One week

Nuggets from my week ...

Monday. I started my day by waking at 5 a.m., and by 6 a.m. I was driving to Omaha to take my GRE -- another challenge on my path to a master's degree. Not fun.

Because my admission to the graduate program happened so quickly this fall, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to prepare for it. I spent the last week cramming. Everything about this exam left me feeling uneasy. 

I arrived at the Omaha campus -- which seemed like a maze of ugly concrete buildings compared to the enchanted forest of our campus --  around 8 a.m., right on time when you consider the instructions that suggested test-takers arrive a half hour ahead of the test, which was supposed to begin at 8:30. Then, I pumped a parking meter full of quarters and walked the block or so to the testing center.

When I arrived there, I was greeted by a couple of desk workers, who had me sign a few papers, confirm my identity and empty my pockets into a personal locker; the use of any devices other than the pencil, blank paper and computer provided was strictly prohibited. Then, one of the desk workers led me into a room that was no bigger than a large closet with four computers lining a wall. She helped me log on to one of the computers and instructed me to begin answering the confirmation questions that appeared on the screen.

Now, I had envisioned taking the test in a classroom full of people and desks, with a computer at each. I also figured I'd answer the confirmation questions on the screen, and then wait for an official prompt to start the test at 8:30 a.m. ... Nope. I finished the confirmation questions and then -- bam! -- there was the first question of the exam. An essay question, no less. ... No time to take a deep breath. No time to center myself. It was go time and the clock was ticking in the upper right corner of the screen.

There were six sections, each lasting about 30 minutes. A couple essay questions, some reading, and a lot of high-level math that I'm positive -- not even in my wildest dreams -- I'll never use in the context of my master's degree. ... I felt like I handled the essay questions well. The reading so-so. But the math kicked my butt. I ran out of time on two sections, forcing me to click away with guesses on the unanswered questions while the clock counted down from 30 seconds, just to at least give myself a chance of getting some points.

I finished the exam at about 12:30 and couldn't wait to get out of there. Then, to top it off I had a parking ticket waiting for me on my windshield. Apparently, the parking meter wasn't working ... The good news was the campus has a policy that relieves visitors from parking fines; I was able to turn in the ticket and get off the hook. The bad news was I lost about $4 worth of quarters in that dang parking meter.

I was so beat mentally, I couldn't wait to get home, get in our yard, relieve some of the stress and put my mind on other things. I worked outside until the sun went down, ripping weeds and overgrown plants from a flower bed along the side of our garage.

In the meantime, I'm anxiously awaiting my scores.

* * *

Tuesday. Frank Warren of PostSecret fame came to our campus for a lecture.

Until the announcement of his appearance on our campus came a few weeks ago, I'd never heard of PostSecret ... I know, right!? How was that possible?

The premise and the website is both amusing and powerful, and I can see why it is so popular, especially among young people.

When I arrived at the auditorium for the news conference, an hour before the lecture, people already were lined up at the doors. And when we did open the doors, the students took off running down the aisles to claim the closest seats. The lecture was free, but we gave away every ticket -- a rarity for our lectures.

Mr. Warren's affable personality engaged the audience immediately, and I found it fascinating to hear him tell the reasons he started the project and the stories behind some of the secrets he's received.

But what made the experience more memorable still was the open mic period at the conclusion of the lecture. With a mic standing on each side of the auditorium, he invited people to step up and share their secrets. No one accpted his invitation initially; that always happens, he explained, but eventually the lines begin forming and soon there's so many people waiting that he'll have to end the lecture before each waiting person has a turn.

That's exactly what happened. Soon students were stepping up and sharing deep, dark, heart-wrenching secrets about experiences with drugs, rape, suicidal thoughts and sexuality. One girl shared she was so ashamed by her sexuality that she sometimes wishes her mother would have followed through on her plan to have an abortion. ... As the secrets came out, you could see tears streaming down cheeks and hear the sniffs across the entire auditorium.

Warren's message was simple: That we all have secrets. But by sharing these secrets anonymously we may not only find some relief but also have a positive impact on others. By sharing these secrets, we may help others realize they're not alone in the way they are feeling. Others understand and relate to our secrets, and by sharing these secrets we have an opportunity to breed acceptance.

* * *

Wednesday. The highlight of my day, arguably, as it is on so many days, was driving Phoebe to school.

Another gorgeous sunny day, both of us were sporting our trendy sunglasses. (Actually, it started with Phoebe putting them on at the breakfast table ...) when "American Woman" -- the classic "Guess Who" original, not the lame Lenny Kravitz cover -- came on my iPod.

Both of us were jamming. I was nodding my heat to the beat, and I caught Phoebe in the rearview mirror doing the same.

The song always reminds me of that great scene in "American Beauty" with Kevin Spacey's character rocking out to the song in his car -- I love it. Today, the scene, with Phoebe in the back seat, reminded me of the "Dad Life" video.
* * *

Wednesday night. Wednesday nights are deadline nights for my weekly graduate papers. So I spent the night in my office to finish this week's paper. And keeping an eye on my TweetDeck while magic unfolded on one of the most memorable nights baseball has seen.

I arrived home in time to catch the midnight "Baseball Tonight," and was so caught up in the turn of events that I stayed up until 1 to watch the show. The numbers Karl Ravech and the boys were reeling off were mind boggling.

Tampa came back from nine games down to beat the Red Sox for the wild card. The Cardinals came back from 8.5 down to beat out the Braves.

The Rays came back from seven down in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees to tie the game and eventually win it on a walk-off home run in the 14th inning by Evan Longoria! … Merely three minutes before Longoria’s game winner, the Red Sox lost on a walk-off by the Orioles, effectively eliminating the Red Sox from the post season. Part of the delight in watching the Tweets and status updates come in throughout the night was my realization that my friend Marjie was in Baltimore and at Camden Yards for the Orioles game.

The Cardinals were left for dead by the St. Louis media when September started. I -- for the record -- know better than to ever count out the Cardinals until that “E” for eliminated shows up next to their line in the standings. And whaddaya know, they’re in the post season again, thanks to an epic collapse by the Atlanta Braves ... Like they did in 2006, they're getting hot at the right time and becoming the team to beat.

Watch this ...

Good reads ...

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports ...
“Sometimes, in spite of itself, baseball is perfect. Ridiculously, stupidly, exhaustingly, thrillingly, Longoria-ly and Papelbon-eously perfect. Over five hours on a Wednesday night in late September, when baseball was supposed to be quietly ironing its bunting and hoping people soon would be paying attention again, the game willed itself to incomprehensible greatness. In four games spread over two wild-card races and two time zones, the entrancing narrative not only held the four central protagonists, but peripherally ensnared the two best teams in the regular season, along with two of the worst. Where it counted was in Boston and Atlanta, where promising seasons were dying, and in St. Louis and Tampa Bay, where feint heartbeats a month ago became raucous parties just as the postseason beckoned.”

Tyler Kepner, The New York Times
“In a spellbinding frenzy of baseball at its unpredictable, unforgiving best, a labyrinth of twists took place across 4 hours 55 minutes at ballparks in Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Houston. Only one game was tidy — the St. Louis Cardinals’ 8-0 victory over the Houston Astros. In each of the other games, a team lost the lead with two outs in the ninth inning, and never got it back.”

Tim Sheehan, SI.com ...
“At 9:33 p.m. ET, the rain that was expected to hit Baltimore arrived in the seventh inning with the Red Sox up 3-2 over the Orioles. In St. Petersburg, the Yankees had a shocking 7-0 lead over the Rays despite a pitching staff cobbled together for the day from contest winners and local semi-pro teams. The Red Sox seemed to be nine outs away from saving their season. In Atlanta, the Braves had turned the game over to their fantastic bullpen with a 3-2 lead, and were on their way to a one-game playoff for the wild card with the Cardinals, who were beating up the hapless Astros 7-0 with their ace on the mound. What happened over the next three hours almost defies description, turning the fates of four teams and creating heroes and goats whose names will be repeated the way prior generations talked about Fred Merkle and Christy Mathewson, about Grover Cleveland and Sam Rice, about Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca, about Bucky Dent and Doyle Alexander. For three hours, baseball reminded us that no matter what we think we know, we just don't know anything -- and we love the game for it.”

Jon Paul Morosi, FoxSports.com...
“On the field, at least, the Red Sox were so engrossed in their own tragedy that it was impossible for them to keep track of the events unfolding 1,000 miles away. They could not have known it then, but their fate was about to be sealed. Moments after the last Boston reliever trudged into the dugout, Evan Longoria dug into the batter’s box in St. Petersburg. Back in the eighth inning — what seemed like hours ago — it was his smooth swing that delivered the three-run homer that transformed a 7-3 notion into a 7-6 game. Longoria has always had the moxie that scouts love — the coolness in big spots, the easy confidence that he’ll find a way to win. And here he had another chance. Any Red Sox fan who had kept one eye on the Tampa game, or was familiar with the player holding the Louisville Slugger, knew that this was a perfectly legitimate time to freak the hell out.”

Scott Miller, CBSSports.com...
“While Atlanta was blowing one final game, in the 13th inning to Philadelphia, to complete its collapse and allow St. Louis to grab the NL wild-card slot, the Red Sox were one-upping them.  Boston's loss came at 12:02 a.m. ET.  Longoria's modern-day Shot Heard 'Round the World came at 12:05. Three minutes. It was almost slow motion. The Red Sox went from losing . . . to still hoping for a one-game playoff Thursday in Florida . . . to a sudden-death ending to their season in an all-time collapse.”

Anthony Witrado, The Sporting News ...
“Between text messages, tweets, e-mails and the people in my apartment, the word “Wow!” was typed and shouted somewhere in my immediate vicinity in the neighborhood of 34,593 times Wednesday night, a night that could go down as the best in regular-season baseball history.

As word came in that the Red Sox had lost, Longoria stepped into the box and put the dagger into them. That home run also capped one of the most memorable, exciting, disappointing (for those with vested interests in the Red Sox and Braves) and unbelievable nights in history. On Aug. 31, it appeared that baseball’s playoff races would be decided early, leaving little drama for the final days. But as Boston and Atlanta started to fold, Tampa Bay and St. Louis surged and made Wednesday night one of those special ones.  It was a night that made trudging through the previous six-plus months well worth it.”

Howard Bryant, ESPN.com...
“The sequence of events Wednesday evening may have created the greatest, most intense night of baseball in memory, proof that despite the ratings and rankings and revenues the sport, when played at its highest level, is unmatched for tension. For the Rays, the night of baseball was an intensely personal experience, a microcosm of what this franchise is, where it is, and how it will survive.”

Thomas Boswell, The Washington Post ...
“As the sun sank Wednesday, baseball turned into a world gone wonderfully mad. But as midnight approached, then passed, the glorious insanity fed on itself and went viral. Scoreboard watching shot up an asymptotic curve with fans of four wild-race-race teams desperately fixated on results of games involving eight different clubs, all of ’em playing simultaneously for hours. ...

Hanging in the balance were two wild-card spots and the delectable possibility that the Red Sox might have to go to Florida on Thursday to play the Rays and the Braves might head to St. Louis for two “play-in” games on the same day to see which teams advanced to the playoffs in October.

Two such sudden-death games, as a cannon-shot introduction to the drama of October baseball, would be unprecedented; and the ideal blend of genuine drama and mega-marketing to advertise the sport.

Reality disagreed. Rays and Cards make the playoffs. No games Thursday.”

More good reads ...

... On the Cardinals ...
a Bernie Bytes: Top 10 reasons for Cards' comeback
a Wild Cards complete comeback for the ages
a Burwell: The miracle continues for Cardinals
a Burwell: Excitement is back at Busch

... On the Red Sox ...
a Boston’s collapse is complete after season-ending loss
a For Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, September a month of horrors


Feel good time

It’s a gorgeous fall day. The Brewers clinched the National League Central title last night, we’re getting ready for the ‘Cats football game later today, and I bought a copy of Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits on vinyl for a quarter this morning at a flea market.

All is right with my world.

But how ‘bout those Brewers!?

The scene wasn’t as dramatic inside our household as it was when we watched them win it in 2008. Phoebe was already in bed, and Kates was asleep on the couch, so I was left to celebrate by myself -- as quietly as possible so as to not wake anybody. Not so easy, if you know me at all. 

On top of that, I was watching the game online via MLB.com, and the online broadcast always ends with the first commercial break after the game finishes. Thus, I didn’t get to see the Brewers’ celebrate the clinch … The best I could do was switch over to the online broadcast of the Cubs-Cardinals game to see the end of it and then catch all of the highlights on “Baseball Tonight” about an hour later.

Nontheless, I’m basking in the glory of it all this morning. … It could be worse. “Sportscenter” highlights could be my only connection to the Brewers this year. Of course, my discovery of the online game has been a saving grace to the season.

I say that, and then I get the email from the Brewers about the rally at the Summerfest grounds next week. Now I'm sighing and wishing I could be there ...

Phoebe did watch the first two innings of last night's game with me. Really, she only watches for Prince Fielder and Bernie Brewer, and she asks me where they are whenever the camera isn’t on them. So when Prince hit his home run in the second inning -- well, that was a happy moment.

And Ryan Braun's home run to clinch it -- like his home run in 2008 -- may well be the lasting image of the season ... The swing that left no doubt. Holding the bat in the air. Magic. Or, at the least -- let's hope -- the regular season. ... (Though, let's not forget Braun stumbling toward home plate a few weeks ago on a failed inside-the-park home run attempt.)

The Brewers beat blog has a wonderful roundup with stats, photos and video.

Here are some other good reads from the run ...
a McKeon picks Brewers to reach World Series
a Ten reasons the Crew reached the postseason
a Deja Crew: Brewers party like it's '82, '08
a Happy delirium reigns at Miller Park
a Race for MVP fuels Brewers' title chase
a Braun, Fielder fast becoming historic tandem
a This year's Crew has right pieces for October
a The long, strange journey of Brewers closer John Axford
a Brewers, Morgan: 'Let's go chase Philly'
a Rangers, Brewers and D-backs make most of Separation Week
a Phillies see Brewers as a mountain in the way


Taking our TV time back

I’m shunning my graduate studies tonight. Kates and I are taking our TV time back.

Lately, I’m gaining a deeper understanding of what couples are really saying when they say they don’t watch TV.

When it comes to keeping up with our favorite TV shows, we are waaaaaaaaay behind. Thanks to our TV exploding last fall, our exhausting house hunt and, well, life in general.

We caught up on “The Office” over the summer … And we’ve got a few more episodes of “Modern Family” to burn off before we can start in on Season 3. Favorite scene of Season 6: Phil calling his car the “Cone of trust.” I’m going to start calling my car that.

On the other hand, we haven’t seen a pixel of “Big Bang Theory” or “Grey’s Anatomy” in the last year, which is too bad because I saw a lot of positive reviews. … We saw last season’s premier of “Glee,” and then lost track of the rest of the season, which I’m not as sad about because I’ve read and heard a ton of bad reviews about the last season. I’m not even sure why we’re still holding on. … Yeah, it’s the music.

Last night, we forgot about the season premier of “Sing-Off.” But I’m totally stoked that Sara Bareilles has joined the judges table this year. … We also missed the season premier of the Charlie Sheen-less “Two and a Half Men,” which apparently was huge. The DVR is set now to record them, and we’ll catch up next week.

Tonight, we started with “New Girl” -- the new one starring the adorable and multi-talented Zooey Deschanel. She's one of those actresses who I'll watch no matter what she's appearing in, and I consider it  a travesty that we haven’t taken time yet to watch “500 Days of Summer.” … My expectations were low going in, mostly because, well, when’s the last time Fox produced a really outstanding comedy -- that wasn’t animated? As much as I admire Zooey, my instincts were on. The comedy mostly fell flat, and the premise is predictable: Broken-hearted girl moves in with a group of clueless guys, and one of them develops feelings for her. I’ll keep watching only because it stars the adorable and multi-talented Zooey Deschanel.


A night of a thousand laughs

Tonight we booked a babysitter and went out to see Second City perform at the university.

Kates and I reveled in the chance to enjoy some of our Chicago-ness in The 'Ville. ... Better yet, I have not laughed that hard since we saw “Bridesmaids.”

A Second City performance is something that can't be explained to anyone who didn’t see it. Because it relies heavily on audience participation, every show is one-of-a-kind. … There were times I laughed so hard that my side hurt and tears were forming in my eyes.

I’m going to be laughing myself to sleep tonight.

Life as we know it

Tonight, I’m taking back my blog. Catching up on some things.

This is how it’s worked since this whole adventure began. My posts come in spurts. Then we’re hit with a snowball that turns into an avalanche. Things move so fast I have trouble finding time to translate my thoughts to the keyboard, and before I know it a month or more has passed without me posting anything of substance on these pages. … Funny, you would think it would be the other way around: That working on a college campus would be less time-consuming and allow me more time for reflection than when I worked as a newspaper reporter.

Then again, my mantra on this blog project has always been to let my life rule it, not let it rule my life. It will evolve with me. And if I don’t have anything to share, oh well. I‘m going to force it. I’ll come back to it when the inspiration strike me.

So tonight, at 12:14 a.m., I’ve been struck. Inspired to catch up. I can‘t sleep.

* * *
My most recent absence from the blogosphere began with Phoebe’s first day of school, which was followed by our mini-hurricane and then what I’ve officially dubbed as the tsunami that comes with the start of the school year.

In the past, I watched from the sidelines as Kates went through the steps of preparing her classroom, the staff planning meetings and then the settling into the school year. Now I’m right there with her -- with the preparation, planning and settling in. Three weeks into our school years and we’re trying to settle into something of a routine. … There were a couple weekends recently that Kates would spend an afternoon working in her classroom while I stayed home to hang out with Phoebe. Then we’d come meet up for a quick supper and trade places so I could head out to work in my office. During the week, we’d alternate nights, with Kates spending one night at her classroom and me taking the next night to work in my office.

I’ve spent the days and nights working on presentations for employee meetings, messaging for the president, developing new projects and churning out the crazy number of news releases that come with the start of another school year. On a night last week, I left my office at around 11 p.m., while two of my cohorts stayed behind to work longer. As I exited our office wing, I was met by another colleague leaving her office in another part of the building. Her shoulders slumped and she made a comment about other people being in the building so late. “Yeah, and there’s two more left where I came from,” I said.

There was a stretch at the end of August when I was lucky if I got to bed before 1 a.m. Not to mention we wasted a couple weekends when we could have been playing because we were either still trying to play catch-up on our projects, or we were too exhausted to do much of anything. There was one night a couple weeks ago that Kates and I got into bed together, and she was asleep before I could pull the covers over me.

Just when I think I'm finding some clarity, there's another hiccup that leads me astray. Worse yet, are the occasional reminders or what might have been had we decided not to move. Like another moment a couple weeks ago when I was working on a project and I saw a tweet from the Weepies thanking fans who attended their Chicago concert for an “amazing night.” I sighed, knowing there’s a high chance Kates and I would have been there, and moved on.

In those moments, I try to remind myself of the reasons we pulled the trigger on our move. The tremendous opportunities for growth. The unsteady work environment at our former employers. The change of scenery. The desire for new and different experiences. The family-friendly small-town lifestyle.

And for the most part it’s worked out. I started to realize some the benefits of my career move within my first month on the job, which -- hard to believe -- was almost two years ago now. But it’s only this fall that I’m really starting to realize the full impact I can have in my role. Sharing the university’s great story and spreading the word about our accomplishments is a big part of my responsibility every day. But more and more I’m also embracing the opportunities I have to teach. I’m being invited to speak to courses about my field experiences. I’m meeting with students routinely to discuss their stories or share with them stories they might not yet know. I’m mentoring and collaborating with interns in our office. … And when a student sends me an email thanking me for my help or stops by my office to tell me about his or her summer internship experience, the feelings those moments create are better than any front page, above-the-fold byline or rockstar interview I landed.

* * *
Another component to this crazy phase of my life: I’ve begun work on my master’s degree in (cue drum roll … ) higher education leadership. Seems appropriate given my previous paragraph, right?

After all, acquiring a master’s degree was a, if not the, top motivator in going after this adventure. Except I had to work for a year before I could become eligible to start a master’s program, and even then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tackle the higher education program or go for all the marbles and try for the MBA. Ultimately, I decided the higher education program was the most practical for my lifestyle and interests. But even then, I didn’t anticipate starting the program for another year.

As it turned out, just a couple weeks before the start of the fall semester, I got into a conversation with another graduate student who mentioned the program and inferred there were seats open. I casually asked the graduate dean about it. He referred me to the chair of the program. And within a few days I was enrolling.

It’s a cohort program that’s designed for professionals who are already working in higher education and aspire to leadership roles, not to mention teaching opportunities. Classroom meetings occur only once a month -- on Friday nights and Saturday mornings -- but there is a heavy amount of reading and online work that’s assigned in between. In fact, for the next several months my weeknights will be scheduled around Monday night textbook readings, Wednesday night paper deadlines and Friday night responses to online postings.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be the proud owner of a master’s degree in April 2013.

* * *
So how’s Phoebe doing amid all the chaos? She‘s never been better.

Her happy-go-lucky personality keeps Kates and I going. Her laughter is infectious. And when she asks us to turn on some music and dance with her, no matter what we’re doing, it’s almost impossible to say no.

She’s always been active and creative, but preschool, it seems, has raised her imagination and curiosity to new levels. She dances around the living room singing songs she learned that day, and now our dinner-time discussions not only revolve around the days of Kates and I, but hers, too.

We're getting into working on the family projects she brings home at night, and the activities she does at school are just as amusing. ... Phoebe's teachers have commented to us more than once about how happy a child Phoebe is, and that she tends to be a chatterbox -- which we knew long ago. But the best moment so far may have come when Phoebe brought home a book of things she and her classmates can do. Most kids were identified with simple tasks. Brody can read. ... Tucker can paint ... Heather can help her mom with laundry ...

Phoebe can multi-task.

We've begun the extra-curricular activities, too. Kates enrolled Phoebe in a dance class. ... Before Phoebe, I always said if I were to have a daughter I wasn't doing the dance thing. But with Phoebe's energy, dance or gymnastics was inevitable. Now, every Thursday evening begins with Kates taking Phoebe to dance class.

Thanks to the active lives we're leading, and the friendships Kates and I have built, Phoebe's friendships are growing, too -- at church, at school and with the kids of my campus colleagues. A couple weeks ago, she was invited to the birthday party of one of the campus kiddos, a party that featured everything from a bouncy house to a pinata (Phoebe's had it in her head for awhile that she's getting a bouncy house for her fourth birthday party ... We'll see.). ... But her BFF is Lola. It's a friendship that was born at Phoebe's daycare and has stayed strong this fall even though they're attending different preschools. They're both  participating in the aforementioned dance class, and we've arranged for them to get together a couple times outside of that, in addition to some chance meet-ups at the college football games. When their eyes meet, they squeal, run to each other and hug like long-lost friends. And then they're inseperable until we have to part ways. It's pretty adorable.

* * *

When you consider the big picture, we're in a pretty good spot right now.

We're healthy and happy. Sure, we miss our family and Wisconsin friends dearly, every day. But we're surrounded by some really good people in The 'Ville.

We're still getting settled into our house. And there are still boxes left to unpack. But we're thrilled every day by the charm of it and feel lucky to have found it.

The football season is underway for our beloved 'Cats, and we'll no doubt be spending many Saturdays at the stadium this fall. ... Phoebe loves the atmosphere. The band, the cheerleaders, the mascot.

With the college students returning, the population of the town doubles and the streets are buzzing again.

We kicked off the school year again this year with some fireworks.

Life is good.


Sept. 11

Each year, as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, so many of the emotions and memories rush back . I find myself stuck watching the new batch of documentaries and re-hashed news packages for days. It catches me and doesn't let go until the anniversary passes.

This year, now 10 years from that day, I thought the cycle would be especially powerful. 

It was. But for varied reasons than those that have fueled my emotions during previous anniversaries. 

Instead, I saw very few of the documentaries to air this year. I simply didn't have the time to watch some. Others, I wanted to watch, but forgot to watch when they aired. I suppose my distancing from the newsroom atmosphere has something to do with it also. ... During Friday's NBC newscast, I found a piece about 9/11 artifacts being placed throughout the country particularly moving (Watch it here, starting at the 3:07 mark), and I caught about 10 minutes of this morning's coverage surrounding the remembrances at each of the three sites where planes crashed.

But today was a different type of remembrance. Instead of gathering for a worship service dedicated to remembering the victims and honoring the heroes of 9/11, our church congregation set out across the town for a day of service. We canceled our regular worship services and made "Rethinking Church" the theme. Divided into groups, we removed storm debris left over in yards from a few weeks ago, weeded gardens, painted fences and ceilings, and picked up trash. Even the kids got involved; some helped with the projects while the rest visited nursing homes throughout the community to sing to residents.

Afteward, we returned to the church grounds for an afternoon carnival. Hot dogs off the grill. All sorts of inflatables and activities for the kids. And live music. On a warm and sunny September Sunday in The 'Ville.

Tonight, I attended a remembrance at the university -- the very place my Sept. 11 experience played out 10 years ago -- that more closely resembled the feelings I expected to have on this day. The music fraternity sang a moving rendition of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was followed by reflections on the day and its symbolism by our campus leaders, ministers and a student who, because of the feelings he had that day, put off college and joined the military to fight in the war. ...

The emotions of the day hit hardest when, with the campus center illuminated by candlelight, a tribute set to Blessid Union of Soul's "I Believe" filled the air. Tears flowed, our hearts hurt, our spines shivered as the the sounds of that day played over the song.

Yes, today was like no other Sept. 11 anniversary.

Good reads and other stuff  ...
a On 9/11, Vows of Remembrance
a Photographer recalls seeing tower collapse
a Ten years later, and that day remains brilliantly lit yet deep in shadows, its meaning a work in progress
a Hit Hard by 9/11, a Piece of Queens Struggles to Let Go
a The World Trade Center As It Was ... very cool multimedia presentation.
a Woman who lost parents on 9/11 will always wonder: Why?
a Tom Brokaw: ‘Unknowable Future’
a It’s Still the 9/11 Era
a Kids born on Sept. 11, 2001, try to make the best of it
a Since 9/11, Pentagon police officer unable to forget hurt man he tried to help
a After 9/11, flight attendant still feels at home up in the sky
a Little noted or known, they bear scars of that day: At the ticket counter, baggage ramp, tarmac, and beyond, Logan workers were left to come to terms on their own, or to try, after the hijacked flights roared into history.
a Man who lost wife on 9/11 finds way to fill the void
a Ironworkers of the Sky
a Newly Published Audio Provides Real-Time View of 9/11 Attacks ... The related link, "The 9/11 Tapes: The Story in the Air," is haunting and fascinating.


Farewell to The Pub

So a wall of The Pub collapsed this morning.

It was about 8 a.m. I had just arrived at my desk and was unpacking my bag when I received a text from the university police chief reporting the news.

I gasped.

And then Facebook was flooded with status updates and photos on the pages of my friends in The 'Ville and so many others who had a connection to the place.

The sadness flowed like the beer had in that place for decades. For so many of us, it was like losing a family member. The Pub is -- was -- an insitution in The 'Ville. Today will be known as a sad day in the town's bar history.

Said one faculty member: "You know, there are more Facebook posts on the Pub collapse than there were about Irene, our hailstorm, and the East Coast earthquake -- combined. I'm just saying, it's that important."

It was -- for lack of a better word -- the classy bar in The 'Ville. It didn't draw the troublemakers that resulted in headlines for the other bars. While all of the other bars in town took in students at age 19, The Pub was a 21-and-over-bar. It attracted a larger number of faculty and coaches than the others bars. 

I spent many, many nights there after newspaper deadlines and football games. Like my college newspaper office, it was a place my college friends and I loved to go to escape the pressures of our worlds.

Naturally, I wrote about it, too. For a college creative writing course, the professor assigned our class to write a short piece about a place. I wrote about The Pub. ...

Tonight, I couldn't keep from digging the piece out of my archives. This piece is more than 10 years old now. I've grown and matured considerably since I wrote it. But the sentiment remains the same, and the images depicted feel like they could have happened only months ago. ...

Goodbye Pub. It was fun.
Thursday night, this is my weekend. Not Friday, not Saturday. Thursday is my weekend. I’ve finished another week of the newspaper business, and I know I have one night to relax before the next week begins, and I catch up on all of the notes and assignments I’ve put off while trying to conquer the newspaper business. My boots find a rhythm on the sidewalk as the glare of headlights reflect on the puddles, my hands dig into the pockets of my black fleece, and I walk, my head down, my eyes barely visible under my ragged Dodgers cap. Three blocks and I’m there. Up the concrete steps and into the dark, hazy lights of the room.

“What’s going on, Horns?” Chris says.

“Not much, Chris. How are you?” I say. Chris, the local blonde-haired, baby-faced, pretty boy, cheerleading coach, sits on a stool by the door. He checks IDs and turns away the young twirps who show their fakes, thinking they’re sly enough to fool him. But they’re not. “This is an over-21 establishment,” he snarls. I’m 21 now, but I take pride in the fact that he’s always let me pass through without a hitch.

The brown booths that line the wall are loaded with people. Many of them I know well. Like “Cheers,” it’s a place where everybody knows your name. My best friend Jacob is tending the bar, while Jackie, his girlfriend, sits on a stool nearby, watching him with adoring eyes, chewing on a straw. John, the longtime cheerleading coach turned bar owner, lounges in the booth at the corner. He greets Coach Tapp, the city manager and other local celebrities who walk through the door with warm smiles and handshakes. Of course, Chris just smiles and let’s them pass, too. Checking their IDs is the furthest thing from his mind. Jimmy’s at the end of the bar. When his band’s not playing, he sits there watching the television set as it flashes scores from the NBA. He doesn’t know who any of the teams are, but he couldn't care less as long as he has his beer. And in the middle of the bar sits the town drunk, dressed like he’s just come from a construction site, only he’s not wearing a hard hat. He’s a big man with a chubby face and curly black hair, and his language is always slurred so we can never be sure if he’s really drunk. Nobody knows his name, but the blonde-haired girls that come dressed in their skimpy shirts and tight black pants love to tease him. Blake and J.P. sit at the other end of the bar debating the latest Missouri basketball game like a bunch of washed-up sports jocks who can only find competition in complaining. But like Jimmy, they don't care as long as they have their pitcher of beer.

That bar. That’s where J.P. and I met Blake during that crazy night in September, after our boys beat the hated rival in a football game for the ages. It’s the bar where I got flatout drunk for the first and last time in my life. The bar where Blake bought the shots, Jacob poured them and the three of us swallowed them down. Chris, Tapp and the football coaches stood around us, laughing at the humiliating site like little boys on a playground, and I was so wasted that Jacob was sorry and served me a water during the last round. And there was the night at the bar when J.P. and I met Blake, but didn’t feel like taking shots. This time we were on the losing side, shocked in the playoffs. Like a scene from a classic film, we looked like lost boys, lining the bar with the players, and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” crooned on the jukebox.

There’s that darn pool table, the one that stems the memory of my Homecoming weekend and had Jackie and Jacob talking me into doing that crazy prank. That darn pool table that held me hostage while the Budweiser rep threw me down, tore off my shirt and dumped vanilla ice cream on my stomach before forcing that red-haired girl’s face into it. That pool table that had every man, woman and child in the bar standing around it, watching with glee as she licked the sloppy ice cream off my body. The pool table that I leaped from when she finished and hurried over to John, asking for a towel. John said he’d never seen me so wasted in my life. Little did he know I hadn’t had a single drink that night. And a girl I was dating at the time said the scene made me “so cool,” yet we were finished for good a couple weeks later.

And the shuffle board table, with its shiny wood top covered in power. John made it free to play on Thursdays just for us. He’s seen some of the screaming competition that takes place on that shuffleboard table and the crowds we sometimes draw, like we’re playing for the world championship. The teams are different each week, but the players are the same. No matter who we’re paired with, the trash-talking could rival some NBA stars. Jody calls me “Double-bumper” because of my unique style of bumping the weights on both sides of the table, but she can barely put it past the end-line. Then there’s Jimmy, the master of knocking weights off the table. You can count out Blake once he’s downed a pitcher, and John seems to always be on top of his game.

There’s that back room, darker than the rest of the place. It’s where Jimmy’s band and others have whaled, guitars have screamed and drums have popped. And that back room was the site of the greatest fish bowl contest this place has probably seen. April 2000, that girl who said I was “so cool” sat with me, only because we were underage and couldn’t legally join the contest. We watched as our two rival journalism staffs set out to see who could suck alcohol faster. A total of 16 heads crammed together over two fish bowls, filled with mixed drinks and gulped until there wasn’t a drop big enough for a goldfish to swim in.

It’s funny how a little more than a year ago, you wouldn’t have seen me in this place. But through this place, I’ve stumbled into the unknown and experienced feelings I never thought I would. Aside from that crazy night in September when J.P. and I stumbled home and barely made it up our porch, I’m still not much of a drinker, as they call them, and I probably never will be. But I look around, I see my best friends, think of the memories, and I know how much a part of me this place has become. Like the walls of this place that have been stripped away and replastered, I escape the harsh realities of my daily routine and find myself here before pushing into another round of the criticisms and pressures each week brings. This is my weekend, this is my place.