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Pause, Rewind, Replay??? Part II

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece on how I got back into coaching four years ago, and how I exited. Bookending the story was the Women’s World Cup. The latest one has come and gone. This rendition certainly didn’t elicit the same reactions the 2011 version did. In other words, I didn’t at any time go running through the house screaming.  It didn’t hold the same drama especially the final match which I’ll get to later. But, now that it’s over, I definitely have some thoughts to share.

I went into this version in a much different position than I did four years ago. I had been away from the sport from a fan sense for a while in 2011 when that tournament started. This year, I’m more connected to what’s going on in the world of the sport. Even though I didn’t watch a single club match all year, I knew who won all of the major leagues. Ironically, my three favorite teams finished atop the tables in their respective divisions. You might say the soccer gods were chortling at me for choosing not to be a fan this year.

Being a year removed from the men’s version, a version that I thought was one of the most entertaining in several years, I couldn’t really sustain the fandom I had been a part of then. The US men had a fairly remarkable run in the tournament, but still it wasn’t enough to hold my interest. I knew I was winding down my coaching run. I had picked up some new hobbies, and though I was sad to say goodbye to the kids, I had my time filled with new ideas.

As this year’s version was approaching I had not been particularly impressed with the play of the women. I have now seen them three times, and l just don’t find them that entertaining. They’re very limited offensively in the way they attack. They, for my taste, rely to heavily on serving balls into the box for their forwards to find. I don’t see much individual brilliance, or small sided creation. With all of that written, one can’t argue with their success rate. But I need more to be a fan.

So when they were less than impressive with the results, I began to wonder just how well they were going to do this time. I’ve not been a fan of the state of youth development in this country for many years, though I like to think I’ve done my own small part to alter that in a more positive way.

My thoughts as the tournament progressed turned to the impact their play would have on youth development. It’s common to try and emulate a professional team’s style. That’s not really conducive to true development. The more success they had in this year’s spectacle, the more youth teams would move to it, I thought. With every passing match I became more disillusioned. Much like I did in 2011.

So after they hoisted the trophy on that July Sunday in what was an extremely lopsided result, I was left with a very mixed bag of feelings. My thoughts were they played the same similar style, but finally found some finishing luck in this match. It was bound to show up eventually. Time will tell what, if any, real impact it has on youth development here in this country. Then again, since I’m “retired”, I may never see it. Sadly, I can say that after their display, you can’t really count me a fan anymore.

Pause, Rewind, Replay???

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Abigail, Autumn, Baylee, Olivia, Breanna, Delaina, Zoey, Feliciti, Heidi

Four years ago I was just getting settled into our new home. I was relaxing on a weekend in the living room watching an event that at one time held my every sliver of attention. This year however, it was a different story. This time I was merely passing time, barely engaged. The event was the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The match was US vs. Brazil. The stakes were a berth in the semi-finals.

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Christopher with a toe pull.

Having been a coach for most of the previous twenty-two years, I was at the time quite happy to not be. I had said goodbye to the RedHots a couple of years prior. I was also not much of a fan, either. The 2010 Men’s World Cup had grabbed my attention for a bit when Landon Donovan struck the goal heard ‘round the world. But it fizzled soon after when my favorite Italian side had failed to get out of their group. My passion was a shadow of its earlier self. You get the idea. My wife, then girlfriend, was sitting in the bedroom most likely facebooking, or pinteresting. Each of us enjoying the silence of a summer afternoon.

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Midwest City Soccer Club’s tournament finalists.

I picked up the match around halftime with the US leading 1-0. Not long into the second half the US received a red card that I didn’t really agree with. I remember not being all that impressed with the team. They didn’t seem all that creative, or all that entertaining to me. Hope Solo made the save on the ensuing penalty kick only to have the save nullified by another curious call of encroachment. Marta took the second attempt and scored. 1-1.

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Israel in goal

The red card had an effect. As is often the case the team that is playing short begins to play better and more controlled. I had been doing my usual couch coaching and finding all the ways I thought they were terrible. But it changed slowly. More skill. More creativity. The matched ended full time at the 1-1 scoreline. By now I was sitting up on the couch and somewhat into it.

Marta scored a brilliant goal in the first half of extra time, and all I could think was how this was going to be the earliest exit for a US Women’s team at a World Cup. Wasn’t looking good. Time was ticking, and they were rapidly running out of ideas.

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Abbie, Baylee, Breanna, Deja, Zoey at 3v3.

But drama is what makes sports amazing, isn’t it? Boy did we get some. Late in the second half of extra time, really late. No, really, really late. Like so late that had a Brazilian player not faked injury this match would’ve been done, the teams back at their hotels and the US fans on planes headed back home, it happened. Rapinoe to Wambach. The second US goal heard ’round the world, every bit as dramatic as Donovan’s.

When the ball left Rapinoe’s foot I looked across the screen and could see Wambach unmarked on the back post. I knew. Everyone in the stadium had to have known, too. She wasn’t missing that. I was already coming off the couch when her head made contact. The ball bulged the onion bag (I probably owe Tommy Smyth a buck for that one). I went running through the house yelling and screaming like it was 2006 all over again when the Italians emerged victoriously in Germany.

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Xavier trying a Rivelino

Paula comes running out of the bedroom and yells, “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

“I’m back!”, I replied, winded from the run. Clearly I hadn’t done much physical activity during that time.

“Umm back from where??”

I just shook my head and giggled. She had no idea. How could she? I was only half engaged with the Red Hots when we started dating. She thought it was cute that I worked with kids occasionally teaching a game she had no real knowledge of. She had never really experienced the passion that I’m capable of when it comes to teaching or watching this sport. Crash course, table for one.

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Alex Morgan in pregame in San Antonio

Of course that goal merely tied the match. Penalties followed, and Hope again dazzled for the all important save. I followed the rest of the Cup, and when it closed I had somewhat renewed that passion despite the PK loss to Japan in the final. I even had a new crush, lol. Shh, don’t tell Paula!

A few weeks later I was driving home from work when my phone rang. Frank, a friend I hadn’t spoken to in quite a while, was calling for advice. He had just taken over his grandson’s team and needed help. Hesitant at first, as I was enjoying being away from the coaching circle, I finally offered to come out for a few weeks to show how I did things and then sort of pass the torch, if you will. A couple of days after that he called again. Same request, different kid. This time it was his daughter’s team. I gave him the same spiel.

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Isaiah with a nice Rivelino

Later in the month when we convened for first practices, I was already having second thoughts. Coaching kids has always brought me great joy. That is until over involved, unrealistic parents would find a way to suck the joy out. Always happened, eventually. I would enjoy the few years until the cons outweighed the pros. Sad, really. Then I would step away, and chase other dreams.

I gave the parents my usual talk about how I do what I do, my hopes, and my plans. Recreational parents don’t often see the big picture with regards to development. Who are we kidding? Competitive parents are often worse. What I believe is the best way to teach and develop isn’t exactly a popular concept, or widely accepted throughout the coaching community. Yet, the results speak for themselves. It’s not really my original philosophy, but that’s another blog post.

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Zoey doing her trademark Vee

Those first few weeks passed, and I had stepped in with both feet. So much for my original plan. I was back to loving hanging out with the kids. I’ve always loved being around the kids. They keep me looking at life through their eyes, and I love what that perspective does for my own life. We could all use that view sometimes.

Coming back to Midwest City Soccer Club put me around some old familiar faces, and I immediately began to recall some history. Not all of that pleasant. Yet another blog post. I left there fifteen years ago to pursue competitive opportunities never really looking back.

The first season went well. I was happy with the progress out of the boys and girls. This being my first foray back into recreational ball took some adjustment on my part, but we stuck to our plan. The second season saw still more progress. When it wrapped up, I had talked to the girls about taking the next step and playing academy level. I had been offered that age group, and it seemed like the natural step. Academy is where I preferred to be anyway. I much prefer to be around more commitment from both parents and players. It’s tough to go back to recreational once you take that leap. I had made that jump nearly twenty years ago, so I had spent much more time at the higher levels.

The academy team fell through, and the girls were faced with a choice. Take that next step, or stick with me. Most decided to stay. By this time it seemed clear I wasn’t going to step away like my original plan had detailed. So now that I had jumped in with both feet, it made sense to do it the only real way I knew how. All in. With that, FC Krunch was born. New uniforms, boys and girls all matching. Printed t-shirts, hoodies. Thanks Dianne!

Our numbers were growing as other parents were seeing what we were doing, and wanted their kids to be a part of it. We had enough players to split both the boys and the girls. My two day a week practices turned to four. Paula would ask what my plans were for the evening, but soon that question was pointless. Remember, all in. Saturdays were totally consumed with matches. It was like the Magpies in the 90’s all over again. We were seeing so much progress however, we couldn’t wait for the next games just to see what ridiculously difficult skill they would do next. Our kids were becoming the talk of the club, and parents from neighboring games were watching us instead of their own. It was a constant barrage of questions, “How do you get them to do that?” “What are you teaching?””I’ve never seen an entire team have those skills!” I was extremely happy with how the program was working.

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First tournament championship!!

The first tournament of the spring season saw the girls breeze to the finals. We had always stressed that the end result wasn’t what mattered. It was the effort that was attempted. Yet, still it was satisfying to see the work pay off. We were dominant in the final as well, though the score was close. I stood there when the final whistle blew scratching my head as I turned to Frank and said, “We just won a tournament.” How far they had advanced in only two years. For me, it was only my second tournament championship ever. I was more moved by the progress of the kids. Big picture, remember.

The next tournament was more of the same as we coasted into the finals. We played a team from Edmond that we would see a few times over the next year, and would really be our only competition during that time. Coached by a long time friend of mine, they were very athletic and really challenged us. Playing them always brought tension, except to me. I found it exhilarating to see us use our skill against that kind of athleticism.  We lost on one of the craziest goals I’ve seen in twenty-six years, yet I was prouder of our kids that day than ever before. We stuck to our plan. We didn’t sacrifice anything that we believed in to try to win the match. Our girls never took the easy way out in that game. They showed so much bravery to do what we asked of them, and in the end while it may have cost them that game, I believe we learned so much more. We were better for it.

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Breanna, Katie, Zoey, Autumn, Baylee, Delaina, Olivia, Heidi

The final tournament was Day of Champions. I had taken several teams to that tournament in my early years of recreational coaching, never once getting out of my group. I was disappointed to see the Edmond team not there. I believe my experience at that tournament suffered from it, also. We sailed to the finals, and after a few reschedules due to weather, in the end we were by far the superior group. I wasn’t even all that happy with how we played in the final match. Our standard had become so high. I didn’t feel we met it, and yet we were four goals better. Still, the accomplishment wasn’t lost on me. This team had become the most skilled, decorated group I’d ever had, and they would add more hardware the next year. More importantly, they entertained me, and were a blast to be around. I wouldn’t hardly pay money to see professionals play, but I would’ve paid to see them. You never knew what creative skill they were going to try next.

Meanwhile the boys were progressing at their own rate. Unfortunately they saw more player turnover which is common in the recreational game. It was difficult for them to sustain any team rhythm through their time. That didn’t stop the skills, however, or reduce their entertainment value. Between Isaac pulling ten Maradona’s a game, Garrett’s lightning fast triangles, or Isaiah trying to nutmeg everyone, they were more predictable than their female counterparts. That didn’t diminish my pride in their play.

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Garrett

The girls tried the academy route again in the ensuing summer. Once again in Midwest City, this fell through. That was compounded when we had our player assignments vetoed by the board. Unsure of what to do, I called my main mentor, Richard Hudson. Rich and I go far back as he gave me my first competitive coaching experience as well as a wealth of knowledge. His advice was simple, go academy. I said, “OK. Where?” He said out where he was in Canadian Valley. Simple enough. We’d continue to practice in MWC, wear the CVFC crest and play in the league in Norman. Not confusing at all, right? It actually worked well, all things considered. That is until we lost a couple of players, and didn’t have the means to replace them easily.

The first season went well considering the adjustment for the kids to a faster game and far better competition. Exactly what we needed, however. We were still making progress, and most kept the big picture in mind. Not a simple thing to do when you go from winning nearly all the time, to nearly never. Full credit to those involved. You know who you are.

My original goal for the girls when we first started talking academy was to be able to pass them on to someone I trusted. Someone that saw development the way I did. In the city, that really only means one person, Rich. Being in CFVC made that a real possibility. As we prepared for our final season, I felt good about my exit strategy, albeit a little sad to leave them.

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Abbie and Baylee

I’ve never had much issue saying goodbye to coaching, because usually it’s under bad circumstances. See previous statements about over involved parents. This time however, I was stepping away for different reasons. I wanted my time back. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started placing higher value on my time. I suppose that’s normal. I’ve also started new hobbies. You’re reading one of them, now. It’s fair to say I’m just not that enamored with the game at this time. That’s gone in cycles, too, in the recent decade.

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Breanna and Baylee at the US Women’s game in Frisco, TX.

Saying goodbye to these kids isn’t at all something I’ve looked forward to despite being ready to devote my time to other interests. All of them have left permanent impressions on my life, and I will miss seeing them so often. They are all exceptional in their own way, and I believe they all have such bright futures. Hopefully they’ve learned the most important lesson in our program, to give maximum effort in whatever endeavor they choose. We set out to develop brave, creative leaders. I believe time will show that we’ve helped do that. I can hardly wait to see where these boys and girls are in eight to ten years. Or fifteen, or twenty for that matter.

So, here we are. Four years later, which if you follow international soccer, you know what that means. That’s right. Another Women’s World Cup. Who knows what drama awaits. I do have plans to at least try to watch. Will the US entertain me more than four years ago? Hopefully. Will I sit there and couch coach like I usually do? Probably. One thing’s for sure. Should a late goal happen that sees me running through the house in ecstatic celebration, my wife will at least not be so surprised. So maybe I’ve just hit pause and rewind. Perhaps in time I’ll push replay, and do this all over again.

 

 

 

What a year!

DSC_0024 At the beginning of every year it seems most people make all of these grand plans for what they want to do, or be, in the upcoming year. I was never really one to make “resolutions” or plan much. Plans made that way are usually fleeting, and difficult to see through.  I’ve always preferred to just live life. Make a few plans that with persistence can be achieved. In my adult years anyway I’ve never really tried to look too far into the future figuring it would mostly take care of itself. Also, to a large degree, I don’t spend much time looking backwards either, choosing the occasional “look backwards” rather than “live backwards”. This is my moment to “look backwards” into 2014 and share all of the incredible, and certainly life changing moments, that I experienced.

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Ringing, or rather sleeping, in the new year of 2014 saw me starting a road of recovery from my seventh surgery. That new year’s moment left me little indication at how long that road would be. Choosing to have my four smaller toes straightened and relaxed proved to be a far more difficult recovery than I had anticipated, especially considering how relatively easy my recovery for my big toe had been nine years ago. I thought,  ” yes it’s more toes…but not near the amount of work needed as my big toe”…ya not so much. It was difficult enough that a month later I sat in a hotel room scratching my head thinking “why did I put myself through this again?” It would take a full twelve months to have that question answered. As is common in life we make decisions that we won’t see the full benefits for some time after.

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Having spent the last few years sort of floating music wise and rarely reaching out beyond my favorite band, I thought it was time to maybe expand and “discover” some “new” stuff. Using the downtime that Rush had entered into presented a prime opportunity to do just that. Enter iHeart Radio. Sitting at my desk at work affords me much time to just listen to music as it helps me concentrate. That is, when I’m not dancing. So I build this channel for Dashboard Confessional, a group I was introduced to late in their career. That’s me, always late to the party when it comes to music. Every twenty minutes or so I would hear this song that made me stop what I was doing and go see who it was. After noticing myself doing that several times over a few days, I noticed a pattern forming. Or, at least, a common theme. Great melodies and similar voice even though the artists’ names weren’t always the same. The groups: Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. The artist, the voice: Andrew McMahon. Research told me all I needed to know. They were essentially one in the same.Andrew McMahon

I kept finding song after song with melodies I couldn’t stop singing along to. Lyrically deep, sonically sound. Digging into the history yielded a story that hooked me further. Diagnosed with Leukemia at a young age, and then with the help of a stem cell transplant from his sister, he was able to kick its ass. No artist would feature as prominently on my Google Play list as Andrew in 2014. When the opportunity came to see him in Dallas in November I counted down the days like I would a Rush show.  A bonus show a few weeks later in Tulsa left me wanting still more. His music has managed to do something few artists have done in the last ten years – inspire me to pick up an instrument again. I will not yet “give up the music in my fingertips”. No doubt I will keep following him in 2015 to see what he produces next. I highly recommend anyone who loves a great melody with top notch piano playing, check him out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I’ve spent the last few years looking for a new creative outlet. 2014 would see me discover two. I had been kicking around the idea of writing a book since attempting to have my poetry published a few years back. I never could really settle on a firm idea for a subject. Then one day while passing some time between work and soccer practice it appeared. I would write a story about a boy who grows up with Cerebral Palsy and all the challenges he faced to just try to be considered normal. Since I was that boy it seemed like a natural idea.

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The ideas came furiously at first as I dove in and it seemed the first six chapters wrote themselves. As the story progressed the ideas slowed a bit, and sorting through memories proved challenging. I was also not prepared at all for the emotional roller coaster sharing my story would produce. Certainly turbulent at times, but then so was my childhood, which is why I chose to share the story in the first place. My hope is that one child somewhere in the world with CP will read it, and realize that though he or she is facing these immense challenges, that just being accepted at times it feels hopeless, it most certainly is not. You can not only fit in, but excel and succeed. You can have talents, develop them, and share them to those willing to listen, or read. You can love, be loved. You can create and achieve brilliance. Equally, you can also choose negativity and fill your life with it. Choose wisely. I like to think I have. Mostly.

Speaking of loving and being loved, I celebrated my first wedding anniversary. I guarantee you the subject of my book never thought that he’d ever experience that when he was growing up.  Yet, I did, and looking forward to many more. To my exquisite wife Paula, Thank you for another year of love and excitement. It took a lifetime to find you, but a journey I would gladly travel again if I had to as long as you were waiting for me at the end. Heart you baby!DSC_0152

I was fortunate enough to be able to expand my world borders further this year with trips to the northeastern part of the United States with an emphasis on Cape Cod, as well as south Florida and Cozumel again. Cape Cod was simply an amazing trip! Spending time in the small coastal towns were some of the best moments of my year. We chose a fantastic resort, and I fully intend to return at some point in the near future. As someone who embraces diversity, I was engulfed in it up there. Loved it all! I could feel my world expand by the minute.Palm Trees

What can I say about Ft. Lauderdale in December? Having my toes in the sand and looking out into the Atlantic Ocean on Christmas Day instead of being somewhere where the air hurts my face….yes please! Until I can make that permanent I have to live and write this where the air is most definitely hurting my face. Speaking of toes in the sand, remember I mentioned the payoff from my toe surgery?? Ya this is it….I was able to run in the sand barefooted without any issues at all. That’s a first in my nearly forty-two years. Thank you Dr. Kammerlocher!

I discovered another creative outlet in October. Taking up photography has given me a new way to capture the world around me. While I clearly have much to learn, I am embracing this new adventure and am working on new ideas for things I want to shoot in the coming year. Some of the first shots I’ve taken are scattered throughout this post along with some other random ones.

Unfortunately the year wasn’t all good times. We said goodbye to Paula’s Shyanne at the end of August. Our times were well documented in Saying Goodbye….AKA You Win Shyanne,  and three months passing hasn’t dulled the amount we miss her. It was a double dose of losing fur babies this year as we also said goodbye to Princess, our furry pinball. She spent the last few years blind from her diabetes, but never seemed happier until the end. She left behind what may become a very lonely Zeus. The house is far emptier without those two.

I’ll close this out by mentioning that it was a highly productive year career wise as well. I closed out several major projects that expanded my abilities and knowledge. Things that a few short years ago I could scarcely dream that I could have accomplished. I’m sure there will be more in the upcoming year.

I look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that 2015 surely holds as long as we continue to create them. In the words of Andrew McMahon, “Grab your things. This is a storm we’re meant to ride!”

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Through a Different Lens

Some of the Oklahoma City skyline

Growing up as artistically inclined as I always was, I never really took time for viewing art in whatever incarnation it appeared in. Be it painting, sketching, photography, or music even, I never stopped or rather started, to search it out and immerse myself in it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t participate in it. I just didn’t seek out other works. Anything I came across was almost accidental.

There were exceptions. As I went through junior high and high school my bedroom wall was littered with car pics and images of my favorite bands at the time. But the focus for me was more the subject rather than the art of creation behind the image. The most notable exception, of course, was music. In that form I certainly created, as well as replicated. As noted in other writings, indeed life changing (saving?) endeavors.

Five years ago this month of October I started seeing Paula, (happy anniversary honey!) and learned quickly that one of her “things to do” was go to the Festival of the Arts downtown Oklahoma City. That first year she asked me to go with her and my immediate answer was, “Ugh, why?? All those people. All that walking. Why would we want to do that? Not my thing, dear.”

“It’ll be fun,” she said.

“Hmmm, for whom?” I responded.

Paula had a two prong reason for going. The main reason was the food. She’s a foodie. But clearly she appreciated seeing the various forms of art on display as well. Reluctantly, I acquiesced and agreed to go. That first year I can’t say changed my view much since my attitude wasn’t ready for it.
The next year she suggested it again. Again I agreed, but this time I went in with a different perspective.

Creek through the gardens

For the first time in my life I found myself somewhat enjoying the whole thing. My inner artist was awakened by some of the images I saw. The one that had the most impact was a booth of weather and landscape photography from a guy named David Mayhew. If you’re not familiar with his work and you love storm pics and awesome landscapes I highly suggest you check his work out. It’s breathtaking! Always being fascinated with tornadoes and storms as a child, I was heavily drawn to these images. I marveled at the talent it took to capture and create these images. The next year we purchased a piece of David’s work and it hangs in our living room. “Death Valley Sunrise” still moves me every time I gaze at it.

From that point forward I couldn’t wait for the next exhibit. We go to at least four festivals a year now. We’ve also purchased some paintings as well, but photography is what always turns my head first. Realizing this, I decided that maybe I could find a new way to create. I had already started taking more photos with my phone and sharing them online. So as is typical of me, I started researching and learning. The first step was clear, I was going to need a camera. The phone was nice for unplanned moments, but for what I wanted to create I needed something more versatile. And so it began….

Sunlight on the Stage

The first thing I did was contact Paula’s best friend, Nicole. She’s been doing photography for years and I knew she would be a fantastic resource. She didn’t let me down, either. She offered tremendous insight. Between her advice, riding the Googlecopter to find some fantastic photography blogs and YouTube videos I chose the Nikon D3300 for my first “real” camera. I purchased it a couple of Fridays ago along with some accessories, and I was ready. That weekend I went downtown to the Myriad Gardens, a fantastic place for shooting photos and just started clicking. Once again my artistic side engaged her voice.

Sculpture

The next step was what to do with all of the files. Not ready to commit to a post processing software just yet, I just used the built in application iPhoto on my Mac Mini. It’s not the most robust, but perfect for me as a beginner. I started importing and playing. No better way to learn than to do. Click those buttons, I say. The results sort of amazed me. Certainly they’re not what I see at the festivals we go to, but I was not unpleased with how they turned out. More importantly, my inner artist came alive again.

Waterfall

I’ve really been pushing that inner artist out toward the world a lot recently with good results. I’ve been trying to keep posting here somewhat frequently along with slowly developing my book. Now I have added photography to my artistic arsenal. I’m loving the creative release that for so long I’d stifled. Fostering the groove in a way I’d never before thought of. I look forward to seeing where this new road takes me.

Ducks in the pond under the Crystal Bridge

An Oklahoma Hidden Gem

I was more or less a home person growing up. My family didn’t do much traveling. For us it didn’t seem like a yearly thing, and most of the trips were relatively local, in other words, neighboring states. Oh there were the once a decade trips to California for several weeks to visit my grandmother’s family out there, and the one trip my mom and I took to Florida to visit more family, but for the most part were limited to Six Flags or Silver Dollar City weekend outings. We weren’t lake people, so unlike people that are, we weren’t gone most weekends during the summer. Bottom line is I never really had this zest for travel, or being away from home. My world was always very small, and I was mostly fine with that.

As an adult who took longer than most to settle on a career, and I use the term “settle” loosely, I spent most of my years without the funds to change my travel habits any. You tend to do the things that are most important to you and travel just wasn’t high on my list. In 2005 my best friend Corey and I took a road trip to the mountains of Montana. I was in school, between jobs and working towards my current IT career, so I had the time. We went into Canada for a few hours which was, at the time, the first time either of us had ever been out of the United States. We had a fantastic time, and for the first time I got a glimpse of a world bigger than Oklahoma and Texas at an age where I could really appreciate it. I wasn’t in a position then to expand on that, but the seed was planted.

Four years later, well into my new career I purchased a Pontiac Solstice, a small two seat roadster. I had been inspired by a book I had read at the time called “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart. It’s his story of enduring great tragedy in his own life and how eighteen months of travel soothed and healed him, to a point. It’s a fantastic story of resilience and recovery after suffering some of the greatest tragedy any human can. As a touring musician, Neil had traveled the world for two decades at the time and was well versed in travel. He also had the resources to essentially travel with no real plan or destination in my mind. The journey was more important. After getting the Solstice I was determined to go on my own journeys, albeit in it far smaller increments. Like a week at a time. Point the car in a direction and go. Stop when I wanted, Go when I wanted. No plan.

Although I never actually took a single trip in that car, I did some research into places that I could get to in a day or two. One of those places was a little town in the southwest part of Oklahoma called Medicine Park. Located just outside of Lawton, it’s a charming little place with Native American flair and history. There are several places to stay down there, and you can walk the town and enjoy the shops and dining.

So fast forward a few years. My new wife and I had decided to get married on a beach and Jamaica was the location we picked via Western Caribbean cruise. So last year I boarded this boat to experience many firsts. An exquisite seven days later and I had several amazing adventures in other countries than my own. That seed planted in 2005 was now germinated. It took all I had to get off the boat when we returned to Galveston. I wanted to see and do more.

This past July I added the Northeast part of the United States to my list of places I’ve been, the highlight being the three nights we spent in Cape Cod. That trip deserves its own post, and I will create that in the near future. I’ve now created a list of places I want to go. I, half jokingly, refer to my Network Engineering job as something I do to earn more gas money to get me to my next adventure.

Which brings me back to the point. Over Labor Day weekend, my wife and I took that trip down to Medicine Park and over to Mt. Scott. It was a short trip, but thoroughly enjoying and relaxing. We made our way down I-44 in a about an hour and a half. I would’ve preferred to “shunpike” and taken some of the smaller roads, but we were in a bit of a time crunch. We dined at a place called the Riverside Cafe’. The meal was quite tasty, and we were seated next to a window that gave us a splendid view of Medicine Creek. We were able to view the geese navigate the creek as well as turtles and some fish. After lunch we walked the town and stopped in some of the shops and galleries. There’s a fanciful little gallery that I believe was called the Red Door Gallery. It displayed and sold some beautiful Native American art and jewelry. Each little shop has its own charm. My favorite was Mrs. Chadwick’s bakery. Great place for a scoop of ice cream plus some of their own creations.

Medicine Creek

After the short walk through the town we made our way back to the car and hit the road west for the short jaunt over Mt. Scott. Named after General Winfield Scott, near the Wichita Wildlife Refuge, Mt. Scott rises to a height of 2,464 ft. and is the second highest peak in the Wichita Mountains. There’s a three mile road that ascends the mountain and reaches the peak and its lookout area. While this didn’t really qualify as the curvy road I’ve been aching to drive, it still offered quite a view in both directions.

Once we reached the top and parked it was time to enjoy the prime fruit of the journey, the view. Looking to the east the first thing noticed was Lake Lawtonka and its blue waters. Medicine Park could be seen as well. The weather was perfect for viewing and you could see for miles. The Oklahoma Plains were in full view.

Looking east down on Lake Lawtonka and Medicine Park

Looking to west you could see the other peaks and into the refuge. The rock formations were astounding. You can also see the new windmill farms to the north and west. Certainly not a natural view. I have mixed feelings about them. While I’m all for finding cleaner ways to power our lives and harnessing the ever present Oklahoma wind seems a great choice and I do love seeing them, I also can’t help but think they muck up the natural countryside. More parts of nature touched by the hands of humans.

Looking west over the refuge

As I stated before we were on a time schedule to get back home and so made our way back down the mountain following three of the many motorcycles were surrounded by for the whole time down there. I imagine that’s a fantastic way to experience that part of the state. The drive back home was smooth and in just a few short hours the trip was over. While the trip was small, the trip’s rewards were immense. Cross another place off of my list, and I’d venture to say it’s a place we’ll return to again.

Sitting on top of the peak

Saying Goodbye….AKA You Win Shyanne

Growing up I was a dog person. Still a dog person, for the most part. Five years ago I started dating a cat person. Oh she likes dogs also, but not quite the same. At the time I was living in a one bedroom apartment. I started to get this crazy idea. In lieu of being able to have the blue eyed Siberian Husky I really wanted because, well apartment, I thought to give me some companionship in my solo dwelling when Paula wasn’t visiting I would get a cat. Because easy. Cats don’t require much. Throw a little food down, some water, clean the litter occasionally, the rest as they say, is cake. So I do what I always do when I’m attempting to learn something, head to the Googlecopter. Because research.

I spent several weeks reading about cats and all they had to offer. I told Paula what I was thinking. The response I got was something like, “Are you nuts?! You hate cats”.

“I don’t “hate” cats.”

“Mmmhmmm, ok. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“It’s going to be great! You’ll see.”

But I was focused. I also saw this relationship heading towards something permanent, and knew I would end up having to be around her cat. Shyanne and I had already had gotten off to a rocky start. Ok, maybe that’s an understatement. She had bitten me in the face just a inch or so away from eyes and I had essentially tried to strangle her before Paula intervened. Because eyesight.

Shyanne was my first experience with being around an animal that didn’t unconditionally love me. Remember, dog person. That’s what dogs do. I didn’t know how to handle that. Clearly I had a lot to learn. From that point forward for the next few years Shyanne and I in the same room, er house was like gasoline and matches. You get the idea. Because volatile.

But I pressed forward with my idea to get a cat. I discovered the Central Oklahoma Humane Society and started browsing their cat pics. I kept going back to the cutest one. Cassie was her name. I went to visit her and thought she was a good choice. $75 later and I was a cat owner. Paula warned me not to pick her based only on cuteness, but what did she know, maybe she’d been a cat owner only her entire life, but I’d spent weeks riding the Googlecopter, and I knew what I was doing. Once again, no unconditional love. Without going into too much detail we’ll just say our personalities didn’t mesh, and she went back to the Adoption Center. Because safety.

I was disappointed on many levels, but undeterred. I began my search again. Because persistent. Determined to learn my lesson, I modified my approach. No longer would I only look for cuteness, but I would spend several times interacting with them to see the ones that took to me. Essentially let the cat choose me. I found a beautiful Russian Blue on the Adoption Center website and began “stalking” her. I made my first visit to the PetSmart she was at and learned the cat in the cage next to her had figured out how to open the door between their cages and slept with her. They happened to be running a two for one at the time so we played with both cats at the same time. They related so well with each other. Paula thought it was a good choice so I got both of them.

The first few weeks were rocky for me once again. Neither was the cuddly cat with me that Shyanne was with Paula. Once again, hurt feelings. It took time, but I worked through my issues with them. Rosie, Iris and I eventually bonded, well sort of. Shyanne was a different story, however. Our relationship was as tumultuous as ever. When I moved in with Paula it only escalated. It got to the point where Shyanne essentially lived in her son’s room. Paula’s cat wasn’t really her cat anymore, and it was my fault. Because immature.

A year or so after we had moved into our new house Shyanne and I had another “disagreement” and the rage spilled over to Paula. Rarely do she and I have disagreements, much less fights, but this one of the few ones. It was ugly, I was completely responsible for it. Because jackass. In that moment I realized that my issues weren’t healthy and I was tired of it. Something had to change, and the only one to do that was me. I made an effort to avoid Shyanne and to blow off the things she did that would irritate me. Primarily that meant her hissing. That sound would send my rage to stratospheric levels in an instant. It wasn’t easy at first, but I kept at it for the sake of everyone’s happiness.

Weeks went by, no blow ups. That turned into months. Eventually we could be in the same room together. Time went by and I got to where I could occasionally pet her without issue. I was always on the defensive, and ever careful. That turned into the occasional hop into my lap. Progress indeed. It got to the point where she would walk through my legs and Paula would say she wanted me to pick her up. I finally got the courage to do that and she laid over my shoulder just like she did with Paula. It was the pinnacle of a momentous journey for me. It had taken many days of searching for answers for me to realize that jealousy was the cause of my “cat issues”. More specifically, jealous of the relationship Paula had with Shyanne. Not that I thought she loved her more than me, but that was the kind of relationship I’d had with all of my dogs and wanted with my cats. My cats weren’t like that, though. I had to learn that was ok.

Our relationship continued to grow to the point where I truly began to love her. One day while I was holding her over my shoulder Paula, with a smile on her face said to me, “That’s all you ever wanted wasn’t it?”

“Yep…I just wanted to love the kitty.”

I actually joked to Paula that this was all part of Shyanne’s grand plan. To get me to love her and then she was going to die once I did. Because devious.

Last Tuesday morning we lost our Shyanne to age and most likely leukemia. In the last few months she had taken up residence in my chair and on my desk in my office/music room. She would sit in my lap for hours just like she had always done with Paula. She would lay on my arm making it nearly impossible for me to type when I was trying to write more of my book. She and I had actually bonded. I’m sorry it took me having to travel such a broken road before it happened. A lot of wasted time that I can’t get back. That’s the lesson here. It’s not always easier to love than it is to hate, but it is infinitely more rewarding.

She may have only been an eight pound cat, but her presence in the house was immense, and the lesson she taught me equally so. The house is a little emptier without her. So is my life. No doubt I will continue to miss her, and hope I can continue to practice the lesson she taught me. Because love.

RIP Sweetheart
We love you.

The Air Hurts My Face…

The air hurts my face…Why am I living where the air hurts my face.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a poster from a former coworker’s Facebook page that showed a little cartoon figure with the tag line, “The air hurts my face. Why am I living where the air hurts my face?”

This weekend I once again asked that very question. I’ve asked that question it seems more often this winter than usual. I don’t remember a winter where it was so cold and we had so many days of snow-sleet-ice of some amount. True we haven’t had the Snowmageddon of 2009 or the Icepocalypse of 2007, but in terms of numbers of days this winter it seems to have had many more days of winter junk.

I, for one, am tired of it. My wife, for two is also tired of it. So naturally the conversation this evening turned to where could we live where the air doesn’t hurt our face. She brought up Costa Rica. Not sure about that one. I think Grand Cayman. Regardless of the location I asked my wife again “Why do we not live where the air doesn’t hurt our faces?” She answered, “Family.” I’m not sure that’s an acceptable answer. Perhaps it’s time to research this further.

Thundersleet!

Growing up in Oklahoma one gets used to a variety of weather phenomena. It’s gets blistering hot, bone chilling cold and everything in between, sometimes in the same day! We live under a tornado watch from april to july. You learn when to get concerned and when to just go with it. For all of our local media and their battle for ratings leading them on goofy rants with bedazzled ties, doppler radars and terms of “maxi grinder”, “Gentner” and “polar vortex”, most of us just sort of ignore the dramatics and focus on the truly important info.

The one phenomena I just can’t quite figure out though is thundersleet. A thunderstorm with lightning and thunder that instead of rain, drops sleet. Who dreams this crazy stuff up? We can’t leave winter and spring separate? no….we have to combine the two. Like a bad chemical mix. Sure to blow up! Don’t go out in the thundersleet. You might get struck by lightning or slide off the road into a ditch! Or slide off the road and then get struck by lightning! Now that’s a two for one. I’ll pass! Man 100 degrees sure sounds good right now.

A new toy

So now that I’ve found the motivation to write again, I thought I would get a new tool to do that with. I started researching Chromebooks. Since I had recently switched over to an Android phone (Moto X) and I was already firmly entrenched in the Chrome web browser I thought I would try a Chromebook. I’ve got a Surface Pro for work that I use as my PC. I like it. I have other windows machines at home as well as a Mac Mini. I love all of them and bounce from device to device depending on my mood.

But I’ve made the move to the Google Ecosystem, so I thought I would dive all in. I wanted something lightweight, portable, inexpensive and relatively quick. I didn’t want or need all of the functions of a full blown laptop. A Chromebook seemed intriguing. I started researching, reading reviews, and watching video after video. How did we survive before YouTube? I also just recently added the ability to do mobile hotspot on my phone, so having a constant internet connection was not going to be a problem. Another reason to look at a Chromebook.

I quickly decided that I wanted a netbook size device. I settled the debate down to two devices, the HP Chromebook 11 and the Acer C720. Not an easy choice. I listed out the pros and cons of each device and tried to really pin down what was important to me. The HP was the better looking device. It offered the better screen and it used a micro usb port for charging, the same as my phone. Although the standard car charger didn’t have enough amperage to charge the HP, still it would’ve meant only carrying the chromebook charger as it would’ve charged my phone.

The Acer had the better performance specs, by a long shot. The Haswell chip when I compared it side by side against the Exynos was noticeably faster. It also boasted the better battery life. It claims 7.5 to 8 hours. We’ll see on that.

The keyboard on the HP was better in my opinion, but not substantially. The trackpad on the Acer was better in my opinion, but once again, not noticeably. Both offered the same 100GB of Google Drive space for 2 years. What that means to me is I can move my files from Dropbox to Google, close my Dropbox account and in that two years just about pay for the Chromebook I chose.

The other big difference between the two devices was price. At $199, the Acer was $80 cheaper. That’s a pretty significant amount on a device that is under $300. So the choice came down to performance vs. aesthetics, with aesthetics costing more. Once I played with the HP the choice became much clearer. I chose the Acer C720. I just didn’t feel the HP was powerful enough even though I’m not a really heavy user.

Now comes the real question, will I actually use it?

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

My junior year in high school was full of exciting happenings. The football team won its first state title that year.I had settled in to my school and had built a very solid group of friends. I was a long way removed from the dreary days of junior high. As a guitar player I was getting better by the month. Studying my craft, practicing relentlessly. It was starting to pay off from a playing with other musicians standpoint. It was the spring of 1990 and coming up was the annual talent show. Always good for entertainment. There were usually a variety of acts. Most of the school would be there. And why not?? Admission was a buck. Who wouldn’t pay a dollar to get out of class for a couple of hours.

Some guys I had been playing with and I decided we would enter. Eric was our drummer. Even in high school he was a talent. He would continue to get better. Chris was our bass player. He hadn’t been playing long, but was rapidly getting better. One of the best I ever played with. On rhythm guitar was Scott, one of my two best friends in high school and beyond. He and I had met the previous year, and though he was a year older he spent most of his time hanging around our class. Scott had been playing about the same amount of time that I had, but we had vastly different technique and influences. I guess the differences created a nice polarity, because we played any chance we could. The only thing we were missing was a lead singer. Oh sure, Scott could sing some. Eric could sing some as well. I hadn’t yet discovered my voice. But that wasn’t going to cut it. We needed a singer. In came a guy named James. He was a bass player, but could also carry a tune. At least he could carry the tune we chose. “Talk Dirty to Me”. Ah yes…the inspiration that led me to that point. I was about to play the song that drove me to pick up the instrument and it was going to be the first thing I ever played for an audience.

I could say that we all went on stage and played the song and some people cheered and some didn’t and leave it at that, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. Not by a long shot. The week before the show Chris, who was in the band, the marching band, realized that he was going to be gone to Missouri for a band contest during the show. So guess what? No Chris for the talent show. Well fabulous. There goes our bass player.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Those words will forever ring true in this instance. We were indeed, desperate. How desperate? We concocted a plan that in the 25 years that have passed I still don’t know what we were thinking. I don’t even remember how it originally started. Earlier in that semester Scott and I had lost our Music Appreciation class because the teacher ran into some trouble and lost his job. We were instructed to find a new 4th hour one morning with no explanation as to why. We both ended up in Government. A nice class but hardly interchangeable. However, in that class which was taught by what would become the next year one of my favorite teachers of all time Mr. Wade, we met a guy named Danny. Danny was a state champion wrestler, extremely popular in the school and quite the character. What better way to get more of the crowd behind us than to get one of the most popular guys in the school to play bass for us. Only one problem, he had no musical ability at all, much less played an instrument. Desperate times, desperate measures. Scott and I thought, well hell there’s only 5 chords in the whole song and on bass he only has to play one string at a time. Certainly we can teach Danny how to play this song.

So Danny enlisted in the Scott and Dayne Bass Boot Camp. Four days training and you’ll be ready for the stage! Keep in mind neither of us played bass either. Semantics. So we taught him. Where to put his fingers, when to move them and how to keep a steady rhythm. Truth be told, it’s not exactly a difficult piece on any instrument. It really was the perfect song for a non musician to learn in less than a week. By the night before we had it down pretty well. Just to be sure when the time came to take the stage we enlisted our insurance policy. Scott standing next to Danny to guide him and tape on the neck of the bass to help him locate where to put his fingers. The day before the show Danny told Mr. Wade, “I’m playing bass in the talent show!” To which Mr. Wade responded, “I’ll pay a dollar to see that!” See the dollar excitement wasn’t just limited to the students.

We were chosen to open the show. As were standing there waiting for the curtain to rise, Scott from the other side of the drum riser looks at me and asked, “Are you nervous?” And it hit me, I was about to play live for the first time in front of around 800 people. I hadn’t had time to get nervous, because of all the preparation we had to do that day. But then it hit me. And two seconds later the curtain went up. The crowd looked right at me and James said those words, “Hit it DC!” So I did. In four minutes it was over. I remember the spotlight shining on me during my solo, and I remember it not being a very good mix. The drums totally drowned my guitar. Afterwards I asked Scott if he got to look at the crowd at all. He said, “Ya…when I wasn’t helping Danny, I turned and smiled.”

What I didn’t know at the time was my mom, aunt and new baby cousin was in the audience. When I learned that I discovered something. I was a little embarrassed at the song we chose considering my family was in the audience. I’ve since learned that I might would’ve made a terrible rock star. I could never have been ok with doing or playing anything that would’ve embarrassed my family. Most of the music I was into back then could be considering embarrassing to me from a performance perspective.

What a way to begin what turned into a very short stage career. I never played another show with James or Eric again. And despite all the playing Scott and I would do over the next few years until his untimely passing in 1994, we wouldn’t occupy a stage together again until college. There was at one time video evidence of that performance, My aunt shot it. I used to have it, but it’s disappeared through the years. It wasn’t the greatest. As I said, you could barely hear me in the audience, but I knew what we achieved. We had taught a non musical wrestler a major hit from that time and proved that indeed “the show must go on”.