My mother, Socorro Marina “Penny” Ford, passed away very peacefully in the early hours of June 26, 2019.
I had a complicated relationship with my mom, but these are some of the things I believe to be true.
She was a woman well beyond her time. She was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known and definitely the most resilient. The obstacles and prejudices she faced in her lifetime are innumerable, and in many ways, likely hardened her, yet she always seemed to keep moving forward. Mom was one of three women in a class of 103, accepted to Loyola Medical School in 1950. Though she only stayed a year, as she followed the expectations of her times to raise a family when she became pregnant, she was still very much a trailblazer. Though she never completed her medical degree, she most definitely cut through, and cut herself on, some of those sharp brambles on the trail, and helped clear some obstacles for other women to blaze it.
She was also an incredibly talented artist. My brother Dan noted in her final hours that had she stayed in medical school, she may never have had the opportunity to create beauty in her silkscreens, painted rocks, and pressed flowers.
She always had an awareness of social justice and taught that to me through actions such as when I was in grade school and we had an annual national oratory where students had to memorize a speech or poem or historical document and recite it on stage to others in the school. While most students chose Lincoln’s Address or the Preamble, mom pulled out Native American poetry books and handed them to me and told me to pick out a poem. I didn’t have a complete grasp of the history at that time, but remember receiving a standing ovation and realizing this was something bigger than reciting poems from an older period of our nation’s history. Years later, as I think back to that time, I realize she knew I may not have fully understood the lesson, but that I would, later in life.
She taught me to be proud of who I am, regardless of whether society may state differently.
I also learned lessons indirectly from her own human weaknesses. I learned the importance of forgiveness and letting go and that by not doing so, one can create their own isolation. To do so though is not an easy task, but for a woman who persevered and persisted, she provided me the willfulness to find a way to do that.
Her show of love was often subtle. My dad would come home from work every night and change into these patterned polyester pants and often relaxed under the apple tree with a book. One day he came home and couldn’t find them. Mom had thrown them in the laundry basket because they were so dirty, they were ready to walk away on their own. For anyone who knew my dad, he was about as easy going as they come. However, not having his patterned polyester pants in his usual spot after work was very upsetting to him. What he likely never knew after that day, was that mom made sure those pants were always cleaned and dried for him when he arrived home, never ever letting him know that for years, she made certain they were there for him.
There are so many different pictures that come to mind as I think of my mom in her 90.5 years, which by the way, I don’t think is a coincidence. She was born on the 26th, as my dad was, and passed on the 26th. She had an obsessive habit of having to have things in front of her straightened out or in a line or in an order of some sort. It doesn’t surprise me that she left this earth at 90 years and 6 months, to the day.
I have nothing but gratitude left in me for this incredibly complex woman, full of strengths and flaws, who I often see in the mirror, but now, with a lot less judgment. I see her as an innocent child, a brilliant youth, a steeled adult, and a vulnerable elder. I love her and I wish her peace. And, I will miss her.
Socorro Marina “Penny” Ford – b. December 26, 1928, d. June 26, 2019
In late February of this year, Bugg joined our family of misfit toys after his previous owner needed to rehome him. Bugg is a Treeing Walker Coonhound/Australian Cattle Dog mix and one of ten pups whose mother died of bloat soon after birthing them. If this story sounds familiar, Bugg is indeed, a littermate of my boy Norbert, who I’ve had since he was five weeks old. When I heard his brother needed a home, and knowing I wanted another pup, it seemed obvious that I should see if we could make this work.
The moment Bugg trotted up on my front porch, it was love at first site. His warm eyes and sweet disposition were the first thing I noticed. I knew within hours that we would likely offer a home to him. Though red and white to Norbert’s tri-color, the two have many similarities – their butt spots, the way they hold their ears, their affinity for casing the cats… They also differ greatly. Where Norbert is headstrong, dominant, and protective, Bugg is passive to the point of frequent bouts of submissive urination.
This has been a challenge. Bugg is a big boy and Bugg has a big bladder.
Just prior to our new addition, I learned about the US Canine Biathlon from a Canicross Facebook page that I had joined. Norbert had been my constant adventure buddy from the start – trailrunning, paddleboarding, skijoring, etc… He was quite the athlete and I thought participating in what is essentially a Tough Mudder with your dog, seemed like a great way to spend the day with him.
Once Bugg joined the family, he became part of our weekend hikes and runs. He quickly took to the fun but wasn’t quite as athletic/agile as his brother and was often timid when faced with a challenge (Bugg vs Log). In time, he started to try new things such as jumping in the lake and swimming out to retrieve a stick, but his insecurities were still a mountain. I called my trainer in to help and started a routine with me to help build his confidence.
Additionally, I took Bugg on a couple of road trips and camping trips with Norbert and me. After his first road trip where he stood in the back seat for 4.5 out of the 5 hours each way, excited about every truck that went by, he had liquid diarrhea for two days following. A camping trip later, his anxiety about riding in the car started to subside (though he still gets really jazzed about trucks!). Our next trip to Alliston, Alabama was a long one so I was prepped with some Pro-Pectalin on hand, just in case…. I planned on bringing him down with Norbert and me for the race so he could be exposed to the event, crowds of people and other dogs.
That was the plan.
What about Norbert?
Then, last week, my Norbert didn’t live up to his perfect social media persona and snapped at a hiker on a trail where some friends and I had been camping. Long story short, the guy was very understanding about things, but I was a mess. I had failed my dog. I knew he reacted to strangers sometimes and I made several mistakes (not being aware of my surroundings, not having full control, verbal or otherwise, of him, and not keeping the space I know he needs when out and about). I had also made the mistake many owners make of not taking it seriously enough sooner (“MY kid isn’t a bad kid!”). When a dog is labeled “reactionary” people tend to think of the big dog that really bites down and could kill someone. Norbert isn’t that dog; but, he is the dog that will rip clothing and might just get some skin while doing so – he will also sound like Cujo as he’s doing it and is a fairly big dog which is intimidating to many. It can’t be a pleasant experience for the casual hiker just going out for a peaceful walk in the woods…
I was a wreck over it. Me, the dog person who knows how to work with my dogs, completely failed. I immediately recognized the errors I made, but also lost my own confidence that I could be certain not to let it happen again. It shook my world.
A call to my trusted trainer, Jeff Hacker, to postpone Bugg’s training to discuss, and work with Norbert, became priority. After just one session I felt 100 times better and had a plan in place that is already showing promise.
However, I was just days from heading south to Alabama and though I knew they allowed for dogs of all sorts to participate in the event, I was new to it and wasn’t going to put Norbert nor myself in a situation to err again. After talking to my trainer, I decided to run Bugg instead, but still bring Norbert with me so he could be exposed to the event and see what was happening, but under my watchful eye.
With the decision made, we headed south with the The Doghouse in tow. Norbert, who has many road trips in the books, settled in and napped most of the hours on the road while Bugg stood for all but about 15 minutes, excited about every truck that passed on the highway. “Look, a truck! Look, another truck!!!”
I was glad I had Norbert with me. It was hard enough to make the decision to not run him, but to leave him at home would have broken my heart. When a stranger approached my camper at my stop Thursday night, where Bugg would have likely hid in a corner and wet himself had we been alone, Norbert was fully in tune and on the ready to protect me. Norbert may have a bad attitude at times, but is ever loyal and protective.
Bugg’s Big Day!
The event was at Vapor Wake K9, a training facility for dogs who are trained in explosive detection. This was the fifth year for the Canine Biathlon, which I was told, has doubled in size every year through word of mouth alone. Many of the participants were from military and police backgrounds and had dogs trained in specialized programs – there were a number of Malinois, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinchers, many of which were dog or people aggressive, but in full control by their handlers. In fact, during the whole weekend where there were over 800 dogs out and about, the only issues I saw were with pet owners (not the working dogs) whose dogs got loose or whose leashes were dropped during the race.
The forecast called for thunderstorms all weekend. As it turned out the only time it rained was when I first arrived. We had about a 15 minute downpour just as I was setting up camp. Since I didn’t expect it to stop, I was completely drenched by the time I had everything set up. Then the sun came out for the rest of the weekend.
The event and course was designed with dogs and their safety in mind, first and foremost. Humans be damned! As Paul Hammond, the Mad Brit, who designed the course stated in his opening remarks, “We always send the runners off first without dogs so they can clear the snakes for our beautiful furry friends!”
One of many drainage pipes
The Water Dunk
The Dog Carry (the only obstacle we didn’t complete)
The course was a tough 4.1 miles and winds through the woods where there is plenty of shade and water. It includes about 50 different obstacles that included sand hills, steps and platforms, pools of water (humans have to go under while dogs are able to swim above), A-frames to climb up and over, rocky creek beds with flowing water (Spider Mile), drainage pipes to crawl through, mud crawls, cars to go up and over (how many cars can be left in the middle of the woods???!!!), giant wooden spools to climb up and over, Snake Mountain which is an up and down hard dirt tortuous route with ropes for the humans to climb up and down (I left part of my left buttocks on one of the hills), a wall of tires to climb up and down through, Heartbreak Hill, the dunking pool, and a dog carry across a log (that was the one and only obstacle we couldn’t complete).
I had no idea how this was going to go but I knew we weren’t going to be racing. I knew Bugg would be glued to me out of sheer fear and would likely need some coaxing to complete some of the obstacles. If he refused or was too anxious, I would take the penalty and get through the day with him. He needed some time solo with me and I figured it could only help boost his confidence.
The course had two to three lanes with wide paths. The starts were staggered, so that dog/human could go together without conflict. This helped prevent congestion and with rules that clearly stated to give faster participants the through way, there was plenty of space.
“It’s flatter over there, mom.”
“Um, there’s space between those slats, mom!”
When it was time for us to go, Bugg wasn’t quite sure what to do. The course starts by going up and over several small sand dunes. Bugg’s first reaction was to head off the course to the road but I prompted him to stay by my side. Next came steps and a platform that included a wobbly bridge to cross. Bugg was a bit shaky and I could see he was considering jumping off the side which would have taken me with him since he was attached around my waist. After several seconds passed, we made it across. Two short obstacles and already others were passing by us. I thought to myself, this was going to be a long day of going slow and providing lots of positive reinforcement. We’d take as much time as Bugg needed. A pool of water came next that had wires across the top just inches above the waterline. Dogs could swim across and stay above water but humans had to go under to make it across. Once I entered the pool and was able to lift Bugg in, he completed it fabulously.
Then came a short run through a couple of windows to climb up through, a stream to run through the middle of, and our first drainage pipe to go through. This one was short and Bugg got in next to me and went through fairly well. Ah, he’s getting it!
We continue on down a path hurdling over a number of logs and then winding us back into the stream and to our next longer drainage pipe. I had watched others do this in the morning and saw that all had let their dogs lead through. I did the same…
Bugg starts through and I follow on my belly, head first and crawling. About a third of the way in, Bugg starts to panic and tries to turn around. With no room to pass me, he climbs on top of my head and folds his body in half over me. I talk him down calmly until he melts into my arms and I end up slowly pushing him out backwards all the way through and into the water. Once out, I layer on the praise and he starts to get excited. We head further down over rocks through the stream and get to the next, longer drainage pipe. I decide to go in first this time and cheer him on from the front. He follows me through and I give him major props when we exit. I can’t remember how soon after that we went through our next pipe, but after that point, he was all about leading the way (and happily dragged me through a couple of them)!
The A-frames were another big challenge at first, but he quickly figured them out and was great about waiting on the top for me to find my footing and manage to make my way over with little bruising. As we entered the woods, he seemed to get more and more comfortable. Many rock beds, mud crawls, car climbs, and rugged trails later, we came up to three rows of three giant wooden spools. I guide Bugg up the first and hold him steady telling him to wait (he’s NOT all that well trained yet and I had images of him jumping over and taking me with him like a paddleball ball on a rubberband). He stays focused, eyes on me, as I jump up and make my way over. The second spool goes just as well with Bugg waiting on top, though a bit shaky, as I make my way up and over again. The third spool is higher than the first two. I help get Bugg to the top with his harness handle and tell him to sit, which he does. I jump up but can’t pull myself up. I drop down and let the leash out as far as I can to give me a little room for a jump start. I start to pull myself up again, but my arms shake and give. I drop back down. I look up at Bugg and he has moved over to one side of the spool and looks me in the eyes. I swear I could hear his thoughts repeating to me what I had said to him in that drainage pipe curled into my arms, “C’mon mom, you got this!”
I step back and take a run hop and struggle with all my might to pull myself up just enough to steady myself and push with my feet on the spool sides until I could rest my chest on top. I hold steady for a second and look up to see Bugg’s eyes looking down at me, “I knew you could do it, mom!” I climb the rest of the way up and we get over to the other side and start heading down the trail for the tires, Snake Mountain, Heartbreak Hill, the dunking pool, etc…. From that point on, Bugg had a swagger about him. With his tail lifted, he carried his head up and was lighter on his feet.
When we crossed the finish line, I was handed a finisher’s medal which I immediately hung around Bugg’s neck. He seemed to know he did something special. I sat down and hugged him and told him how proud I was of him and then the rain started… in my eyes.
Bugg is still a work in progress when it comes to self-assurance, but the dog I brought to Anniston, Alabama is a completely different dog than the one I brought home to Bloomington, Indiana. Both he and I have a new bond and level of trust with each other and both walked away with a bit more confidence.
As for Norbert… I learned quickly in Anniston, that Norbert’s issues are mild compared to what many people there were dealing with in their dogs. The difference was that the people who were handling those dogs (mostly professionals), were fully aware of their might and had full control of them (in fact, the only issues I saw the whole weekend were with pet owners). I spoke to many others who had dogs that were reactive to either people or other dogs (and for a short moment had an image of taking Norbert through the Scared Straight Program). They provided a space where I could talk through some of my own fears without any judgement on their end. I walked away feeling certain I’d own, the hardest part, and be able to address these issues with Norbert (and myself).
After running the course with Bugg, seeing the layout, and the extra care they take to allow for dogs of all types to participate with their people safely, I’m sure I can do this with Norbert next year (and if I can stay in good physical shape myself, I might just run it twice so each dog gets a chance at it!)
These two boys from the same womb, have such different doganalities and needs. When I look at them together and separately, I know we are all meant for each other. I can’t wait for our next adventure!
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.
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.
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.
Restaurants/Brew Pubs (dogs welcome in outdoor seating and indoor at non-food serving locales; notes include Norbert’s favorite meals):
Scenic Viewhttp://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 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 no longer allows dogs at their outdoor locations. I’m not sure whu but was told during the Summer 2018 that their corporate office changed their policy. Big Woodshttp://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 Fermentableshttp://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 Bloomingtonhttp://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 Brewinghttp://www.functionbrewing.com/ (another local craft brewery with a small outdoor seating area where Norbert has been welcomed that is worth a stop)
Switchyard Brewing http://www.switchyardbrewing.com/ (the newest brewery in town that welcomes dogs inside their premises. Like Upland West, they do not offer food, but you can bring your own or have something delivered)
The Inkwell Bakery & Cafe https://www.facebook.com/inkwellbtown/ (great little local bakery with breakfast and lunch options. There’s two tables outside where they welcome dogs. If you go, I highly recommend their homemade pop-tarts, especially the FROG tart, when available – fig, raspberry, orange, and ginger)
Laughing Planet Cafehttp://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 Innhttp://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)
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.
Black rat snake who didn’t appreciate our presence #hiss
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
Enroute to Fredericksburg campground
Rest stop with the big rigs
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.
Serenading Norbert #1
Serenading Norbert #2
Serenading Norbert #3
Serenading Norbert #4
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…
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.
1976-77 fifth grade class photo in my favorite Cubbies t-shirt and Cubby blue suede shoes with red laces (I snuck out of the house with a sweater over my shirt so my mom wouldn’t know I was wearing it for my class photo)
Watching the final outs, streaming on an iPhone 6S, as the Cubs earn their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
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.
Last game I went to with my Dad
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.
The field is calling and I must go
Found my brother Dan amongst the masses after the Cubs take Game 5
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.
Brought Dad to Game 7 with me
Nosebleeds were great seats!
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).
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.