girl is undeniably, out of this world beautiful. Inside and out. Second, she's come through life always growing and improving and giving. Finally, can I just tell you that their wedding, hands down, goes down as one of the all time most beautiful, and most meaningful weddings I've ever been too (and, continuing a theme - Nan = most gorgeous bride ever)

We don't get to see each other much - they live in Colorado (green envy monster seethes inside of me) - but when we do, with both of them, I find I can fall into quality conversation right away. I always am so excited to see them and keeping up with Nan and her family is one darn good reason to be pro-Facebook - even when everyone is taking quiz after quiz ;). So, today, Nan outted herself. Well, either that or my stalking had not been thorough enough, because I found her blog for the first time.

Let me just say - this is a good read. Nan is hilarious, SMART, thoughtful, honest and compelling. I love what she says and how she says it. Nan has a two year old sweet sweet boy and a baby girl on the way and I was so engulfed in all she had to say about that experience and what it has done to her and who it has made her. I love what she chooses to share. I feel as though she articulates so well what people my age are going through as mothers, or fear about becoming mothers.

I read every single post today (sorry, Nan, you officially have a stalker) and I am more in love with my friend then ever. Honestly, her writing has me humbled and rather intimidated to ever write another post again, shes that good. I'm so excited to find another cool way to stay connected with our friends...just my good fortune that its made of such high quality and heart.

25.8.09

Day 249. The Poker One.

This past weekend we had such a blast celebrating my sister-in-law's 40th birthday. Let me tell you, my brother-in-law cooked up quite the surprise - it was wonderful. We ended up at a resort in French Lick, Indiana (yes the "I got licked!" jokes flowed fast and freely) and after hanging out all afternoon, and enjoying dinner, we headed to the Casino.

The boys of our group (and for these purposes I use "boys" not "men"!) all seemed pretty familiar with all the different games - craps, blackjack, poker...but the girls were all novices. Because Stephen is a blackjack addict, oh, I mean, um, afficionado, pretty soon we were all gathered at the table at which he was playing. He got his sister (the birthday girl) playing and then shortly thereafter, got one of her sister in laws, to join him.

These people played from 9pm - 1am. We watched. We all had a blast. One of the major reasons for this was our dealer, Jerry. Jerry was unbelievably awesome. I have been in Vegas a few times and always find myself intimidated by the dealers (this may have something to do with my ability to spill a drink all over the first table I sat down at...genius) but I have always felt that dealers, because they had to be, were standoffish, and understandably irritated if a bunch of silly girls who just wanted to play a hand or two would come sit at their table.

Not Jerry. Jerry was awesome - he taught all of us etiquette of the game, basic rules, gave tips without doing things he's not allowed to do, and gently kept us in line when we wanted to do something we couldn't. (No Steph, no matter how nice we ask he's not going to let us take a picture of us all sitting at the table ;) ) Jerry also paid attention to us as people - making little jokes based on what we were saying - joining in the ongoing humor of the evening and contributing to the Birthday fun.

I know a lot of this is his job - and I know that people like us are a dime a dozen at a casino, but, like I said, dealers I had interacted with before never made it seem fun to lose a whole lot of money and never made you feel comfortable playing the game. Plus, I get the vibe that that is just who Jerry is - a pretty cool guy.

I wasn't allowed to tell Jerry that he'd be in here - can't give them any cards or anything - but perhaps, luck will come out on my side and he may find this some day.

24.8.09

Day 248. The Not Yet Met One.

So, I'm kinda returning to my cheating ways ;). Today was a yucky day and its shaping up to take over my whole week...this too shall pass but right now it sucks. I struggled and struggled as I thought to myself "I have to blog I have to blog" but I was in absolutely no mindset to tell you about someone "good".

But, as I searched and searched for the energy to write something positive I found myself bolstered by the search for "someone" who must be out there who is doing something good for someone or something...

So today, even when I'm not up for focusing on just one of all the amazing people who are out there in the world, its simply the thought that these people ARE out there that has me going right now. The dream not yet realized can really carry you through some tough times - and so tonight, knowing that you great people are out there - you're getting me through....thank you. You're putting that good energy into the world and even though I don't know what you are doing, or can't see through my current fog to see it, I feel it and I thank you :)

20.8.09

Day 247. The Philosphy One.

Once again, the perfect inspiration falls into my lap :)

Allow me to introduce you to Jennifer Iannolo. I originally "met" her through Chef Mark and immediately gravitated to the work that she and Mark do through Culinary Media Network. [sidebar: if you are not already following these peeps on Twitter, tracking their blogs, and watching and listening to the un-be-liev-able podcasts they put together you are truly missing something]

Now, I urge you to take the time to check out both of her ventures I've linked to above- you'll learn all about the professional angle of this lovely woman. But, why is she so cool? Well, I believe that Jen lives a truly passion focused life - something that I admire soooooo much. First, she has taken her dream and life passion and made it her work - genius. Second, she travels the world - genius. Third - the woman revels in the true delight that is great food and drink - genius. Fourth - the woman is an Atlas Shrugged fan - (do I have to say it? :) ).

I think these days - people are often focused on not only the wrong things in how they make their living, but they also forget to find the joy in things. Whether your watching Jen taste a new cocktail or experiencing a visit to her homeland, you can tell this woman is lovin' life. She truly lets you feel the experience by her sincere appreciation of what she's doing. The fact that I, too, love so many of the things Jen focuses on makes it easy for me to appreciate what she is doing but I have seen others jump on her projects (search for #sexonaplate on twitter - that's all I'm saying) and that shows me that we all love someone who puts such a voracious life perspective out into the world.

19.8.09

Day 246. The City One.

I'm addicted to Sex and the City. I love the show, I have the pink suede collectors DVD set, I have the movie. I'm addicted. Period.

I'm connected to this story for so many reasons - I lived my twenties in a city and, while nowhere near as crazy an experience as any of the characters on SATC, I love love loved it. I love fashion, I love New York, I love the focus on female friendships through thick and thin that every story reinforces. When it all comes down to it, and you strip away all the money, men, clothes and hijinx I think Sex and the City is so popular because it says, as a woman, you can be whoever you want to be and, if you are good to your friends, you will have good friends - and that's all you need.

Who is responsible for all this? Why Candace Bushnell of course. She wrote the original book. So, purely for entertaining me and so many others, singlehandedly making "Manolo's" part of the female lexicon and for reminding us where our hearts should always be, I say Candace rocks.

17.8.09

Day 245. The Booed One.

I mentioned a bit last week that I was able to attend the NFL Hall of Fame Induction ceremony last weekend. The main reason we were there was to honor and celebrate the induction of Rod Woodson - arguably one of the best men to play the game - particularly in the defensive backfield. But, as I mentioned last week, this induction was truly for men who were of an even higher quality off the field.

Rod spoke during his acceptance speech not even once about himself. Instead, he honored all those he loved in his life. We just kept enjoying his speech and looking at each other saying "he's talking about everyone else!" As he did honor each individual - he ended his tribute to each with "I love you." Just as I did before with Randall McDaniel, I encourage you to take the time to watch Rod's speech. Even if you don't like football there is wisdom, value and respect to be found in the 27 minutes that Rod spoke. Its a lesson on class and grace.

Now I called this the booed one. Doesn't seem to make sense since I am extolling Rod's virtues now, does it? Well here's the final point I wanted to make. Rod mentioned a few times during the weekend that someone he held in extremely high esteem was Art Modell. Now, let me explain to you who Art Modell is - he was an NFL owner - first of the Cleveland Browns and then, after taking the Browns away from Cleveland of the Baltimore Ravens. Therein lies the rub. The NFL Hall of Fame is located in Canton Ohio. When Mr. Modell took the Browns away, it literally happened in the dead of night. I spent a lot of time in Cleveland growing up and, regardless of if it was the right or wrong decision, it ticked off the collective city of Cleveland. They now hate Art Modell. He is persona non-grata forever and always. Whenever Rod mentioned Art, even as a new Hall of Famer, he was booed by the many Clevelanders in attendance. And Rod said "go ahead and boo me, I've been booed before. I can take it". And this is just as important as all the good stuff I already mentioned. Rod is strong enough in what he knows and who he is and what he believes in. And he'll tell you.

To be a strong enough person in mind and spirit to uphold your beliefs and values and opinions in the face of popular opinion, or dissenting views is something that does not come easily. And, its harder than many may realize. To throw into the world that which you know to be your truth regardless of how it will be received is the epitome of strength - and Rod is that. Congratulations Rod, congratulations on Who. You. Are.

12.8.09

Day 244. The Words Ones.

I am a huge believer in the power of words. I am a huge believer in the power of art. I happened upon a project a few months ago, not only brings my great joy in its beauty and simplicity but causes me to think back on it time and time again...

I will let the piece speak for itself. I know what I think about it, but, I revere it as true art and as such, will leave it to each of you to revel in it...take your time...roll around in it...follow it...I hope it affects you as it has me.

WE MAKE WORDS

obviously - I must credit AMY and LUCI for this work. Again, I am focusing on brevity so that YOU can focus on their work - it is amazing. They are artists. They amaze me.

11.8.09

Day 243. The Other Chocolate One.

Today some lighter fare.

Every Monday, I have my knitting group. We get together at a place called the Chocolate Cafe and have our regular servers who take care of us. A few months back, a new staff member joined them and at first was rather shy. (I think I kinda scared him...if you know me in person, you can understand this).

Well, now he's warmed to us. He has even taken note to what music we sing along to (and plays it for us) and every week offers us free coffee and even a few free chocolates. Anyone who gives out free chocolates is good in my book! :)

10.8.09

Day 242. The Lineman One.

This past weekend marked the annual ceremony of a class induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. 6 people were inducted. That brings the total number of members of the Hall of Fame to just over 240. To put this in perspective, it has been recorded that over 23,000 individuals have played in an NFL football game. To be inducted into the Hall of Fame is an honor - a lifetime achievement award, an acknowledgment that you "changed the game".

Six men. Only six. Two posthumously. As I watched the ceremony this weekend the theme that resonated again and again wasn't what these men did on the field - of course that was significant - but it was about taking notice of who they were each as men.

One of the men inducted was Randall McDaniel. He was an offensive lineman. If you know anything about football, you know that this is a thankless role. You're never noticed as a "star" - you don't get press coverage, you don't get interviewed, and you only get attention when something goes wrong - such as a busted play or a sack on your quarterback. But what you do get, when you really look at the men in this role, is someone who understands more than most the true meaning of the word TEAM. You can't do your job well unless you are working as a unit with your other linemen. You sacrifice yourself for the glory and protection of others. Your public honor is often found in the highlights others receive notice for. When you get inducted into the Hall of Fame as a lineman, you've REALLY done something great.

This much was obvious as Randall spoke but, after this weekend, this man is truly one of my heroes. I am in awe of him, and let me tell you why. The minute this man became a professional football player he volunteered as a student teacher in local schools. The minute he retired he got his substitute teacher license. He now works as a special education teacher for a local school in Arizona. In his free time, he and his wife run a community service program that brings youth into the community 6 times a month to learn the importance of giving back to the community. While so many other professional athletes - rightly so - use their success to gain recognition and lucrative business opportunities, Randall went back to what he believed most passionately - education. To use Randall's words like linemen, teachers "bring their lunch pail to work, do extremely important work...often go unnoticed unless something goes wrong, and yet without them, nothing much would be possible." This is why he is comfortable in the classroom - he's in the trenches, fighting the good fight. He is focused on family, those who made him who he is, helping his children, his peers in football and education and everyone who is a part of his team in life.

He shared a funny story - his kids in class now would say "did you play football?" Randall would answer, "a little bit". Kids would ask, "were you any good?" he would answer "I did alright". When word got out that he was a little bit better than that, everyone wanted his autograph - at the end of the year he gives those out to his students...AFTER they earn it.

This man is tremendous. His heart is on display - and it is rich with compassion, love and giving. Pleas consider watching his speech - it is 15 minutes long and, while he is a lineman, and probably not most comfortable talking in front of a couple hundred thousand people (would you be?) his words are true and rich with knowledge.

I could go on and on about how I feel about this guy. This man has made the most of his life and through his football and his teaching shows every day the importance of teamwork and education and giving back. Mr. McDaniel, congratulations on your well deserved honor. You were an amazing football player and an even more awe-inspiring individual.

Day 241. The Service-Oriented One.

This past Friday, Stephen, my parents and I went out for dinner to a place we hadn't been before. We had heard the food was really good but were a little put off when we realized how slowly the service was getting going. It took about 10 minutes to have someone come over and take our drink order, and then, when we asked for the wine list another 15 minutes went by. This wasn't starting off well...

But as it turned out, Micki, our server, was just ridiculously busy and the way the restaurant was laid out literally had her running back and forth across the entire restaurant for EVERYTHING - plus she was one of two servers for an entire room on a Friday night. But she never complained, she never came across harried, and she always had a smile on her face. When she knew something was taking too long she made an acknowledging comment - not in a sense of apology of excuse - but in the spirit of acknowledging what was going on, and showing us respect of keeping us informed...and again, with that smile on her face and fun attitude.

We ended up having one of the best dinners - both in terms of food and experience - that we had had in a long time. To acknowledge what a part of that Micki was, we left her as generous a tip as we could. As the table was cleared and the tab picked up we lingered over the last little bit of our drinks. Just a few moments later, Micki came back and said "thank you so much for the generous tip". Stephen and I looked at each other. In all our years of living - and the added experience of being in hospitality and food service most of Stephen's life - never had we had a server come back and thank us for a tip. Particularly in the midst of a crazy night. And you know what, on top of everything else, that made us feel good. It reminded me that as nice as it is to do or say something nice, sometimes its just as important to know that your act was received in the way it was meant. (Selfish I know, but I'm being honest...)

Micki worked hard, showed us respect and showed us kind appreciation for our acknowledgment of her hard work. She was lovely both in who she was that night and how she did her job. Thanks M!

5.8.09

Day 239-240. The Free Ones.

Building on a theme, we saw the arrival of Eula Lee and Laura Ling back in the United States of America at approximately 6AM PST today.

As I had expected (and somewhat feared) there are already a wide variety of opinions on how this whole situation was handled. Those with loved ones still held overseas are wondering why not their family members, policy wonks are fearful of what the actions of President Clinton may bring about in our relations with other countries, and politically - well, political fiends always manage to make a hullabaloo about everything...

But the truth remains, after approximately 140 days of being held against their will, two women are home tonight with their families. To my knowledge, we do not yet know the extent of their experiences, nor do we know if Eula and Laura even know how this has impacted them. But, what I do know is that tonight I revere their strength and emotional fortitude to withstand such a grueling, fear laden experience in a land that is not their own full of customs, laws and societies that they didn't understand fully.

I may have shared with some of you that when I was in Europe recently on my own, the trip was wonderful but somewhat empty because I had noone to share it all with - to lean on for good and bad. I can't imagine that experience magnified through only negative experiences of being convicted and held captive in a foreign place.

The sight of Linda and Eula reunited with their families today brought tears to my eyes and, as journalists kept saying "for almost 5 months" "for 140 days" I tried to imagine being in their shoes. I couldn't. These women found something in them and their lives to center them among what, in their words, was the "worst time of their lives". I commend them for not giving up, and I acknowledge them for finding the relief of their release and return to their families today.

For whatever it was in each of you that got you through your time in North Korea and whatever it is in you that will allow you to reconnect with your lives and continue to find purpose and meaning, I am thankful that you are here Linda and Eula and I am glad that you are, tonight, and hopefully every night here after, with those you love.

4.8.09

Day 238. The Negotiating One.

So word has just broken that Bill Clinton has had a successful trip to North Korea - primarily that he was able to obtain a "special pardon" by Kim Jong-Il of the two female journalists that were being held there, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

Regardless of your politics, this story has continued to haunt me since the women were arrested and sentenced. In the midst of the never ending exhausting "special Michael Jackson coverage" (how long ago did he die?) every once and a while you'd see coverage of these two women's plight and it affected me deeply. They had been sentenced to "12 years hard labor" in a prison camp and reports were that this was a rather brutal situation to be in. Both women were apart from their families, afraid, separated from children (for Euna) and all, arguably, so that they could simply be pawns in what has been an escalating international political "mine is bigger than yours" contest. [I don't mean to make light of some of the serious political issues at stake here, but if you follow it all, its been rather frustrating]

So anyway, back to my point. Today, Bill Clinton completed a top-secret trip to North Korea and is returning with Laura and Euna. Again, this is not a political post - I'm not making any statement positive or negative on Bill Clinton as a president or man, but I did find myself wondering, as this all was going down, what kind of special gift it takes to negotiate such a successful resolution to a scary scary situation.

I did take classes in negotiation in College. Its hard to negotiate well even when the stakes are "just" a class exercise and getting a good grade. I can't imagine the pressure of having to go into a conversation with very little wiggle room on what you want when the issue at hand is people's lives. To boot, arguably, Kim Jong-Il has not represented himself publicly to be the most sensitive to American positions or pressures. How do you handle that kind of sensitive dealing?

I would love to know what President Clinton said, how he said it, what he did, and how it all really went down. For someone to go into such a situation that seems so hopeless and garner success is something to be respected. There may be naysayers of what happened, and other details may come to light later, but, for now, I stand in great respect of someone who can skillfully work through the toughest of issues with the toughest of opponents.

Think about how hard it is to even negotiate a deal on a car? How do you negotiate to save two women's lives? Its a skill, and it was put to good use today. Thank you, President Clinton.

3.8.09

Day 237. The Driving One.

As you know I spent time the past week with my family. What's really cool is that my sister in law lives in Indiana, so she comes to our house first, spends the night, takes a break and then we all drive together to Pennsylvania. Its a nice time to catch up and spend time together and also it helps make the ride easier and less boring (more drivers and more people to interact with and help out). The whole process reverses itself when we return home.

Last Wednesday, we arrived home and my SIL, C, had been talking with her husband, S, on and off the whole ride. S is a great guy and a lot of fun to hang out with but we don't get to see him as much as the rest of the family since he travels quite a bit for his job.

When we got home to Ohio, we ran a few errands and finally all got home to relax - eat dinner we had picked up and decompress. But, not five minutes after we were back, there was a knock at the door - it was S. Here he had driven all the way from Detroit (approx 3.5 hrs) just to spend the evening with his family and go to Rita's with us. [Sidebar: while apparently known to the rest of the world, this was my first time having this dessert. And apparently, its the rest of my family's favorite and worth driving from Detroit for]

S hung out with us for dinner, Rita's and then a few other fun stops before heading BACK up to Detroit that same night to be ready for his meetings early the next morning. I thought it was cool. I know that S really loves his family and takes extra time and energy - such as what he did that night - to make sure they know that he is always thinking about them and wanting to be with them, even when he is on the road.

Its often easy to talk ourselves out of things - we don't have enough time, we are too busy, we are too tired, we just don't want to do something. A lot of times, these things are all true - and I am sure S had many of those things in his head last week - but he still came down to see his wife and three children - even if for a few hours. Love it!

S, the next time you're in Ohio, the Rita's is on ME! :)

1.8.09

Day 235-6. The Sibling Ones.

I think its important to remember that kids are good people too. I've been very fortunate to inherit a bunch of nieces and nephews via my marriage to Stephen (I consider this the perfect kid arrangement - you hang out with them as long as you want and then send them home LOL). The two cousins I've had the longest relationship with, purely due to age, are my niece, C, and nephew L. They are now 13 and 11 respectively and are now big sister and brother to nephew (and adorable godson of mine) M.

I am continually impressed with their loving maturity as big brother and sister. As we spent the last week together, I saw a sister and brother who genuinely love their baby brother and are always willing to help take care of M. To see them be such caring people really opened my eyes to who these two young people are becoming as adults and its a wonderful sight. They were affectionate, strong in their guidance of what needed to be done, amazing in their calm and confidence when M had a little breakdown as 3 year olds are prone to do, and supportive of Stephen and I, the bumbling uncle and aunt when we tried to take care of him as well.

Both C and L are blooming like fantastic young flowers into these people who I genuinely like hanging out with. I had numerous real, meaningful conversations with each of them during our visit and, not to sound cheesy, but they restore my faith in the young generation that is following us. This group of people is constantly portrayed as texting, materialistic, growing up too soon, selfish, thoughtless kids. I know of two for certain who are debunking all those stereotypes.

C & L, I love you both - you rock, and you are great people.