My Magic Carpet and I

After visiting my mom this Thanksgiving, I picked up a box of papers that she had set aside for me years ago.  In it, was this story I wrote in grade school some forty years ago.

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The text reads as follows,

My Magic Carpet and I

It was just another day when I was reading my Spider-man magazine, when I turned the page and I saw an advertisement for a magic carpet for $10.99. I had my money saved so I sent in for it.

Three weeks later they sent me a yellow and red magic carpet. There was only one problem though, I didn’t know how to drive. Then I said, “I sure would like to know where there is a driving school for magic carpets,” Right then my magic carpet took me up in the air. It stopped in Egypt where there was a sign saying ‘Go to Jonny’s flying carpet school’.

So I walked in with my magic carpet and asked how much it cost.

The cashier said, “One dollar please.”

“Hmm, that’s cheap,” I said, “where should I go to?”

“The right please,” the cashier answered.

“Will you come in?” asked a man, “my name is Jonny and you would like to know how to ride a magic carpet do you?”

“Yes.” I answered

“The secret is just to tell your magic carpet what to do.”

“I know that, but, what about all the other stuff like the clutch?”

“Strictly for show.”

I left with a dollar down the drain.

But I kept my magic carpet. From then on it was just my magic carpet and me.

Momi Ford              

 

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My Work Families

Having spent the busiest month of my work year in order to join my siblings to care for my 88-year old mother as we transitioned her over to assisted living, I found myself entering a hidden world of elders where so many extraordinary tales were waiting to be told. I’ve hashed through my mind several chapters and standalone stories worth their weight in gold. But today, a different one emerges.

One thing I realized both when I was gone and especially when I returned, was how extraordinary my co-workers were during my absence. I always knew I worked among a group of people who care about each other and have each other’s backs, but I had not experienced the impact of it firsthand until now. Many reached out when I was gone to provide support and assurance to not worry about work. Others offered more words when I returned and had to find my footing once again. So many picked up the extra weight that comes with the start of a Fall semester at a university and shined while doing so.

As I thought about my local work family, another one, full of colleagues from other universities who I meet with regularly and who also sent me words of support and encouragement during this time, came to my attention.

As I was heading to bed last night, I received an email from the Program Manager of my Higher Ed Forum, a group of higher education professionals in the IT Help Desk industry that meets three times a year at various schools throughout North America. We meet and engage in intensive meetings on the latest topics of interest in our profession, share ideas, and open our campuses and hometowns to each other. We work hard and play hard together and grow close in the few days a year we connect. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, yet find a common thread that makes it easy to share and open up to one another. We have seen each other go through marriages, divorces, sickness, childbirth, losing loved ones, and now, losing each other.

When I saw the email reach my inbox with the subject line of “Sad news”, I thought for a moment that someone was leaving the forum. I didn’t expect to hear that Rion Morgan, a young and brilliant light of a man, was one of the victims of the Plano, Texas shootings this past weekend. I had only met Rion on a couple of occasions when he attended meetings, but he was quick to participate both in our professional discussions and our after hours gatherings. He had a smile that was contagious and a warmth that made you feel like you had been longtime friends.

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One of my absolutely favorite nights out was in November 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas when our forum met at Texas Christian University. We had just completed a Vertical Lessons leadership program with Manley Feinberg which included “mastering” the indoor climbing wall at TCU.  A group of us found ourselves wandering the area after dinner and landed at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It was dusk as we walked down into the gardens and I remember Rion very quietly and sweetly offering me a hand as I found my footing down the steps in the dark. When we came upon the Mountain sculpture, of course, we decided it was an opportune moment to scale it.  It wasn’t until afterwards that we noted it may not have been the safest thing to do in our street shoes (Belay off!) when we saw the “no climbing” sign on the wall. If there is one thing about this group, it is that you always go home with a story!

I didn’t know Rion well, but I will always remember his light and he will always have a special place in my heart and be a part of this extraordinary family.

RIP Rion

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Paying it forward

Hoo-hoo-hoo Hoosiers!!!
Hoo-hoo-hoo Hoosiers!!!

I spend quite a bit of time searching for good travel spots with my pup Norbert.  After all, I purchased a Cricket trailer for him (okay, for both of us, but really for the ease of traveling with my BFF along).  With the trailer, I can easily find places to stay, but I can’t always find the best dog friendly stops.

I often want to find a town where I can stop, go to stores (usually some sort of Outfitters), a restaurant or brew pub.  Trying to find places that are “dog friendly” is not as easy as one would expect in this day and age of split second Google searches.  Big cities usually have listings but not every moderately populated town does.

So, as I search through areas for my next trip, I realize I happen to live in a place that is often a destination for travelers. Bloomington is a college town in southcentral Indiana with a population of 80K.  The 46K students turn this town from a busting mid-sized city to a smaller town during the summer.  In addition to all the many IU attractions, Bloomington is also a summer mecca for many who travel to spend time on our large Monroe Lake or one of the many smaller lakes in the area, camp at nearby campgrounds, or visit Bloomington for all its many attractions.

I’m lucky to live in a very dog friendly community.  We have several hiking/running trails where one can bring their dog along for a day hike or several days of backpacking; a number of forests and recreational areas for camping; lakes for paddleboarding, kayaking, and motorboating; and restaurants and breweries that have plenty of outdoor seating where your canine companions are welcome.

As a consumer, it is time for me to give back to the dog-loving community and list out some of my favorite venues in the Bloomington, Indiana vicinity.  Below is the start of my list which I have no doubt will be updated as friends will remind me of places I forget to mention.  If you find this list useful, please pay it forward by posting (on your own blog or in a comment below) your favorite local dog friendly places or findings in areas you’ve traveled.

Pate Hollow trail (Paynetown)
Pate Hollow trail (Paynetown)

Restaurants/Brew Pubs (dogs welcome in outdoor seating and indoor at non-food serving locales; notes include Norbert’s favorite meals):

  • Scenic View http://scenicviewbloomington.com/ (outdoor patio with a view overlooking Lake Monroe; Norbert always looks forward to an order of the thick cut bacon; humans love the Sunday half-priced Bacon Bloody Mary)
  • Upland http://www.uplandbeer.com/
    • Upland Brew Pub (outdoor garden area; Norbert loves the local Fischer farms hamburger, plain and cooked rare; humans are fans of their sours, but there is a brew for all tastes here; if the pooch isn’t with you, stop by the Wood Shop next door for a sours extravaganza)
    • Upland West (great dog locale! No food, but you can bring your own. Dogs are welcome inside or out on the patio; humans say you can’t beat their $2 Sunday pints)
  • Big Woods http://quaffon.com/
    • Big Woods Bloomington – formerly Quaff On! in the heart of Bloomington has a small outdoor deck and a new garden area (Norbert has been known to coerce a few bites of the Soft Pretzel sticks w/ Beer Cheese; humans swear by the pulled pork bbq nachos)
    • Big Woods The Original – this one is again, in nearby Brown County (Nashville, IN) and has a small deck where you can bring your pup; there is also a Big Woods Pizza a couple blocks over though I’m not sure about outdoor seating for your dog
  • Oddball Fermentables http://www.oddballcyser.com/ (a unique drinking experience open on the weekends that is a labor of love between some local friends who created a variety of cysers (cider-mead hybrids) that you can taste individually or in a homemade concoction. This house turned into a cysery has a small outdoor seating area in the back and a food truck that brings some extraordinary tastes for the foodie in you. Like Big Woods West, Oddball Fermentables is not a restaurant so I believe you can bring your pup inside as well – call first to make sure though!)
  • The Tap Bloomington http://www.thetapbeerbar.com/ (yet one more craft brewery in Btown along with a plethora of other rotating craft brews on tap with a small strip of outdoor seating where your Fido can accompany you)
  • Function Brewing http://www.functionbrewing.com/ (another local craft brewery with a small outdoor seating area where Norbert has been welcomed that is worth a stop)
  • Laughing Planet Cafe http://www.thelaughingplanetcafe.com/ (restaurant that features locally-farmed foods in burritos of the week with a large outdoor deck where you can dine with your buddy)
  • Story Inn http://www.storyinn.com/ (a bit off the beaten path in our neighboring Brown County, but if you are visiting Brown County State Park, it is well worth the trip; check and make sure the outdoor area is open; Norbert still hasn’t made a visit there, but his older brother Tucker swore by the bacon and eggs)
  • Bruster’s Real Ice Cream https://www.facebook.com/BloomingtonIndianaBrustersRealIceCream/ (this is entirely outside but I mention it because when you get your treat, you can also get a free Pup Cup that is a small vanilla scoop with a dog biscuit in the middle for your pal)
  • There are many other restaurants in Bloomington that have outdoor seating so I imagine many/most/maybe all, allow you to have your pooch alongside.

Stores where my pups have been welcome:

Outdoor activities:

Vacationing at home!
Vacationing at home!

2016 Travels with Norbert

With the temperatures warming, the urge to hook up The Doghouse to the Outback and head down the road with my favorite traveling partner in toe, grows.  While prepping for some new adventures, here’s a pictorial year in review of my travels with Norbert!

 

April – HDI (Help Desk Institute) Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida with a stop in Central, South Carolina:

Norbert and I trekked down to Orlando for one of my work conferences where he landed us a free upgrade to a business suite that included a full bar and lounge.  Along the way we made a stop in South Carolina where we stayed with a friend’s friend and were treated to some great food, conversation, drink, and a beautiful day hike.

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The Norbert Upgrade – a business suite I was able to share with some of my HDI colleagues

 

May – Bonnieville, KY for Speleofest weekend

This rookie RV’er learned some good lessons during this first trek out with The Doghouse which included knowing ahead of time where you are heading in a campground and not taking 1600 lb trailer up a muddy hill even if you have all-wheel drive, accepting help from strangers when needed, and understanding that a place in Kentucky called Lonestar has nothing to do with Texas and everything to do with its abundance of ticks. The best part of the trip was hanging out in The Doghouse during a rainy night, drinking cold brews and exchanging laughs with friends.

 

June – SUP with your Pup class and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

All of my travels have had their significance, but this trip east was a decision I made unlike any other. It was the result of a culmination of events in my life and in the world around me that tipped the scales (we’ll save that for another blog post though).

Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but call it what you will. I came to the realization that I had spent too many years trying to live up to others’ expectations or waiting for abc to happen, or for xyz to come along… When another trip with friends changed too many times, I decided it was time to walk away and do something for me. I had read a book the year before to teach Norbert how to standup paddle board with me and had found a class back east that the author taught. I hopped online, found an upcoming class, and before I knew it, I had signed up for a class in Virgina.

I searched for places to stay with Norbert and nothing was appealing or particularly cheap (I paid an extra $50/night in Orlando during my conference to have Norbert in the hotel with me). Long story short, I bought a Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket Trek, now dubbed The Doghouse, so my boy and I could travel with ease.  My second trip with it would be a cross country trip to this class as well as a campground in Shenandoah National Park where I met up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in about 20yrs (NOTE: This IS the year the Cubs won the World Series)

 

July-August – Copper Harbor, MI

We traveled north to Copper Harbor with some friends where the boy and I paddled everyday in walking distance from our campground while my pals took a mountain bike class. The waters of Lake Superior (north of the Lake Fanny Hooe, where we paddled) was crystal clear (and cold!)  It definitely made me think more about what we do to our environment and the abundance of potable water that Americans take for granted.

 

September – Colorado

Longest road trip to date. I went to Colorado for several reasons. I had been thinking of joining a Cricket Rally in Eagle in mid-September. Then, I received a wedding invitation from a friend who I wasn’t particularly close to but felt a strong kindred spirit connection. Maybe it was the mountains, but something drew me, and I knew I needed to go and be present. It was a long drive, but I was able to keep Norbert entertained with my singing.

Norbert and I made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Steamboat Lake State Park, Carbondale (where I took a day trip to the Maroon Bells and another to Delta where I saw another dear friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years), and then to Sylvan Lake State Park. After my two-week trip, I can say with certainty that I’m in love with Colorado.

Trips in the Great Sand Dunes, Carbondale, and Sylvan Lake State Park (Norbert w/ Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket founder and architect, Garrett Finney)

Trip to beautiful Maroon Bells and to Delta to see and old friend and one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.

 

My first planned trip in 2017 had to be cancelled due to some unexpected events, but I worry not.  As I get more comfortable going off the beaten path and off grid with Norbert, I know new adventures await.

Perhaps it’s time to pull out a map and toss some darts…

 

Coach Crean

A lot of things will (and already have been) said about Tom Crean’s firing. Whether it was time to let him go or not, it is indisputable that he came to Indiana University when its basketball program was at an all-time low. He ran a clean program and resurrected it into one that won Conference Championships and made it to the Sweet Sixteen multiple times.  Most importantly though, he showed respect for his players while expecting them to live up to a higher standard.

But, Division I coaching is a “what have you done for me lately” type of profession.

I’m not going to argue whether or not he should have been fired, but will say that I always hoped for his success. I truly believe he is not just a good person, but the kind of leader you want working with young men who are finding their way into adulthood. We forget sometimes, these players are 18-21 years old!

I met Coach Crean during an unfortunate event in our small town. When Lauren Spierer, an IU student, went missing, a massive number of people from the community volunteered to help search. When I ran into a friend at the search who was the head Field Hockey coach at the time, I ended up being grouped with her, Crean, and other IU Athletics staff. Crean wasn’t there to get attention (though the press did their best to follow us). He was there because he was part of a community he embraced. He was there because he was a father. He was there for the same reason the rest of us were there. He wanted to help.

During the afternoon I spent with him, I found him to be genuine, caring, and compassionate.  One of his assistants at the time, Steve McClain, was with us that day too.  While working with him, he spoke highly of Crean, going on and on about how much he cared for the players and wanted them to not just become good basketball players, but good people.

I was an IU basketball fan before that day, but after it, I became a Tom Crean fan as well. I wish he could have been the coach to bring IU back to the very top, but let’s face it, only one coach gets to do that per year.

Whatever Coach Crean does next, I wish him the best. Any program that lands a leader like him, who will be a positive force with the young men he works with on a daily basis, will be lucky to have him.  We need more coaches like Tom Crean.

#BaseballMagic (The Best of 2016)

As I reflect on the year past and concede the death of my childhood on many levels with the loss of famed figures such as Florence Henderson, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Pat Summit, there is one ending that occurred in 2016 that I rejoice in, and continue to process as the days and months pass.  I was born into a Cubs fan family and have bled Cubby Blue throughout my five decades on this earth.  This year I saw the end of an era – the Era of the Lovable Losers.

Like many Cubs fans, the post-season flooded me with memories of watching games with my Dad, and in particular, a late season game in August of 1984. That was the year I truly believed the Cubs were going all the way and was also the last year the Cubs only sold Bleacher seats (good ol’ Bleacher Bums) on game day. Dad and I stood in line and were able to get one of the last tickets sold in Standing Room Only in the Bleachers. The sun was ablaze and my poor Dad looked like a lobster at the end of the day. I don’t remember the game much, but there was most definitely hope in the air. I had heard from my brothers that Dad attended the last Cubs World Series game, Game 7 against the Tigers on October 10, 1945, but I also seemed to know it wasn’t something to bring up. At that game in 1984 though, I asked him about it and he told me how he took the train across town to go to the game. He stared out to the field and recalled how the Tigers were clobbering the Cubs before the first half of the first inning was over. As he unfolded the heart wrenching details, his eyes drifted back to that place and time. I silently listened as he spoke of players whose names were unknown to me, what they did during the season, how great they were, and how they came apart in that final game. It was an extraordinary moment. In it all, we stood there in the August sun with a new sense of hope.

Since that time, I never fully believed in my heart that the Cubs were going all the way like I did as a teen in 1984 — not again, until this year. As many others have stated, this team was different, this team was special.  I “watched” each post-season game with my brothers and sisters via text messaging with Dad’s spirit nearby. I also found myself connecting with old friends via Facebook, many of whom I have had little connection with other than the Cubs. That is one of the magical things about baseball – regardless of differences, depth of connections, frequency of contact, baseball seems to bring people together, even non-baseball fans. It is a common thread and it is something we need more than anything today.

So, when I wondered out loud about the possibility of going to Wrigley for a World Series game, one of my closest and wisest friends quipped, “Pay for experiences, not things,” and I took it to heart.

Long story, short, I found myself going to Game 5 at Wrigley Field which was potentially the final game of the World Series since the Cubs were down 3-1 at that point.  I knew I’d regret not going to see it if it turned out to be the last time the Cubs played a WS game in my lifetime.  So, I bit the bullet, and with a few clicks of an iPhone app, had a ticket to my first night game at Wrigley. It was glorious. My seat was phenomenal – Section 102, Row 9, Seat 1. When Eddie Vedder came out to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” I couldn’t imagine anyone better.  Moments later, Vedder topped it when he asked the fans to sing along with Harry and he and the left field jumbotron pulls up a video of Harry Caray. An audible “Oh!” came from the crowd, followed by a choking of tears, followed by huge smiles and joyous singing.  That is baseball magic. The game was a nail biter, but the Cubbies came through and held off the Indians with a 3-2 win. Until November 2, 2016 it was the greatest baseball game I had ever attended.

I bought tickets for Game 7 along with two friends on the way back from Chicago the next day. It may take another year or ten before I am able to truly process that game. There will never be another like it in my lifetime, I am certain of that. Many will discuss the highlights and dissect and reconstruct the game pitch-by-pitch, but the collective emotion that was in Progressive Field that night between both Cubs and Indians fans, was something beyond adequate description. I had a level of stress in those final innings that left me holding my pounding head and rocking side to side with only the ability to cry out, “We Love You, Cubbies!” because I remembered hearing Joe Maddon once state in an interview how he would hear that one Cubs fans up in the nosebleeds and how much that meant — I was going to do my part (which I also did by not getting my hair cut for the last two months of the season so not to jinx the team)…

What was most magical about being at that game was how much it felt like we were transported back to a 1970s baseball game (sans the electronic scoreboards and jumbotrons). Players and fans alike, displayed a sportsmanship that seems rare these days. I sat with a mix of Cubs and Indians fans. We expressed our excitement of being there, shared stories of family members passed with each other, and teased each other in good spirit as the game became more tense. Two Cleveland fans sitting behind me offered and traded seats with two friends so we could all sit together. During the short rain delay, someone yelled out, “How ’bout we just call it a draw?!” and many on both sides agreed we should. When all was said and done, there were handshakes and congratulations and empathy expressed. I’ve never witnessed a sporting event like this in my life. Then again, none of us there, ever had.

 

I will always be a true blue Cubs fan, win or lose, but can say that Cleveland is now my second favorite team and I wish them final victory someday as well (so long as it’s not against the Cubs).

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An open letter to non-Cubs fans

With less than an hour left before the Cubs first World Series game since 1945, I give you this…

To my friends who don’t quite understand us,

Explaining the emotion of Cubs fans is nearly impossible. It’s similar to being a kid and believing in your heart that the Easter Bunny exists and if you stay up late enough or wake up early enough, you might get a glimpse of that cotton-tailed wonder. Years come and go and sometimes you are teased with doors that are ajar, knowing you just missed seeing that bunny. And though the naysayers tell you the EB isn’t real, you still want to believe. In your heart you know it is still possible (after all, your Dad caught a glimpse of that bunny in 1945). And then all of a sudden, along with thousands of others who have been in search of that rabbit, holding out hope, a giant bunny comes bounding into the room sharing treats and joy and hope in the guise of a Montero pinch hit grand slam, a Contreras 2-6 pick off, an “Ice in his veins” Lester shutout, and a ridiculously acrobatic Baez defensive maneuver.

I’ve seen several pictures of fans immediately after the final outs of the NLCS who did something similar to my reaction. We cheered in victory, followed by tears of joy and bewilderment of what transpired before our very eyes. Most of us continue to be flooded with memories of family and friends and all the magical stuff that comes along with following the Cubs, and that alone, is extraordinary.

Whatever happens in this next week, I can assure you of one thing. The Easter Bunny is REAL and seeing that bunny for the first time ever is absolutely magnificent.