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Our Anniversary: Birth of an Adventure

Posted by johnnieraz on May 17, 2019 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

PHOTO: Our summer home for 85 days and 8,000 miles in 2005.

By John Rezell

     When folks learn about our amazing adventure of the summer of 2005 that is chronicled in my book "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It" they often ask exactly how one arrives at the decision to take such a grand leap of faith. This excerpt helps explain. Also, I just live an interesting life.

BEGIN EXCERPT

CHAPTER THREE

Birth of an adventure

     (A few weeks after our trip to Georgia to watch Lance Armstrong's first final race in America)

     Today is the birthday of our latest adventure. In the next three weeks we will sell as much of our Earthly belongings as possible via that American standard — the Moving Sale/Garage Sale. We'll pack leftovers into storage, close on the sale of our house, and head out on the road in search of our future.

     That's right, Debbie and I are packing up Sierra and Taylor, and heading off for a summer of exploration throughout the Western U.S. in search of the place we plan to call home.

     I'm sure you note a change in my tone. You're no doubt wondering just exactly how we got to this point, this point of knowing, without question, it's time to roll. I mean, the signs have been coming and going for a while now.

     How do you know when you know? The answer is that you just do. I know it's time to move on from this mess as surely as I knew it was time to get into it. That was just a little more than four years ago, when we rolled out of Loveland, CO, in our Ford Explorer with everything we owned packed in storage and a 4-year-old and 2-year-old in the backseat.

     Debbie looks at me and says, "You know, most women wouldn't allow something like this to ever happen."

     I say, "What? Driving out of town homeless and jobless with two young children in the backseat?"

     We hedged our bet that time. We just sold our house in Colorado for a nifty profit, thanks to a nutty home market. I had been a 2000 dotcom casualty, but after three months of searching for work while collecting unemployment, we were driving out for a job interview that I knew, instinctively, I had in my back pocket.

     I knew it from the moment I applied for the job. After sending my resume and cover letter via email, I went, of course, for a bike ride, came home, and said, "We're either moving to Knoxville or Birmingham. I'm not sure yet which one because I applied for both jobs at the same time."

     The next day I get the call from Knoxville. Ironically, my resume in Birmingham went to a woman who previously held the position I would take in Knoxville. If this all sounds strange and bizarre, well, you know it's all part of my world. The world that we put on hold for a while. Tennessee became elevator music; a trance to pass the time. To prepare a foundation for the girls. To get ready for this, the time, once again, to rock n' roll.

     Before I go any further, let me point something out I should have 'fessed up to long ago. I'm Gemini. Say what you will about Astrology and whatnot, but this much I know is true. I'll be cruising along through life as I know it, as I live it, and then, BOOM!

     Suddenly something comes rambling out of my yapper that even causes me a moment of pause. That there little tidbit about moving to Knoxville is a prime example. Understand that I had been unemployed more than three months at the time, and had applied for countless jobs (okay, not countless. It was more than 300, since Colorado unemployment forced me to keep track). As Debbie walked away after hearing my Knoxville prognostication, I scratched my head — literally — and wondered where in the hell that came from.

     But, I digress. (BID)

     Knoxville became a pit stop for us. We pulled in, changed drivers (Debbie went to work and I stayed at home), milked every drop of fuel from that tank, and realized it's time to go. I mean really time to go. Things started to happen.

     See, we have been trying to sell our house "For Sale By Owner" for about two years. Well, trying might be too strong of a word for a lazy ass such as myself. We had a sign out front and at the end of the road for about two years.

     Every time Debbie got antsy and said that we should get a realtor, I balked. I said it wasn't time.

     One time when she pushed back harder, I snapped: "When the time comes for us to sell," I said, that mystery voice at the helm and most of my conscious essence listening in deep anticipation of what we would hear next, "we'll get a realtor and sell it. Just like that."

     I didn't actually snap my fingers. I'm not one of those guys. But you catch my drift.

     After near misses on job opportunities in the previous few months that would have moved us on in life — one for Debbie in Memphis, and one for me back in our native Wisconsin — we got a realtor. A budget realtor. All I will say at this point about that is that you get what you pay for.

     The day we officially went on the market, my horoscope went something like this:

     From the time you wake up this morning, every bit of your energy will be focused on a very particular objective: making a fantasy become a reality. The good news is that you stand every chance of doing just that.

     Just one week after watching Lance Armstrong in Georgia and igniting my inner fuse, we had our first showing. A couple of former San Diego police officers. That's strange enough, to find someone from heavenly San Diego in the boonies of East Tennessee. A little more bizarre when you know that we lived outside San Diego, in Carlsbad, for 10 years before heading to Colorado.

      (How'd we get out to Carlsbad? All together now: Quit our jobs and drove out with our belongings in storage — homeless and jobless. The only difference back then was no kids in the backseat. As I recall, it was a cooler full of beer.)

     BID.

     There isn't anything too different about their viewing, aside for one thing. They ask to see if their car fits into the garage. That sounds serious to me. A realtor once told me if the woman can tell you where she'll put her Christmas tree, your house is sold. I suppose a car is like a Christmas tree for a cop, no?

     So I pull our '95 Mustang out of the garage and park it on the side.

     The Mustang is like everything else in my life. A story in itself. My mother bought it for herself on her 70th birthday back in '95. She always wanted a Mustang. She's Gemini, too. You can't keep the four of us from our appointed rounds.

     She barely drove it, not that it matters. She got her satisfaction from it through the looks on people's faces when she'd tell them proudly that she bought herself a red Mustang for her 70th birthday.

     It spent most of its life in the garage, protected from the ice, snow and salt of Wisconsin winters. She finally sold it to me last year in mint condition with just 19,000 miles on it shortly after I had totaled Debbie's favorite car, her beloved Honda Accord, while delivering newspapers on a rainy morning. That’s another story in itself for later.

      The Mustang now has 31,000 miles. It's a great car. A real looker. Bright red. Mint. Debbie drives it to work. She fell in love with it in a heartbeat, having driven a ‘69 Mustang fastback in college. I sneak the Mustang out for long drives on Saturdays. Instead of going to the grocery store five minutes away, I head to one 35 miles away. Takes me about 20 minutes. Nice cassette stereo, too. Yeah, I said cassette.

      After the cops couple leave, I go out to put the Mustang back in the garage. With morning rain sprinkling down, I figure it's as good of time as any to put out the signs for our open house on Sunday, this being late Saturday morning. Hey, I guess we are finally really trying to sell the house.

      I slowly approach a very sharp corner not far from our house, attempting to determine the safest place for me to stop and put up the sign. Then I see a flash.

     It's a VW Rabbit heading for the corner — and thus, toward me — much too fast for dry conditions. With the slick pavement, well, time would tell how bad this will be.

     The last time I saw someone head into a 90-degree turn that fast was back in college, outside Whitewater, WI. Two farm boys in an ol' water truck so full that it was sloshing out the top as they bounced down the highway. I was coming from the other direction with my 35mm camera — telephoto lens and all — sitting on the seat next to me. I knew immediately they wouldn't make it. I reached for the camera.

      I cradled it in my hands as I watched the truck flip and tumble a few times. I was just finishing journalism school — actually spending summer school as editor of the student newspaper so I could graduate on time and get on with my career, certain I was ready for the big time.

      I realized at that moment I was a reporter at heart, a photographer in my wildest dreams, since I watched the crash with my mouth hanging open like a dolt. I missed a great shot, or rather, series of shots, since I did have the motor-drive on and ready to roll.

      Instead, all I have are the fond memories of pulling the groggy driver and his buddy from the smoking wreckage before it burst into flames. Okay, it didn't burst into flames like you see on TV or in the movies. But it did go up in smoke and we had a nice fire raging by the time the volunteer fire department arrived. I never did get my car blanket back. I didn't have the heart to take it from that shivering kid with the faraway eyes.

     BID.

     Back to the Rabbit. I immediately begin braking the Mustang, muttering expletives to go along with the words, "No, no, NOOOOO! That @#$#$^# isn't going to make the !@$^$#*%^ TURN!"

     I'm correct.

      As I slow to a near stop, I enjoy a slow-motion treat of watching two eyes the size of ostrich eggs as he spins his steering wheel frantically attempting to regain control. He doesn't regain control. He swerves out and a collision with his driver's side rear appears imminent. Then he over corrects in a greater panic, and spins completely around — smacking my front end with his passenger side door.

      The door folds in like a beer can on my college roommate Bergie's forehead. It takes most of the impact. For a moment — a very brief moment — I think, "Hey, that wasn't too bad ..." Then the airbags blow. If you've never had the pleasure, well, hope you never do. I'd rather tangle with a hornet's nest. I get airbag burns on the arms and chest.

     In the end, here's what you need to know: He's 16. He gets his license Thursday. He gets his car Friday. He totals our Mustang on Saturday. A few hours later, the cops from San Diego call to make an offer on our house. The stars begin aligning.

     The nester in Debbie immediately starts thinking about renting a house for the summer or buying land cheap — all sorts of temporary possibilities that avoid the hippo farting in our Jacuzzi. We don't fit in here, living in Tennessee. This isn't us.

      "Hey," I say, remembering that the biggest obstacle of packing everything into storage on our move from Colorado to Tennessee was squeezing her Honda into our 10x20, "how often do you sell your house, liquidate your spare vehicle and face the onset of summer vacation?"

      Bite your tongue on your maturity smack. I've come a long way, baby. At least I didn't just scream, "Tramps like us, Baby we were born to run!" which, by the way, is what we sang to when we bolted for California, toasting with two glasses of champagne. That, and, saying, "I know pretty little place down San Diego way, where they play guitars all night and all day..."

      I didn't quote any lyrics this time, but Debbie got the message. She jumped onboard immediately, without hesitation. So, here I sit on May 18th, 2005, watching the local hillbillies dig through our treasures at another day in our endless Moving Sale. Do you know how depressing it is to see Tennessee trailer folk thumb their noses at your stuff?

      BID

     This always has been an important date for my family, May 18. My father, Reinold — aka Reiny or Rein-babe — was born on this date in 1918 in Milwaukee, WI. On his 27th birthday, he married Doris Jane Killian — otherwise known as Jane or Janeybelle.

      For those into numbers, you should probably know that Jane's birthday is June 18. That is 1925, to be exact. On her 57th birthday, I married Debbie Krueger. We wanted to follow their lead and be married on my birthday, June 11. But we couldn't get the blood tests done in time. One of the hurdles of eloping. So we got hitched in front of a judge in Galena, IL, a week later, on June 18.

     That's right, we eloped. We had Friday night for a honeymoon since I had to work Saturday night at the newspaper in Dubuque, IA. So we drove the orange Datsun B210 along the Mississippi River up to LaCrosse, WI. We had dinner at Taco Bell after being chased by some yokels all around town at terrifying speeds — at least terrifying given the amount of Reunite Lambrusco pumping through our veins. By the time I ditched them, real restaurants were closed. That was fine since, well, we had spent two weeks at the end of May in Arizona, when I burned up my vacation for the year, eating at nice places and enjoying a wonderful time together. That was my college graduation present to Debbie. An unknowing advance on her honeymoon.

      Her parents didn't approve, of course, of us traveling together unwed and all, which, of course, prompted the elopement. Debbie had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and didn't have a job immediately lined up, so she moved back home. They pulled the antiquated, "Under my roof" crap. Boom. She came to Dubuque, IA, to live with me. We were on the move.

     I guess this union is based on blowing with the wind. Doing things our way, that is, you know, honeymoon first, marriage second. Making our own rules.

     BID

      Back to the significance of May 18th, 2005. Today we bought a Starcraft 1707 popup camper. That's a whopping 10 feet of trailer when folded. So I'll consider this not only the birthday of the trailer, but that of our adventure. Good thing, too. Reiny would have been 87 today. He loved camping.

      The camper, of course, was paid for with the insurance settlement money from the Mustang. I intend to bolt the silver pony from the grill of the Mustang to the trailer. Sierra suggested, since we're buying it on Reiny's birthday, that we call the trailer "Reiny."

     Hmmm. Maybe Mustang Reiny!

      If that isn't enough for one day, Debbie also gave her notice at WATE-TV, where she's a commercial producer. There's no turning back now. Full steam ahead.

END EXCERPT

Recycling Memories of America's Golden Age

Posted by johnnieraz on May 16, 2019 at 1:05 AM

       By John Rezell

     Beneath the sea of colorful jerseys hearts beat in a cacophony of rhythms, some chirping at the rate of a hummingbird, others the leisurely pace of a sloth.

      Behind dark sunglasses eyes sparkle with anticipation or glaze with dread. Each glimmering racing bike carrying a countless chest of memories and dreams.

      Once the gun sounds a symphony strikes its opening chords, soon to erupt into chaos eventually closing on a final note proclaiming who proves best on this given day.

       Since a huge chunk of my FB friends roll in the cycling community, I’m never completely out of the loop. But I don’t follow the sport anywhere near as close as I did in the ‘90s, as a freelancer and later editor of VeloNews.

       So each year when the Tour of California hits the airways I watch while my mind takes a trip down memory lane.

      While revelations have rewritten the history for that generation of riders in the ‘90s, I’ll forever call it the Golden Age of North American cycling. Never before, or since, has the U.S. and Canada had so many top level pros in men and women. That’s why I wrote my books.

       With another Olympic year on the horizon, long lost are the epic battles of ’92 and '96 for spots on those Olympic teams. The U.S. Trials for '96 were a diabolical test to ensure that only the most worthy don a U.S. Olympic jersey in Atlanta.

       I'll be honest, I have no idea what the current selection process is. I just have this gut feeling that part of the reason we lack the depth and talent that took on the world in the '90s has a bit to do with making life a pinch easier rather than much more challenging.

       As I watched so many cyclists stand at the starting lines in '92, '96 and '00, I could feel the power of their stories, so many of them sharing their insights and insecurities with me over the years.

      It's not one or two stories that stand out for me, but the collective mass. That's why their journeys from '92 to '96 are chronicled in my books, and how and why they impacted me to make me who I am today. To all of them, I say Thanks.

      https://www.conquermountains.com/a-more-simple-time" target="_blank">“A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul”  is available on https://www.amazon.com/More-Simple-Time-Cycling-Saved-ebook/dp/B00RKV2BZY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1419922175&sr=8-3&keywords=john+rezell" target="_blank">Amazon, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-more-simple-time-john-rezell/1120981162?ean=2940046481785" target="_blank">Barnes&Noble.com, https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/502507" target="_blank">Smashwords and iTunes


In This Century

Posted by johnnieraz on May 4, 2019 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

    By John Rezell

      Although we don't zip around in flying cars yet — as promised way, way too many years ago — technology appears to be separating generations by light years these days. When you've circled the sun as many times as I have, it's pretty easy to blurt out something that prompts a blank stare from a Millennial. More than a few years ago my daughter Sierra put it into context while explaining something to Grandma.

       She simply said, "In this Century ..."

     I spit up my coffee then, and I've held onto this thought for too many years, banking on turning it into a book someday. But I woke up a one day to learn that turn of the century was nearly 20 years ago, so today, well, I feel like sharing.

       It began when I casually listened to Sierra start to explain the nuances of boy-girl relationships in the sixth grade — middle school — with her Grandma on the phone.

     You know, how boys and girls ask each other "out" without any real intention of going out anywhere, but rather, simply earn the commitment that they are going out.

     Grandma had a bit of difficulty grasping this concept because, as I recall from personal experience, different generations just naturally have trouble understanding each other all the time, burdened by that terrible habit of taking things literally rather than, like, you know, literally.

      That's when I heard Sierra attempt to straighten it all out in as direct a manner as she could.

      "Grandma," she said very matter-of-factly, "In this century ..."

      Moments after she hung up, we had a new favorite phrase in our household:

      In this century ...

      It captures the essence of our time so, so, well.

      You know, like, in this century, people actually buy music. They don't buy records or 8-tracks or cassette tapes or even CDs, they simply buy the music. Which means when your hard drive crashes, you quickly learn about singing the blues.

      In this century, kids take thousands of photos. With their phones. And seldom, if ever, print any of them onto paper. Or keep them around more than a few seconds, much less a week. True snapshots.

      In this century, Theodore Cleaver is a sponge who wears square pants, Wally's a starfish and Eddie Haskell is a squid.

      In this century, Christmas displays appear in September, Halloween displays in July and Back-to-School displays in May, even before school lets out.

       In this century, a grilled cheese is a quesadilla.

       In this century, mail is free and fast.

       In this century, the taste test between the top sellers from Coke and Pepsi is a draw because they both taste like tap water — Dansani and Aquafina.

       In this century, West Side Story is High School Musical.

       In this century, Hairspray is Hairspray.

       In this century, I Want To Hold Your Hand is a ringtone, movie credit tune and/or future Apple ad.

       In this century, bubblegum comes in a million different flavors and toothpaste comes in bubblegum.

       In this century, 31 Flavors cost $5, come with chunks of candy bars and are named after fat dead rock stars.

         In this century, good sneakers cost twice as much as good loafers.

      In this century, Peter Pan is just a peanut butter.

      In this century, toddlers don't "See Dick run," they "Give a Pig a Pancake."

      In this century, Charlie Brown still won't go away or walk away from Lucy and a football.

      In this century, kids' bikes have 24 speeds and suspension.

      In this century, NASCAR is cool and baseball is not.

      In this century, a cup of coffee costs more than the donut.

      In this century, a GOOD cup of coffee costs more than a dozen donuts.

      In this century, donuts come with Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, Oreo cookies and other healthy add-ons.

        In this century, country is the new pop.

      In this century, kids type on phones with their thumbs.

         In this century, no one can remember a cellphone number other than their own.

      In this century, no one can give you street directions without an App.

      In this century, college is the new high school.

      In this century, 60 is the new 40 and for me 9 is the new midnight.

        And in this century, my future is still so bright I have to wear shades ...



For Whom the Ears Ring

Posted by johnnieraz on April 20, 2019 at 1:55 AM Comments comments (0)

       By John Rezell

     I chuckle as my friends begin to hear the ringing in their ears that comes with an appropriate number of circles around the sun. While they complain of this latest twist along the path of life I tend to embrace it.

     My ears began singing years and years ago, the impact of blowing my sax in front of a crowd of revelers with a huge Fender amp behind me rockin' all our worlds. Those were the days of gigging around San Diego in couple of cover bands.

     I laugh because, in my mind, it's the one element of music that connects me with Peter Townsend. And that's sorta cool.

       Again, in my mind.

       My never-ending ear-ringing mind.

     Having become accustomed to the noise I've pretty much blocked it out and seldom notice it. Oh sure, I could take something that might alleviate the sound. But why? On those occasions that I'm aware of it I allow it to take my mind on an uplifting journey back in the day.

     Few things in life can match playing music with kindred souls. When you literally love the individuals surrounding you and then find a way to share that love through music, man, words can't describe.

     That bond began oh so many years ago. As junior high school and high school friends join me on Facebook the first connection that rings true for me is band.

     Anne Hunke played bass clarinet along side of me. Bruce Wermuth blasted his trumpet from the top row. Greg Hartlmeier puffed the Sousaphone pounding the bass lines with Anne and I. Bob Gurgul on the drums.

     Some of my favorite surprises come when one of my playlists tosses in a Souza march — El Capitain, or Stars and Stripes Forever, or King Cotton — and I can sing the bass clarinet part. No matter what disappointments that day was shoveling in front of me back at Pilgrim Park, when Mr. Hibler or Mr. Dominiak told us to bring out the march book, my spirits soared.

     I floated through the stratosphere in summer band. When I listen to old Chicago hits, I hear Bruce Wermuth wailing away to the opening of Does Anyone Really Know What Time it Is.

     The performance high, living through the bubbling deep inside with hands shaking, began in junior high with the Theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mr. Hibler wanted it to start with a haunting low bass before the tymphany struck. First all the basses played. He axed the baritones. Then the bassoon. Then Anne. Then Greg. And finally he decided that I alone would start the song in the quietest of tones.

      Striking the fat reed of a bass clarinet with a pianissimo accent and quietly rumbling on one of the lowest notes possible and holding it for, oh, I think 24 measures or so, is not a task for the feint of heart. And I certainly wasn't Mr. Machismo back then, the bass clarinet in its case rivaling my weight soaking wet. It was so easy to conjure up a horrific squeak. But I survived.

      And it wasn't just playing it in concert one night. We played it in contest, too. My first pressure packed test.

     After that Mr. Hibler recruited me (in ninth grade) to play with him and two high school seniors in a woodwind quartet that actually played around town. I remember playing one Sunday afternoon at an Art Gallery in Shorewood on Lake Shore Drive. Cool stuff.

     Unfortunately my high school band director and I didn't hit it off well, and he pretty much destroyed my love of music in one short semester. You can read the whole story in my memoir "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It" so I'll spare the details here.

     My love of music took a hiatus at the time when most adolescents savor the thrills of their first bands. After college while working as a sportswriter in Dubuque, Iowa I had an apartment in an old school house downtown with a music store next door. I rented a tenor sax and taught myself how to play Clarence Clemons' Jungleland solo.

     I would climb the fire escape in the early morning hours after the bars closed and sit on the roof wailing Jungleland with a perfect view of the police station a few blocks away. As soon as I saw a patrol car dispatched, I'd climb back down.

     Years later in San Diego, I bought an old sax when some friends started a band. I took lessons from an old pro, who figured the vintage sax was from the 1930s or so, its configuration of keys giving away its age. My bandmates believe to this day it's a half note flat .

    There's just something about that music connection. My Bottomline bandmates Dan Popovich and Larry Fulton along with Mike and Debbie Sierras form a core of memories that will last a lifetime. They always want me to jump in even though when we had a quazi reunion a few years back my mind nearly went singing Love Shak even though I've only sung it a million times.

      Most recently, a year ago, we had a little reunion with my other band, the infamous Atrocious Noyze, after not playing with Brad Hammerstrom, Bill Watson and Jeff and Bob Jertberg for decades.

      So when that ringing in my ears carries me away, I can fly in my time machine back to countless moments of joy, but one stands out above the others. It wasn't even a gig. It was practice. One afternoon our Bottomline band played Aerosmith's The Other Side and a few bars into the song everything — and I mean everything — clicked like never before, or, really never again.

     We glanced around at each other as we played, almost like an outer body group experience where music replaced every cell in our bodies. We floated with each note to a place only music can take you.

     In those special moments, well, nirvana isn't just a grunge band.

First Taste of Greatness

Posted by johnnieraz on April 13, 2019 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

    

       By John Rezell

     There's an aura that buzzes around extraordinary people, an electric field you can actually feel in their presence. You need not say a word nor shake a hand, but you feel it deep inside your soul there is something very, very special about them even if they haven't risen to their potential yet. I've been lucky to experience people like this throughout my career, but I'll never forget the first time when it caught me completely off guard.

     I drove up to Green Bay to attend a Packers preseason practice to get some quotes for a preview story. It was 1984, and former Packer and now head coach Forrest Gregg jogged over to a small huddle of reporters on the field.

     It's not that I was star-struck, even though I grew up a fanatic Packer Backer. I was a sportswriter now, and people who once appeared larger than life were just people I was interviewing. Heck, the days before that trip I was walking around Platteville, chasing Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka for quotes. Each time I'd catch up with him he'd fire me that Ditka growl, which in my mind was a sign of respect, born from our first introduction.

     As a sportswriter for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, I got wind early that the Bears were going to move their preseason training to UW-Platteville, so I called Ditka to confirm. At first his secretary blew me off, saying he was unavailable. When she asked the reason for my call, I told her I was writing a story about the Bears coming to Platteville. She put me on hold. The next voice I heard barked at me, "How the hell did you hear that?" And so my relationship with Ditka began.

     Standing in that small group of reporters watching Forrest Gregg approach, I just prepared for a typical interview. Click on my tape recorder, start scribbling notes, ask a question or two if the local reporters didn't ask first. Then he stopped at our group, and the wave hit me. I actually froze.

     The interview began and I found myself simply in awe. I wasn’t taking any notes. My hand held my pen on my notebook as I simply absorbed the moment and felt his aura wash over me. I could feel this energy and intensity radiating from him while my mind was racing with a video history of him from playing days to sidelines coaching.

      What shocked me is that it took me completely by surprise because I wasn’t nervous or even thinking it would be anything special ahead of time. Just another day at work, another interview. Instead it was a moment for a lifetime.

      Forrest Gregg wouldn't be the last person to hit me with his aura, but he offered my first taste of the palpable vibe of being in the presence of greatness. RIP, No. 75.


Women Coaching Women

Posted by johnnieraz on April 13, 2019 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (0)

 

     By John Rezell

      If you haven't watched it already, listen to Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw talk about women coaching in women's sports. After hearing her take, I couldn't help but think back to my daughters' experiences in sports. Without question, the women who coached them had tremendous influence and inspired them. Many of the men who coached them were dumpster fires.

     Let me preface by saying that my career in sportswriting established a framework of reality when it came to my daughters and sports. Well, that and my own lack of serious athletic genes contributed mightily to understanding that sports would never be more than an educational enhancement.

     We treated sports as a reward for my daughters' hard work in the classroom. They started by enjoying gymnastics classes and eventually played volleyball. Despite the difficulties of being a one income family by choice — my wife and I decided when we started a family that one of us would stay home to raise our girls — we found ways to pay for club entries.

      Sadly, if I'm honest, we paid thousands of dollars over the years for a few men to completely destroy my daughters' love of volleyball. Interspersed were islands of joy where women were in control and established wonderfully positive atmospheres where my daughters thrived and learned the lessons that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

     But the experiences with male coaches, aside from a few exceptions, were riddled with stereotypical team issues and drama that, from my point of view, can simply be attributed to male ego/testosterone bullcrap. That is to say, the male coach's egos appeared to be the focal point of their attention as opposed to say, the experience of their players.

     I've met, covered and watched closely many male coaches who know their trade and were excellent role models. Unfortunately, my daughters didn't get that from all their male coaches. The sense I got more than anything was that those coaches who failed them failed because they felt that women should be treated exactly how men should be treated. And while a number of important aspects of behavior and motivation are in common for both genders, it is not a completely 100 percent situation.

     My many years spent around sports prompted me to sit back and let things play out the way they did with my daughters. I could have confronted the coaches, but I've seen how that can go south in a hurry for all parties involved. Instead, I figured my daughters would learn from the experiences and take that knowledge with them as they battle forward in life. Unfortunately it won't be the last time they face this gender mess, but as with all life experiences, they grew with each incident and appear better equipped to deal with future challenges.

     There is a huge value in young women seeing first hand women in positions of power and influence. I could see how that lifted self confidence and instilled a sense of pride and ownership in my daughters. Life is always a mixed bag, but at least they found a couple of the right ingredients for future success.

In the Kitchen with Raz

Posted by johnnieraz on April 6, 2019 at 3:30 AM Comments comments (0)


EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is an excerpt from my essays more than a few years back, when my daughters were young and would drive me nuts when I was tired of cooking every night (as a stay-at-home Dad) and suggested we go out, only to get the response, "But we like your cooking, Daddy." I know, it doesn't get much better than that. But it actually does, because now that they are adults on their own, nothing is more satisfying than a text and photo of what dish they made for themselves for dinner.

       By John Rezell

     Call us anti-social. Anti-American.

     That's right folks. When it comes time to entertain ourselves, my family turns off the TV and goes outside for a bike ride or a hike or a swim. When it comes time to eat, we stay home and, no, not order delivery, we cook it ourselves.

     Hard to imagine, isn't it? Why? Because it sounds like a lot of work, and that just isn't the American way anymore, is it?

     I know what you're thinking. You're saying to yourself, "I sit in my cubicle all day long kissing up to my boss, the last thing I want to do is actually get my blood pumping again. I want someone kissing up to me."

     Besides, doesn't the Constitution say that we are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness — and leaving the actual execution of said rights to someone else?

     Since the topic on the burner is food, let's focus on that bizarre aspect of life at my house, that you'll find us at eating at home unless we're far from it, home, that is, or just plain out of food.

     OK, that might be a little extreme. But it isn't far off. Stop for a moment and ignore the urge to simply scream, Why? You Nuts? Instead pack up the kids to find something good in the neighborhood.

     What you need to do, for once, is concern yourself with, how we got this way.

     I'll tell you how. It happened one rainy evening. My wife (then a stay-at-home-Mom) had been worn down by our young daughters. So we packed them up and headed out, to give her a break.

     Some break. I don't have to tell you what it's like to have about 20 people with a nifty 50-50 split between parents and children crammed into a hallway with enough seats for, oh, maybe a lucky seven.

      You know what Einstein said about time? That a few minutes with a beautiful woman is as fleeting as a second while a second with your hand on a hot stove feels like an hour? A 15-minute restaurant wait with kids is like plopping your bare butt on that stove for a year, maybe two.

     When we finally got seated it was a true parental nightmare. No crayons. I'm serious. Nothing to engage the kids but some sugar packets. Now there's a calming influence. Waitress. A round of Cokes for everyone!

     I'm all for selection, but when you've got kids who were starving an hour ago, the last thing you want to do is rifle through 10 pages of options.

      Since I have two of the greatest, well-behaved kids in the world — no, reaaallly, I'm not just a proud parent, I have affidavits from teachers on file! — I had time to peruse. Don't believe me? When was the last time you had time to peruse? Or even use that word? Enough said.

     The third time through a menu that devotes five pages to things in the most popular food group in America — fried things — I came to an epiphany: There is nothing here that I can't make better at home.

     Not only can I make it better — that is, not use poly unsaturated fats, table salt, refined sugar, massive slabs of butter, corn syrup, etc. — I can make it taste better.

     How? Those old anti-American standbys — trial and error and hard work.

     It's like this. Turn off the TV, and quit listening to Martha Stewart and anyone else whose cooking show has their name in the title. Take away their butter and heavy cream and they're like grandparents without candy and spare change.

     Now, you want to know how to cook that wonderful recipe? It's like this. Get out those ingredients. Toss them on the counter. And get at it.

     Measuring spoons and cups are for the meek. Seriously. Mistake a teaspoon of salt for a tablespoon just once, and you'll never made that error again. Besides, every recipe ends with the international disclaimer and waiver of responsibility: Now season to taste.

     Life in the kitchen is all about trial and error. There are no reset nor pause buttons. It's real life drama. And real life fun.

     Don't barricade yourself in there alone expecting to whirl through a swinging door like June Cleaver presenting something with little white hats on the tips of its bones.

     Instead, slap a couple of aprons on the kids and get out the camcorder. Aim for the big prize: a date with Tom Bergeron.

     Either way, sooner or later, you'll sit down at your own dinner table and enjoy some healthy, great tasting food without having to ask if beverage refills are free.

      And who knows? You might even have the urge to go for a hike afterward.

      Now, here are some of my best recipes:

RAZ'S SUPER SPAGHETTI SAUCE:

Ingredients:

     Olive oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, sea salt, oregano, basil, honey, tomato sauce (optional: ground beef loose or in meatballs, or Italian sausage) and pasta of your choice.

Instructions:

     Cook everything but the pasta in a sauce pan on a setting that won't start a fire, and season to taste. Boil the pasta in water. Combine.

Tips:

     How do I know if you love peppers and hate garlic, or vice-versa. You like veggies cut big enough to be able to pick 'em out with a fork, or too tiny to recognize? How do you know when pasta is ready? Hmmm. Maybe when it doesn't crunch anymore.

RAZ'S CHA-CHA CHILI

Ingredients:

     Olive oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, sea salt — does this sound familiar? — chili powder, tomato sauce (optional: meat of your choice) and beans (traditionally kidney, but any beans will do).

Instructions:

     Cook everything but the beans in a big pot on a setting that won't start a fire, and season to taste. Add beans. Stir occasionally.

Tips:

    Dance the Cha-Cha to the chant, "Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!"

Expectations

     It's like this, I'm a stay-at-home Dad and I do all the cooking. When I was working, though, it wasn't as if I expected a five-course gourmet dinner waiting on the table. Hardly.

     Life is about reality, and reality is that every day isn't worth of a night on the town. It's all about expectations. Realistic expectations.

      I came home from work one day to find my stay-at-home wife in tears. It was a tough day with the kids. She couldn't think of anything to make for dinner. She felt like a failure.

      I looked around the house. Did you make any visits to the Emergency Room today? No, she said. Is everyone alive? Yes, she said.

     Sounds like a good day to me. How about some Cha-Cha chili?

Music's Everlasting Power?

Posted by johnnieraz on March 30, 2019 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     As Diana Ross floated through the Grammy crowd begging the world to Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand, tears welled up as I realized she was undoubtedly singing to the choir. Again.

     It might have been the Ed Sullivan Show, or Dean Martin, or Red Skelton, or any of the other dated variety shows way back when, but Diana's performance took me right back to the early '70s, sitting in our living room having watched the evening news a few hours earlier feeling broken-hearted at what the world had become before my youthful eyes.

     Violence smothered us everywhere, from a war on the other side of the world to civil rights battles right down the street in Milwaukee. Pollution fouling our rivers and air.

     I've been a dreamer as long as I can remember, and I wished with all my heart that the world was listening to Diana back then.

     That somehow, one-by-one, we would reach out and change the world. Find some way, each of us, to make it a better place.

     So much of what I remember of the reality of the world in those childhood days seemed to get better, somehow, eventually, although it felt as though it took forever.

     Maybe I was blinded by denial, or simply swept up in the whirlwind of my own life, to think we had made serious progress on so many, many fronts. But here we are, today ...

     My painful reflections actually began with Dolly Parton and her posse singing After the Gold Rush, reminding everyone that all these years later, once again we have Mother Nature on the Run, in the 21st Century ...

     Distracted by technological marvels that we couldn't even have dreamed of back then, we seem to think we're so far advanced from the ancient days of black and white TVs in only the households of the blessed.     

     The wake-up call came abruptly in 2016. I guess I was just asleep at the wheel all those years.  

     As Diana sang the other night, all my fears about the reality of life, of humanity and society, appear as prevalent as ever. My daughters have come of age and I realize that where it matters the most, we've failed Diana's pleas.

     But just as I believed in our future because of the spirit of our youngsters — my generation then — I feel hopeful for the future from what I see in today's youth, eager to take lead.

Out of the Closet

Posted by johnnieraz on March 16, 2019 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Some people confuse patience with laziness or apathy. Oh, not me. When it comes to work of any sort, I'm as lazy, er, I call it efficient, as they come. When it comes to most everything else, well, I'm about as apathetic as you'll find. But when it comes to something I really care about, I'm neither lazy nor apathetic. I'm patient. Oh, so patient.

     That's how I eventually published three books, by being patient. I waited until technology caught up with me and allowed me to publish books that I want to read and that I think some — not everyone — might be interested in.

     So I wasn't lazy. It takes a boatload of work to write a book, much less three. But I was apathetic toward the tenets of traditional publishing. I grew tired of agents and publishers attempting to convince me to make my work just like everyone else's because that's what sells.

     For years I've wondered why I have such a lack of interest in cashing in on my creative endeavors. Then I looked around my home office, at the myriad of creations of my Dad.

     From the rock people he made from stones we found on the riverbank to his whittled comedic characters (the doctor with a saw in his hand and the woman next to him with her legs on backward) to his loons with the body of a nectarine pit, it suddenly became crystal clear.



     My Dad would emerge from the basement with his latest art — or we would all open our presents at Christmas to see his latest — and we would rave that he should sell them, that people would pay for them. While he graciously accepted the compliments, it was painfully clear that would take all the fun out of it.

      Oh, I can relate.

     And so it has been for my young adult novel that I'll make into an animated film someday, my handful of screenplays that play on the big screen in my head, and my board game. They live in my closet and my head. Waiting patiently for the right time. Their time.

     It's not that I'm an egomaniac believing that everything I touch is gold. It's just that I know I'm unique — just like everyone else in the world — and I want to celebrate my individuality rather than surrender it to attempt to make us all more alike.

     I've survived as a writer for publications over the years focusing my attention on my job to create the way I want to, to the best of my ability, then surrender. My byline had two lines. I took care of the "By John Rezell" part. The editing team took care of the publication's responsibility. I was fine with that, mostly because I worked with great editors who respected my work and changed very little.

     My other endeavors, well, they are personal. They are part of me. They express me.

     My satisfaction and joy come from creating. The fun of coming up with something clever that prompts me to laugh at myself is unparalleled. I've never felt the need to cash in because, really, no amount of money can match that experience. It's what I live for.     

     This all matters now because, thanks to technology like Kickstarter, I'm about to take a big leap and bring my board game out of the closet. I can no longer rely on publishing to pay the bills for the rest of my working life. Thing is, I love what I do, so I'm not about to stop doing it because I've circled the sun a set number of times.

      Everyone who knows me understands I'm out there, living in my own world. I've said I plan to live to 130, so retiring anytime before 120 or so just doesn't make sense. I need something to keep me engaged until animation software catches up to me and I can do a whole movie by myself.

     So stay tuned. If my research proves the time is right for my board game career to begin, it will happen soon ...

The Frightening Truth About Concussions

Posted by johnnieraz on March 11, 2019 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Well into our fourth month of painstaking concussion recovery, I sat with my teenage daughter in our doctor's office attempting to figure out a reasonable plan forward that didn't continue the seemingly ineffective, barbaric, somewhat medieval course of action we had been following. Then our doctor finally confessed:

     "The thing is," he said after avoiding the truth for so long, "is that we really don't much about the brain and head trauma. So we just have to try some things that we've tried before and hope they work."

     Having talked to a number of parents of kids who had suffered concussions, I asked our doctor about the trend I uncovered.

     "It seems to me," I said, "That if you haven't recovered in two weeks you're looking at two years."

     "Yes," he said, "That seems to be what I see."

     That, more than anything, is the scary truth about concussions that no one talks about. As the cycling community mourns the death of Olympian Kelly Caitlin by suicide and learns she was fighting through concussion recovery, here are a few things you should know based on our personal experience.

        No Quick Fix

        In my daughter's case it took more than two years to regain a close, but not complete, recovery to the person she was before she got hit in the head with a volleyball.

     We see so often athletes on TV sustain a major blow to the head, shake it off, and get right back into battle. And we think that's fine. Lately trainers spend time evaluating the severity of the blow. But let me tell you how my daughter's concussion went down.

     It was a Saturday volleyball tournament. When your team isn't playing, you must help officiate another match. She sat at the scorer's table preparing paperwork while the two teams warmed up. A ball came out of nowhere and smacked her in the side of the head, just behind the temple.

     Since she was officiating, not playing, I didn't see it happen. She worked the match, then came up to me in the stands, shrugged and told me she just got hit in the head.

     I immediately went through the laundry list:

       Did you lose consciousness? No.

       Does your head hurt? No.

       Are you dizzy? No.

       Do you feel nauseous? No.

       Feel sleepy? No.

       Do you know what day it is? Yeah, it's Saturday.

       Do you know your name? Yeah, (laughing) Taylor Rezell.

     Everything seemed fine. She went out and played another couple of matches. We went home. No worries. Sunday was fine. Monday morning she woke up to go to school and came to me and said, "Dad, something's wrong ..."

     She felt terrible, a headache and nauseousness after a restless night of little sleep. She had balance issues. Light bothered her eyes. She couldn't do her homework. Didn't want to eat. She felt confused.

     We went to the doctor and he prescribed some pain medication for the headaches, basically saying that's about all he can control at this point. Never one for drugs, she declined after the first dose because it made her feel out of control. To her that was more scary than the pain.

     She needed to follow this basic protocol — this for a 16-year-old honors student just beginning her junior year of high school: No phone, computer, TV or music. No reading or writing. Sleep in a darkened room until you feel better. Then see what you can do, and do it until you don't feel good again. Repeat. Repeat again. And again, and again ...

     It started with 6 to 8 hours of sleep followed by less than 10 minutes of activity before her symptoms would overwhelm her, sending back to isolation.

       After a month or so, she could manage 10-15 minutes.

       After three months almost 20 minutes, and finally progressed to a point where she started physical therapy to basically reteach her brain many of the millions of things it does unconsciously every second — things like figuring out where the body is in space so she wouldn't just lose balance and fall out of the blue. Yep, things like that.

      She couldn't go to school because, aside from not being able to concentrate and read for more than a few minutes, the brain suffered from information overload. All the people walking past in the halls, conversations everywhere — her brain couldn't filter it.

        Of course, if doctors don't understand what's happening or what's next, you can imagine what average people — like teachers, coaches, teenage friends, teammates, etc. — are thinking, much less the patient herself.

     Luckily her school has a strong training program, and the school trainer proved to be one of the most important people in her recovery, protecting Taylor like a mother bear protects her cub.

        Luckily I had a job where I could be around her most of the day, celebrating milestones like being able to read one page of US History without having to take a break, and actually being able to understand what she read. And I could comfort through the tough times, when a short drive in the car would make her head throb or she would stare at a Chemistry problem for 5 minutes and not understand a thing about it.

       It was a very long, confusing, frustrating, scary recovery with plenty of small steps forward and leaps backward. Two years later she continued to battle symptoms while trying to adjust to college life. But she has progressed, and is much, much better, although still not back to complete normalcy.

       We watch sports now and cringe each time a head gets hit. We scream at the TV if no one stops play to check the athlete out. We feel the pain when an athlete gets back into a game quickly. As someone who covered bike racing for years, I simply lose it when a rider crashes and is quickly helped back onto a bike.

       We are forever thankful that four years later she's thriving as a college junior, that we somehow managed to pull through her high school years without an extra year thanks to her determined pace before the concussion, and thankful that most of her teachers took it in stride and helped her (although there's always one that's challenging the diagnosis and hinting that she was out to cut corners).

        Interestingly enough, our doctor told us it appears that high academic achievers seem to have the most difficult and long recoveries. Professionals don't know why. But I'll always remember a school meeting with all interested parties involved, when Taylor wanted desperately to jump back into her honor classes and push through knowing that before that errant volleyball hit her it would have been no problem at all to succeed, if not thrive.

       That's when her trainer spoke up and said, "We all know that the Taylor we knew in September is not the same Taylor who is sitting at this table in April. And our only goal is to get that old Taylor back."

       Taylor looked at her trainer and understood, somehow, that she had to surrender who she thought she was and accept who she really was. She found a way to understand that it's all right to back off at times and take it easy. That's not easy for anyone, much less a teenager.

       It can shake your world to its core to learn there's so much about our brains and brain trauma that the experts don't know. The experts search for answers by literal trial and error. Taylor and I just know what we know. And we wanted to share that.

I Can't Make This Stuff Up

Posted by johnnieraz on March 9, 2019 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Late December more than a few years ago when I was substitute teaching, I had this dream:

     I'm subbing and this dude is following me around, peeking in windows, hiding behind bushes. Finally he shows himself. It's Jim Carrey. The actor Jim Carrey.

     Now, I have a celebrity in my dreams about once every 10 years or so. So when I get a cameo, it gets my attention.

     Carrey walks up to me sitting on the bench at the playground during recess, and says he's doing a movie on substitute teachers. He wants to get the inside scoop. I say, sure, no problem. Just give me a call. I give him my phone number. He walks away, and the kid next to me says, "Why didn't you tell him about your script?"

     I say, well, I haven't really written it yet (and it's all formulating in my head as I'm saying this in the dream). The kid, by the name of Ryan, is in a fifth grade class I've subbed for. Ryan says, "You know it's great. Just tell him about it."

      The dream ends. I wake up buzzing. I start writing like a maniac. I write the first 35 minutes/pages of the script. It's Jim Carrey coming to school looking for a sub, and he runs into me, Mr. Raz. I write a scene that really happened to me as a sub, with Ryan, since the whole script is based on true experiences, depending on how you label a dream, whether it's a true experience or not.

     The major scene I write is when I took Ryan's class down to music. A few minutes later, one of the trouble makers is getting hauled off to the office by the music teacher, so my class is in there alone with their recorders (we called them saxettes).

     I go in, and restore order. Ryan has the attention span of a gnat. Always goofing around. Nice kid, but he has these issues and kids always picks on him. So I conduct them. To their amazement I know how to conduct with a baton. We play Jingle Bells.

      Ryan is screwing off like he's Clarence Clemons, so I ask him if he'd like to come up and play in front of the class. He says, "YES!!"

    So he gets up, and plays a great version of Jingle Bells. Then he asks to play another. I say yes. He plays Amazing Grace nearly perfect, with dynamics and everything. The class, who knows he's the top screwball, erupts in spontaneous applause. A standing O. They're amped as well as shocked.

     I use it as a chance to point out that everyone has their special interest and talent. Life is all about finding your place. And I tell them someday they'll pay 50 or 100 bucks to see Ryan play his sax or piano or guitar or whatever. Ryan is, it appears for the first time, the toast of the class. He's beaming with pride like I've never seen before. He's on a cloud.

     Back to real time, I'm writing like crazy. I finish that scene in the script. I decide to take a breather. I mean, this whole thing is just ripping from my fingers like magic.

     I figure, I need a break. Heck, I don't know anything about Jim Carrey, other than what I've seen in his movies. So I better do some research on the Internet. The first page I call up is this page.

     And I read this quote from Jim Carrey:

     "It started in second grade. I was in music class and we were practicing for the Christmas assembly. One day I started fooling around by mocking the musicians on a record. The teacher thought she'd embarrass me by making me get up and do what was doing in front of the whole class. So I went up and did it. She laughed, and the whole class went nuts. My teacher asked me to do my routine for the Christmas assembly, and I did. That was the beginning of the end."

- Jim Carrey

      I nearly passed out. I have to write this script, I thought. The cosmos is talking to me. To have my own Amazing Grace moment like Carrey's at school with someone is wild enough. For it to be at Christmas time with a Christmas song? Really? Pinch me.

     Well, you know me. I follow my own path. So suddenly I take a normal, everyday story that everyone would reject as too simple, and the next thing you know, I'm writing about everything else bizarro that's ever happened to me since I'm basing the whole damn thing on my life.

     There are so many unexplainable moments like the Carrey connection that have made my life so amazingly fun to live, yet so impossible for anyone to believe. I packed a lot of it into that script. All about that fine line between reality and fantasy, where nothing can top walking that tightrope. I live on that tightrope.

Been There, Done That?

Posted by johnnieraz on March 2, 2019 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     From the moment my first byline story appeared in our high school newspaper, my Grandma Rezell beamed with pride, and each time I saw her after that she'd find the chance to pull me to the side and say, "I've got a great story to tell you one day ..."

     Like most teenagers, I believed I had all the time in the world. So many other things captured my imagination. Sadly, that one day never arrived.

     One Friday afternoon I returned from college to learn from my Aunt Esther that Grandma Rezell passed away. Esther and Grandma lived together a few blocks away.

     The next few hours were mayhem, getting my Aunt to the bank, picking up my Dad and telling him his Mother had passed away, then dropping him off at my Aunt's house and picking up my Mom to tell her the news. I've always wondered about Grandma's story.

    Finding your roots is all the rage these days, with plenty of companies cashing in on that quest.

     I did some research many years ago, prompted by some old writing handed down from a Great Uncle as well as my Dad. There are interesting tales.

     My Dad's family, the Trundes, came to America from Austria-Hungary in 1887, landing in Nova Scotia and taking the railroad to the end of the line in McCook, Nebraska. They continued on to Yuma, Colorado, where they set their first roots getting free land from the government.

     There's a whole story in there, but what struck me most upon reflection years after reading the accounts is how I have, possibly by design, possibly by coincidence, have traced those roots.

     When I left The Orange County Register to launch a freelance career of my own, my first solo roadtrip was to Wichita Falls, Texas for the Hotter 'n' Hell bike race. At one point the family made the long trip from Yuma to Wichita Falls for a possible move.

     My Uncle wrote of the long wagon ride that included waking up one morning to snow covering everything. It look a month or so. I thought about that years later when I made the move from Loveland, Colorado to Austin, Texas, driving along the highway and completing the trip in two days.

     That I worked in Boulder but bought a house in Loveland, just a few miles outside the tiny town of Berthoud seemed like a bizarre twist of fate. I stumbled upon this home that had a beautiful red rock outcropping that moved me deep inside, and we bought it on my birthday.

     Only years later would I revisit my Uncle's writing and learn that two of my Great Great Uncles moved to Berthoud at the same time when my Great Great Grandfather headed to Wisconsin, starting my family roots there.

     When the family headed off in different directions, they left for Wisconsin, Berthoud and Newberg, Oregon. Yes, Newberg, just about 30 miles from where I live today.

     I'm not sure if I'm retracing or reliving or ...

     Speaking of cashing in, on my Mom's side, one of her aunts did the research at one time and discovered they are Daughters of the American Revolution, which, of course, makes my daughters DAR, although you have to actually pay for the right to say that.

     Only in America.

You Get What You Need

Posted by johnnieraz on February 23, 2019 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     It's funny how life unfolds before you, more often than not attempting to convey that great lesson offered by The Rolling Stones.

     "You can't always get what you want,

        but if you try sometime, you find,

        you get what you need ..."

     I remember living rather contently as an adolescent in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin never thinking much of any future beyond state lines.

     Wisconsin offered four very distinctive seasons.

     Stunningly beautiful nature in the Kettle Moraine and beyond.

     Great sports teams in the Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, Lew Alcindor's Milwaukee Bucks, Al McGuire's Marquette Warriors and Bambi's Bombers/Harvey's Wallbanging Brewers.

     Then one day my Dad came home from his job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and announced that he could pretty much be transferred to any department in the US of A.

     He just returned from a conference in Colorado, and although we did travel a decent amount throughout my childhood throughout the Midwest and South, I remember that day my wanderlust exploding from within as he spoke about Colorado, its majestic mountains lifting my spirits.

     For the next few weeks I'm certain he wished he had never opened his mouth.

     Even though I grew up a diehard Marquette basketball fan and pegged it as my dream school, I campaigned heavily for a move to California. Anywhere in California, to get residency, and matriculate to UCLA. My Dad dismissed California immediately, but wasn't quite yet ready to abandon the idea of Colorado.

     The anticipation ended when I overheard my parents having a discussion at the kitchen table, my Mom asking if he was really serious about contemplating a move.

     That's when I heard him say that our whole family is here, in Wisconsin. My older sister with her kids, my older brother with his. My Dad's mother and his sister. My Mom's sister. No, he couldn't move away from all of that.

     This was my freshman year of high school, and I pretty much decided that my future would be a mix of writing and music. Probably a double major in college, Journalism and Music, en route to become a teacher. Then my high school band director destroyed my love of music in one short semester. You find you get what you need.

      With Journalism reigning as my calling and every adviser warning, "You better love it because you won't get rich doing it" the number crunching for college quickly dismissed Marquette as a choice.

     I found the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to have a great J-school, and as I graduated my plan was concrete. Two years at Whitewater, then a transfer to the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

      Two years into my Whitewater experience, my roots were forged deep into the school and my future in newspapers. Lucky for me, heading to Madison didn't even cross my mind.

      As my junior year began as sports editor of the student newspaper, unbeknownst to me, my soulmate wandered into my life.

      Even though Debbie grew to be my closest friend, the thought of marriage couldn't be further from my mind. Even as I graduated, if you asked me, I'd tell you any chance at marriage to anyone would be 10 or more years ahead. Career first. I had the world to see.

      Of course, two years later we were married. Two eager Journalists, one print and one broadcast, ready to climb the ladder. One thing we did know: Children were not in our plans. Not soon, maybe, not ever.

      That, too, eventually changed after 14 years of marriage as we ended a string of fantastic adventurous vacations — each year surpassing the previous experience, simply blowing our minds. At the end of that vacation in the mountains of Idaho at the pristine Lake Alturus, it hit me. The only way to make the next vacation better was to share it with someone. We decided right then to start a family.

      My oldest daughter just graduated from college. My youngest in her junior year. I'm not sure what awaits beyond the horizon. I'm just comforted knowing I'll get what I need.

Seriously, Pinch Me

Posted by johnnieraz on February 16, 2019 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

     By John Rezell

     Whenever people find out I've spent most of my life covering sports they pepper me with questions about my best memories: the best game, the best athlete, the best team, etc.

     But when I look back at my career, the greatest memories are reserved for the teams I was part of, and the people who worked alongside of me.

     Man, have I been blessed, from my first years on my college newspaper to today.

     When it comes to dynasties, I'll put the sports staff of The Orange County Register of the '80s and '90s up against anyone.

     Starting there as a part-timer I had the privilege of working with some of the best journalists in the country. From columnists like John Hall, Steve Bisheff and Mark Whicker, to beat reporters like Earl Bloom, Peter Schmuck, Dave Strege, John Strege, and Don Greenberg I not only got to see how to work like a pro, but also how to act like a pro.

     Everyone on those great staffers treated part-timers like peers, which only served to create a fertile breeding ground for folks like me, Ken Daley, Marc Stein, Terry Hutchens, Janis Carr and a long, long list of others.

     The unsung heroes on the desk, though, were the best. From the top, Jim Colonna orchestrated an incredible environment where everyone felt hellbent on excelling, not just performing. His lieutenants Dennis Peck, Paul Loop and Robin Romano were three of the best people I ever worked for.

     Robin, in particular, had a tremendous influence on me. She found a way to inspire me to take chances and be creative. She really set the tone for the rest of my career, when I'd do things like climb in a tree (photo above) for the best photo and view of a bike race. The talent level of the many copy editors was only topped by their incredible temperament that taught me grace under pressure.

     As wonderful as those years were, the true gift of that time came when I became editor of VeloNews magazine and later started the content team at bike.com, and I got to put everything I learned into practice.

     We created an incredible team at VeloNews that covered the world of cycling like no other. Charles Pelkey, Marti Stephens, Kip Mikler, Bryan Jew and Lennard Zinn made up the essence of team that brought the heart and soul of cycling to our readers. The talented roster of freelancers were a who's who of cycling journalism, from Maynard Hershon's writing to the photography of Casey Gibson and so many others.

     The best part was that it never really felt like work at any of my stops. We had a blast cranking out tons of stories on tight deadline. At Velo we'd blow off the pressure by having headline meetings late in the afternoon, where we tossed out hilarious, disgusting and sometimes offensive headlines from which we picked the best to share as we laughed our asses off.

     That gang also gave me the greatest moment in my career, when they stood up to have my back in the toughest ethical challenge I ever faced as a journalist.

     Of course, you can read that incident in "Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong." It's a memoir that tells as much about the essence of being a journalist as anything, and how difficult it can be to walk the tightrope between covering someone and befriending them, as well as juggling the ethics of journalism.

     Being a true journalist is difficult, and somewhat rare these days. But it wasn't back then, when being objective and fair was a priceless badge of honor. I've often said you are born with the ability to be objective, it can't be taught. Just because you can write doesn't mean you're a journalist.

     Enduring it with colleagues who were true champions made it one hellava ride.

     Each one of my stops in this long career have been rewarding and enjoyable in their own way. My first gig of responsibility as sports editor of The Royal Purple at UW-Whitewater set the standard for having loads of fun while working hard alongside upperclasswomen Barb Uebelacker, Marla Cone and Sue Pierman.

     One of the most amazing stops was working with the MSNBC crew on the Salt Lake City Winter OIympic websites. Talk about 24/7 production!

       The last few gigs have paired me with genius entrepreneurs whose proclivity to spit out creative ideas seemed endless: Felix Magowan, Alan Scholz, Talty O'Connor. I thrived on the challenge of converting those ideas into reality.

      Some may look at my broken road and think it's paved with shattered dreams. Oh, far from it. It's the foundation of endless adventure.

Rising Above the Fog

Posted by johnnieraz on February 13, 2019 at 2:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     As noon approached it became ever so apparent the lingering fog smothering the Willamette Valley wasn't going anywhere. And if you didn't know any better you might scrap any plans for getting outside figuring it would just be a something of a downer.

     Having lived in Oregon's western valley for more than 13 years, luckily, we knew better. So my daughter Sierra and I packed our black lab Ridgely into the Santa Fe and headed for the hills.

     About 45 minutes later on our drive, as we climbed into the Cascades, we rose above the thick, puffy layer settled into the valley and felt the winter sun warming our cheeks. Ah, this is what we were looking for. The temperature inched up from its 38 degrees to 50 in a matter of miles, and by the time we rolled through Detroit a magnificent day lifted our spirits.

     A little research uncovered a potentially fun hike. Something that would be challenging, yet wouldn't bring us into the snow level.

     I didn't share the stats with Sierra at first, simply telling her it would be a Sierra-and-Daddy hike. We coined that phrase years ago, when we'd head off occasionally to explore on our own. Our first effort proved to be a steep, endlessly uphill grind that felt like walking up stairs for an hour-and-a-half.

     Since then, it seems any time that Sierra and I hike, we end up climbing and climbing and climbing. Of course, our greatest adventure was Zion National Park's Angel's Landing, my 18th birthday present to Sierra.

     So we hit the Stahlman Point trail and started our ascent. I hate to spoil anything, so when I glanced at the notes about this hike, I didn't look long enough to know whether the 4.8 miles was one way or round trip. But I did note there would be 1,300 feet in elevation gain.


    Hiking this early in the year, I wasn't sure how far we would go. Complicating matters, Ridgely is now 12.5 years old and not the same pooch who could hike endlessly. About 45 minutes into the hike Ridgely decided to surrender her position up front and slip back behind me. I was feeling it, too.

    Just a few minutes later, as the trail got steep again, two guys passed us coming down.

    "Just a couple more switchbacks and you're there!" they told us.

    Whew. Perfect timing. I started to think it was 4.8 miles one way, and that would be a little too big a task for Ridgely, especially this early in the year. Bouyed by the news, we kicked it up a notch and as we hit the summit, the spectacular view Mount Jefferson, iced with snow against a blue sky dusted with soft clouds.

    Oregon has its rap: rain, rain, rain and more rain. Oh, if you only knew ...




Inspiration

Posted by johnnieraz on February 9, 2019 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Inspiration is all around us, don’t let it pass you by —

be present, recognize, and embrace it. It’s truly magical

and a launching pad for your next adventure.

— Kristin Armstrong Savola


     By John Rezell

     As the latest polar vortex zaps the deep freeze on most of the country it's easy to surrender and just hunker down to survive. While you might surrender a moment, never surrender life.

     Kristin posted those inspirational words on Facebook the other day. It's easy to look at someone like Kristin, who shattered conventional wisdom by winning not one, not two but three Olympic gold medals in cycling's individual time trial — a discipline where maintaining excellence for a season or two is challenging enough, much less three Olympiads.

     In Kristin's hometown of Boise, Idaho she's revered as a hero. Her story inspires countless folks, from gruffy grandpas to zealous young girls. Covering the town's celebration of her third gold medal inspired me.

     It's so easy to be inspired by someone who has conquered challenges, thus igniting our fascination with athletes and other celebrities. But as Kristin points out so insightfully, inspiration can come from a myriad of sources.

     There is, however, a danger that lurks out there. It's mistaking inspiration and emulation.

     Inspiration can be the spark that lights the fire, that motivates you to push yourself to excel in your own area of expertise or interest. It creates your dream that can lift you up on your darkest days. Dreams come in all shapes and sizes, but the true reward of making a dream come true isn't the dream itself. It's the realization you can do anything if you refuse to quit. It's empowering beyond imagination.

     Emulation can fester and foster failure as easily as success. Emulation focuses on specifics with success attached only in matching or surpassing a goal or person, more concerned with simply being the best and accepting nothing less rather than zeroing in on being the best you can be and accepting where that falls in the grand scheme.

     The obsession to be the best can lead to tunnel vision, where balance in all its shapes and forms becomes the victim. I've seen many athletes succumb to that obsession and have it eventually destroy their dreams and themselves. Those who manage to maintain balance thrive beyond the playing fields, and continue to inspire long after athletics have left their lives.

     I remember a polar vortex so many years ago, as the chill iced over my dreams for a spell. Enduring temperatures of minus-20 can take the joy out of any job. Retreating indoors can conjur up cabin fever. It can feel a bit overwhelming.

     Rather than climb beneath my covers in a warm bed, I sat on the living room floor listening to music late into the night not necessarily aware of what I was searching for.

     Then the haunting sound of a harmonica stirred something deep inside of me.

       A memory of hearing that performed live, under a sparkling clear Wisconsin sky with a full moon shining brightly at Alpine Valley just a few months before, sent an electrical shock though every cell in my body. Bruce Springsteen sang to me with words of inspiration:

     Some guys they just give up living,

     And start dying little by little, piece by piece,

     Some guys come home from work and wash up,

     And go racin' in the street ...

     Just a few weeks later we left the comfortable life we created in the Midwest to chase dreams in California. Just chasing those dreams inspired and empowered us. And our lives have never been the same.

 

Thanks, Jake

Posted by johnnieraz on February 6, 2019 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

     EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a series of Thank You essays to people who have helped make me who I am today.

     By John Rezell

     If you’re really lucky in life, you’ll cross paths with someone who really understands who you are, deep down to your soul. If you’re super lucky, you’ll meet them early in life, when they have the opportunity to make a difference.

     My stars aligned when I met Jake.

      I can’t remember the day I met Jake. Or the first time I saw that bright, mischievous smile followed by his deep chuckle. I just remember countless miles in White Lightning, his Monte Carlo, plying the roads of Brookfield, Elm Grove and beyond singing to our own private tunes with endless laughter.

     Jake saw me, and most people, for who we are. For better or worse I can’t remember him making any serious effort to change or alter who I was. No probing to figure out why I was who I was. He just accepted me.

      We shared some quirky traits and elements of our personalities that we weren’t necessarily proud of, nor ever really exposed to others, but they formed the foundation of a friendship that I cherished as much as any I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my lifetime.

      I could spend days telling tales of our adventures, which nearly 100 percent of the time included beer or spirits — even our days working together as security guards for Summerfest.

      Although sometimes years went by without us getting together, when we would reconnect, the time between would fade to nothing.

     It pains me that I couldn't make it to his funeral, to say goodbye. But then again, we've never really parted.  

      And so it continues, to this day. So often a song, an image, or just a random memory popping out of nowhere, will bring Jake back into my life.

     His smile as bright and mischievous as ever.

     His chuckle as deep.

     Thanks, Jake.

     We sang a song …

My Quest is Simple

Posted by johnnieraz on February 2, 2019 at 2:35 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

      Somewhere along the line joy became my goal in life.

      Not fortune.

      Not fame.

      Simple joy.

      My life has been full of joy nearly nonstop since the day I graduated high school. I wouldn’t trade anything in my life since then — not that I necessarily would trade anything before that because I am the sum of my total life experiences.

      Good and bad.

      Yin and yang.

      I spend most of my days and nights in awe of the life I’ve enjoyed. I call myself an obsessive optimist, always finding the light and denying the dark. Maybe I’ve lived a life of denial and, if so, it has been a wonderful experience that I would recommend highly. Life can be what you want it to be. I want mine to be filled with joy and laughter. And, it is. It’s so by choice.

      Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve had my share of challenges, without question. I'm facing some right now. I’m sure a pessimist — who doesn’t even need be an obsessive pessimist — could pick apart my life and argue that I have little reason to feel joyful. That would be his or her loss, not mine. I just view my life through a different set of measures than most. Many things that keep others awake at night are not worth the time an energy to worry about, so I sleep like a baby.

     Our evolution from survivalists to greedy hoarders hasn't served us well. It seems that for so many individuals, no level of acquisition is ever enough, which I find rather odd since in my mind the only thing worth pursuing — happiness — has no degrees to it. You are either happy or not. You’re not more happier than just happy. And you can’t stockpile it, either.

     Nonetheless many continue to search for happiness in all the wrong manners. Believing that the proper acquisition of a material good or mass of goods will bring the elusive joy.

      What so many people fail to realize is the reality of America's obsession with success. Not simple modest everyday life successes, but extravagant successes. It's as if the simple American Dream of a modest house and a healthy family has been super-sized. The house is never big enough. Relationships are never satisfying enough. Health is vastly overrated until it falters.

     The urge to super-size has overblown America's emphasis on careers as the determination of your identity — of who you are. It blurs the real issue at hand. While it is fantastic if you can love what you do in your career from 9-to-5, true happiness is defined by who you are 5-to-9. In those hours away from your job, with your family, with yourself. That's what defines me.

     We often ask kids growing up the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

     We seldom promote the answer: I want to be happy.

     A career, just like alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, can be addictive.

     Career addiction can take over a life. You need more and more and more out of your career. Nothing will ever be enough. You're so addicted that you cannot see the damage you are doing to your family, even though you probably defend your actions by saying you are doing it for your family.  You leave before they wake up and return after they've gone to bed. You might as well have spent that time in a bar or casino.

     Just as parents want the best of everything for their children, children want everything for their parents. One can define that "everything" in a number of manners. I just prefer to define it as happiness

     And ask me who I am? I'm a Dad.

If You Give a Writer A Pencil

Posted by johnnieraz on January 26, 2019 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)

EDITOR'S NOTE: When I created Raz's Velo-o-Rama, my first website, in 1994 as a creative display of my work covering bicycle racing in America as a freelancer, the thought of having complete control publishing my work became an addiction and an obsession. As technology advanced I rode the wave through cyberspace in various capacities always motivated to create rather than cash in. As I celebrate the anniversary of self-publishing my three ebooks I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of the ideas that flowed from my muse. This first is my tribute to the classic children's book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and its line of stories, which I planned to use as the introduction to a website called The Brain of Raz.

By Raz

     If you give a writer a pencil, chances are, he'll want a piece of paper.

     So you'll strap on your helmet and hop on your bike to go along with the writer to the office supply store.

     But once you're on the bike path, the writer will want to explore. Because that's what writers do. It's called creative procrastination.

     You'll be riding along the bike path and probably see a pack of bike riders racing very, very fast.

     And the writer will try to keep up with them, just to see if he can.

     So you'll ride your bike as hard as you can for as long as you can.

     When the bike racers slowly turn into tiny dots on the horizon, then disappear, the writer will say that's for the best. It's a better story now.

     That's when you'll realize you don't know where you are, and that you should have brought a map, if not a survival knife and flint.

     You'll be scared, but the writer will smile with glee. And he'll say, remember, what doesn't kill you ...

     ... makes you stronger, you'll answer proudly. But he'll crinkle his nose and say, Heck, no, what doesn't kill you makes a great story! CHA-CHING!

     And if you haven't realized it already, you understand why writers are lonely people without a lot of friends. At least, friends who are alive.

     You'll spend a few nights in the cold, eating wild berries and drinking rainwater as if you were on "Survivor." The writer will fill your empty nights with terrifying stories of what could happen to you, all them ending in death, as he continues to remind you that reality is stranger than fiction.

     Eventually you'll get rescued and even though you shared the frightening ordeal 50-50 with the writer, you find that really you only own 100 percent of your story, and none of the writer's.

     Of course, the writer will hire an agent, who will take 20 percent right off the top, which is fine with the writer, because if he tried to sell anything on his own he'd end up with 100 percent of nothing, just like you.

     The agent will sell the book to a marketing company, who will take 50 percent off the newly neatly trimmed top. The agent is fine with that because without the marketing company, he'd be earning 100 percent of nothing, just like you.

     The marketing company puts together the book and sells it to a publishing house, which will take 50 percent off the top simply because it can, and another 20 percent off the top for distribution costs. For some reason, the marketing company doesn't flinch at this. Probably because 100 percent of nothing is ...

     The distributor will sell the books to local stores, who will jack the price up even further, to take off their 20 percent.

     And you'll go to the bookstore for the signing on the day the book is released, and you'll fork over $39.99. But you won't mind because, of course, you know the author will only get about 50 cents of that, and he'll autograph the book, meaning someday when he rides a little too far and too fast, you'll get your money back and then some by selling it on eBay, with you actually getting to keep a full 100 percent.

     Which makes you start thinking that, hey, who needs all these people in the first place?

     Why not just buy a computer, type in your story, publish an ebook and offer it to folks like yourself for, oh, maybe $5 because you really aren't concerned about getting rich, you just want to make a decent living.

     And just to show how greedy the rest of the world is, you'll use what profits you gain to start a whole knew company that focuses on children and finding ways to inspire them to create dreams for their lives, and follow them with the relentlessness of a, well, a writer.

     So you go to the office supply store to buy a computer, and as they hand you a laptop you feel like you have all the power of the world behind you to help you tell your story.

     And then, you laugh, because you think to yourself, hey, this is much, much, MUCH better than ...

     ... if you give a writer a pencil.

Living in the Now

Posted by johnnieraz on January 19, 2019 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By John Rezell

     Without question the toughest part of being a parent is figuring out how you got to be who you are so you can pass that along to your kids as they search for their own identity.

     I only have a couple of hints of how I ended up who I am. And trust me, I'm not who many would have guessed I would turn out to be back in high school.

     But that's the beauty of life and the wonder of the journey.

     I can only speak for myself. I managed to find the courage, or maybe just enough recklessness abandon, to believe I could change. I didn't worry about the implications. I just set out to change.

     That hint came from my father. If you've read anything of mine over the years you know the story. He lost his short term memory latter in life. When I asked him about it, he told me it was fine. Because none of that mattered. Not the past nor the future. All that matters is the present.

      As I wonder about the many aspects of my life, I'm constantly drawn back to that moment, when I began to focus on living in the present.

      For years it came down to a simple premise: I can't change the past and I have VERY limited control over the future. It's all about what I do now, in this moment. I can attempt to prepare for a better future. But it's only a hope, really, not a guarantee.

      I recently watched Brian Greene's NOVA on time. I've always been fascinated by the concept of time although I can easily get in over my head digging into the essence of time.

     Greene explains quite well Einstein's theory that the past, present and future all co-exist. Some people like to believe that their future is predetermined, and float through life accordingly, letting the winds of fate carry them along.

     In believing that the future holds every possible outcome the present becomes a game of living to increase your odds of creating the future you desire.

     Of course, there is no complete control. It's all about increasing — or decreasing — your odds in the decisions that you make every moment in the present.

     I have a close friend who struggles with anxiety. He often bounces ideas off me since I appear to have little to no anxiety at all.

     I know many will have difficulty with that statement, but it's true. I just don't worry about stuff. That's not to say I wasn't a complete worry freak in my younger days. Oh, believe me, I was. Because, of course, my mother set the bar for worrying — as I believe most people believe of their mothers.

     Focusing on the present makes worries about righting past wrongs or wondering what the future holds somewhat problematic because, of course, it is ruining your present. Turning what could be a glorious morning into a stress filled day. No thanks.


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