Five Years Later

One thousand eight hundred twenty five days (give or take). That’s how long it’s been since my life changed, since my world changed.I’ve recently been thinking a lot about family and what family means to me. As those who know me will tell you, my world begins and ends with my kids. My son and daughter are my everything. They are my North. They are my constant. I am who I am because of them. I live the life that I do for them.

Beyond my children, I have a loving, giving, and exceptionally fulfilling relationship with my wife. We fit together. We complement each other. Our marriage is not always roses and it’s far from perfect, but we are indeed perfect for each other.

My mother still lives in South Florida and I keep in touch with her at least once a week. My mother in law lives with my wife and me, and it’s very nice having someone else around the house to interact with and make us coffee in the morning (thanks, Patsy).

My brother and I maintain a good relationship, although he has his life and I have mine. We probably don’t keep in touch as often as we should, but with Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging, we do alright to keep each other abreast of the important things going on.

Outside all the above, I’ve been staring at the concept of family with a sense of amalgamation as to how that word applies to my life.

I once had a conversation with a friend of mine about this very topic. She was adamant the label family applied only to those related to you by blood or marriage. I apply a more broad approach to the word, allowing it to incorporate individuals with whom you have no blood relation but are still critical people in your life. She told me there were words other than family to describe those relationships. I proceeded to tell her she was the sister I never had.

It was five years ago this weekend, Memorial Day 2006, when my eyes were opened to the idea that family could be something greater that DNA and marriage certificates. Lee and I traveled to Isle of Palms, South Carolina for the first ever Sister Hazel Hazelnut Hang. It was a great experience with three days filled of amazing music and fun times. More importantly, it’s where we first met the wonderful collection of individuals with whom we interact on a regular basis. It’s where we were introduced to our Hazelnut Family (and my wife did an excellent job capturing exactly what that family means to us).

Amidst recent commentary from the South Florida home front, which included snarky comments about fleeing Miami and implied assertions of family abandonment, the idea of what family is has weighed heavily on my mind. Yes, I love my aunts and uncles, and I miss my cousins because they’re the people with whom I grew up. Thanks to today’s technology and the continued proliferation of social media, it’s a lot easier to keep in touch with them. I’ve even found renewed relationships with several of them as a result.

Still, my life is in Tampa because my kids are in Tampa. I make no apologies for that at all. In a perfect world we’d all live within an hour’s drive of each other, and we’d routinely get together like we did when we were kids. But the world is not perfect, and we all should be focusing on the life ahead instead of the memories of what’s now so far behind us.

Living in Tampa also affords me the added bonus of being near some of the people who make up my other family. These are individuals with whom I’ve bonded over the years. We came together as a result music and that weekend trip Lee and I took five years ago. We stayed together because we share a commitment to and for each other, a passion for doing right by others, and a desire to share the magic of music with others so that their lives can be positively impacted as ours have.

I can say honestly and without equivocation the life I lead today and the world in which I live is a direct result of Memorial Day weekend 2006. My music family has helped me grow into who I am, and I will forever be grateful for the many wonderful and blessed relationships that were created as a result of that event.

You and I may disagree on the definition of family, but there’s no disputing the power and impact the love of family can have. In my case, it was life changing.

The Rules of Engagement

I am a diehard sports fan. I love sports. Watching, coaching, partaking; I can’t get enough of sports (with the exception of Cricket. I just refuse to get into that at all.) Specifically, I get crazy about the teams from my hometown. So with the Miami Heat reaching the NBA Finals, instead of being 100% consumed with joy, I’m actually a little saddened.My good friend Matt is a diehard sports fan. He loves sports. Watching, critiquing, …..er, watching; he can’t get enough of sports. (I actually think he would get into Cricket). Specifically, Matt is crazy about the teams from Dallas. Rangers, Stars, Cowboys, and, of course, the Mavericks.

The Miami Heat will face the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.

You can see my dilemma.

My dilemma is fueled by the fact it’s very easy for me to slip into obnoxious fan mode. I wish I could control it. I wish I could promise you it wouldn’t happen. But that would be the equivalent of asking Bruce Banner to control the raging, green monster inside of him. It just happens. Throw in a case of beer and it happens a lot faster.

I need to emphasize Matt is not just a friend. He’s a very good friend. He’s in my inner circle. He’s one of the first numbers I’d call in the event of an emergency. My family celebrates the holidays with his family. He and his wife come over to our house just to hang out. We’re tight like that.

So in the interest of keeping a good thing solid, I’ve developed what I would like to call the 2011 NBA Finals Rules of Engagement:

  1. Under no circumstances are Matt and I allowed to watch any of the games together. I don’t care if he’s picking up the tab or providing all the beer. It ain’t happening.
  2. In-game commentary shall be limited to text messaging only. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, text messaging remains the last bastion of true private conversation.
  3. The ability of one person to be obnoxious following a win is directly proportional to how obnoxious the loser was during the game. Grace begets grace and douche begets douche.
  4. Both parties are reminded that opinion is NOT fact. All commentary must begin with “I think” or “I believe.” Caveat: Any commentary that is substantiated by documentable statistics is allowed (which means I will lose this part every time).
  5. No blaming the refs. Bad calls will be made that adversely impact both teams. It happens in all sports. Overall, it evens out. Both parties have to live with it.
  6. The first person to use the word ‘Wambulance’ agrees to let the other person slap him in the face.
  7. The first person to use the word ‘Meh’ agrees to let the other person punch him in the throat (I totally put that in there for my own benefit).
  8. Any wagering on the series is not to exceed $20 and cannot lead to the humiliation of the losing party (although I do love the idea of Matt wearing a LeBron James jersey to work).

In the end, it’s all just a game and we’ll both return to being best of friends. That is, of course, unless the Heat lose because the refs decided to baby Dirk Nowitzki all series, and the Mavs played dirty, and the Cowboys still suck, and Nolan Ryan was overrated, and the Stars should have stayed in Minnesota, and Jerry Jones is the reason for the lockout, and Debbie was a skank anyway, and…..

…meh!

The Courage To Write

If there’s one word I really hate it’s ‘facade’. The word itself and the slyness with which it’s usually said conjure up images of movie sets for old westerns. You know the ones. The buildings are merely planks of plywood painted to look like actual structures; thin 2×4’s the only thing keeping them up in the back.

Facade. I bet your reading of the word makes you think of someone whom you feel is fake. Someone who is not anything close to genuine. Someone who tries their best to make you think they’re someone they’re not.

We live in a world of facade. We live in a world where style almost always trumps substance. We live in society that embraces flash, worships immediacy, and cowers to political correctness. Honesty is not only a lonely word, it’s a forgotten concept.

But then you have moments when you come across people who are striving to be honest individuals. People working hard simply to be authentic. Who would have thought it could be an ordeal to just be yourself?

I am fortunate and blessed to live with a person like that.

Watching my wife on her journey of authenticity has been and continues to be an inspiration for me. It also serves as a reminder of what courage is. As I’ve been privy to most of the feedback she’s received from her writing, I’m reminded of what it takes to write and publish your thoughts, feelings, and emotions for all the world to see. Blogging in the manner which my wife does takes a type of courage very few people posses.

It’s not like writers of editorials who are paid to take a position on a subject and express their opinions with words. It’s not like a talk radio host who must be both entertaining, informed, and always one step ahead of the audience. It’s also not like other bloggers who are, on their own scale, Internet celebrities and whose blogs are more a commercial vehicle than a portal of introspection.

My wife’s blog is none of those things. If we’re lucky, it never will become one of those things.

The road to authenticity begins with a realization that there’s a whole lot of distance between here and there. It also begins with the conscious decision to take what’s been given you, both the good and the bad, and to make the most with it not just for yourself but also for the greater good. It’s akin to playing poker and having all your cards dealt face up. You can’t bluff your way through a hand. When life is good, you take the pot. When it’s not, you take your loss and wait patiently until a new hand is drawn.

The admiration I have for my wife, as well as the many other writer’s out there who pour their heart and soul into the words they create, is hard to describe. The rawness with which they write is mesmerizing. Their ability to make my eyes tear and my heart ache is breathtaking. Through all the chaos, noise, and superficiality, their voices serve as a compass that reminds me of which way I want to go. It’s a moment of focus in a whirlwind of blur.

There’s a lot in this life to distract us. There’s a lot in this life to make us think we’re bigger than we are. If, however, you ever feel the desire to take off your shoes and feel the earth underneath your feet, I invite you to find a blogger that inspires you, and to latch on to that person’s work.

Better yet, if you really want to explore the inner workings of your life, take a moment to write down what you’re thinking. You don’t have to post it online or share it with anyone. Write it for you. Write it for the experience of being your authentic self.

You want to live your life? Get real.

Giving In

It’s a daily struggle for me to get into gear. The blessing that is working from home has a flip side, a side that is weighted down by sluggishness and complacency. I thoroughly enjoy not having to commute into work, but I also have to fight myself to ‘get going’ in the mornings and get the ball rolling. Sometimes inspiration – not to mention the crack of the boss’ whip – comes soon after 8:00 AM. Other times I feel like I don’t get out of second gear until well past 10:00.

Still, there is no rhyme or reason as to why or when the moment of energetic infusion hits. It could be a pressing deliverable for work, it could be a crisis situation (which in my work world usually means systems outage), or it could be the right song playing on the radio at the just right time.

Sometimes it’s a tweet from a friend. Sometimes it’s a blog post that I take a moment to read because, after all, I don’t feel like doing much of anything else. Sometimes something as simple as someone’s Facebook status can change my perspective and outlook for the day.

Inspiration is funny like that. She’s a clever little devil.

I’ve had this voice in my head for the past month now. It was a little, nagging whisper I’ve been ignoring for some time, and it finally go to me today.

“You need to write more!”

For weeks and weeks, it was there like that faint buzz you sometimes hear when an electronic device is turned on. I’d simply cast it aside like an annoying pet begging for food next to the dinner table.

“Go away. I’m ‘busy’.”

“No you’re not. You’ve been staring at ESPN.com for thirty five minutes.”

So as I gave into my lack of motivation this morning, I was bombarded online by message after message after message. It’s as if this little voice took over the Internet and deliberately directed content my way.

There was a tweet about how Rome wasn’t built in a day, but at some point the project DID start. My friend wrote a blog the mentions how Stephen Kings writes every day. Another friend’s blog got me thinking about what my calling is, and whether or not that voice in my head has something to do with it. This all came to a head when I received notification that someone I admire and is an inspiration to me is following me on twitter (yeah, I don’t get it either).

So here I am … BAM … shaking off the morning molasses and feeding the voice in my head. Call her my muse, call her a bitch; either way, both are probably correct.

Lazy is tempting seductress, one that fills you with emptiness and the regrets of missed opportunities. I know her well. Still, you never know when inspiration is going swoop in to help save you from lazy’s quicksand grip. Once she does, however, don’t let yourself hide behind excuses. I know I have.

The reward of the accomplishment is in looking back at all that was overcome to reach that point.

Plinko and Life

My kids are coming off their Spring Break and it got me to thinking about the wonderful childhood memories I have from when I was out of school. Those days were glorious. I’d wake up, watch back-to-back episodes of ‘Family Ties’, and my mom would make me her world famous (i.e. the world inside my head) egg and cheese sandwich (two of them, actually). Then ‘The Price is Right’ would come on and I’d be mesmerized by my mom’s ability to know the price of EVERYTHING!

One of my favorite TPIR games was always Plinko. I would be so consumed by how contestants would stand there and ponder the exact, perfect location of where to drop the chip so that it would land where they wanted it to. Even at an early age, I quickly realized the game of Plinko was simply a metaphor for life itself; random supersedes planning and there are no guarantees in life.

As I was perusing the Internet today, it came to my attention today is World Down Syndrome Day. As a result of my perusing, I came across two blogs, both by mothers with a child with Down Syndrome, both retelling their stories of being pregnant and how they dealt with the idea of having a child with an extra chromosome.

This, again, got me to thinking of when my ex-wife was pregnant with our children. Both times we were asked by her OB if we wanted a test to screen for abnormalities or possible birth defects. Twice we told him, “thanks, but no” as it wouldn’t matter either way. Termination of the pregnancy was never an option, so the screening would simply be a waste of time for all involved.

Both blogs I read today touched on the conversation of terminating a pregnancy where the parents became aware there was an issue with the child. In the first blog, both parents started down the path of having an abortion until something made them change their mind; a decision they would celebrate given the beautiful child they had as a result. In the second blog, the mother was not aware of her child having Down Syndrome. In fact, her pre-natal test had ruled out DS. It didn’t matter either way. For her, too, termination was never an option.

I look back at those days of doctor’s visits and ultrasounds, and it all seems light-years ago. I have two beautiful and healthy children, one eleven years old and the other just several weeks away from turning ten. I can’t imagine a life without them, and their good health is my good fortune. I thank God every day for that blessing that is all too often taken for granted.

Still, I believe my love for them would be no less had they been born with a condition or birth defect. I look at my cousin who deals with struggle after struggle with an autistic child. She and her husband lose sleep on a regular basis, are routinely at either a doctor’s office or hospital, and live their lives with a certain sense of an impending “what’s next?” mentality. Still, they love their son like there’s no tomorrow, and the love they share between themselves is immeasurable. It’s the love you develop only after having sweat and bled with someone else, and I look at my cousin with a world of admiration. I like to think I could be as strong as she, yet I thank the Lord I was not put in the position to find out.

In the end, life, and the events that fill it, is random. It really doesn’t matter where you place that Plinko chip. It’s going to fall where it’s going to fall, and there really is very little we can do to predict or control what happens once we let the chip go.

There are two things, however, we are able to dictate. Faith and love.

Our faith in God and our acceptance of His will determine for us how we experience life. We can either fill our lives with anxiety, despair, and frustration, or we can give ourselves to the mystery that is God’s choosing, knowing that when He selects us for a particular challenge, it is for a purpose and it is for the betterment of a greater good. We may never realize or understand it, still it’s our place to accept it nonetheless.

We also control how we choose to love others. It can be so easy for the parent of a special needs child to lay blame for the situation on their spouse or external circumstances. We can allow adversity to handcuff our heart’s ability to love and, in turn, be loved. Or we can find both strength and comfort in the love of those who surround us and support us. Love is not only an emotion but also a tool. It is up to us to choose if we use it to build or to destroy.

I never thought in looking back at those memories of my early youth a simple game on a television game show would lead to such a deep and thought provoking blog post. Funny how life is random that way.

Catching Grenades

Hi. My name is Gil … and I am apparently very late to this party.

Call me clueless, call me out of touch, call me addicted to the 80’s on 8 channel on my Sirius satellite radio; but I had never, until this evening, heard the Bruno Mars song ‘Grenade’.

I stumbled across it as a result of following Chris Rock’s twitter feed. The famed comedian had a post about the song. I thought the tweet was in reference to Mars’ song “Just The Way You Are”. My wife, who is light-years more in touch with what’s cool and popular than I am, promptly corrected me. This, by the way, is a common occurrence in our household.

I gave the song a listen and studied the lyrics. It’s pleasant musically and a very interesting read lyrically. To me, the song speaks to a severely imbalanced relationship in which one person clearly places the other on a pedestal without any sense of reciprocation of passion and feeling. Hmmm. Where was this song for me in late 2005?

This got me to thinking about my relationship with my wife, and what is the litmus test of true love. Would I catch a grenade for her? The deviation from the more appropriate phrasing notwithstanding (it should be “I’d jump on a grenade for you” since merely catching a grenade would still send shards of shrapnel flying everywhere, but I digress), yes. Without hesitation and without equivocation. In a moment of split-second decision making, I would absolutely give my life for that of my spouse. The same holds true for my kids.

Throw my hand on a blade? Check.

Jump in front of a train? Yep.

Go through all of the pain? For sure.

Take a bullet straight through my brain? Bring it on.

It’s called devotion. Like a seed, it is a feeling that lives inside all of us. However, it is activated only after a unique set of circumstances, experiences, and beliefs have come together and given that kernel of emotion a reason to grow. Devotion allows us to easily sacrifice what others will not for the benefit of someone else or the greater good.

We see it in missionaries who forego leisure and luxury to reach out to others. We see it in scientists who spend eighteen hours a day in labs researching possible cures for the diseases that kill us. We see it in the eyes of the women and men who put on a uniform and defend our great nation.

One thing I didn’t mention about the Bruno Mars song is that it’s also a study in hyperbole. It’s a boy’s overly exaggerated cry out to the object of his affection, a cry that is amplified because she does not feel the same for him. It’s cute, catchy, and clever, but it is not a song about devotion.

True devotion is selfless. There is no, “I agree to do this if…..”. Devotion, in its purest form, is saintly and does not bring with it conditions.

I’ve mentioned before how my life is full to the brim with blessings. I have two awesome and healthy kids, I have a beautiful wife that continues to amaze me on a daily basis, a wonderful home to share with them, and a laundry list of other things for which I am eternally grateful to God.

One thing I’d never thought of, however, was the gift of devotion. God has given me a wonderful life, but more spectacular than that, He’s given me a family I’d willingly die for. You can’t ask for anything more than that.

Gil’s Love Fest

The following blog post is from my dear friend Lindsey Goodall. For Valentine’s Day, I invited several fellow bloggers to come together and guest blog on each other’s sites. I hope you take a moment to check out Lindsey’s other posts and follow her on Twitter as well. Enjoy.

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For year’s I have been reading this blog and am so honored to have the opportunity to guest post here today! Always so moved and inspired by Gil’s writing, it would have never even occurred to me that I would be working on a piece to submit to be featured here. But had you told me the opportunity would arise and that the topic he would propose for a guest posting round robin, would be “love”. . . I would have not been surprised in the least.

More specifically, what he proposed was that several of us bloggers we write about something we love. Not someone we love, but “causes or dreams” near and dear to our hearts. We would then share our writing with another to be posted on their blog as a sort of guest post love fest celebrating Valentine’s day. Based on the alphabetical order of our last names, I was assigned to write for Gil’s blog. So here I am, writing about love on the blog of the one person in my life, who so clearly exemplifies the word for me. So, without further ado, I bring you, not a post about a cause or dream I hold dear to my heart, rather a post that will likely make the owner of this blog second guess his decision to suggest a love fest.

Gil Gonzalez values love and LIVES love more than any other human being I’ve ever known. Simply put Gil defines MAN LOVE.

Before we go any further, let me clarify here, Gil is a guys guy. I am not trying to revoke his man card here. If you know Gil in the real world or only in cyberspace, you know that Gil is a guy’s guy. He breathes sports and relishes in potty humor just like the best of them. I have no doubt that he could walk up to any man in the world and kick start a conversation about business, politics, sports or beer/tequila. Gil is 100% dude despite his capacity to love.

Gil adores his children and his A-mazing wife, Lee, in the ways you would expect a doting father and husband to do. Gil kicks it up a notch, and raises the bar for all you other Y-chromosers, though when it comes to giving love to everyone else in his life. I’ve written before about how touched I was when he took the time to protect my personal branding and then sent me a detailed explanation of why he bothered. Here’s the rub though. . . I am just one of a thousand people that Gil treats this way.

Over the years, I have seen him embrace and encourage every single person he meets. He values people and treasures relationships. The best part, is that he is not afraid to share it because of man card revocation or because of crossing any awkward social boundaries. He gives his love without limitation.

A few years ago, Gil and I jumped out of a plane together (shout out to Kara and Kelly). I was the first to jump, and as I took one glance back at my friends before flying the friendly skies, with sheer panic on his face, I saw Gil mouthing “I LOVE YOU”. While that sentiment is generally shared by those in more intimate relationships, this is what Gil does that sets him apart. He gives it so freely, that it is often received in the precisely right moment.

We were all terrified about what we were doing, having just watched the “you are going to die video”, but in the years since that experience, I’ve often felt that what he gave me, by saying those 3 little words, was really an “everything is going to be alright” at a time that I needed to hear it most in my life. Honestly, he probably just didn’t know what else to say in that incredibly adrenaline filled moment and once in a lifetime moment, but had that jump taken a horrible turn for the worse, the last words I would have heard would have been “I love you”. That, my friends, was a gift.

Today, Valentine’s day, I would encourage you to do as Gil so often does. Give the gift of the words “I love you”, without restraint. Regardless of the context of your relationship with them, share the love. Instead of hogging the love only for those only in your inner circle, spread it outside that circle to other people in your life as well!

Oh, and I love you too, Gil! It is truly and honor and a privilege to be your friend!

Groupon, F*ck Off

There’s a line in one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, “Angry Young Man”, that reads “it’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.” That is where I am going to start regarding my opinion of the recent Groupon/Super Bowl ad controversy and Andrew Mason.

If you haven’t seen it or are unaware of the issue, deal-of-the-day website Groupon ran a series of ads that many viewers found offensive. The reason for the negative response is because the ads appear to mock serious social issues.

In response to the public outcry, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason posted a blog explaining the company’s reasoning for the ads.

As I mentioned earlier, Mason clearly explained the ads are meant to, “highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon.” Mason goes on to compare the campaign, created by ad firm Crispin Porter & Bogusky, to another CP+B Super bowl ad for Hulu. This is where Mason meets his colossal #FAIL point.

The Hulu ad is clearly a joke. It’s a very well conceived and brilliantly delivered, tongue-in-cheek look at TV consumption in America. The audience walks away from the ad knowing that Hulu is poking fun at both themselves and the viewers.

The new Groupon ads do not do that. They don’t even come close.

If you look at them collectively, it is possible to see a theme develop. However, for individuals seeing the ads for the first time, the impact is almost horrific. They come across as at the very least confusing and at their worst, downright insulting.

Mason’s failure was allowing CP+B to affect his voice as well as his vision. Groupon tried to be clever and witty with their ads and the juxtaposition they paint between serious issues and penny-pinching consumerism. What they failed to consider is that social awareness is not meant to be the subject of “Ha ha. Just kidding.” antics.

It’s ironic that a company that has succeeded by providing value to its customers failed to understand that value, in and of itself, exists because of emotion. Value is psychological, and without the emotion we place on a particular good or service, there is no such thing as value.

Social awareness and giving, in turn, is wholly emotional. Millions of people sacrifice their time, money, and at times their very own lives, for causes and efforts in which they deeply believe. Social good bleeds emotion, and it is not something that should be treated with flippant disregard, as was the case with the Groupon ad campaign.

Sure, Andrew Mason can look back and try to retrospectively justify his company’s decision as one of raising awareness for issues while poking fun at themselves. He can attempt to rationalize the campaign by claiming the ads are different and not about traditional self-promotion. Mason may even employ service recovery actions to make clear the ads are indeed about social awareness.

The fact remains, however, the decision to employ this ad campaign was to deliberately create buzz about his company, be it positive or negative. It was a $3 million* investment in creating brand awareness. It was a move designed for the benefit of Groupon at the expense of the millions of people who are emotionally invested in social good and social awareness.

With every action or decision, intention is important. Andrew Mason did not intend to offend his audience. But in a way, he really did.
*Source: http://www.superbowl-commercials.org/1071.html

Sponsored by the Letter ‘F’

As I sat down to right this last blog for the month, my mind was inundated with alliteration. My mind was on the month of February, and all I could think about was words that begin with the letter ‘F’. Yes, that includes the ever versatile, never dull to say F-bomb.

So, in honor of the lovely month of February, here is a list of choice F-words that will hopefully recap the month that was, as well as set the tone for the month that will be.

Finish: I mentioned last night I would most likely not be posting blogs as routinely as I did in January. The 30-Day Writing Challenge was fun, and it was indeed a challenge. It allowed me to explore topics I had never considered, as well as find some cathartic moments to help me get over issues that still remained a bit unresolved. However, now that I’ve proven to myself that I can indeed block out time to write on a daily basis, I must be fair to myself and finish writing Volume IV of Lives. The short novel series I began writing in April of 2009 has been living in limbo for some time now. Part of it has been the deliberate hiatus of the project. Part of it has been deliberate avoidance on my part. With Volume III written (albeit unreleased), the story of Cate and Max needs its finality, and this is the month to do that.

Fortify: It’s important for me to review what Lee and I were able to accomplish with our 30-Day Writing Challenge and learn from it. In my case, not only were my eyes opened to new ideas and styles, I was also able to strengthen and reinforce some of the lessons I had learned in the six years I’ve been blogging. Mood has as much to do with writing as muse. It’s amazing how fickle my attitude can be, and what begins as a great plan to sit down and write gets tossed out the window because of a small incident that upsets me. This month reminded me that although it’s great to have a goal to write, you can’t be a slave to your writing. When it’s not there, it’s not there. And if you try to force it, you’re not being true to yourself as a writer or to your audience. Sometimes, it’s okay to just shrug your shoulders and say “fuck it”.

Foresee: One thing I truly enjoyed about the 30-Day Writing Challenge was having a list of topic ideas for each day. Mapping out about what it was I wanted to write resolved half the problems I used to have in terms of writing daily. Before, I’d sit down and think about what to write and I’d be stuck with nothing. With our ‘road map’, however, I would be able to think about the topic as I sat on conference calls. I’d be able to jot notes as I waited for Natalie’s soccer practice to finish. I’d be able to use my morning constitutional as productive time. (Over share?).

So, given the fine fellowship we were able to foster following our first listing of fascinating topics (I told you I had an alliteration avalanche), her is a list of topics and ideas for the month of February. I am not putting any dates to them and I am not listing them in any particular order. This is about looking at a topic and either being able to write about it or letting it steer your imagination in a direction that allows you to write about something else.

Since February is the month of love, several of the topics have love-themed qualities to them. Also, Lee received feedback on one of her posts suggesting the next set of topics be about what ‘we’ can do together. Finally, Lee and I both explored some dark and painful topics in our writing in January. We want this to month to be positive, light-hearted, and fun. Given all that, here’s the list (again, in no particular order).

Happy writing, everyone.

  • First Kiss
  • First Car
  • First Love
  • Childhood Crush
  • Favorites (Pet, Food, Restaurant, Vacation, TV Show, Actor/Actress, Athlete, Sports Team (Pro), Sports Team (College), Day of the Week, Season of the Year, Shirt, Relative, Book*, Song*, Movie*)
  • Describe Yourself as a Sixteen Years Old
  • Proudest Professional Moment
  • Guilty Pleasures
  • Neighbors / Community
  • Siblings or Cousin
  • Tackling a Home Improvement Projects
  • Hobbies
  • Causes you love/support
  • Common Courtesy
  • Common Sense
  • Misunderstood Song Lyrics
  • Your Role Model
  • Mission Work (i.e. could you leave it all to go serve/help others?)
  • Tolerance/Understanding (i.e. seeing an argument from the perspective of your adversary)
  • One Thing in the World You’d Like to Change

If you think of something you’d like to see added to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below of visit Lee’s site and leave a comment there. Thanks!

* I know these were covered in January, but there may be someone coming across this posting for the first time.

The Masonry of Motherhood

I’m back to writing following a brief hiatus. Camping with my son on Friday night prevented me from writing and publishing a post that evening. Sharing in dinner, laughter, and community with dear friends (not to mention a couple of bottles of wine and some Scotch) precluded my writing routine last night. So now that I had “the weekend off”, I’m here to write the second to last post of the month, and perhaps the last routine post for a while (you’ll have to tune in to Monday night’s post for details).

You’ve seen me write about my kids and also about my wife Lee. My family means so much to me it’s hard to put it into words sometimes, and it’s definitely a challenge to come up with new ways to describe the feelings I get when I think about my wife and my kids. Given all that, I am very remiss in the fact that I don’t write nearly enough about someone so equally special to me and that is such an important part in my life.

My mom is my constant. She is, in a way, the architect of who I am today. Where my dad was more the designer of my persona, I would say my mom was always focused on the engineering aspect of who I was. On top of a deep foundation of family and Catholic fundamentals, my mom placed brick after brick of life lessons, each reinforced with the mortar that was her love, as well as the unwavering rebar that was her strict discipline.

My mom was nothing if not consistent. She never caved to any puppy-dog-eyed please for exception or mercy. She never faltered in ensuring the rules that applied to everyone else also applied to me. It’s as if she measured every brick precisely, none greater than the last, none diminished by any sense of complacency. What made my mom truly remarkable in her masonry of motherhood was her ability to be meticulous. Style was not really important. For my mom, the substance of what she was making would serve to be the measure of value, respect, and integrity.

I love my mom and I truly enjoy her company. I wish we did not live so far apart with her in Miami and me in Tampa. I wish we had the opportunity to interact more and for my kids to be with their grandmother more often. All that being said, no one sets me off or pushes my buttons quite the way my mom does. The last several years have been an exercise in me learning to be more patient with her so as to ensure the limited time we do share is that of quality time. This is especially true given the very recent reminders that mortality is an eventuality, and I don’t want to waste time being upset at or bothered by my mother.

I hate to admit how little I’ve been able to show my mom the love and appreciation she deserves. At the very least we speak weekly and every conversation ends with an exchange of ‘I love you’. Yet, I know that’s not enough. It’s not enough to bank on a phone call. It’s not enough to really on Hallmark cards on Mother’s Day and her birthday. All of that doesn’t even begin to come close to being enough when I consider how my mom has always been there for me. Unwavering. Unassuming. Unbelievably constant.

I don’t know what the solution is in the long run. My life is here in Tampa, and until my kids graduate from high school (2019), my life will remain here in Tampa. I’ve talked to my mom about moving up here to be closer to her grandchildren, and we discussed the many pros and cons to that idea. Still, we each remain resigned to the fact we’ll see each other a handful of times per year and maintain the formal and cordial relationship of mother and son. Until I can figure out a way to change and improve this, I guess the best I can do is to live a life of value, respect, and integrity, and always give her a reason to be proud of what she created.

May my actions as a husband, a father, and a human being serve as a monument to her legacy as a mother.