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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Long. Road. Home.

“In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?”

This past week, I spent approximately 5,800 minutes with 17 guys who, in many cases, I had not seen in 35 years. Yes it’s a lot of numbers to absorb, but when put together, it was an experience that will last a lifetime. (Well that is until we meet up again—hopefully sooner rather than later.)

The reason? It was a fraternity reunion where everyone of us came together in search of bringing “back to life,” even if for a short period of time, the wonders of living at 901 Maryland Drive while attending the University of Missouri in the late 70’s. 

No this is not the “Wonder Years” from TV,  we’re talking about probably the most important years of our lives where we assumed—being on our own—would allow us to take our first steps toward adulthood. What we didn’t realize all those years ago, was that we were about to form a new family as “brothers” living together and forming bonds that were unbreakable. (At least after the pledging was completed!)

It would have seemed logical to meet up at Mizzou or a city within driving distance of the University. I mean, after all, most everyone there lives minutes, if not a few hours, from one another. But that was not the case, we were invited by one of our brothers who lives in Colorado. No offense to the “Show-Me-State,” but the “Centennial State” provided a better backdrop for an incredible gathering of friends—where every one of us brought memories to share.

Whereas I would be breaking every code if I discussed what was said during the long weekend, I can say that we have all been through times that showed we have the grit and desire to live life at its fullest—no matter what is dished up. We also have some very smart guys who are doctors, lawyers, dentists, those who are financial-focused, an engineer, businessmen, a pilot and more. (I didn’t talk too much about what I do—I am sure they have a really high regard for someone in advertising. NOT.)

There were many great moments on the trip, I went bike riding (all downhill for 17 miles) ate wonderful food, and spent several hours with old friends hiking up a mountain side. Did I think I could do it? I was concerned. But I made it! (Yes, I had my trusty Nikon with me!)

The photo above was taken one night when two of our brothers took out their guitars, and took us on a journey back in time singing songs of the era.

From the moment I arrived in Colorado, until the time we all said “Good-bye,” I knew I was never going to forget these 96 hours where seventeen guys ventured many miles to come together. I am really hoping we have another reunion sooner rather than later—we are a band of brothers, and we need to remember, no matter what is in our way, we stand together.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Small steps. Giant leaps.

"Reach out and touch
Somebodys hand
Make this world a better place
If you can
Reach out and touch
Somebodys hand
Make this world a better place
If you can."

It's not every day you can go to work, walk past the usual revolving door you enter, and head around the corner to a bus waiting to take you to a "land far away from your normal day." That was what happened to myself and more than 20 of my business friends/associates on Wednesday. I had no idea what to expect, yet it was so much more than I expected.

For the past 2 years, I have either been out of town, or unavailable to participate in our annual "Rebuilding Together"---a community-based program our company participates in each year. This year, no excuses---I was going. All I had heard about this day was, "This is not going to be your typical day, and you really will be working." Really? Like I don't do that every day at the office...come on---foul!!! I didn't realize what real work was until today, two days later, as I am doing my best not to bend in any unusual positions. I am that sore.

We arrived at Envision on the South side of Chicago around 9 AM--- breakfast was being served---doughnuts. I don't like doughnuts so this was going to be an interesting start to what would be a long day---luckily they had muffins, something even worse for my ever-expanding arteries. Still not sure what I was about to encounter, I sat there and listened to one of my counterparts bring the group to full laughter. This guy is seriously funny and he did not let us down. Then we received the "thank you speech" from the directors of the project and we were assigned stations. Three of us were assigned "mulching duty." How hard can that be? I have been working out after all. Let's do it!


After what I assumed to be at least an hour at shoveling and transporting mulch,  I looked at my watch and was sure it was broken. It was informing me, "Dude, you have been doing this 12 minutes, come on you need to get to work." I was already sweating and I could feel my "under-developed muscles" aching in my lower back. I was not alone in feeling pain, as I walked by a "former picnic table" which was now a pile of wood; two of my counterparts were painting (wearing long jeans) and you could tell, for them this was going to be just as long and much hotter. 

After an hour we started to see the fruits of our labor start to take hold; mulch started to cover barren spots, planters were being put back together, weaving was occurring in the building, and much more. Community members started to peak their heads out the door wondering what was going on...and many were so excited to help us. (We did have a small incident as one of the men got stung by a bee---it was not a pretty sight, but I assumed he was okay as he returned to shovel more mulch.)

Finally the word began to spread, lunch was being served. We dropped everything and move to the side of the building. Now I might not like doughnuts, but I do like pizza---and a patch of ground to sit. (Very hard to get up once the half-hour break was complete.) Again I looked at my "broken" watch---how could 30 minutes go by so fast...why can't the same happen when we are working? In the back of my mind I heard, "Shut up and get back to work." 

At last we finished, what had been many areas in need of serious repair had over a short period of time transformed into a thing of beauty. Inside, partitions were built to add privacy--- they looked like giant weaves---carpentry completed, tires painted bright colors for future use as planters and smiles on our faces.

The photo above was taken at the event; two of my counterparts, and one of the directors of the project, are putting the final touches on a privacy screen. A long day was in the process of ending, and together, as a team, we helped make a difference---whether large or small, we "reached out and touched and together did make this a better place." That's what it's all about.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The 'Hood.

"I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
I'd sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He'd tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown."

Throughout our lives, chances are we will move from one location to another. Some will move more than others, and there are some who will live in the same house for their entire life. I have moved several times, but nothing like my wife has experienced.

For the majority of my youth, Chesterfield, Missouri was my turf…literally. When you grew up in the St. Louis area, you really didn't venture too far away from your home base. Sure we would go to the mall and places within a few miles from home, but nothing like we experience in Chicago where kids will take the train to the city, go to the beach or some other destination, and then head back to the community where you live. 

Home was always a safe place. We knew as long as we were able to pull into the driveway,  there would always be someone to greet us. However, when you move, or you leave the nest, a part of you stays. Even though I will likely never go back to my childhood home, I am funny about that, it's likely I will read about it in "Snap. Shot." It seems so much easier and less intrusive that way. Weird? Of course, that's me.

Today we live in a time when connecting with those who you grew up with is a simple click of a few keys. It's easy to catch up on Facebook or other social media. Many people I am in touch with I have not seen in a while…rather, decades.

In September, a number of my fraternity brothers will be reuniting in Colorado. Reunions are interesting; certainly since many of us lived in the same house for 2 to 4 years, we know (or at least think we remember) the guys who went from strangers to brothers. But how have they changed in 30-something years? In my mind they are likely the same as they were when we shook hands and said, "Have a good life" all those years ago. There really was no way to remain in touch unless we lived in the same city or were wealthy enough to spend a lot of money on "long distance" phone calls. Again, this should be interesting.

Going back to the 'hood is a struggle; I know it will always bring back memories—some good, some not as good—but in the end, bringing the memories of old back to the forefront, is always worth it. I just need to prepare for it.

The photo above was taken recently at the cemetery where many of my family members now reside; my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle (as well as a fraternity brother) all call this neighborhood home. There is one thing I do know, every time I am scheduled to venture back to my home town—this is one "hood" I will always put on the "to visit" list.

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The riddle.

"I guess we're big and I guess we're small
If you think about it man you know we got it all
Cause we're all we got on this bouncing ball
And I love you free
I love you freely."

Looking back, it's always fun to think about where I have been, and hopefully where I am going. One is much more accurate than the other—yet, one is more intriguing. I suspect you can guess which is which. If not, re-read the first line!

Every day when I get home, I ask, "So how was school?" Not that I expect much of a response, but every so often I do receive one beyond…"It was okay." To get beyond this basic non-response, you have to do a little pushing. I have found "nothing new" ever happens in school, so don't even bother on that one; I have, however, threatened to call their teachers and ask why nothing is happening in the classroom? They don't think I am very funny.

However, now the conversations are getting more interesting and scary; suddenly boys have entered the picture. Not my youngest, to her they're still "pretty gross," but for our second youngest, "there is a lot of interest." I hear a name and ask, "So do you like him?" I receive, "No Dad,are you kidding?" Of course this really means, "yes I do or at least maybe."

Liking someone is a big deal; as we mature, and learn from the cool kids that having members of the opposite sex pay attention to you, is what starts the process. A process I think is too young—but then again, I suspect I was just as interested all those years ago. (Very confused by it all—but still interested.)

The other day there was a "meeting" at a local playground. Now, keep in mind, they do NOT like these boys. Not at all. It was an April Fool's joke to make one of these naive fools think that they actually liked him—as well as another friend who was there too. I dropped both my daughter and a friend off, and picked them up an hour later—they certainly can't drive; the innocence brought back those wonderful memories of complete awkwardness.

When I came back to pick them up, the girls were sitting on the swings with their legs twirling, and the boys sat on their bikes making every attempt to be cool.  They didn't see me at first; it was very obvious they really didn't "want to be there," especially if laughter, running around, hair twirling and every cue were any indication.

As we drove home, the two girls spoke very quietly in the back seat. A giggle here, a few muttered words there. My question broke the silence. I said, "So, how was the April Fool's joke, did it go over well?" Of course it did—-I learned---and they really do not like either one of the boys! 

The photo above was taken by the "bean" in downtown Chicago. My daughter is very involved in gymnastics, as is her best friend. Together they hang out as much as they can—certainly not a problem, unless you are the two boys at the park. Because neither one of the girls likes them!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Above the clouds is a better day.

"Today was gonna be the day
He'd already wrote the note
And parked that Chevrolet
At the end of that dead end road
Had his finger on the trigger; just about to end everything
He was taking one last long breathe; when he heard his cell phone ring."

There's little doubt that spring is the time to lift your mood; but for some, it doesn't matter what season, day or time of the year it is—when there are dark clouds, it's the same, day-after-day.  

This blog is not to bring you down, it's actually one to remember those who need a call, note, or message, knowing you are out there. Over the many years of my life, I have experienced more than I could have imagined and I didn't always "reach out." 

Life has its challenges—when you see friends going through tough times, any person who really cares, wants to make sure they are accessible to just talk. Whether it's face to face or on the phone, when there's pain, it's amazing what kind/caring words can do. Recently I had a conversation with a former business associate who had lost his job; he is a true friend and I let him know it. Yes he is hurting, and scared as he has gone through change beyond work, but his response was, "You know Mark, I am going to take the week off—my son is on spring break— and I am going to enjoy it." I could not have heard better words.

Sure there's the reality when the week is over, but knowing this person, he will charge forward. 

Now I am one who does not always call, text, or send notes, but I am going to do a better job. Right now there is a lot of change in the air; I know of people who are seeing marriages dissolve, children who are not well, and employment insecurities. It's not fun to see, especially when you have been through it; but sometimes experience can actually help. Today I ran into a friend who has really gone through a tough time with a child. Harder than I could ever imagine nor do I ever want to experience. The stress has been intense, but as a couple she and her husband have stood mightily and now, after a long period of time, they are witnessing improvement. Slow and steady—but improvement. From desperation to belief that this will be conquered.

When I saw this person, a comment was made that she felt bad they had not had us to their home for dinner; I am sure she read my thinking—my mouth literally opened up with nothing to say. (Not normal) I said, "Are you kidding me? Please know I am so happy to hear what you just told me that nothing could ruin it." She smiled. She needed to smile.

The photo above was taken several weeks ago. We had prepared for a trip to Nicaragua and it was actually going quite smooth. We had arrived at the airport early, the check-in line moved along and we were well in advance of the flight—then it happened. We learned both of our youngest daughter's passports had expired. This photo was taken after we realized all hope was lost and we were not going. In other words, it was taken well after the meltdowns and the realization all would be okay. 

Tonight, do someone a them and tell them our story, I am sure they will get a good laugh. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I'm a loser.

"I'm a loser
I'm a loser
And I'm not what I appear to be
Of all the love I have won or have lost
There is one love I should never have crossed
She was a girl in a million, my friend
I should have known she would win in the end."

At one point in our lives we have come up on the short end and lost. If not, do you have the lottery numbers for this week's big game? Call me.

Losing is not fun, never will be; but when you learn to accept, "you can't win 'em all," I really do believe it's one of the most important lessons you can learn as a child, adult or in between. Not to say we enjoy losing—winning is much more fun—but if you can be graceful about it, others will feel much better about your good luck. You hope at least!

Living in Chicago for more than half my life, I have learned in many respects "losing is the norm" for many of our sports teams. Sure, the 90's were great for the Bulls, and this decade has been good for the Blackhawks (the White Sox won in 2005) but the Cubs, well that's a different story. They are approaching the time when no living human will have been around when they last rose the championship flag. Am I upset? Not at all.

But there are other aspects of losing that are much more difficult to accept than whether your favorite team raises the cup, trophy or flag. If you are a reader of "Snap. Shot." you are likely aware I have witnessed loss in the past couple of months; yes it is on my mind, and it's much different than losing a game, bet or piece of business. (Business is however very difficult to deal with!)

One of the most challenging things you can lose in life is a friend—especially when they were at one time, someone you trusted and told your deepest secrets. Today's blog is not about losing a friend, it's about going back to the time when you made them and cherishing you did. 

Last night, I was lying in bed with my youngest daughter when she told me about a secret she would not tell me, my wife or anyone except for her best friend. She was very sure she could do it. Well, that's for about 2 minutes. I learned, and I would be in major trouble if I gave details, that they both liked the same boy. She's 10…I am in real trouble. Again.

I learned that even though she liked this boy, and so did her friend, she was willing to give him up for her. I asked, "Are you sure?" She was. But, her friend wanted my daughter to tell him that so and so liked him; obviously nothing has changed from grade school. "What happens if he doesn't like her?" I asked. She said, "Well he will." That's confidence for you—more than that, that's true friendship.

Over the past few days I have spoken with my best friend from high school. We go way back, and it's amazing how we can both still entertain one another with our immaturity; in other words, we have not changed. Sure maybe we are older, but if traveling back 40 years is an issue for some, it's nothing for us. I am glad, however, he didn't ask if I would find out if so and so liked him or not. Although I would ask if he needed to know.

The photo above demonstrates why I came in second to last place in this year's NCAA tournament. Although I was tied for last place… my combined final score number pushed me up a notch. (Too bad..the person in last place got their money back). 

I have never been good at picking winners…but fortunately, I am really good at picking long-lasting friends. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The End Of The Innocence.

"Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin' by
But "happily ever after" fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly."

This is a day I never wanted to witness. This is the day, the home, where I grew up, will have a different name on the mailbox.

In 1964, my parents made a bold move. They packed up the family and moved from the middle of St. Louis County to the edges of it. I can only imagine the questions raised by both my Mom and Dad's parents, friends and others—-"You're moving where?" Although it was only about 20 minutes to the West, you would have thought it was another "time zone" based upon what people did, and didn't do, back then. Mind you, we were still getting used to the Beatles and their "mop tops," yet alone moving to the far reaching Western suburbs of the city.

I remember when we first moved into the area how much farmland there was; rather, I remember how few houses there were—we in the true sense, were pioneers. The homes that are now approaching 50 years old were only empty plots of land when we arrived 51 years ago. Some had recently been made into homes—and many had corn growing up through the recently planted grass. (Considering there were few grocery stores nearby, this was an added bonus.)

Living there was great—I would not change a thing. However, for my Dad it was a daily journey to the office..probably 40 miles away in Collinsville, Illinois. He did a lot for our family and sacrificing his time for us was one of the biggest gifts he gave us. My Dad was a very good provider and an excellent businessman—however, to be honest, he was not a very good baseball catcher. (He missed a ball one time and seams were implanted on his forehead.) In later years my Mom showed her finesse and grit in the hosiery department at Stix, Baer and Fuller. She was a top producer-- selling and loving every minute of it, plus we learned of Mr. Bono (not Sonny), Jim Kinney and other characters from the soap opera that took place in that store.

Our home was a meeting place after school and work. The table in the kitchen was occupied by all of us and nightly dinners were the norm, never the rarity. If those walls could talk there would be some very funny stories. Fortunately they can't, and whereas I found the humor to be  funny, I suspect others would not get it. Ah, the family unit--can't beat it.

Did our home witness some tough times? Of course, we are after all human. While we lived there, we witnessed a tornado flying over head, our car hitting both the side and back of the garage (not me), and best of all, my sister showing her proficiency in bike riding as she fell over into the brick wall next to the driveway. We have it on tape! Good thing her husband is the cycling enthusiast. 

So here we are, at 10AM this morning, the deed was handed over to the new owners. They are actually very familiar with the neighborhood as her parents grew up next door. Now, they as a family, will own three homes on Heather Ridge Drive…all located right next to one another. If this were Monopoly, they would probably qualify for placing a hotel on the property and charging more for "rent."

Up until the time I left for college, this was pretty much the only home I knew; since I was six when we moved in, it was not only my safe haven, it was the life I cherished. Now someone else owns it. Damn.

The photo above is one that has been on "Snap.Shot." so excuse me for repeating myself. In August, 1964, we as a family moved to the neighborhood I will always call home---oh, and if you were to look far to the right beyond the edge of the picture, near the driveway, that was where my Dad missed the ball. (Thankfully the seams went away in about 15 minutes.)

Thanks for stopping by.