Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Step out of your comfort zone .... I dare you!

When I rang in the year 2016, I fully expected it to be sort of the status quo for the next 12 months. I mean I knew there would be bumps in the road, and maybe some new excitement. I jumped out of an airplane in 2015, so there was always the possibility of a big thrill in 2016, too. A new family vehicle was going to be a necessity, and I was hopeful that I could continue a mostly healthy lifestyle.

But when you are 48 going on 49, the box you live in has pretty well been determined, right?

And then I decided to try my friend's exercise class at the Yorktown YMCA, because I had heard that it was so popular she had a waiting list. I was curious. What could Molly possibly be doing to make exercise THAT much fun?

So I hustled off to Yorktown after work one day to give cardio boxing, as she called it, a try. And I loved it. It was so much fun that I said to Molly, "I wish the New Castle Y offered this class. Maybe I'll suggest to them that they look into it."

And then Molly opened her big mouth. "Why don't YOU just teach it?"

My daughter Natalie loves my class!
I probably rolled my eyes.

I'm not an exercise class instructor! They have people to do that. You have to be trained to do that. I don't have time for that. And that's not me, anyway. In every personality test I've ever taken, I've been labeled as more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.

But inside, I listened to Molly's half-joking, crazy, out-of-the-box idea. And I wondered. Could I really do that?

In the weeks that followed, I mentioned the idea to the decision-makers at the Henry County YMCA. They were energetic in their response, and not just that the class was a good idea but that me teaching it was a good idea. They, and Molly, assured me that I didn't need any certification or long-term education. I COULD be one of those exercise class instructors.

I really felt like this was God tugging on me and telling me to take this opportunity, with three possible benefits: 1) Make a few extra dollars, 2) Force myself into the gym for regular exercise every week, and 3) Use my abilities to help others be healthy.

And so the plans were put in place. I got some equipment lined up, I got some training and coaching from Molly on how to do this, we found two evening time slots where it would fit in the Y's schedule, and when July rolled around I led my first class. I think there was one, or maybe two, people in it. In the weeks that followed, some people came and tried it once and then I never saw them again. Some came a few times, and some are in the "occasional" category. And 6-7 people are what I would call hardcore regulars.

And now fast-forward 6 months to the end of the year, and I'm getting ready to start teaching the same class outside of the Y once a week, at a church where some good friends pastor and asked me about starting a program to help them utilize some new space. It will be an exercise class with a little spiritual twist to go with it, an offering for church members but also a community outreach, where hopefully we can use their facilities to grow God's kingdom, all while punching away some fat.

If you are still with me after 10 paragraphs, you might be wondering about that "dare" in the headline. And so my point is this: Don't confine yourself to the box in which you are currently comfortable. Just because you have lived one way for many years, or a few decades, doesn't mean you can't mix things up.

Be determined to prove that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Don't let past experiences limit new opportunities.

New Year's resolutions are sometimes stale and quickly forgotten. And you can commit to being a better you at any time of the year, not just on January 1. But we're in that time period where we're throwing out calendars and hanging new ones, so go ahead and grab hold of something new now.

How are you going to be better in 2017 than you were in 2016?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sometimes, there's no replacing a momma

I like stories with happy endings. But sometimes, the end isn't what you want, and you're left grasping what it all means. Join me as I try to wrap my mind around a short-lived effort to save a life.

Last spring, a bird decided to build a nest in the tongue of my boat trailer, while it sat
in our driveway. We would see it fly in and out, and eventually we heard baby chirps. And if we shined a flashlight just right through the very narrow opening, we could see the little beaks, and the necks stretching toward the light, waiting for their next meal. Eventually the sound of chirping was gone. Momma bird had done her job raising the babies and releasing them into this big world.

This spring, it happened again. I saw an adult sparrow flying in and out of the trailer. But it was a little later in the year, and we didn't hear chirping until about a week before our Minnesota vacation. The vacation where our van would pull that trailer with the boat on it. I looked in on the birds, and could see some feathers. They weren't BRAND new, and I was hopeful they would fly before we left for our 900-mile journey with the trailer.

The day of us leaving was very busy, and I felt like I didn't have time to try and dismantle the trailer to see if I could reach the nest and somehow relocate it. I had resigned myself to the fact that they were going with us, and would certainly die during the bumps, swerves and curves that 900 miles of travel would include.

Natalie's big heart for animals wasn't any too happy about that, but she understood. Sort of.

And off we went. Four Beebes and a guest in the van, plus an unknown number of birds in the trailer. And 400-500 miles into the trip, while pumping gas, I heard a chirp. And again. And it wasn't coming from any nearby bushes, but the trailer tongue. Something was still alive in there!

At each ensuing stop, I heard it again, and at one point I finally shared the news with Natalie. Her smile filled the van, and she jumped out to listen with me.

When we pulled into the resort, we began unloading the van and the contents of the boat to get settled in. When Natalie could see we were almost done unloading, she knew what was next. Back the trailer toward the lake, submerge it into the water and launch the boat. And she came to me with her heart heavy.

"Dad, before you put the boat in the water, will you please ask Alan for some tools and try to get the birds out?"

I was eager to get on the water, and wasn't really interested in a delay. But this was one of those times I absolutely could not tell Nat no.

So I went to Alan, the resort owner.

"I have a rather unusual request for help," I said. "Do you have some tools I could borrow to try and take apart the tongue of my trailer?"

I then proceeded to tell Alan my dilemma, and he was intrigued, and happy to help. He removed the front piece of the trailer tongue for me to open up the area. With that clearer view, we could see at least one live bird. But we still couldn't reach the nest.

Alan and his son found a couple of long items that would slide through the back opening in the tongue and reach the nest to push it forward. With Alan doing the pushing and me directing him based on where the stick emerged on the other end, we finally got the nest to move forward and fall out the front opening. With it came one bird that had already died. It looked like it had died a while ago, maybe during the drive or even before.

But the live one danced around Alan's stick to try and hold on to his safe location. Alan's son then used a "grabber" tool to try and pull the bird out, and after several attempts he got hold of a wing and slid him right out. Natalie was standing there beaming, and she picked it up. She immediately started brainstorming about how to care for him -- and what to name him -- while Alan put my trailer back together so vacation could officially begin.

Natalie searched online for a fitting name and settled on Bea, which she found to mean, "Bringer of joy. Traveler. Voyager through life."

Perfect, considering the voyage Bea had just traveled, and the joy he brought Natalie.

Natalie then took charge of a box and filled it with some natural elements to create a home for Bea, and she then borrowed a worm from our bait box and cut it up to feed the young bird, which was fully feathered but apparently not yet ready to fly. With just a little encouraging, Bea opened his mouth and gobbled up the pieces of the worm. He seemed to be thriving, and Natalie was very proud, very satisfied.

Evening fell, and Natalie went to check on Bea one last time before we hit the sack. He seemed content.

And then morning came. I was the first to rise, and after starting a pot of coffee I decided to check on  Bea. My heart immediatley sank. He didn't make it through the night. It was a chilly night, and our only thought was that he couldn't stay warm enough. Natalie had provided some bedding, and a box for shelter, and he was in the screened-in porch, protected by a solid lower half to limit any breeze. But he didn't have the warmth of his momma through the night.

I was very sad, and gave the news to Natalie when she woke up. She cried, and didn't want to believe it. She felt she had failed, and she sobbed on my shoulder. She wanted so bad to be this baby's momma and see it to a safe first flight.

So that's the sad end to this story, and leaves me realizing that not everything is replaceable. Sure, life can go on without our mommas in most cases, and a dad, or a sister, or a friend can fill some of the voids. But there are just some things that no one can do like momma.

Natalie, be proud of your effort. You helped me see the value of pausing my own life to try and help someone else, you gave me yet another example of your caring heart and you gave Bea a few glorious final hours of his life, enjoying a couple of meals and your attention, your love.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why the Cincinnati Reds will be better than you think

Editor's note: We interrupt this blog that is mostly about good health with a baseball forecast. But really, how can you claim to truly have good health if you don't enjoy a little baseball? But WAIT: Before you read, go grab some fresh fruit or vegetables!)

Fourth place in the National League Central. Or fifth. Out of five teams. That's what most of the "experts" are saying about the Reds and the 2015 season. They definitely can't compete with the Cardinals, or the Pirates, playoff teams from a year ago, or the Cubs, who are loaded with so many talented young players that they are a sure bet to be contenders all year long. The lowly Reds probably can't even keep pace with the Brewers, despite all of Milwaukee's question marks.

But hold on, fellow Reds fans. I'm not buying this doom-and-gloom crap. Here, for your preseason enjoyment, is my glass-half-full outlook:

The Reds WILL be one of the best teams in the National League. They will be in the thick of the playoff race to the very end. Why, you ask? Well, their pitching is better than most people think, they have plenty of reason to be motivated, and they are bound to be healthier than last year. Let's take a look at each position:

1B: Joey Votto missed 100 games last season because of injury, and was not at full strength when he DID play. The backup options were Todd Frazier and Brayan Pena, mostly. I like both of those guys, but they were playing out of position, and they are not Votto. The former NL MVP is healthy, and that means first base will be a significant upgrade over 2014.

2B: Again, injuries hurt. Brandon Phillips missed time and then played hurt. DatDude is back, and
while he's probably lost a step from his glory days, he can still cover ground like few others, and I still believe in his bat being productive. I expect the Reds to bat him third behind Votto to give him ample opportunities to prove his value. Offensive numbers from the team's second baseman will be better than a year ago.

3B: Todd Frazier is still developing, and he'll get better. It might be difficult for him to take another big step forward after his breakout season last year, but if he can be close to that level, the Reds should be pleased. I think he'll do that.

SS: Zack Cozart had a terrible year at the plate last year. It's bounce-back time. The numbers HAVE to be better this year. They will be.

C: Todd Mesoraco: See Frazier above. Like the team's third baseman, Mesoraco had a breakout season in 2014, and it will be tough for him to show another big step forward. But this young stud is motivated to show how good he can be, and I don't think there will be a drop-off.

LF: Marlon Byrd: The weakest and least-defined position for the 2014 Reds is now locked and loaded. Byrd was an offseason addition, and while he struck out too much last year with the Phillies, that's not his norm, and the Reds will need him to correct that. But he brings legitimate power and solidifies the biggest question mark the Reds had last year. This is a HUGE upgrade for the team.

CF: Billy Hamilton was better than expected the first half of the year, and worse than expected the second half. Expect him to be more consistent and learn from that second half. He put in the time during the offseason, and the team's offensive production from CF will be better.

RF: This is the easiest of the positions to expect improvement. Of five seasons of everyday play, 2014 was the worst for Jay Bruce, and it wasn't even close. In 2013, he had 30 HR, 109 RBI and a .262 batting average. Last year: 18, 66 and .217. He missed time because of injury and returned too soon, and he was never the Bruce the Reds need. He'll be back this year. He'll still be streaky, but at the end of the year he'll have 35 HRs and 100 RBI.

Starting pitching: This is where the Reds face the most criticism. They traded away two solid starters from a year ago, including No. 2 Mat Latos, as salary moves. They didn't sign any new proven talent. But they did acquire Anthony Desclafani in the Latos trade, and team officials have high hopes for him. I do, too. His spring has been spectacular. They will also start the year with Jason Marquis and Michael Lorenzen or Raisel Iglesias in the rotation, it seems, all question marks of different types. Marquis is a journeyman veteran who didn't pitch at all last year, Iglesias a young prospect from Cuba. And Lorenzen is a rookie who has only been pitching for a couple of seasons. But tell me a MLB team that doesn't have 1-2 question marks in their rotation. One of them will get bumped when Homer Bailey is ready after he's fully recovered, and that will be soon. And I like the chances that Bailey will be better than last year. And at the top of the rotation the team has Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, two who have proven their abilities and will both be in contract years. This rotation will surprise people.

Bullpen: One of the team's weak spots a year ago, there's nowhere to go but up. New pickup Burke Badenhop will help, as well as an influx of new names to give them options. They appear set on moving strike thrower Tony Cingrani there after deciding he didn't earn a rotation spot. And it's possible Iglesias / Lorenzen will also be moved there when Bailey returns. Lots of options in the bullpen, and it will be better in 2015.

And then there is the motivation from these woeful predictions and other chatter. You don't think Frazier and Mesoraco want to make sure a last-place finish isn't reality? You think Votto likes hearing that he's not an elite player because he doesn't drive in enough runs? You think the entire team -- from new vocal guy Byrd to veterans Votto and Bruce, to emerging leaders Frazier and Mesoraco -- aren't a little miffed that Latos packed his bags and then claimed the team has no leadership? You don't think Desclafani is determined to prove that he can be a capable replacement for Latos?

So, through my rosey Red glasses, I see definite improvements in the bullpen, first base, shortstop, left field and right field, and likely improvements at second base and center field, along with continued development from stars in the making at third and catcher.

Get on board, because this is going to be a fun season.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hey! She's eating my spinach!

Sometime in the last year, I developed a liking for fresh spinach. A friend convinced me that iceberg lettuce did nothing for my health and that spinach provided some awesome nutrients.

I tried it, and pretty quickly got hooked. Nice texture and fit well with the veggies that I like to include in my salads. And I also found that I liked it on sandwiches or in wraps.

And this was an easy staple to keep in the house, because all of my family members turned up their nose at the sight of it. So I could buy a bag of it and be confident that I would either eat it from the first leaf to the last, or I would throw away the end of the bag if it started rotting before I could get to it.

And then one night, while making Dawn a smoothie she requested, I added a few leafs of spinach to the peaches, strawberries, yogurt and flax seed that she ordered.


I blended it up fine, and she .... hated it? Oh no, she enjoyed it just like usual, without noticing the extra ingredient. I told her after the fact. She was impressed with my skills. Or at least satisfied that it didn't affect the taste of her yummy treat.

So fast-forward a few weeks, to the point where Dawn had made the decision to switch to some healthier eating choices in her life. She's using this product to make a daily "shake" (a shake that's not as good as my smoothies, but I digress) and has decided to add some of her own ingredients to help her get in the suggested daily amounts of veggies.

So what veggies is she mixing into her "shake?" Yep, Spinach. MY spinach!! What is going on? The Beebe home now runs out of spinach? Talk about a lifestyle change.

(She is taking it to a new level by blending spinach AND cauliflower into her healthy mix.)

But I'm not the stingy type, especially when it comes to something as healthy as spinach. There's plenty to go around, and I'm happy to buy a second bag of the green stuff halfway through the week. In fact, I'm THRILLED that I have someone to eat spinach with me!!!

Next step: Convincing her how delicious it is when you put salmon and spinach in a wrap.

OK, now I'm crazy. No WAY she'll eat salmon with me.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The miracle of walking, and running, and beating the odds

(Note: If you've read this previously, skip to the bottom for a special addition)

As I sit here reflecting on the last few weekends, I'm wishing I had Dr. Noonan's phone number, or email address. Because if I did, I might reach out to him and give him two things: 1) A heavy dose of the razzberries, and 2) a HUGE thank you.

Because, you see, Dr. Noonan is the doctor who performed surgery on Drew 16 years ago this week. And during the recovery process, he assured us the surgery went well and that Drew would very likely lead a normal life. But he also warned us that because of Drew's condition at birth that required this surgery, he might not be a real good athlete. "Push him toward science, or math," Dr. Noonan said. "He might never be an athletic star."

And so yeah, maybe he's not a star. But he WAS an All-Star in baseball one summer, and he HAS been the best player on the JV basketball team this year (in one mom and dad's admittedly biased eyes). But if there's a reason he's "not a star," it probably has more to do with him inheriting his mom and dad's height than because of any problems with his feet.

Drew was born with clubbed feet. When I held him for the first time on April 21, 1998, his little feet were so severely deformed that the soles of his feet touched one another. There was no stretching his legs out straight and pretending to make him stand up. They were curled inward in a big way.

The first step in this journey ... well the FIRST step was to pray that God would guide us and help us through it. But after that, the first step was to see an orthopedic doctor. From the very first visit, Drew melted the hearts of every worker in that office. This was a doctor's office who dealt mostly with high school athletes who suffered injuries, and the older generation of people with failing body parts. Not precious newborns. Nurses' faces lit up every time we walked through the door with Drew in our arms, and swarmed around us to say hello.

And so we had a long talk with Dr. Thomas Mathews, when he admitted that his pediatric experience was limited. He was happy to try and help, but if it was decided surgery was needed, he would refer us to someone else. His recommendation was that a process of casts and braces was worth a try. We agreed.

For the next 5-6 weeks, Dr. Mathews put a set of plaster casts on Drew's feet. Drew would wear them for a week, and then Dawn and I would soak the casts at home so we could remove them, clean him up and prepare to do it all over again the next day. 

That practice continued once the casting procedure was finished and we moved on to custom-made plastic braces that Dr, Mathews hoped would help make the casting effort more permanent.

And during the braces time period, I was instructed to "stretch his feet, bending them outward into their correct position, or essentially continuing what the casts and braces were trying to do. I laid him on his back on my footstool, his head away from me and his legs toward me. This was not an easy thing for a parent to do. I cried while doing it, as our newborn cried, sometimes screamed, in obvious pain. Most nights Dawn left the room because she couldn't handle it.

But it wasn't working. Drew's feet were slowly, gradually, but definitely moving back to their birth position.

Next step: Riley Hospital for Children. That's where we would meet Dr. Kenneth Noonan, and he was more than ready to operate on Drew. He was confident, and he was experienced. I don't remember if he told us how many little kiddos like Drew he had operated on, but you could tell in the discussions that this was routine for him. He was confident Drew's feet could be corrected, maybe even with just one surgery. We had done enough research -- and Dawn knew of one student in her school who was born with clubbed feet -- to know that multiple surgeries was a possibility.

Dr. Noonan explained the procedure to us, that he would make incisions in both of Drew's feet, cut tendons, insert
pins, etc. And then he would be in casts for a few weeks. A date was set, and on a cold, snowy morning of Feb. 16, 1999, we got up super early and made the trek to Indianapolis with our nine-month-old boy. Two-year-old Natalie stayed with our beloved Maridene, as she did on every normal day, and we were joined at the hospital by Dawn's mom and close friends Jenny, Brandon and Darrin.

We were told it was likely to be a 5-hour procedure, and we gave little Drewman hugs and kisses as we handed him off to the medical team. And then we waited. And waited. And waited.

There were periodic updates letting us know that things were going as planned, and then Dr. Noonan gave us a good report when he was done, confident that the corrections would ensure Drew would be able to walk as he grew up.

Drew was fitted that day with his first set of fiberglass casts, quite an upgrade from the plaster ones he had in the first few weeks of his life. And colorful, too! And after one night at Riley we went home, ready to lug the little guy around with several extra pounds of weight on his legs.

It was in one of those follow-up visits where Dr. Noonan warned us of possible limitations for Drew. He was very pleased with the results and did not expect Drew to have problems walking, or even running. But doing so in a competitive environment? Maybe not. Encourage him in academics, Dr. Noonan said. That stung a little bit, because Dawn and I both enjoyed sports, I was a sports writer who loved attending events and Dawn was a pretty good athlete when she was young. But we didn't dwell on it, focusing instead on the healing efforts and waiting for those first steps.

And those steps came when Drew was about 18 months old, several months behind his big sister but pretty special to us after seeing his feet in casts and braces for much of the first 13 months of his life.

He learned to walk with no problems, and then started running. And then when he was old enough to play in the youth soccer program at the Y, we signed him up. Our first chance to see him shine. In his second or third season, someone referred to him as Dash, the lightning-quick son in the Disney movie The Incredibles, because he was so fast. There were no lingering effects from that surgery several years ago, and just about every time he raced up and down the field after that soccer ball, Dawn and I shed a tear, exchanged a smile or remembered Dr. Noonan's words.

As he grew up, he tried baseball, track and field, cross country and even football. Enjoyed them all. But his biggest love was basketball. Just about every person who coached him, from fourth grade up to high school, praised him for his hustle and effort.

He hasn't always been the quickest kid on the floor, but he's never been the slowest, either. Even when he's defending a faster opponent, he can use his foot speed to stay in position, or to poke a ball loose. When there is a fast break, Drew is often one of the players out front, finding a burst of speed that isn't always apparent.

He doesn't have that "natural athletic ability" that coaches like to see, and I think that has contributed to limited playing time in some seasons. He doesn't "look" like the kind of kid that's going to take over a game and carry your team. But the coaches this year have praised his "basketball IQ," and that has helped keep him on the court, along with other skills that improve the team. In a JV game a couple weeks ago, he played all but 6 seconds of the game, a testament to what the coaches see in him.

And so when I catch myself saying that my son doesn't have "natural athletic ability," I'm reminded of Dr. Noonan's words of caution 16 years ago.

Only thing is, Dr. Noonan didn't take into account Drew's heart, and mind, as it applies to athletics. And when you factor in those things, Drew shines on the basketball floor.

Go get 'em, No. 11!

P.S. -- I found Dr. Noonan's contact information in the process of writing. I might send this to him.

BONUS BLOG-ADD: I DID send a link to my blog to Dr. Noonan, who told us in one of Drew's follow-ups that he was leaving Riley Hospital for Children to take a position in Wisconsin. I found him still there, working in the pediatric orthopedic surgery clinic in the University of Wisconsin Health network. Here's his reply:

Dear Phil:

Old Doctor Noonan here...

I was forwarded your blog on Drew and I am SO HAPPY to have gotten it! As a dad myself of 5 kids now, I know the joy you have in Drew. It's so wonderful raising kids, yet when one of yours overcomes obstacles ... it's really special.

When I met you guys and had the opportunity to care for Drew, I was "Young" Doctor Noonan. If I was overly cautious in my assessment of Drew's athletic chances it stemmed from inexperience and perhaps some insecurity in my own surgical skills at that stage of my career.

As I have gotten more experience I have encountered more stories such as Drew's. One of my buddies here is an Ironman Triathlete after three clubfeet surgeries. Thus, I am a lot more optimistic in my assessment of potential for kids.

Bottom line ... I would gladly eat a ton of razzberries and hear a lifetime of "I told you so's" if all of my patients were as lucky as Drew. But I suspect (as you have written), that it's not the feet that get him down the court or across the soccer field, it's his heart. A little support from loving parents might have had some part, too.... congratulations!!!

Ken Noonan

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fatherhood: Memories of all these years on the lake

The Beebe family is on our way to Minnesota, for an annual fishing trip. Of all my fatherhood mistakes -- and I've made plenty, no doubt -- this, I feel, is one of my shining moments. I managed to succeed in continuing a tradition that my dad started with me and my siblings. Every summer, for one week or two (and one glorious summer for THREE weeks), the Beebes drive 16-18 hours to northern Minnesota. We fish. We play family games. We fish. We enjoy nature. We fish. We spend quality time together. We fish.

And for most of the years that I have taken my family, the trip has coincided with Father's Day. No place I would rather be on Father's Day, than with my kids on Boy Lake, a little corner of the Earth that my dad taught me to love.

And on this Father's Day weekend, here are a few random moments about our Boy Lake trips, remembering my dad, as well as the more recent memories I've created with my own kids, and with my father-in-law. I have a dream to write a book about this tradition, so this is a very small piece of everything I could say about my love for Boy Lake.

Note: This writing is not meant to overlook the awesomeness of my mom, my wife and my mother-in-law, who all totally bought into these trips and love them as much as the dads; it's just that, well, this is a Father's Day piece. But it's worth mentioning that Dawn grew up taking vacations to Florida beaches, so I'm especially appreciative that she has learned to love this tradition with all her heart.

-- Studying the clouds. My dad never really showed me a lot of silly, or imaginative, sides of him. But when sitting in the boat on a sunny day, he would look up in the clouds and ask me what I see. We would find all varieties of animals in the cloud shapes, each challenging the other to see the same things. In the coming days, I know that I'll be sitting in the boat one day and Natalie or Drew will say, "Hey dad. See that? It looks like a dolphin chasing a poodle." And I'll see it too, of course.

-- Teaching fishing skills. I'm forever thankful that my dad taught me how to fish. He taught me how to absolutely love days on the boat even when we weren't catching, but he taught me some great skills to
actually catch them, too. And I've passed on at least a little bit of that. Several years ago both kids wanted to try their hand at fishing for bass with plastic worms. I really wasn't sure they were old enough yet to grasp that method, but we ventured out to a location where the bass frequently are, and I explained the requirement to be patient and fish it slow, and to let them get the worm in their mouth, to WAIT before setting the hook. The joy on their faces when they hooked one and fought it to the boat was priceless.

-- Watching wildlife. This is a fishing trip. But it's so much more. It's watching the bald eagles fly overhead and remembering the freedom that they represent. It's listening to the eerie call of the loons off in the distance, and the up close viewing of them as they swim near the boat. It's the working of the beaver, him swimming along the shore and then out away from it so that he can slap his tail on the water's surface to let us know we're a little too close for his comfort. And one year, while in the boat fishing 40 feet from shore with Natalie, we saw a young muskrat. Natalie started imitating its sound, and he started swimming toward us. I'm not sure if he thought Nat's sound was his momma or what, but he swam all the way to us, swimming literally right beside the boat, along one side before realizing his mistake and turning away.

-- The small-town life. The nearest town is Longville, which hangs its hat on being the "Turtle Racing Capital of the World." Seriously. Turtle racing. Every Wednesday, the main street is closed to traffic so hundreds of vacationers can race turtles, 10 at a time, with the winner of each heat being the turtle that is the first to get from a small inner circle painted on the street to a larger outer circle. Dads -- my dad when I was a kid, and me and my father-in-law for my own kids -- sacrifice an afternoon of fishing to watch the children race turtles.

-- The sunrises, and sunsets. When you're that far north in the summer, the days are long. There's nothing as
breathtaking as watching the sun come up over the lake at 5:30 a.m., unless it's seeing the more vibrant colors of a sunset after 9 p.m., reflecting forever on the water. As a child, I took endless pictures of ducks, especially baby ducks, on these vacations. As an adult, I can't get enough photos of the sun over the lake at various stages of the day. And I fondly remember those early mornings in the boat with dad, struggling to stay awake while fishing, him drinking coffee from the thermos he took out with him, both of us snacking on a Snickerdoodle cookie.

-- The weather. There's something about weather when you're at the lake. I guess it's because you can see so much more of the sky. Watching the storm clouds roll in, and ideally veer away from you so that you can enjoy their appearance without being forced off the water, is a treat. Laying in bed listening to the rain hit the cabin roof. Seeing rainbows arch overhead, with a much more real chance of seeing the pot of gold at the end. One of the best weather memories? Being in the boat with father-in-law Bob one evening and both us looking at each other wondering, "What is that sound?" We quickly realized it was the rain line marching through the woods, getting closer every second, and soon enough dumping buckets on us.

-- Those special catches. Like my dad, I enjoy all varieties of fishing, and catching all kinds of fish. We're bass fishermen first and foremost. But I distinctly remember the smile on my dad's face when we would catch bluegill so big our outstretched hands could barely handle them. The northern pike are rarely as big now as they were when my family fished this same lake in the 1960s and 70s. But no matter the size, one thing is for sure: Bob will not allow his skin to touch a pike. He'll shake it off the hook if he can, or grab it with a rag if he can't get a companion in the boat to give him an assist. I grew up fishing this lake believing it did not have smallmouth bass in it. A few years ago, a guy more familiar with the lake than me assured me that there were some, and then the next year, Natalie made her dad super proud by catching one. And the largemouth bass. The moment a bass breaks the surface of the water and explodes on a topwater lure is a fishing moment that never gets old. I'm convinced my dad didn't fish plastic worms not because he didn't think they were effective, but because he loved the thrill of topwater fishing. And to this day, I think of dad when twitching a popper across the water, waiting for the explosion.

Happy Father's Day, ya'll. I'm going fishing with my kids.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Morning coffee? Yes, please!

I've had stretches in my life where I enjoyed an occasional cup of coffee in the morning. I also have several boxes of different flavors of tea bags in the pantry, since I like a nice mug of hot tea some days. For a couple different periods in my life I habitually stopped for 32 ounces of Dr. Pepper on my way to work.

But my current routine is more than a little different. I wake up and pretty quickly ask myself, "Phil, do you want to brew a pot of coffee before you leave home? Or do you want to stop at Panera or another coffee shop for a special brew? Or do you want to drop a K-cup in the Keurig machine in the office lounge?"

Decisions, decisions. One thing that's certain, though. My mornings don't very often get far into the day without coffee of some type. Now, I'm not so hardcore that I drink it black; give me cream AND sugar, thank you very much. 

But this is a big change for a 46-year-old who has consumed coffee very casually and sporadically for much of his adult life. Now, there is nothing casual -- or sporadic -- about it.

It's a good thing Panera isn't right on my way to work. If it was, their employees would know me by name and would know to have the hazelnut canister full as soon as I walked in. In my still-amateur opinion, the Panera hazelnut is the best offering out there, outclasses anything I've had from Starbucks. So that's more of a special treat. Most days it's using a K-cup to fill up one of two office mugs: my oversized, bright yellow smiley face mug, or my SL,UT mug, courtesy of a friend in Utah. I've dedicated most of one desk drawer to storing K-cups. (Note to self: As of this morning, the drawer is in need of replenishing pretty soon)

When McDonald's recently ran a special where they were giving away small coffees (no purchase necessary) for a two-week period, I took advantage of that freebie for 6 or 7 of those days, most of the time happily walking in and asking for my free coffee without taking the bait and buying food to go with it. And the first few times I just ordered it black and then doctored it up in the office. One morning when they asked if I wanted cream and sugar, I said, "Yes please." They asked how many of each, and I had no clue how to answer that question. At home and work, I just pour the additives out of the containers, never thinking of it as a number of sugars, or a number of creams. I think I said a couple of each, but whatever my answer, the number clearly wasn't big enough for my taste buds. It was not drinkable until my cup received some extra attention once I got to work.

As a child I remember my dad, a black coffee drinker for as long as I ever knew, saying that he started drinking coffee with cream and sugar and backed off over the years until he developed a taste for it black. Honestly, I don't think I'll get to that point.

But he had a big head start on me. Remember, I just started this coffee train rolling at age 46.

Tell me: How do you drink your coffee? And where is your favorite coffee brewed?