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January 2011 - Posts

  • Sponsored by the Letter 'F'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy writing, everyone.

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

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

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

    Posted Jan 31 2011, 11:06 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • The Masonry of Motherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    May my actions as a husband, a father, and a human being serve as a monument to her legacy as a mother.
    Posted Jan 30 2011, 11:57 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • Vocation: My Mission in Life

    The dictionary defines the word ‘vocation’ as a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling. It can also be defined as a function or station in life to which one is called by God. Growing up Catholic, I heard this word a lot when I was in school. I think it was the Catholic Church’s not-so-subtle way of trying to recruit boys into becoming priests. “Normal people have careers, but those true to God know what their vocation is,” I recall Sister Mary Somethingorother telling me once. The way I figure it, if God wanted me to become a priest, He wouldn’t have created boobs.

    Still, I believe in the concept of vocation. I believe we are all placed on Earth for a purpose; to play a specific role in His creation. I whole-heartedly believe God has blessed me with a divine task during my time here on Earth, but it has nothing at all to do with being a man of the cloth. Ironically, however, my vocation is one that still requires people to call me father. Two people to be exact.

    There is no doubt in my mind my sole purpose in life is to be an exceptional dad. Not a good dad. Not a great dad. Not just an a’ite dad. An exceptional dad. A phenomenal dad. The best dad ever.

    Granted, I know I can never be that. Like a perfect GPA in college, once you slip up, you can never get back to 4.0. It’s mathematically impossible. I believe my life’s journey and the transgressions I’ve experienced are akin to that, and those decisions will forever stain my resume as a dad. Nevertheless, I am resolved to make an effort every day and with everything I do to atone for the sins of my past. I am very fortunate my children were so young when my first wife and I split up, and their frame of reference continues to shift from a memory of mommy and daddy together to that of what our current situation reflects.

    All that being said, I strive to be the best parent to my children I can possibly be. I like to think I don’t spoil them, yet there is not much which they lack in terms of the ‘things’ they have. By my standard as a kid growing up, my children are very rich. Still, I make sure they appreciate the value of money. I teach them to be respectable and honest, kind and unselfish. I do my best to lead by example; often times forgoing something I want to do in order to teach them the lesson of what is the right thing to do.

    As they get older, I find I must give up some of the strict disciplinarian role in order to make room for the more patient and wise consultant. Gone are the days of very narrow limitations and binary choices that set the boundaries they knew as infants and toddlers. Now their choices are quite multiple, all with varying levels and parameters of depth, impact, and consequence. I find where before I would raise my voice and fall back on my trusted “because I say so” argument, I now break into mini-pep talks where the discipline is found in the lesson of the moment. Put another way, I’ve evolved from Nick Saban into Tony Dungy.

    I say all this knowing I don’t do it alone. I’ve always said about my ex-wife that I would not want anyone else to be the mother of my children. She and I have always been on the same page when it comes to parenting, and I am so damn lucky that through all that happened, that aspect of our relationship never changed.

    Being a dad is not always easy, but it is so incredibly rewarding. I feel it whenever I am complimented about my children. It’s a sense of validation and justification for the many trials and tribulations that come with being a parent. From a long term perspective, my vision is of two individuals who are pillars of their respective communities. Strong and intelligent leaders who are also humble and reverent human beings. That is what I want my kids to become, and that is what I feel it is my mission in life to produce. That is my contribution to my community and this planet. That is my vocation.

    As a quick aside, my dad would have been seventy-seven years old today. I wish he were still around to see how beautiful, charming, witty, and fun his grandchildren have become. But I know he’s in Heaven looking down and smiling, and thankful that I never ended up becoming a priest.
    Posted Jan 28 2011, 12:18 AM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • I Walked a Mile With Pleasure

    I walked a mile with Pleasure
    She chatted all the way
    But left me none the wiser
    For all she had to say

    I walked a mile with Sorrow
    And ne'er a word said she
    But, oh! The things I learned from her
    When sorrow walked with me

    -by Robert Browning Hamilton
    Posted Jan 27 2011, 11:38 AM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • From Grief to Grace

    Today’s topic is supposed to be about something that was planned that did not turn out as expected. I don’t think I can do a better job than the one Lee did with her post tonight. Also, I’m not feeling that topic because I have something else weighing on my mind.

    In the past year, I’ve had too many friends grieve the loss of a parent. I’ve also had another grieve the loss of a sibling. This sad and unfortunate trend continued this week as someone close to me lost his mother. It also pains me to say I have friends who are preparing for their loss as they have a parent who is ill or in hospice care.

    In almost all of the instances mentioned above, cancer has been the common denominator in the passing of those individuals.

    Every loss we experience is tragic. Infant or elder, expected or all of the sudden, death brands our soul with the lasting reminder of its eventuality. We mourn. We grieve. We try to make sense of it all. And in its own way, death unites us in the commonness of sorrow and pain.

    There’s an extra layer added when the ones we love are lost due to that universal foe we call cancer. It’s hard enough to learn to accept death, but losing someone to cancer makes us feel cheated. We’re left feeling they were taken from us prematurely, and if not for cancer, they’d still be with us creating memories and sharing moments.

    But as with all deaths, we, those who survive the ones who have passed, can carry their legacy and lives forward in how we choose to honor and remember them.

    I never had the honor of meeting Jeffrey Block. He died at the age of 18 following a four year long battle with cancer. Still, he’s been the inspiration for a movement and a cause that has positively impacted the lives of thousands of people. His older brother chose to turn his grief and sorrow into a lasting tribute to his little brother, and formed a charity organization dedicated to the fight against pediatric cancer. The culmination of this tribute is found in the song Jeffrey’s brother wrote for him. To this day, I cannot listen to that song without my eyes welling with tears and my thoughts drifting to the memory of my father.

    Grieving is a natural process. Feeling hurt, pain, and sometimes despair following the passing of a loved one is normal. Still, I like to think they’d want us to instead celebrate the life we shared with them and keep their memory alive by channeling that sense of loss into something positive.

    You don’t have to go out and found a charity or write a beautiful song to honor a loved one. Instead, find solace in taking actions you know would make them proud. Find direction in the lessons you learned from them while they were still with us. Keep their spirit alive by enriching the spirit of others.

    It’s when we turn grief into grace that we allow our loved ones to live forever.

    “Running Through the Fields” by Ken Block

    Well we shared a season
    Running through the fields
    We never had a reason
    To be scared of things
    That were so unreal
    Making our own stories
    Playing our own games
    We never had no worries
    Never thought things
    Would ever change

    But I’m missin’ you today -
    Don’t know why you went away

    Times I sat and wondered
    Nights we sat and cried
    I’m proud to be your brother
    No one knows how hard we tried
    To make it to tomorrow
    For just another day
    There’s never time to borrow
    For things I’ll never get to say ...

    So many days I’m searchin’
    So many nights I’m left alone
    Sometimes the song of the wind
    Well it’s -- only the warning for the storm

    Moments turn to hours
    Months they turn to years
    It’s different now without you
    With your image crystal clear
    The child was the teacher
    A brother and a friend
    A fragile little creature
    Who’d do it all again and again

    Well we shared a season
    Running through the fields

    Posted Jan 26 2011, 02:43 AM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • You Wanna Do What?

    Remember that song my Naughty by Nature called “You down with OCD”. Wait, what? That’s not what it’s called? That’s not what they were down with? Well, in my version it’s definitely OCD.

    I don’t suffer from OCD, I relish in it. I embrace it. Being married to someone who lives - how shall I say this? - on the other end of the spectrum in terms of my comfort zone for order and tidiness can be a challenge. I guess that’s part of being in a relationship; being able to meet halfway.

    But if it were strictly up to me, my house would probably look like a museum. I love perfectly arranged items. I love sorting and organizing. I get off on ninety degree angles. I like start-to-finish planning. If I could, I’d get a tattoo of a timeline on my arm. When it comes to law and order, the law is you must keep things in order.

    Okay ….. I’m done with the euphemisms.

    Now, imagine what my gut instinct was when Lee suggested, as we were planning a road trip to visit family in Miami, that we leave a day early and stop in Ft. Myers on the way. “It’ll give us the chance to do something different,” she said. “We’ve never really been, we can break up the drive down, and it’ll be fun.”

    It was a really good idea and I agreed to it without much hesitation. I headed over to my laptop and pulled up a travel website. “What are you doing?” she asked me. I explained I was going to look up a hotel at which to stay in Ft. Myers and make a reservation. “We don’t need a reservation,” she quipped. “Let’s just get in the car and go. We’ll find a place to stay once we get there.”

    I don’t know exactly how long it was, but I must have stared at her for about a minute and a half. It was just a blank stare, my brain unable to comprehend the words that came out of her mouth. I heard the faint voice of Gary Coleman in my head ask, “Whatchu talk’n ‘bout, Willis?”

    “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked. I explained to her that it sounded as if she said we didn’t need a reservation, and that we’d simply find a hotel when we got there. “That’s exactly what I said,” she retorted. It was then that the twitch that began in my eye escalated to full-on convulsions over my body.

    How could this woman possibly suggest we just get in a car, drive to a different city, and stay the night without a reservation? Why would anyone do that? That’s the beauty of a reservation. You don’t have to worry about not having a place to stay. You don’t have to play out in your head the worst case scenario of sleeping in the car. What if there’s a convention and the only place available is $300 per night? My wife obviously hadn’t thought this through very well.

    Stopping short of *** slapping me back to her reality, Lee convinced me to “just have faith” and go with it. “You can’t plan everything,” she lectured me. I quietly disagreed.

    We got in the car, drove off, and made it to Ft. Myers without incident. More importantly, we found a place to stay without incident. Well, there was that one little detail about our bathroom not being exactly clean which lead to the room being comp’d. That was cool.

    In the end, we had a great time. Lee’s spontaneous idea and her coaxing me into giving randomness a try turned out to be quite the fun adventure. It also turned out to be a good learning experience for me as well. I learned to expand my comfort zone. I learned to place trust in the un-planned. I learned to let go of some of the obsessive and give into more of the compulsive in my life.

    Life is rarely neat and tidy. Life almost never goes according to plan. I guess it is life’s tendency to exist in disorder that I need to embrace.
    Posted Jan 24 2011, 09:38 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • Forgive + Forget = No Regrets

    In the wake of posting some pretty deep and dark entries about specific events in my life, it’s with open arms that I embrace tonight’s writing topic.

    The subject of tonight’s entry is a truly spiritual moment in my life. I thought long and hard about this. I tried to recall a ‘eureka’ moment with God, one that set me on a new path of growth and spiritual happiness. However, the more I searched for that moment, the more I realized there wasn’t one. Well, not just one.

    Instead, what I found was a series of moments in my life, specifically in the last several years, that have brought me closer to God and have allowed me to look at life with a completely different perspective. It’s very much a domino effect, where the first moment leads the way to the second, and so on. The following is a very brief recap of my journey with Christ that helped get me to where I am today.

    It was an ordinary weekend in 2005 and I just happened to be awake early on a Sunday morning. Usually I would sleep in late following some drunken stupor the night before. 2005 was my ‘being single’ year, and I tried to cram my twenties, as well as everything I felt I had missed by being in a relationship at such a young age, into that year. That particular Sunday, however, I was up at around 7:00 AM.

    As I lay in bed, I had a feeling in my chest. It was a calling from Him telling me I needed to get up and go to Mass. I was raised Catholic, but I had not been to Mass in a long time. I tried to ignore it. I tried to shake off the feeling inside me. But the more I did, the louder the voice was and the deeper the feeling that I needed to get up and just go.

    As it turns out, that particular Sunday was the ministry fair at my church. At the end of Mass, the newly hired director of Youth Ministry made an appeal to all in the audience to donate their time and help out the fledgling program. I looked up towards God and told him, “Okay. I get the message,” and I registered to volunteer. It was that experience as a volunteer youth minister that allowed me to participate in a leadership retreat the following year. It was at that retreat where I had a second spiritual moment with God.

    I had been struggling mightily with forgiveness. I was still bitter about what had happened to me in my pursuit of ‘true love’, and I was also very much still mad and ashamed at myself for what I did to my family and ex-wife. It was there, following a discussion about reconciliation with God, where I felt the strength to let it all go and release that burden I’d been carrying. Not only was I able to extend forgiveness to the person I felt had wronged me, I also learned at that moment, through God’s amazing grace and kindness, how to forgive myself.

    This experience has come around full circle for me as I sat in the audience at Relevant Church in Tampa this morning. Our pastor, Paul Wirth, was talking about the snapshots in life that lead to regret. It was then that I realized exactly how powerful that moment at the retreat really was. You see, although there are many actions in my life which I regret having done, I don’t at all feel the heavy burden of regret. I know the reason for this is because God showed me how to forgive and, more importantly, how to accept His divine forgiveness.

    To me, forgiveness is like a bolt cutter. This specific bolt cutter, however, requires two cuts in order to work properly. We use this tool to release ourselves from our sins, which are attached to us at the ankle like a dead weight. We use it again to let go of the times we’ve been wronged, which are shackled to us at the other ankle. This weight pulls us under and drowns us. We can’t cut just one and be released from what is weighing us down. Instead, Jesus makes the first cut to forgive us of our sins. He teaches us through example, and we must then take the bolt cutters and forgive those who have hurt us. Only then can we rise to the surface and truly take in God’s love like a deep breath of fresh air.

    I like to think I have spontaneous moments of spirituality every day. Some are subtle and may take some time to reveal themselves to me. Others, however, hit my like a ton of bricks. Either way, I feel I am so lucky and so blessed to have the relationship I do with God.

    He truly does work in mysterious ways. All we have to do is be willing to listen ….. and learn.
    Posted Jan 23 2011, 11:36 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • Out of the Darkness Feet First

    I guess one of the problems with undertaking a writing challenge like ours is the inadvertent covering of future topics. Tonight’s subject is “A dark or turbulent moment in your life.” Well, it goes without saying I’ve already written about that. So instead, I am going to write about a dark moment in someone else’s life.

    Actually, I jest. This is more like an enlightening moment in someone else’s life.

    My friend Matt has lived most of his adult life in fear. He was afraid of the unknown. He was terrified to take on this undertaking, even at the suggestion of his wife. We, his male peers, offered up words of encouragement and support, but still he stood frozen in place, his fear and dislike not allowing him to take that step forward. You see, my friend Matt had never had a pedicure.

    All that changed on Friday afternoon. Truth be told, we did not have to kidnap him and take him by force to the spa. There were no tranquilizers, duct tape, and rope involved, although it would have been cool if we had to throw a sack over his head and dump him in the trunk to do so. THAT would have made for a much better story.

    Nevertheless, there we were Friday afternoon, Jeff in one seat, Matt in the other, both of them with their feet in bubbling water, all the while enjoying the tranquility of the view and ambient music playing in the day spa. I was there to provide moral support and to equally mock Matt’s virgin pedi experience. “Can I get you some water with a slice of cucumber?” I’d ask him. I grabbed a book from the waiting area for him to pass the time as his wax covered feet ‘baked’. It was called ‘Girl Talk’. He was not amused. And, of course, there were also the prerequisite photos of him to be posted on Twitter and Facebook.

    Yet, through it all, Matt took it, well, like a man. He enjoyed the experience, made polite conversation with the lovely ladies tending to his and Jeff’s feet, and I think he walked away with a greater sense of enlightenment. Not to mention silky smooth feet.

    From a guy’s perspective, it was fun. From a grander perspective, it was cool to remove from Matt’s mind the negative stereotype of pedicures for men. It was a learning experience and it was, I think, a growing experience. And in its own weird way, it brought the three of us guys a little bit closer.

    For the record, my one and only pedi experience was with my wife while we were on vacation in Mexico in 2008. We had a spa day for two, and it was fantastic. Still, I am the first to admit that calling up the fellas and saying, “Hey, how about we get together at 1:00 and all go get our feet done?” is never going to happen. I appreciate the pampering and comfort a pedicure provides, but my first experience was special because I shared it with Lee, and I want to keep it as something she and I can do together.

    So back to the moral of the story. Guys, don't knock it ‘till you try it. You never know just how bright a perceived dark moment can be. Matt, kudos to you for swallowing some of that male pride and, quite literally, dipping your feet in the water. Jeff, you continue to display just how cool you are for making this whole thing happen. And, Michelle, on behalf of Jeff, myself, and your husband …. you're welcome.
    Posted Jan 23 2011, 12:44 AM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • All About My BFF

    Sometimes things in life can be both easy and hard. There are challenges we face, people we know, or situations to resolve that have aspects that are both worrisome and trouble free. This entry is an example of that.

    As part of my wife and I’s 30 Day Blog Challenge, the blog assignment for this evening is to write about your best friend (that is not a spouse or significant other). This is where the easy and hard part comes in.

    As I’ve said before, I’ve been blessed to have an incredible circle of friends that have supported me and guided me through the years. They’ve been with me through thick and thin, and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing I am surrounded by such wonderful and amazing people. The hardest part of this entry, however, is selecting one individual to highlight as my ‘best friend’. The idea harkens thoughts of third grade and of raising one individual person over all others, but that’s not what I want to do at all. Every one of my friends possesses unique characteristics and traits without which I feel I would be lost. I honestly feel all my friends - my true friends, those that make up my inner circle of support and those I consider family - are great.

    So as my way of dealing with this dilemma, I am going to fall back on my marketing background.

    In marketing and advertising, there is a concept of top of mind awareness (TOMA). TOMA, simply put, is the brand you think of first regarding a particular type of product or service. For example, someone asks you what soda you like, the list of brands you rattle through are those that have top of mind awareness for you.

    In trying to determine the subject of this post, I did something similar. I asked myself, “If I were impacted by a sudden tragedy in my life, who would be the first of my friends I would call?” Dark, I know. But this question serves as a good litmus test to help determine who in your life you consider a friend and who gets relegated to the category of casual acquaintance.

    The first person that came to my mind is my friend Jeff Wilson. I don’t know where to begin with Jeff except to say I’m the little brother he never had. As far as guy stuff goes, he and I are cut from the same cloth. We’re both sports geeks. We’re both music geeks. We’re both big kids raising kids of our own. And since he and I have both travelled down the road of divorce with young children, we share a bond that allows us to get each other that much more.

    Jeff is one of the most fun guys I know. He can be the life of the party when he wants to be. He also knows, however, when it’s time to be cool and casual. He seems to know just about everybody, too. If you need help with finding tickets to a show, he has a guy he can call. Going to that new restaurant that’s opening? Chances are he knows the owner. He’s well connected and influential, but in the most unassuming and non-egotistical way. He’s just all around cool.

    But what makes me look at Jeff with eyes of admiration is his sense of selflessness and generosity. Jeff has been a role model to me, leading by example when it comes to giving of oneself for other people. In 2005, before I had the opportunity of meeting him, he organized in Tampa the first of what would become an annual event for Lyrics for Life, a charity organization founded by Sister Hazel that is dedicated to supporting research and programs for pediatric cancer. He did this out of pure inspiration for the cause. He was driven by his desire to make a difference and help out in any way he could. I attended that event and it was spectacular.

    The following year, his son was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor, a type of kidney cancer that occurs in children. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for a parent to hear the prognosis of their child being diagnosed with cancer, but I can tell you Jeff handled the situation with grace and determined resolve. He rallied around the love of his family and friends to provide both the best treatment and support environment for his son Tanner. He shaved his head in solidarity as Tanner began to lose his hair because of the chemo. He never laid blame on anyone or anything. He took his son by the hand, and they faced the adversity together.

    Tanner is doing well and is symptom free. He is a healthy and active middle-schooler and the apple of his father’s eye.

    Jeff’s been my drinking buddy, my road trip companion, my sounding board, my confidant, and everything in between. Most importantly, he’s been my inspiration in terms of charitable work and selfless giving. He’s the type of friend everyone wants to have and very few people can be. It’s so easy to be around him and hard not to like him. I am thankful to have him, as I am all my friends, in my life, and I know my life would be a lot less interesting without him.
    Posted Jan 21 2011, 11:42 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • To The Core

    I am a huge sports fan. Even more so, I am a huge Miami Dolphins fan. I grew up on the Dolphins. The golden era of Shula, Griese, and the Orange Bowl. The arrival of Dan Marino and the Marks Brothers. The heartbreaking losses in Super Bowls XVII and XIX. Those are all part of my childhood and the bedrock that makes me the fan I am today.

    Alas to say dealing with heartbreak is part of being a Dolphins fan. Their last Super Bowl victory came a month before my first birthday. They haven’t been to the big game since the 1984 season. Their last trip to the AFC Championship? 1993. Along the way there have been memorable games, breathtaking wins, and, of course, heartbreaking losses. Coincidentally, the two that stand out in my mind both came in the playoffs and both were against the San Diego Chargers.

    The first game was the classic Epic in Miami. It was January of 1982 and both teams played a slugfest that went into overtime. You remember that game: the sloppy field, the hook and lateral play, Kellen Winslow being carried off the field by his teammates. I was nine years old. I remember clutching my fists as I knelt in front of the TV. Following a legendary Miami comeback, I was absolutely sure they were going to win. They didn’t, losing in overtime. I was a wreck.

    The second playoff game against the Bolts was in 1995. Miami lead San Diego 21-6 at the half. The Chargers roared back to take the lead. The game came down to a 48-yard field goal attempt by Pete Stoyanovich. I remember watching the game at a bar on Bourbon Street. I was so confident. Pete never misses from inside 50 yards. “We got this!” I said rather confidently to a patron standing next to me. I was 100% certain the Dolphins were going to win the game. When Stoyo’s kick sailed wide right - and it wasn’t even close - my heart sank in complete disbelief.

    It’s rare to hear me say, “I’m absolutely positive” about anything in life. I’ve learned to withhold the final 1% of certainty and allow room, no matter how miniscule, for the improbable. Still, there I was in 2005 telling everyone I knew about how certain I was things were going to work out in the end. I was in a relationship I shouldn’t have been in. I was married. She was married. We were in love. And through it all, I was 1000% certain it was meant to be. We were perfect together. We were made for each other. We were soul mates.

    Then the improbable - or from my perspective at the time, impossible - happened.

    Long story short; after years of promising to choose me for our happily ever after, I was instead cast aside for the safety of the status quo. It was one of those, “The devil that you know is better than the devil that you don’t know” situations. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. That moment was for me the event that shook me to my core.

    *takes a deep breath*

    I didn’t know where I was going to go with this entry when I started writing. I didn’t know what the ‘moral of the story’ would be. But, as I look at those events, now five years removed from my emotional ground zero, there is one thing that stands out. Time truly does heal all wounds and life does actually go on.

    It just so happens I was sharing some parenting advice with a friend this evening. Her kid is having a tough time with peers at school, and I reminded her that getting through the tough times is what needs to happen in order to arrive at the great times. It’s just that all too often we can’t see the destination from where we stand today, especially when all we believed to be true is proven to be wrong. Still, as with those Dolphins teams in which I so passionately believed, there was always a next season. The promise of a brighter and better tomorrow is not a theory, it’s an eventuality. The trick is having the faith, patience, and courage to see it come to fruition.
    Posted Jan 19 2011, 10:29 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • It's Not At All Random

    I don’t believe in random. I mean I do, but I don’t.

    Lotto balls are random. The way a snowflake falls from the sky is random. The things that come out of my nine year-old’s mouth are random. But life and our interactions with others are never random. That being said, I met Cate Colgan through the most random of circumstances.

    At the time, I had no idea what a Tweetup was. Nevertheless, Lee and I trekked down to the Performing Arts Center in downtown Tampa for a Tampa Bloggers Tweetup. I blogged and I lived in Tampa, but I hardly considered myself a ‘Tampa Blogger’. Lee and I were both still relative novices in the whole arena of social media, but it was something to do so off we went.

    Near the end of the event, we met Cate. We chatted with her a bit and exchanged information. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was just another business card to add to the pile I had collected that evening. We had met a good amount of people at the event and I spent the better part of the drive home trying to mentally sort all the names and faces to which we’d been introduced.

    Some time passed and Lee forwarded me information about a Social Media class. Again, given we were both eager to learn more, we registered for the class. It turned out Cate Calgon was part of the group that put together and organized the class. In fact, Lee came across the information for the class as a result of following Cate on Twitter and keeping tabs on her information.

    This second meeting with Cate led to her inviting Lee, and by extension me, to join the Epic Thanks Tampa Bay planning organization. I was at first reluctant to commit to the planning and execution of such an event, but I am really glad I got involved, and it turned out to be quite a successful project. In addition to the networking opportunities that were created as a result of being a part of that organization, Epic Thanks also introduced me to a world of new people that are still a part of my daily life. I’ve made new and dear friends, and I would not have met all these people if not for Cate.

    Cate has also been a role model for me in that she leads through example, is incredibly giving and selfless, and carries no ego with her. Given all she’s done and all she’s donated, both in time and money, Cate makes it all seem like it’s no big deal. She doesn’t walk around with a sense of superiority. Quite the contrary. Cate is always looking to deflect attention away from her and provide praise and cheer to someone else.

    No, there was nothing random about what brought Cate Calgon into my life. I truly believe God allowed our paths to cross so I could:

    • Be an active part of a wonderful, non-profit organization and event
    • Be introduced to breathtakingly inspiring people who make giving of themselves their life’s work
    • Expand my knowledge, understanding and skill sets regarding social media, event planning, and event marketing
    • Create new opportunities, both personally and professionally, through the many people with whom Cate has connected me

    I could easily add twenty more bullet points, but I am sure you get the idea.

    To say Cate Calgon has made an impact on my life is an understatement. I’ve written before how thankful I am to her and for having her come into my life the way she did. I will say it again, however, because there are not enough words for me to properly describe how much of a ray of sunshine Cate has been.

    Thanks again, Cate, for turning on the ‘giving’ switch inside of me, and for showing me how rewarding life can be when you make it about others.

    Posted Jan 19 2011, 01:58 AM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • The Chasm of Friendship Drift

    This blog post is a day late. The Day 17 topic of our 30 Day Writing Challenge is ‘Someone with whom you shared a friendship/relationship that simply drifted out of your life.’ As you’ll soon see, there is a reason I was not able to get this posted on Monday night.

    The person that fits the subject of this post, let’s call her Mirabelle, is someone I met back in 2004. She was one of the first new people I met after my first marriage ended, and we quickly hit it off. I maintained a relationship with her through about the end of 2005 until, as the subject of this post suggests, we both just drifted away in separate directions. No rhyme or reason, just the final extinguishing of an ember that was once a flame.

    It’s funny how that happens. Relationships that were once rock solid reduced, over time, to afterthoughts. It’s understandable when there’s an evident reason. I’ve been a part of a bromance that ended up in a dudevorce resulting from a misunderstanding and the subsequent battle of stubborn wills. I’ve dumped women and have also been dumped by them. With those, there was always a tangible cause and effect that makes clear why the relationship is no more. With Mirabelle, however, our friendship just faded.

    It’s quite sad, too, when you think about it. We had the type of friendship where we’d call each other daily. She’d tell me about her issues at work and guys she was seeing. She’d lend me her ear as I continuously harped about my situation and the problems I was facing. We’d go out to dinner, sometimes with my kids, sometimes just the two of us. She once let me use her car to drive my kids down to Miami as it was much safer than taking them down in the little, one bench-seat Ford Ranger I had at the time. I introduced her to Sister Hazel. She introduced me to the TV show Firefly. We were, one might say, a good fit for each other.

    When Mirabelle was faced with a big decision that impacted her career, I was the person she called to talk about it. We weighed the pros and cons of the decision, and with that she made her choice. She chose option A which meant leaving her current employer but staying in the Tampa area. Option B would have meant staying with her employer but moving back to the Midwest.

    I like to think my life intersected Mirabelle’s for a reason, and vice versa. Last I heard from Mirabelle, she had met someone new and was about to get married. Perhaps it was my role in her life to advise her in her career choice, the one that kept her in the area and subsequently allowed her to meet her husband. Perhaps it was something else; a purpose I’ll never realize but one I believe was served.

    I also like to think, mostly based on past experiences, not all new friendships are meant to last a lifetime. We meet, we interact, we impact (or get impacted upon), and we move on. It’s like the lyric from the Billy Joel song ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’: “So many faces in and out of my life, some will last, some will just be now and then. Life is a series of hello’s and goodbye’s, I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”

    This gets me to why I was not able to post this entry Monday night.

    On Monday night, I was out meeting with a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in quite some time. We don’t really live all that far from each other, but as with all things, she’s got her life and things going on and I have mine. We keep in touch via Facebook and the occasional text message, but for the most part it’s been a series of “we’ve got to get together” conversations. Well, Monday night we did just that. We set aside some time and made the effort to see each other. I am really glad we did because it was really wonderful seeing her. And if there was one thing my get-together with my friend provided, it was the opportunity to close the gap of ‘friendship drift’ between us.

    There are some people in our lives that are just too special to allow them to aimlessly drift away, and sometimes all it takes is a tiny bit of resolve to say, “Let’s get together on this date at this time, period!” It’s funny how a little bit of forethought can help keep a relationship from becoming an afterthought.
    Posted Jan 18 2011, 03:55 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • Finding Peace in the Pages

    On September 3, 2004, following a two-year battle, my father, John Robert Gonzalez, succumbed to cancer.

    The man that lay in that hospice bed those final days was, physically, just a shell of the man I grew up admiring. He would drift in and out of consciousness, unable to speak, until he finally laid his head back and took his last breath. With that he was gone.

    With that, I was devastated.

    I’d been to funerals before. I’d had close friends lose their parents. I’d lost very close friends myself at such an early age. Still, there is something surreal about having a parent pass away. It was a ton of bricks falling on me. It was having to face the reality this man, a man who was a constant in my life, would never again be there for me. Whenever I couldn’t figure out how to do something around the house, I’d give him a call. Whenever there was a big play in the Dolphins’ game, I’d give him a call. Every Sunday afternoon, I’d give him a call. Now there was no one for me to call ever again. Sad and surreal and so hard for me to come to terms with.

    There was one aspect of my father’s passing, however, that did bring me peace.

    In the final weeks of August 2004, I read Mitch Albom’s book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” It changed my life. I say that because it changed my ideas and perceptions about the afterlife and what happens in heaven. The book allowed me to think of a place we visit once we die, a place that summarizes and makes complete the life we lived on earth. It opened my eyes to the idea that dying is something we can look forward to because of the wonderful experience that follows our passing.

    The story, and the manner in which it is so beautifully told, allowed me to more quickly find acceptance of the fact my father was dead. Rather than consume my thoughts with things I’d never be able to do with him again, I thought instead of who his five people are and what interactions he was having with them in the great beyond. It was almost a joyous feeling to think he was reunited with his mother, a spectacular woman whom he loved so very much, and the conversations they would share. It was fascinating in a sad but beautiful way. It was, for me, a source of strength at a time of loss.

    Writing is a powerful medium, and the art of storytelling can be a very influential vehicle. It’s still amazing to me, as well as inspiring, that someone can put words to paper and, as a result, positively impact the lives of millions of strangers. That is what Mitch Albom has done with his books. He is a role model for me as an author, as a sports writer, and as a person; and I aspire so much to model my craft after his.

    I hope and pray that I will one day write something that will be a positive influence on someone else’s life. I do this not for any sense of fame, gratitude, or acknowledgement, but rather because of my belief that doing so would make my father proud. After all, it will give us something to talk about when it’s our time to reunite in heaven.

    To read the eulogy I wrote for my father, please click here.
    Posted Jan 16 2011, 10:56 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • Impacted by the Power of Music

    If ever there was such a thing as an obvious choice, the subject of this entry is it. The writer in me so desperately wanted to go with a twist or misdirection, but anyone who knows me would easily guess or tell you the band or musical artist that has impacted my life is Sister Hazel. I mean, it’s not even close.

    This entry actually serves as a good follow-up to my post from yesterday. I went through some tough and dark times at the end of 2004, and it was the music of Sister Hazel that played a part in getting me through it. There were days when I felt like my life had come to a screeching halt while everyone else’s was going by me at 100 miles per hour. It was my ability to relate to the lyrics; to read, study, and understand those words set to music that helped get me through those dark days.

    Diggin' in for another day
    Carrying on in my own way
    But you know me
    I live and die nearly every day
    Insanity, it's havin' its way with me

    In 2005 I was able to introduce Lee to the music of Sister Hazel, and it became something we were able to share together. It allowed her to understand and get me a little bit better. It became for her, albeit after some initial reluctance, a place for her to find strength and comfort as well.

    And when you're weak of holding on
    Release your wayward soul
    And spend your days not falling down
    Before your empty idols

    In 2006, Lee and I chased daylight on the way to the first annual Hazelnut Hang in South Carolina. We watched the sun set on the west coast of Florida, jumped in my truck, drove all night, and watched the sun rise over the beach on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina. It was the first of what would become many Sister Hazel related adventures and experiences Lee and I would share together.

    Sky fell down and pulled us in
    Stole away my oxygen
    And left me standin' breathless there with you
    The ocean wrapped around the sun
    The smell of June - the taste of your tongue
    Was all I'd ever need

    The music of Sister Hazel has not only been an inspirational vehicle for the two of us, it’s also introduced us to a circle of friends that cannot be adequately described with words. When I think about the people with whom Lee and I interact on a regular basis, for the vast majority of them, the common link is Sister Hazel. We either met them through or because of events that in some shape, way, or form tie back to that band that hales from Gainesville, Florida.

    I’ve jumped out of a plane because of Sister Hazel. I’ve helped friends load a moving truck because of Sister Hazel. I’ve helped friends unload a moving truck because of Sister Hazel. I’ve seen friends meet, fall in love, and get married because of Sister Hazel. I’ve attended weddings of friends because of Sister Hazel. I’ve seen friends bring babies into this world because of Sister Hazel. I’ve shared tears at the passing of friends I’ve met because of Sister Hazel. I know it may sound weird from the outside looking in, but I can tell you it’s quite a spectacular feeling knowing I have this large, extended family on which I can rely and in which I can trust, all because of this one band that continues to put out great music and bring people together.

    I honestly don’t know where I’d be without my Hazel family. I honestly cannot imagine my life without the myriad of people who fill my life and make it so wonderful and blessed. I think about how different my life would be if not for the music of Ken Block, Drew Copeland, Ryan Newell, Mark Trojanowski, and Jett Beres. When you stop and think about it, it really is a beautiful thing.
    Posted Jan 15 2011, 06:52 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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  • Worth Living For

    I remember how I felt that night back in late 2004. It was sheer and utter despair. Actually, it was several exits past despair. I felt depleted. I felt alone. I felt beyond lost. In my eyes, there was nothing left except the final bit of tequila that sat at the bottom of the bottle I held in my hand. I couldn’t cry anymore. All of my tears had already been shed. I couldn’t feel anymore, both physically and emotionally. It was my rock bottom and I had emptied out.

    I remember picking up the phone, my hand trembling, not knowing what the right thing to do was. I didn’t care to know either. I dialed and left the following message. “Hey. In the event I don’t wake up tomorrow, please tell the kids I am really, really sorry.” With that, I plopped a handful of sleeping pills in my mouth and finished off what was left of the tequila.

    I am embarrassed and ashamed of that moment in my life. It’s the one moment in my life I gave up complete hope in anything, and it’s the furthest away from God I’d ever been.

    I look back at that night and thank God He spared me during my moment of insanity. I believe He did so as a reminder that life is a struggle, and that when it appears everyone else has abandoned you, He is always there.

    I look back at that night with disgust for myself because I was blind to the one gift He gave me that serves as a reminder of His love for me; my kids. How could I have possibly thought it was okay to check out on them, the only two human beings in the world that have ever displayed true, unconditional love to me? It’s shameful that I even considered it.

    I have a great job, a beautiful house, good health, a nice truck and so much more. I have a circle of friends that makes my life so amazingly awesome and helps me create wonderful memories. And I have a wife that is my best friend, my biggest fan, and my north, always helping me find my way when I think I can’t. Still, given all that, the one thing I truly live for is my kids.

    I’d trade it all in for them. No hesitation, no questions asked. I’d be fine living as a homeless person if it meant my kids had food and shelter for themselves. I’d lie in a hospital bed the rest of my days if that were the only way to ensure my kids were healthy. I’d live alone and broken-hearted if it meant that was the only way my kids would find someone to love for the rest of their lives.

    Now, before you go freaking out on me, please know I’ve had this conversation before with my wife and she knows how I feel. She supports how I feel. And I am pretty sure she loves me more because of the father I strive to be to my children.

    My children have made my life worth living for. I am reminded of that every time I look in their eyes, and I am so thankful God allowed me the chance to remember that.
    Posted Jan 14 2011, 04:05 PM by danaCreative with no comments
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