Summer vacation: Day 1

The month of June hasn’t been as relaxing and blissful as we envisioned. Kates taught summer school this month and my projects have hardly slowed down at work. And we're still not totally unpacked, organized and settled when it comes to the whole new house thing.

Sounds like a good time for a summer vacation.

The mental countdown had been running for weeks, and I glided through my final day of work yesterday with a completely different mentality than the one I felt in the weeks prior. I pumped out a couple news features and come to grips with the fact that I’d finished the work I needed to get done; the remaining projects would have to wait to be picked up when I returned. Even while I sat in on a three-hour policy meeting in the morning and coordinated a news conference in the afternoon, yesterday I felt the weight of the workplace burden leaving my shoulders with the knowledge that I was heading to a much freer place.

Of course, there was plenty left to do at home. After a quick supper, I headed outside into the 90-degree heat and mowed the lawn. After that, we needed to gather enough toys and activities to keep Phoebe occupied during the trip, and pack our own suitcases. It was past midnight when we slipped into bed.

* * *

My alarm sounded at 6:26 this morning. Kates and I had said we were going to try to leave around 7, which clearly wasn’t going to happen.

But we did get ourselves ready to go and the car packed in time for a 9 o’clock departure. Destination: The Farm.

Our trip couldn‘t have been better. A road trip at its finest. I’d refreshed my iPod, removing several songs and albums I’d grown tired of or weren’t deserving to be on it in the first place. Kates stuffed her backpack with books. And she packed a separate bag with a slew of activities for Phoebe -- from coloring books to puzzles, and, of course, the portable DVD player with Phoebe’s collection of movies.

It was Phoebe’s best trip yet. Though she didn’t cave into sleeping until about 20 minutes before we reached The Farm, she was totally content viewing the scenery and watching her movies. We only stopped four times for a total of about one hour -- including our usual halfway stop for gas and lunch in Iowa City -- as the result of an exasperated “I need t’go potty!” from the back seat. … Then there was the moment, about 45 minutes into our trip, when Phoebe sighed and said, “Are we there yet?” “And so it begins,” I said before Kates explained, “Phoebe, we’ve got a long, long way to go.”

We marveled at the serenity of driving through the countryside, the only car on the road for most of our route from The ‘Ville through southeastern Iowa, before hitting the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa.

From Iowa City, we ventured from our usual route and passed through Dubuque on our way into Wisconsin. Kates and I had a good time reminiscing about the days we spent in Dubuque during our honeymoon. We cheered as we passed over the mighty Mississippi and entered Wisconsin. As we continued, the road cut through canyons and rolling hills, giving way to breathtaking views. We passed through picturesque downtowns and saw parts of the state we either didn’t know about or forgot existed.

Funny how moving away helps a person gain a whole new perspective and appreciation for the place they left. The kind of appreciation that will surely keep us coming back. Already Kates and I are eyeing up possibilities for future adventures.

* * *

As we rolled along Interstate 80 in Iowa, I spotted Dyersville on a sign. Three miles, it read. And that meant one thing: “Field of Dreams.”

“Dyersville!” I shouted.

“You wanna go?” Kates asked.

“Yeah! We should totally go! Why not? We’re making good time, we don’t have anywhere to be. We’re on vacation!”

So we exited the interstate and followed the signs to Dyersville. Three miles actually turned out to be about 20 miles, but it was still so worth it.

We started on to Lansing Drive and approached the field. My heart beat hastened in excitement, and there it was to our left. The big white farm house. The red barn, with the little red gift shop to the side. And the field, with its lush green grass and shoulder-high corn stalks surrounding the outfield.

It was my third visit to the field -- the first occurred in June 1991 and the second occurred in October 2003 during the aforementioned honeymoon. The signs of commercialism that have sprouted up at the field are a little annoying. The rock wall and picket fence adorned with a “Field of Dreams” sign, which now separate the farmhouse from the field, take away from the purity of the original film site. And the infield today isn’t nearly as pristine as it appeared in the film and during those early years.

But its charm sustains.

We retrieved Phoebe’s wiffle ball set from the trunk and set it up at home plate. To her it was no different than playing in our backyard, though I tried to explain to her it was a very special baseball field.

We ran the bases. Stood among the corn stalks. Sat on the bleachers. And ran the bases again, and again.

Our visit lasted only 30 minutes. But it was the perfect diversion from our car ride and a chance to let Phoebe run for awhile. I was just thrilled to visit the field once more.

* * *
We made good time the rest of the way and it took us not even two hours to reach the farm, arriving just before 6 p.m.

It’s worth noting the first song to play on the iPod when we left this morning was Hanson’s “Man From Milwaukee,” where we’re spending the second half of our vacation. Fitting. … The last song to play on the iPod when we arrived at the farm tonight was one of our favorites, Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop,” the live version from “The Dance.”

“Yesterday’s gone! We’re on vacation,” Kates shouted.

Yes we are. And here’s what we’re looking at tonight ..


Birth day

So I've turned another year older.

Mostly, it was a low-key, uneventful affair. It included a normal day of work, writing stories and attending a cabinet meeting this afternoon. I made it out of the office by 5:30 tonight and arrived home to Kates cooking kielbasa with vegetables.

Yet, today was also filled with welcome reminders of my favorite people, things and other little joys of life. All of them made me grateful for my stock in life.

Starting with 70 some Facebook messages I received from friends and family across the Midwest.

Phoebe whispered “Happy Birthday” with a huge smile as she stood on the steps and started getting ready for school this morning.

Tonight, Kates, Phoebe and I played outside, blowing bubbles and snapping silly pictures of ourselves.

I spent a few minutes catching up on some reading. And found this good one about my favorite active player in baseball: Ryan Braun. Since 2008.

And when I was reminded that my iPod played “Forever” this morning, we got nostalgic about the glory of the J K Wedding video. So we watched it.

My parents called me on Skype. Even though we’re hundreds of miles away, I’m eternally thankful for the chance to see and speak with my parents any time I want.

Kates and Phoebe presented me with their cards. Phoebe drew a picture for me, and Kates gave me a new electric shaver -- something I desperately needed.

We ate turtle cake for dessert, and Phoebe helped me blow out the candles. She picked out the cake -- because she’s in a turtle-loving phase right now. If it has the word turtle, she’ll take it.

Then the epic dance party. Vinyl style. We played parts of “Out of the Blue,” “Rumours” “Let it Bleed” and “Led Zeppelin IV” as we followed each other, dancing in circles and waving Phoebe’s pom poms.

I’m feeling overwhelmed and happy tonight. During a month that’s reminded us again and again to be grateful for the good things in our lives, I’m feeling so blessed to have wonderful friends, coworkers and family in my life.

And to think about what we were doing a year ago today.


Out to the ball park

So we went to our first baseball game of the year today.

Royals. Cubs.

The plans unfolded a couple weeks ago when I was browsing the Royals schedule, looking for a game opportunity in the next several weeks. Our days of going to four, five or six games a summer are done for awhile. Now, with a young one in tow and a home base that's further from the nearest major league ballpark (let alone one ballpark, compared to three within a two-hour drive in K-Town), getting to at least one game per summer is the goal.

When I saw the Cubs were in town this weekend for an interleague series -- and we had no other plans for the weekend -- it was an easy call. The toughest decision was choosing the Saturday night game or the Sunday afternoon game. The Saturday night game featured Kevin Appier's induction into the Royals Hall of Fame, but it would be a late night for Phoebe. The Sunday game was a Family Fun Day and included an opportunity to run the bases afterward, but I knew the afternoon heat could pose problems.

We opted for the Sunday afternoon game. Happy birthday to me.

So this morning we got ourselves out of bed and hit our goal to be on the road by 10 a.m. We filled up the gas tank on the way out of town, and I had "Go Cubs Go" cued up on the iPod as we hit the highway. ... Save for a couple potty breaks for Phoebe, we made decent time and arrived at the stadium around 12:30 p.m. Game time was at 1:10. I was a happy camper.

After all, I had given in to the idea when we bought the tickets that this was not going to be my typical game day experience. This one was dedicated to Phoebe. With all the kids activities around the stadium, I knew I was not going to be planted in my seat, with a scorecard, in time for the first pitch. Instead, we headed first to the kids area behind left field so Phoebe could romp on the playground, take a ride on the carousel and try whatever other activities drew her interest. She loved it.

As the game got underway, we bought Phoebe a kids meal, complete with her very own Slugger lunch box. We took the long way to our seats, traveling along the outfield fountain deck and taking in the stadium scenery.

There were Cubs fans everywhere, and I was hardly complaining. In fact, when we passed through the gates of the stadium, we ran into a tidal wave of fans wearing cubs shirts, jerseys and hats. The sight caused me to burst into gleeful laughter, while Kates just looked at me and rolled her eyes. We always saw it during our years of watching Cubs games on TV -- the gobs of Cubs fans who filled the stands at road games -- but today we got to see it and experience it in person ... For the record, Phoebe was in her new Slugger shirt, Kates donned a white top and I was in my Cubbie blue.

I saw Starlin Castro single in the top of the first as we were shuffling along the outfield deck, but by the time we got to our seats during the bottom half of the inning, things were going bad -- very bad -- for the Cubs. The Royals went up 4-0, before the Cubs could notch an out.

The crowd went wild -- enough to make you think the Cubs were the home team -- when Geovany Soto hit a home run in the third to put Chicago on the board. The Cubs closed the gap to 4-3 in the fourth, but the Royals crossed two more in the bottom of the fourth. And it stayed 6-3 in the Royals favor until the end.

In truth, it's not going to be a game I'll remember for what happened on the field, aside from that awful first  inning for the Cubs. As I said, I didn't bother keeping score, which I always do as a way to help me stay focused on the game ... Instead my focus for the day was totally on relishing the game day experience with Phoebe and Kates. I missed two innings midway through the game as Phoebe and I fetched a snow cone for her.

And for the most part, it was a glorious day. Until the seventh inning. Up until then, our first base-side seats were fully in the shade. But in the seventh, the hot sun started creeping on us, and Kates and Phoebe retreated to the concourse to keep cool.

Then the fun run around the base paths. For the father in me, there was no part of the day I had looked forward to more -- the chance to run around the bases at Kauffman Stadium with Phoebe. It was the reason we bought the tickets! ... But when the game ended and we found the line for the run, it stretched all the way to the top of the ramp -- on the upper deck level, with no cover from the beating sun. As we waited, Phoebe quickly grew hot and wanted to stay with Kates, who was waiting in the shade.

... So we got out of the long line to wait in the shade.

... As the line started moving, we waited. And waited. And waited until the end appeared and we could rejoin the line, which was now fully in the protection of shade.

... We got all the way to the bottom of the ramp. We just needed to cross the concourse, and then we'd be on the field level.

... Then the inevitable. "I need t'go potty!" Phoebe shouted. Kates walked off with her in search of the nearest restroom, while I held our place in line.

... The line crossed the concourse and my turn came to pass through the doors into the area beneath the stadium that leads to the field. But still no Kates and Phoebe.

... I let others pass through in front of me as I kept watch for my girls. If we made it, we would be the very last ones to run.

... After a couple minutes they showed. Both were clearly done and ready to go home. Our run was not meant to be. To say I was heartbroken is an understatement. The nice attendant who picked us up in a golf cart and drove us to our car on the opposite end of the parking lot was hardly enough to cheer me up.

Phoebe, of course, fell asleep on the way home. ... But the family fun continued when we arrived home. The 'Ville got hit with a heck of a storm. Somewhat of a repeat of last weekend, but with more of a direct hit. Unlike last weekend, we heeded the tornado sirens blaring throughout the city and huddled in the basement. Our house was pelted with marble-sized hail and the rain poured, but thankfully a tornado never materialized.

Tomorrow's a new day.


Condition Gray: Inside the hospital as the Joplin tornado hit

An episode of Grey's Anatomy, or a movie, is one thing.

This story from The Kansas City Star is another. A great piece of writing and journalism about what happened at the St. John's medical center on the night of the Joplin tornado.


First day of summer

Today was one of those days.

It was one of those days when I went from one meeting to the next, responding to emails and phone messages in between. It was one of those days where when I stopped in the afternoon and reflected on the day thus far, my morning seemed like it happened days ago. It was one of those days when the conversations and experiences and scenes reminded me that I’m where I belong. To cap the night, we headed to the university’s Summer Movie Series. Every Tuesday night, a popular movie or recent blockbuster plays on a big screen in the performing arts center, and it’s free. Tonight’s showing: “Tangled.”

Kids and their parents packed the theater. And Phoebe was on the edge of her seat for most of the night. That is, when she wasn’t crawling over the armrests to take a seat on my lap or Kates'.

She had seen the trailer for “Tangled” several times over the last few weeks thanks to one of her new DVDs, and she showed more interest in it each time she caught the scene of Rapunzel’s hair falling from the window of her tower.

The film itself? Dazzling and thoroughly enjoyable. With it’s wonderful music, storytelling and animation, “Tangled” is like a throwback to Disney’s animated classics. It's funny and suspenseful, and visually stunning. In fact, I have a feeling it's one we'll own very soon.

It wasn’t until the credits began rolling that I realized Mandy Moore, whom I adore, voiced Rapunzel. Even better. No wonder the singing caught my ears.

I’ve added it to the list.


Light show

So last night was fun.

I'd been outside for most of the day and, as the evening arrived, I could see the sky getting menacingly dark in the west. We ate supper and got Phoebe ready for bed while I stayed tuned into the local weather reports on TV.

Shortly after we had Phoebe in bed, the wind picked up. And then we heard tornado sirens.

For better or worse, we chose not to take cover. We kept a close eye on the skies and radar, and the weather radio on. But the sirens were a warning, just that.

The towns in the counties north of us were the ones got hammered.

Here's a video of the light show I caught from our deck.


Hits and missing

So in these summer days of concert announcements and fantasizing about the ones I could get to, while browsing YouTube today, I got nostalgic about my Polyphonic Spree experience a few summers ago and stumbled on this one.

This video so closely resembles the look and feel of that night, and the band's take on this Nirvana classic shines. In the words of my good friend and fellow music aficionado, Laura: two words -- awe. some.

Here's another good one. I love the tag line: "Have you ever had a loss for words when describing the experience of a live Polyphonic Spree show? Watch as the Polyphonic's very own Tim DeLaughter tries to explain it to Abbey the Basset/Beagle!"

* * *

These days videos and recordings, it seems, are as close as I can get to my favorite performers.

Let’s face it. Living in The ‘Ville does not offer the kinds of concert and entertainment venues we enjoyed in the Chicago market. Not even close.

I had a hard time last fall. And now it’s happened again.

This week The Weepies -- at the top of the list of bands Kates and I want to see -- announced their second tour in a year’s span. And for the second time in that span, not a single date within a three-hour’s drive; in fact the closest possibility in this latest batch of dates is -- of all places -- Chicago. A seven-hour drive. … If it fell on a weekend, we’d give it some serious thought and tie it with a family visit. But the date falls on Tuesday night at the start of the school year. Had we not moved, we easily would have seen them last fall and could have perhaps caught the upcoming show in Chicago.

* * *

It’s the near misses that make my heart ache almost to the point of tears. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Over the years, I’ve become convinced there is nothing like the euphoria and joy of seeing, hearing and experiencing a favorite band perform live. When all the stars align -- good music, good venue, good crowd -- the experience is better than … well, I’ll stop there.

At least I have Summerfest to look forward to in a couple weeks (cue angel chorus). Although, there are some misses involved in that regard, too. … We’ll be traveling to the home land at the end of the month for our summer vacation. There was some lively debate in our house as we sorted out the plans, and there were several changes, but our plans are about 99 percent set now, and I am pleased.

This is one of those years that, when I browse the schedule, there’s a performer nearly every night that I’d venture to see.

On opening night, June 29, I’d go to see Meat Loaf. ... Kates can't stand him. I say his "Bat Out of Hell" albums are classic.

On June 30, Owl City is playing, and I’d go see him -- if only for the chance to hear “Fireflies” live. I explained that to Kates and then started recalling the rest of his catalogue and realized there’s more to entice me to an Owl City show. … In our original summer vacation itinerary, the Owl City show was a real possibility. Then our plans changed.

July 2 is the heart-breaker. Just weeks ago, Summerfest announced Jason Mraz would play the Marcus Amphitheater with -- ugh -- Guster. Arguably, my favorite in-its-prime rock band. Who I’ve seen three times already. But they’re so entertaining I’d see them again and again. … Same goes for Jason Mraz, who I saw in 2008.

July 3. The Jayhawks. Like Owl City, their show was a part of our original vacation plans, but later got nixed. Gotta make sacrifices.

July 6. OAR is playing; I’ve seen them three times and would welcome another. Peter Frampton and Danny Gokey are playing, too, who would keep my interest, at least for a couple songs.

July 8. This one has a strong possibility of becoming a reality. Goo Goo Dolls. Parachute. Michelle Branch.

July 9. America. One of my favorite classic rock bands, I’ve been wanting to see these guys for years. This one has a strong possibility of becoming reality, too. If it doesn’t it will be a heartbreaker. ... Dashboard Confessional -- who I've seen and would gladly see again -- and the Get Up Kids -- with whom I attended high school -- would also be great shows.

July 10. Todd Rundgren would be fun, but it’s probably not going to happen. Meanwhile, Sara Bareilles, who I’d love to see, is playing at the Marcus. And that’s definitely not going to happen.

The countdown is on.



I picked up Chinese takeout on my way from work tonight and brought it home for supper.

As soon as we finished eating I was out in the yard, working on developing my first flower garden at the new house. ... I'm still in the early stages. I assembled a stone border over the weekend. Tonight, I transplanted a gargantuan concrete stepping stone that had been in another area of the yard and worked on pulling up the remaining sod from within the new garden's border. The goal is to start planting this weekend.

Phoebe came outside with me, too. She likes to help me, until she thinks of something better to do. Tonight, she left me to play with a basketball. At one point, when I tried to steal the ball from her and take a shot at the basketball goal, she screamed at me, "Noooo! Daddy, go play in your garden!"

I stayed out until it was dark. The birds were chirping. The fireflies were out in full force ( ... you would not believe your eyes ...). And there was a bunny sitting in the middle of the next yard over. There was a moment there I wondered whether I was living a Disney movie.

Tomorrow's Friday. Things are good. I'm happy.


It’s Not About You

A good column I stumbled across in The New York Times ...

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. ...

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.



I stumbled on this good read today about the 1984 Barneveld tornado.

I'm always fascinated by stories of the Barneveld tornado. Part of it's that I lived not too far from the town in those years and remember reading about it in the newspaper way back then. Part of it's the journalist in me, always being drawn to stories of tragedy and triumph.

The story struck me particularly this week, as I deal with the post traumatic stress of last week, not to mention all the chaos and emotions of the last few weeks and months. Even while I haven't been directly impacted by a lot of it, all of it affects me.

Yesterday I sort of snapped. With all of the responsibilities and pressures I put on myself piling up, I started feeling suffocated. A cartoon I posted for Father's Day last year keeps coming back to me... I went on a cleaning rampage, looking for an escape.

It happens. In my demanding line of work, I've come to recognize the symptoms well over the years. Eventually, something always clicks, I find a reset mechanism, take a deep breath and settle back in.

And life goes on.


Celebrating life

How do I begin to describe this week?

Since Coach’s unexpected death Sunday morning, our community, our university and anyone closely associated with him have been riding a roller coaster of emotions. We’ve described the experience repeatedly as surreal. A bad dream. Shocking, stunning. The turn of events since last week will leave a lasting impact on this community.

The man was just weeks from his 50th birthday. He’d served on the coaching staff for 17 seasons and was extremely proud of the program, the university and the community. But his dream was to be a head coach, and he was given that opportunity just a few months ago when our longtime head coach retired. That he couldn’t live to lead the team onto the field this fall is tragic.

* * *

I was involved nearly from the beginning Sunday morning. And I didn’t arrive home until nearly 9 that night. Just like when a big story broke during my newspaper days, I had barely eaten and was running on adrenaline.

That night, I barely slept. Phoebe awoke from a dream, crying around 3 a.m. That jerked me awake, and once she was quiet again I couldn’t go back to sleep. My mind started spinning with thoughts about Coach and his family, and all of the things that would have to be done in his absence. It turned out a couple of us on our communications team were having similar experiences. We were actually checking and exchanging messages on our Blackberries around 4 a.m.

In passing days, our various teams of coaches, communications staff, administrators and others were meeting two, three times a day. I was constantly on the phone with media, arranging campus visits and interviews. We drafted an obituary. Funeral arrangements had to be planned and finalized. Decisions were made and changed, and then changed back.

At the end of an emotional meeting Tuesday afternoon to finalize details for the memorial services, with just a few of us left in the room, one of the assistants shared with us a notepad. It was Coach’s handwritten notes from his final speech, which he delivered to a group of donors two days before his death. Those who were there said it was one of the best speeches he’d given and he was so proud of it. … We decided to print a scan of the notes on the back page of the celebration program. I took the task of carrying the notebook upstairs to our offices after the meeting, having our designer scan it in to a computer, and then returning it downstairs. Chills ran through my body as I carried that notebook upstairs.

Wednesday morning I traveled to St. Joe to assist a group of professors on a monthly radio program, which was a welcome break from the roller coaster ride. … Even when we had some downtime or breaks this week, it was hard to work on other projects even if we tried. It was too difficult to concentrate. Our work days started extra early and many of us worked late into the night. Editing video tributes, designing programs, arranging music playlists. We went wherever the requests took us.

Wednesday night, the traditional memorial service. The university opened the performing arts center for a public viewing that lasted the entire afternoon. We got a babysitter for Phoebe, and Kates and I walked over around 5 p.m. … There were more surreal moments there, from the compliments people offered about my work during the week to the stream of former football players and coaches arriving for the memorial service. It was a who’s who of players, coaches and administrators who have gone through our athletics program the last 15 years, some of them I hadn‘t seen or thought about in a decade. Kates and I mused also that three of the four generations to own our house were in attendance. By the time the memorial service was to start, the performing arts center was filled to capacity with people standing along the back walls.

And Thursday morning, the Celebration of Life. At the stadium. Just the way Coach would have wanted it.

The celebration was planned to resemble a game day, complete with tailgating in the parking lots and college park. We told fans to wear their game day attire. We blared game day music from the stadium’s sound system as the crowd filtered to their seats. We handed out special programs.

Even the weather was perfect for football. We were going to have the event rain or shine. Heck, our fans have watched games in some terrible conditions over the years, we said. In fact, we’d hoped for overcast skies, but storms rolled in about two hours before the celebration was to start. The thunder rolled, and from underneath the grandstand we watched the rain pour on the stage and midfield and the seats we’d just finished setting up around it for the family, football team and officials.

But a neat thing happened as the celebration was about to begin. On schedule, we began ushering the family to their seats with umbrellas about five minutes before 11. The rain continued to fall. … Then, just as the service was about to begin, the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. … One of my coworkers would tell a story later that she asked the priest before the memorial if he could send up any prayers for the rain to stop. The priest instructed her to go to Coach’s casket, saying, “He’s closer than I am.” My coworker didn’t tell us whether she followed through on the instruction.

The celebration was fitting in so many ways. Three coaches he was close with, including two of our own, delivered stories about Coach that were hilarious at times and tear-jerking at others. The stories conjured a mountain of good memories of Coach. And some of them even came with uncanny impressions of his various traits -- from his gravely voice, to his infectious grin and a patented laugh that came with bobbing shoulders, to the way he argued with coaches and referees, to his zeal for life and overuse of the word awesome.

Paraphrasing some of the best passages of the day, which one of the speakers referred to as Coach’s “priceless gems of knowledge.”

If a recruit said 'I’m not interested, it really meant he was undecided. If he said, 'I’m going to another school,' it meant ‘So you’re saying we still have a chance?’ And if the recruit said, ‘Coach, if there was a disaster and you were the only school on earth, I would not go there,’ that meant ‘OK, I’ll put you on hold and call you back in a few days.’

What would he say if he were here today about the weather? ‘Hell with the weather! Let’s go out there and play some football!’

In heaven he’s telling everyone, ‘You know I’m the only coach at the university that finished his career undefeated?’

In an attempt to fire up the troops, he once said, “You guys go out there and kick their ass right in the mouth!” A couple other coaches looked at each other bemused, and one of them asked, “How do you kick a guy’s ass in the mouth?”

The NCAA really is a group of closet communists who make up arcane rules designed solely to screw defensive players and take all the fun out of the game.

No brand of beer is really bad. There are only varying degrees of awesomeness.

Coach would argue with an empty room.

The word really can never be overused in a sentence.

Then, there were some of the more serious lessons he inspired …

Where you are is the big time.

If you treat a man as he could be, he will become what he can be.

Go big or go home.

In life we don’t regret what we do, we regret what we don’t do.

If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth it.

When you help enough people get what they want, you get what you want.

Family is first.

Good dad is the best thing you can say about a guy.

I welled up a little watching a tribute video of his family life, set to “Forever Young.” I welled up a lot watching a tribute video of his football and coaching career, set to “The Boys of Fall,” a sentimental song written from the perspective of a football player. And as the family departed the field and the casket was carried past us for the last time -- to the sound of “Sweet Home Alabama,” which has become something of a theme song for our championship teams -- I couldn‘t hold back. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. It was an ending. ... Those songs, along with the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" and REO Sweedwagon's "Time For Me To Fly," which also got play and are forever more associated with images from the day, have been rotating in my head the last few days. I'm not sure I'll ever hear them again without thinking of this week.

* * *

Coach’s death has had a profound affect on me, with the scenes and conversations of the last few days playing over in my head, paralleled with my memories of past glory days. I watched him on the sidelines for years and years. It’s no coincidence that, in search of a new “work cap” a year or so after I left college and retired my ratty Dodgers cap, I decided on a red cap like the one Coach wore on so many Saturdays.

As honored as I felt to play a role in the planning for the memorial gatherings this week, I regret that I didn’t have much interaction with Coach when I returned last year and we became colleagues, aside from some handshakes and brief greetings here and there. … When we purchased our house in his neighborhood this spring, people talked about the atmosphere on our street for game days. We were so looked forward to that experience ths fall.

This week we got a taste of it, but with entirely different circumstances. We saw it in the number of team flags hoisted on front porches up the street and down. The street has been packed with cars all week, and the family’s backyard has been filled each night with family members and friends coming to spend time with Coach’s family.

It was said at yesterday’s memorial that you only had to go to one postgame at his house and you knew what love was all about.


Rodgers makes his pitch at Miller Park

I picked up this great post from a news feed today ...

There are no two athletes I admire more right now ...



This weekend will be forever known as one of huge highs and unbelievable lows.

* * * 

With the school year ended and some sense of being settled into the new house, we’re finally feeling like was can kick back a little bit and enjoy it with others.

So Friday night we had our friends, the Sweeneys, over to our place. Kates teaches with them, and Phoebe adores playing with their three kids. … Besides playing a key role in helping us settle into The ‘Ville this last year, we have a unique connection that dates back at least a decade: Their brother-in-law was my college roommate and remains one of my best buds.

We grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. Afterward, we ventured outside and began pulling out the yard toys … I ended up giving a tutorial on Ladder Ball, which led to fun, competitive game among us guys.

The kids played in the sandbox, and tossed balls of all sizes. They ran and ran in the yard until it was nearly dark. We had music going on the deck, and relished the company.

It was a sweet start to the weekend

* * *

Yesterday morning I was up earlier than usual because a nearby town was having a hazardous waste collection and I was eager to get rid of a lot of the chemicals and paints previous home owners left behind.

Shortly after 9, I was hitting the county’s narrow rural roads. Hills and curves all the way as I passed through a handful of the rundown ghost towns I always hear mentioned around The ‘Ville. I imagined how their downtowns once might have thrived.

But the trip took me double the time thanks to a closed bridge more than halfway into my route. Aggravated, I took out a map to figure out the next best route to the collection site. Eventually, I decided I had no choice but to retrace my initial route and take an entirely different, and longer, way. I dumped the chemicals, turned around and returned home a little after 11 a.m.

* * *

Next up, we headed to the Stokers's house to help them celebrate their son’s first birthday. The Sweeneys were there, too. And after eating another batch of hamburgers and hot dogs from a grill, the kids -- six of them, in this case, four girls and two boys, ages 1 through 12 -- once again ran wild in the yard. They ran through the sprinkler, batted balloons, tossed a football and climbed on a swingset.

A short spring storm passed over us, and the sun shined bright the rest of the afternoon. The adults chatted and relaxed in lawn chairs, while the kids laughed and played around us. There wasn't a better way to spend the afternoon.

* * *

Last night, Kates and I scheduled a date night. We took Phoebe to our friend Gina’s house for the night, loaded with Disney movies and snacks, and then headed out on the town.

As we drove down Main Street, The Ville's small town essence all around us, Kates mused, "I still can't believe we live here. It blows my mind."

"I know. I was just thinking the same thing today," I said, thinking about my connections with the people and the places of The 'Ville, dating back 10 years. "That our daughter is running around in the Stokers's back yard and playing with the Sweeneys' kids. Blows my mind."

For dinner, we headed to Maid-Rite, a new ‘50s-themed diner that has the town buzzing. Kates and I ordered burgers, which are non-traditional in the way they’re served. Rather than a patty, the meat is ground -- so the burger appears more like a sloppy joe. The food was good, but I wouldn’t say the thought of going back makes our mouths water.

And then (cue festive music), we went to the movie theater to see the summer movie everyone's talking about. “Bridesmaids.”

For the record, Kates wanted to see “Something Borrowed” because she read the book a couple years ago and loved it. I gladly would have gone to see it with her, but its time at our local theater ran out before we could go. “Bridesmaids,” though I was interested in seeing it a lot more than Kates, was the next best option.

We also went in with some trepidation, thanks to some less than stellar reviews from friends who warned us the film is a raunch-fest. Given our takes on “The Hangover” and other films like it, the outlook wasn’t good.

In the end, none of those pre-show thoughts mattered. We enjoyed “Bridesmaids,” and it gave us some redemption that we’re not some old fogies who scoff at the colorful humor, or don’t get it at all. Yet.

Sure, there were jokes that fell flat. But there also were three or four scenes that had me laughing until my side hurt -- particularly the unfortunate barf fest while the bridesmaids were being fit for their dresses and the stunt driving of Kristen Wiig’s Annie as she tried to get the attention of her state trooper love interest Nathan. They were scenes that had me giggling every time I thought of them for hours afterward.

And the cameo by Wilson Phillips singing “Hold On” was pretty awesome, too.

The fact that the film was set in our old stomping grounds along the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor was a bonus -- even if the portrayal of Nathan the state trooper was mostly unrealistic.

Updated: Here's a good review I stumbled on at Paste.

* * *

Today began like most other Sundays.

This morning we hustled to get ready for church, where Kates and I were leading a children’s Sunday School class. We led the kids through a drama activity to teach them about Moses. And it was good.

This afternoon I was supposed to help with a charity event at the university, and then I had planned to mow and work in our yard this afternoon. As we returned home from church around 11, I was lamenting the outdoor work. I was more interested in spending time with Kates and Pheebs indoors than outside in the heat.

At around noon, just as I was preparing to head to the event on campus, my phone rang. There had been an emergency and I needed to come to the president’s house as soon as I could.

I arrived as the athletics director was walking up the driveway. The president and my partner on our communications team was standing on the patio with cell phones in hand. The looks on their faces gave me a sense this wasn’t an emergency we were used to dealing with. … The president and athletics director needed to go -- where, I didn’t know at the time -- and my partner took me inside to share the terrible news. Our football coach suffered a heart attack this morning. And he didn’t make it, she told me.

“Oh my god! I just saw him mowing his lawn!” I shouted and sank to my knees.

The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I had seen him as we started driving to church this morning. Across the street, pushing his lawn mower, just as I’d seen him every weekend since we bought our house and became neighbors. When we came home from church, the ambulance had been there and gone, and everything was quiet. There was no sign anything had happened. Now he was gone?

As the university’s communications arm, we had to gather ourselves and figure out the next steps. The news was traveling around the city like wildfire. … I headed home to grab my things, and I could barely hold it together as I traveled down our street, looked at his house and began to think about his family. … Kates greeted me at the door and asked what was happening. I shared the news with her and she pulled me in for a hug. Then I retrieved my work bag and headed to the office.

The rest of the day was surreal. Writing statements to send to our campus community and news releases to send to media. At 2, we met with the coaching staff, who had just come from the hospital and were barely coming to grips with the loss. Sitting among all of the coaches, it was surreal not to have his big personality present at the table with us.

A few hours later we were meeting with media for a news conference. Coach had been with our football program for two decades as an assistant and was promoted to head coach during the offseason. Now he was gone.

When I arrived home tonight, I found Kates in the kitchen, talking with her parents on Skype. I called mine once I was settled.

Phoebe was sitting in the living room, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, seemingly without a clue of what had happened. As I scooted in and sat close to her, the first words she spoke to me were, “Daddy, you didn’t give me a hug and kiss when you left today.”

Her small statement spoke volumes. Life is something never to be taken for granted. Live well and love with all your heart.


Clubhouse in the Corn

My good friend Matt passed this dreamy baseball video on to me today ... Classic.

Shaq retires

So I was in my office this afternoon when a tweet from Shaquille O'Neal popped up on my TweetDeck.

Curious, I clicked on the link. The video lasted no more but 30 seconds. At the end I chuckled at the fact that Shaquille O'Neal, one of the greatest NBA players of all time, just announced his retirement through a home video he posted on Twitter.

The times we live in.

I wasn't at all surprised by the announcement, considering the season he had. But what made it even more amusing to me was that another hour passed before I saw a tweet from a traditional news organization reporting that Shaq announced his retirement.

The times we live in.

Here's a good read from the Boston Globe.