Category Archives: Memories

Getting on the Next Pole

I sat in front of a pole vault coach on a recent plane ride. Overhearing his discussions brought back memories of my vaulting in high school.

I had no idea I’d become a pole vaulter when I went to the first track practice in my sophomore year.  The coach told us to go run a green (running around all the grass in the school, maybe a mile) as a warm-up.  I didn’t know anyone on the team as I started my warm-up run.  Suddenly, a group of guys ran up behind me and asked what my event was.  I said that I didn’t know, but I was a pretty fast runner so I figured I’d do one of the running events.  Looking back now, I really had no idea.

Immediately their response was, “You should be a pole vaulter.  It’s the best event out here!”

My response, “I’ve never vaulted before,” was met with an even quicker response of, “No problem, we can teach you…it’s easier than it looks.”

So, by the time we got back from running the green, I was a vaulter.  When the coach called my name and asked what event I was trying out for, I said, “Pole vault,” like it was my plan all along.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was stuck at 11 feet for the longest time.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear 11’ 6”.  We were blessed to have a pole vault coach, and he recommended I move to a pole that was a foot longer and rated for a bit heavier vaulter than my actual weight.

Moving up to the next pole is quite an adjustment.  It feels completely different.  Everything is off from what you’re used to.  The run-up needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional height of the pole.  Plus, you have no idea how the pole will respond on your first jump.  In a worst-case scenario, your step may be off, the plant goes poorly, the launch is compromised, and the pole might spit you back, instead of taking you into the air.  For a high school kid, that’s a lot to consider.

In practice, I never actually took any jumps with the new pole.  I merely worked on adjusting my run-up to get the plant right.  As our next meet, against Warren High School, approached we decided to bring both my old pole and the new, longer and stiffer pole.  I remember the bus ride to Warren, wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump with the new pole in competition.

Warren had the “new” rubberized track and runways (standard nowadays).  The rubber runways added bounce and speed to my approach.  This was the perfect time for me to get on the new pole.

My coach’s advice was to block out any negative thoughts (always good advice, by the way), focus on a smooth approach, and nail the plant.  He said that if I relied on my technique, the rest would take care of itself, and I’d have no problem making my first jump.

My warmups were over and I still hadn’t actually vaulted with the new pole.  The plan was for me to take my first attempt on the new pole, and if it didn’t go well, then use the old standby pole to clear a height.

My opening height was usually 10 feet, just to establish an opening.  We decided to pass to 11 feet since our competition was good and we might need to win with fewer attempts.  Pole vault competitions are won by the vaulter who goes the highest with the fewest number of total attempts on the day.

I passed at 10, and then 10′ 6″.  Other vaulters cleared their opening heights.  My tension mounted as 11 feet came up.  He gave me the sign to pass that height as well!  So, I did.

Finally, at 11’6″ I took my attempt.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I didn’t hear anything else, except for my deep breath as I readied for takeoff.  My run up felt great.  I focused on hitting my plant perfectly and blocked everything else out.

The plant was perfect and I felt a sensation I’d never felt when vaulting. There was a noticeable pause in the takeoff and then a sudden lunge straight skyward.

As I twisted at the top of my vault I saw the crossbar whiz by and still I was climbing.  I had skied over the crossbar by at least two feet!  Everything slowed down and I reveled in amazement that I was higher than I’d ever been before.  I caught myself celebrating in my mind before realizing that I needed to let go of the pole and prepare for my landing.

I fell backward toward the pads in slow motion.  All I saw was that crossbar sitting there, motionless, as I cleared my opening height with a pole I’d never used before that day.

The cheers from my fellow vaulters (my team and the Warren vaulters) and my coach were deafening. The height I cleared wasn’t high (even by 1983 standards).  But, everyone knew that I’d just catapulted (literally) to the next level in my vaulting career.

“You flew that vault!  You could have easily cleared 12’6″ or even 13′!” my coach yelled as he patted me on both shoulders.

We decided to pass at the next two heights and come back in again at 12’6″.  Another height I’d never cleared in my life.

On only my second vault of the day and my second vault on the new pole, I easily cleared 12’6″.  My new personal record.

I don’t remember what place I finished that day.  I think we swept the top three spots in the vault and collected all the points from that event for our team.

It didn’t matter to me at the time.  Overcoming my fears, leaping to a new level, delivering for my team, and creating a new launch pad for future improvement was more important to me than my place in that day’s standings.

We are being formed throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We face opportunities for failure every day.  Opportunities to let fear win, for status quo to take the day.

Overcoming the mental terrorism that only we can inflict on ourselves is the key to finding that new level.  The new levels are there, waiting for us to arrive.

Once we arrive, we can choose to stay or leap to the next level.

The Vocabulary of Christmas

MerryChristmas

I’m fascinated with the way our vocabulary morphs as we approach Christmas.  Consider how often you hear these words other than this time of year:

Jingle Bells

Rudolph

Reindeer

Santa

Elves

Cinnamon Sticks

Tidings

Nutcracker

Jack Frost

Mulling Spice

Christmas Island

Jolly

Jack Frost

Snowman

Stockings

Baking

Chestnuts

Trimmings

Joy

Twinkles

Tinsel

Sugarplums

Merry

Noel

Caroling

Village

Christmas Tree Lot

Chimney

Crèche

Gingerbread

Frankincense

Welch Cakes

Wishes

Myrrh

Fruitcake

Holly

Manger

Nativity

Goodies

Home (as in “for the holidays”)

Frightful (as in the weather outside)

North Pole

Workshop

Ornaments

Traditions

Partridge

Cornish Pasties

Poinsettias

Rejoice

Scrooge

Sleigh

Wise Men

Yuletide

These words trigger great memories, but none would matter without family and friends to make them special.

May we each create wonderful new memories with our family and friends this Christmas season.

What’s Not to Love about Carrot Cake?

I had my first piece of carrot cake in 1974, or maybe it was 1973.  We were at my uncle Denby’s wedding, and the cake they served was this oddly wonderful concoction of flavors I had never tasted.  Being one of the munchkins in the crowd, I did what smart munchkins did back then:  I eavesdropped on the adults who were talking about the cake.

They called it carrot cake, but this cake was a lot more than carrots, and it was awesome!

I don’t remember having carrot cake again until college.  I may have had it before then, but those memories are lost in a din of other information like the capital of North Dakota, the difference between an adverb and an adjective, why the earth rotates around the sun and not the other way around, and who shot J.R (we watched that episode with a huge crowd of Hilltoppers in a hotel bar in Rosarito Beach, but that’s another story).

Whenever I see carrot cake as a dessert option at a restaurant, I order it.  Carrot cake muffin?  Gotta have it.  I’ve sampled carrot cake recipes across the US, and even a couple in foreign countries.  Some are decent.  Claim Jumper’s is probably the best, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (everything is good with a scoop of ice cream).

When the time came to choose our wedding cake, Janet and I chose carrot cake.  Actually, I think Janet knew I’d love it, and it was her small wedding gift to me.  The only bite of that cake I got that day was in the cake-cutting ceremony.  We were too busy with all the other wedding stuff to actually eat any of the awesome cake we’d chosen.

As good as everyone else’s carrot cake is, none come close to mom’s.  Mom’s is the only carrot cake that captures the awesomeness of my first carrot cake experience in the ‘70s.  It’s simply the best.

Unfortunately, my love affair with all things carrot cake came to a screeching halt a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance.  Someone asked me recently what I miss the most now that I basically can’t eat anything made with wheat, or containing gluten as an additive (it’s hidden in tons of sauces, dressings, and of course, beer).

The first thing that popped into my head was carrot cake.  It’s not that I miss the taste of carrot cake so much (but, really I do).  It’s the freedom to try everyone’s attempt at carrot cake…knowing that none will compare to mom’s.  I miss getting to have a huge slice of carrot cake at mom’s, and then getting to take about half of the cake home (since it’s not everyone else’s favorite) to enjoy every night for a week.  There’s nothing like a slice of carrot cake and a tall glass of milk after a hard day of whatever I did that day.

Thanks to gluten intolerance, I thought those days were gone.  Not so fast!

Turns out there’s an excellent gluten-free “all-purpose flour” available at Trader Joe’s.  What’s the first thing I thought of when I saw it?  You guessed it!  I need to get mom a couple pounds of this stuff so she can make some of her carrot cake with it, just in time for my 49th birthday!

We are about t-minus one hour from heading over to mom and dad’s to celebrate the September birthdays in our family (there are a bunch of them).  We’ll eat some barbecued steaks with all the trimmings.  But, more importantly, we’ll be trying the gluten-free carrot cake that she and my niece baked.  I’ve heard that it’s pretty good.

I know it will be awesome.  Why?  Mom (and my niece) made it, and that’s all that matters.

 

Taking Time to Grieve

When someone we love dies, we often hear about the grieving process.  We hear that we should take time to grieve.  It’s something we can’t skip.

Grieving is unavoidable, no matter how busy or tough we think we are.

I remember when my Grandma Anne died (over twenty years ago).  My cousin, Devin, told me about DAWA, the four stages of the grieving process that he’d learned as a policeman:

Denial—we deny that the person has died, or that this is really happening.  We may also deny that it’s impacting us emotionally, or deny that we even understand the mix of emotions that are welling-up inside of us.

Anger—we realize this is real.  We wonder what we could have done differently.  We wonder how something like this could have happened.  We may question the justice in the universe, or how God could allow this.  Bargaining phrases like, “if only…” come into our mind.

Withdrawal—sometimes the only way to cope with the reality of our loss, and the emotions we can’t control, is to withdraw.  This may be within ourselves, or to some place where we can be alone.  Denial is giving way to reality.  Anger is turning to sadness.  We look within ourselves for the strength to overcome our sadness.

Acceptance—we begin to get our head wrapped around what is happening.  We start to make peace with this new reality.  Acceptance doesn’t mean we’re “over it,” or that there isn’t an irreparable rip in the fabric of our soul.  It means we start to understand how to go forward with our life.

It’s easy to list these stages and assume grief is a simple process with a beginning, middle, and end.  It doesn’t work that way.  Some people never get through all the stages, or, they may cycle through one or more of the stages numerous times.  It’s a process without a true endpoint…only the hope of eventual acceptance.

The grieving process applies to more than our loved ones passing away.  It can apply to losing just about anything else we love (whether we realize it or not).

Maybe it’s a friend who we don’t get to see anymore, a hobby we can no longer participate in, moving into a new house (and leaving the old one behind), graduating from college and saying goodbye to our friends, losing that job we thought we’d have for many years to come.

It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones driving the change in our life, or if the change is thrust upon us without warning.  It doesn’t matter if our loss is a stepping stone that leads us to something even greater (which is often the case).

The loss is real.

And, so is the grieving process.

Hourglasses, Egg Cups, and Grandma Anne

Hourglass

‘Cause you can’t jump the track,

we’re like cars on a cable,

And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table.

No one can find the rewind button, girl

So cradle your head in your hands

And breathe… just breathe,

Oh breathe, just breathe.

Anna Nalick

Grandma Anne had a small hourglass in her kitchen. It was her egg timer, and I’m sure thousands of other kitchens had the same thing. In my Grandma’s kitchen, that timer was the magical key to making Eggs in the Egg Cup. The starring attraction was a perfectly soft-boiled egg. The proper dipping tool was a lady finger (toast cut into strips).

Forty years later, I could soft-boil some eggs. I could slice my toast into strips. I could find proper egg cups for serving. It wouldn’t be the same. I don’t have Grandma’s egg timer, or her loving touch.

Hourglasses don’t care about how time passes. Their job is only to measure its passing. Each grain of sand merely represents a moment in time.

We know better. Some moments carry more magic than others.

When I started this post, it was going to be about time passing through the hourglass and how it symbolizes our lives. We only get one pass through the hourglass (it’s glued to the table). We don’t know how much sand is left. We don’t know if our hourglass will fall off the proverbial table and shatter in an instant.

Nothing new there, but I had a sense there was something else, so I started writing to find out.

The image of Grandma Anne’s egg timer and lady fingers filled my head. I haven’t had Egg in the Egg Cup in forty years.  Grandma Anne passed away more than twenty years ago. Yet I can see the many breakfasts she served when I spent the night at her house. I smell the bacon.  I hear the crunching of the toast.

She taught me Yahtzee, and then Triple Yahtzee. I can hear the dice rolling around in the cup.  She folded a napkin in the bottom of the dice cup to keep the noise down.  She shared a lot of Grandma wisdom on strategic thinking during those Yahtzee games.

One thing is certain as the sand passes through my hourglass.  I get only one pass.  But I get to experience my memories as often as I’d like…even when I least expect it.  How cool is that!

 

Photo Credit:  Nick Valdovinos

#tbt – Throwback Thursdays

It’s fun to see how long (and not grey) our friend’s hair was twenty or thirty years ago…especially if that person has little or no hair now (like me).  It’s neat to see our faces before years of experience (and sun damage) have made their mark.  The clothing styles are always good for a laugh…nice OP shorts, Magnum!

#tbt posts provide a window into who we were, and the things we thought were important.  As we look at a #tbt photo, we know how things turn out for this “stranger” in the picture.  The person in that old photo has years of decisions to make, countless lessons to learn, and many hearts to touch.  Each #tbt post gives us a glimpse of potential yet to be fulfilled.

Look in the mirror.  You get to see your future #tbt photo every day.

What potential do you have that has yet to be fulfilled?  Whose hearts will you touch?  Will you make sound decisions?  What will you learn along the way?  None of us know for certain.

One thing is certain.  Many of the things that seem important today won’t be so important in twenty or thirty years.

Wedding-Day

Your humble writer, on his wedding day in July, 1988.

Everyday is a Surprise

 “Bobby (what anyone who knew me before I was about 13 calls me), it all started with an earache.  The doctor gave me some ear drops.  The pain didn’t stop and seemed to get worse, so he gave me stronger drops.  That still didn’t work.  He ran some tests and told me it’s cancer, and I’m gonna die.  It was an earache, and then I was dying.  He says that I will probably just die in my sleep, so each time I wake up, it’s a surprise.”

Pete_Triumph

In Pete’s case, it took about four months for the cancer specialists to identify the type of cancer that is killing him.  He told me the name, and said it is very rare, untreatable, and fast moving.  I made a mental note to look up the cancer and learn more about it.  As I type this post, I have forgotten its name.

The fact that each of us will die is no surprise.  The timing is the surprising part.  That, and the name of the thing that ultimately causes our death.  There’s always a name.

I remember a conversation I had with Grandpa Clyde (my wife’s grandfather) at least ten years ago.  He was in his late-80’s at the time, showing me how to cook ribs properly on a barbeque.  I asked him what it was like to have lived as long as he had.  I will never forget his response.  “If you live long enough, you say goodbye to a lot of friends and family.  Most of the people I grew up with are dead and gone.  I stopped going to funerals a long time ago.  I spend my time making new friends, and enjoying this time I’ve been given with my family.”

Growing up, Pete was one of my role models for a life worth living.  A firefighter, motorcycle tuner, racer, helmet painter, wheelie king, runner, water skier, speeding ticket magnet, traveler, and a Bluegrass fan.  Although I never actually saw it, he used to say that he also jumped rope, attended three world fairs, and a few other things that are probably better left unmentioned.  Pete never stopped making new friends, or appreciating his old friends.  He grabbed all that life has to offer, and then some.

Pete_Wheelie

Pete wears a patch over his right eye now.  The tumor has grown and prevents that eye from blinking.  He is in a lot of pain, and the pain medications cloud the passage of time.  This hasn’t stopped Pete from grabbing what life has left for him.  He is living each remaining day as a surprise.

In truth, each day is a surprise for all of us.  An opportunity to appreciate our family and friends.  An opportunity to make new friends, and enjoy what little time we’ve been given.

Happy First Anniversary!

FamilyRules

Hard to believe that one year ago today, Janet and I had 16 guests and a bride-to-be in our house, getting ready for the Flather wedding that would start later that day.  The night before, they worked out a system of 15-minute bathroom assignments that began at 6am, and ended with the entire bridal party, and support crew, heading out the door at 9:30am for photos…all on schedule.

As anyone who has planned a wedding knows, they are events filled with countless details, and memories that last a lifetime.  One detail that I remember vividly is the Father-of-the-Bride toast.  Writing the toast wasn’t difficult.  Saying the toast was an entirely different matter.  Each rehearsal ended with me crying about halfway through.  I’d be doing great, and then it would hit me without warning.

Seeing my hopeless situation, Janet agreed to share in the toast duties with me.  She would take the most “troubling” parts, and we determined that we’d just “wing it” from there.  I don’t have a clear memory of the actual toast, but I know I couldn’t have done it without Janet’s love and support.

In honor of the Flathers’ one-year anniversary, and just in case we missed something during the actual toast, here’s the original text.  By the way, I still can’t read it all the way through without welling up, and I wouldn’t have it any other way:

When Steven stopped by our house on that fateful night, about a year ago, I think we had a pretty good idea what he wanted to talk to us about. He wanted to ask our daughter to marry him. It wasn’t a surprise to us, but that moment is certainly burned into our memory. Obviously, Julianne said Yes! And, we couldn’t be happier for them. Steven is quite a catch, and he comes from a great family that we’ve gotten to know quite well over the years.

I’m pleased to see that Steven’s tuxedo doesn’t have any grease spots…yet…and I’m sure it’s killing him keeping it clean!

This is the NASCAR section of the toast when I thank all the people who made this celebration possible. Let me just start by thanking everyone who came here last night (and this morning) to help setup this hall. We had around 40 people here yesterday afternoon and evening, helping us convert an empty hall into this wedding picnic wonderland you see today. But, even before that, we had numerous work parties at our house, addressing invitations, preparing the candy, the candle holders, and all of the flowers. If you are a friend of mine on FaceBook, you’ve seen the pictures and updates.  We’d also like to thank many of you in advance for volunteering to help us convert this wedding picnic wonderland back into an empty hall tonight!

Although we have a picnic theme going, we could just as easily call this a “barn-raising.” The same way a community comes together to help one family build their barn, we are blessed to have just about everything in this wedding come from our own community of friends and family. Thank you for all of your help. We will always cherish the time we’ve spent with each of you as we prepared for this wedding celebration.

Someone recently asked us how we’d feel on our daughter’s wedding day, giving her away, and all. We don’t look at it that way.  Instead, we are adding a very fine son-in-law to our family. As parents, we all strive to see our kids grow into solid citizens. I can tell you from first-hand experience, Steven and Julianne are VERY SOLID CITIZENS. We are very proud of both of you!

So, Steven and Julianne, we raise our lemonade high, in your honor. May your love for each other grow as you greet each new day together!

Life’s Been Good to Me, So Far

dad_NHRA_2013

Songs have an almost magical way of transporting us back to another time.  One song in particular makes me think of my dad…Joe Walsh’s, “Life’s Been Good to Me So Far.”  Every time I hear it, I’m about eleven years old, very early in the morning, on the way to Escape Country.  This song is playing on the radio.  I know my mom and brother were there too, but when it comes to this song, my memory only conjures up my dad.

Escape Country is long gone.  In the ‘70’s, Escape Country was a motorcycle riding park in Orange County, located about ten miles from Cook’s Corner.  I’m pretty sure Dove Canyon is built mostly where Escape Country used to be.

“I have a mansion, forget the price

Ain’t never been there they tell me it’s nice”

My dad has a way of focusing on the task at hand, while having fun.  In this case, his task was being the president of the Hilltoppers Motorcycle Club, and this was our annual Gran Prix race weekend at Escape Country.  A series of 60-90 minute races with various motorcycle sizes and rider skill levels, ranging from mini-bikes to 500cc’s, and beginner to expert.

“My Maserati does 185

I lost my license now I don’t drive”

The president of the club has overall responsibility for the race, and works with everyone else in the club to create the best possible racing experience for the racers. On race days, one of my dad’s specific jobs was to line up each race at the start.  I was amazed by the way my dad was able to keep everything straight.  How did he know which bikes went where?  It was always noisy, dusty, and confusing to me.  And yet, he’d refer to a small piece of paper, look at the numbers on the bikes and immediately know where they were supposed to go.  I remember he’d often carry a wooden stake to use as a pointer.  He might as well have been an orchestra conductor in my eyes.

“I’m making records my fans they can’t wait

They write me letters tell me I’m great”

These were dead-engine, Le Mans-style starts.  The bikes were on one side of the track, and the racers were lined-up on the other side.  When my dad dropped the banner (which I helped raise and lower), the racers would run across the track, jump on their bikes, hope they started on the first kick, and, in a cloud of dust and rocks, they’d be racing down into the first turn.

“So I got me an office gold records on the wall

Just leave a message maybe I’ll call”

My dad took the time to watch about the first five minutes of each race, and then he was focused on preparing the start for the next race.  This meant re-making the white lines to delineate the starting positions.  I remember one of my jobs was to mark off the distance between the lines.  I know now that he probably didn’t need my help, but at the time, I was a key part of the process.

“Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through

Everybody says I’m cool (He’s cool)”

Amazingly, my dad always seemed to wrap up the start-line preparations with fifteen to twenty minutes to spare before the next race was to start.  This was enough time to jump on his bike and ride to various spots, checking-in with other members of the club to get a status from them.  We didn’t have radios or cell phones back then, so communications happened the old fashioned way:  face-to-face.  He also had time to watch a bit more racing, and then back to the starting area to coordinate the newly arriving racers for the next race.

“I go to parties sometimes until four

It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door”

My job during the down time?  Riding over to the sign-up area on our Honda Trail 50 to get the piece of paper with numbers that he used as the basis for setting up the next race.  Sometimes, while at sign-up, I’d get involved in helping the sign-up crew for a few minutes before returning to the starting area.  Again, I was a key part of the process.

“They say I’m lazy but it takes all my time

Everybody says Oh yeah (Oh yeah)”

When the last race of the weekend ended, the work was far from over.  Course markings, ribbons, barricades, banners, and everything else that we’d put up in preparation for the race had to be taken down.  Most of the items would be reused in following years, so the put-away process was almost as important as the put-up process.  I wanted nothing more than to help.  I wanted to be like my dad.  Doing anything other than working toward the goal of finishing the job never entered my mind.  I was part of my dad’s team and that is all that mattered.

“It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame 


Everybody’s so different I haven’t changed”

Thank you, Dad, for always making me a key part of the process.  Thank you for always trusting me to be at your side.  Thank you for always knowing I could do the things you asked of me.  Thank you for having confidence in me, even if I wasn’t so sure.  Thank you for making me a valuable part of your team.

“I keep on going, guess I’ll never know why 


Life’s been good to me so far”   

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I love you.

Your Ten Best Days

What if you could choose the ten best days in your life and relive them as many times as you want?  You only get to choose ten.

How would you go about choosing your ten best? Here are some possibilities to kick-start your thought process (in no particular order):

  • The day you learned to ride a bike
  • The day you lost your first tooth
  • The day you hit your first homerun
  • The day you got your driver’s license
  • The day you graduated from high school
  • The day you graduated from college
  • The day you received your first paycheck
  • The day you bought your first car (which might have been the day after you got your first paycheck)
  • Your wedding day
  • The day you finished your first marathon
  • The days your children were born
  • The day you became the boss
  • The day your trained someone else to be the boss
  • The days your children graduated from high school…how about college?
  • The days your children were married
  • Your first visit to the Grand Canyon
  • The day you went to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • The day you and your family swam with dolphins
  • The day the doctor told you that you were cancer free
  • The day you watched your grandson being born (a definite front runner for me)
  • The days you visited your children’s first homes
  • That super hot day when you and your kids went to the Angel game and tried to keep cool with spray bottles
  • The day you zip-lined through a rainforest
  • The day you retired
  • The day you first had a Tommy’s Burger
  • The day you helped a complete stranger

The possibilities are infinite, and everyone’s list is different.  Have you chosen your ten best days yet?  What pictures flash in your mind as you try to decide?

Here’s some good news:  you don’t have to choose just ten.  And, you get to relive your best days any time you’d like.  All you have to do is picture them in your mind, like you just did.

Here’s one more piece of good news:  many of your best days are still in front of you, yet to be enjoyed.