Smelling the Roses. What a Concept!

Accept those things you can’t change, and move on.

That what a dear friend said to me today after I sent an email that I wouldn’t be at work for most of the day due to the latest sickness to have found its way into the house. I was frustrated in my email. Heck, I was frustrated in general. Missed work. My daughter sick again. Me still sick.

So much for starting the year off on the right foot.

Yet, the above is so appropriate for me — on so many levels. Not just dealing with the issue of the day.

Let’s just say that when I look back on 2009, I hope it becomes something I learned a lot from — and not suffered a lot from. This head of mine, while still spinning today, was spinning almost out of control in parts of 2009. Things that had been buried for a long time surfaced and are still being dealt with. And, I suppose, they always will be dealt with.

I just want to make sure now that I’m better equipped to deal with feelings, fears and emotions than I  have in the past. I’m not out of it by any means, but I’m trying. I really am.

The stress I put on myself has impacted the way I interact with others — family, friends, colleagues. It was a shortly after Thanksgiving when a colleague of mine said to me, “Wow, Mike, you’re in a good mood lately.”

That sort of hit pretty hard. It’s one thing when those very close to you notice something and say something, but at times I put that on the back burner. How could they really know? How could they really see? Well, turns out they did know and they could see. Because when someone who I’m not as close to mentioned my mood, then I was like, Hmmm. Maybe there is an issue here.

I’ve taken some steps I never expected to take in my life. And that’s what I have to focus on now — steps. The journey, not the finish line.

I’ll be candid. With the amount of loss in my life, which as you know has been one of the hardest things for me to understand and deal with — there have been moments where I have focused more on my own death than my own life.

It’s even hard to write that sentence — let alone try to explain it or deal with it. But, if you are close to me, you’ve probably heard me say the following:

“Well, my dad was 65, my brother was 45. That makes the average life span in my family for men to be 55. I just turned 40. If that holds true, I won’t walk my daughter down the aisle.”

Sound familiar?

Are you kidding? Seriously.

Well, for a while, I wasn’t. Still aren’t.

I won’t lie to you, it scares me. But I need to get off that crutch. I’ve leaned on that too much. Way too much. And I need to stop that.

Not an excuse, but this month is hard — Tim’s birthday and Dad’s 10th anniversary. And I’m trying to find the tools I need to handle some of these feelings better than I have in the past.

More importantly, I need to focus more on the journey to the end — not the end itself.

There are still things to be worked on. Still things to be figured out. And they aren’t minor things.

But, the point is, I need to find my way back to being the person people expect me to be.

No, that’s not right either.

I need to find my way back to being the person I expect myself to be.

And that’s what I’m going to try and do. It won’t be easy, but it’s so beyond necessary. I can’t let it eat at me the way it did in 2009. I can deal with it now, but I cannot be consumed by it.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I was also in the middle of a project. You know that I turned 40 last November — another issue that caused a great deal of stress. One of the ways for me to celebrate? I’m throwing myself a party. It just happens to be next month. Almost four months later? So what.

Point is, it’s going to be a fun party and it’s going to be the party I want — with the people I want. And that’s a good feeling.

Another good feeling about the party? My friend Mike is putting together a power point that is going to kill me. Why? Well, he’s got basically every picture of me known to man — from when I was a year old to just two weeks ago. And, let me just say, I haven’t always been this handsome or fashionable. And, well, if you are on the party invite list, you’ll laugh your ass off at a lot of the pictures. I know I will.

I also know that I will smile at a lot of them and recall happy times associated with each picture.

And that’s the point — collecting these pictures has been a very appropriate exercise for me. It’s given me the chance to do just that — to re-visit the journey I’ve taken along the way. To focus on what’s happened — not what might or might not happen.

To remember things like going with my family to pick out the perfect Christmas tree — something I still cherish to this day. To all of the good times I had in the backyard pool. To school pictures — yup, even including the velour shirt I wore in sixth grade with a dickey underneath. To the many places Renee and I have travelled. To the union of friends along the way. To celebrate the arrival and birthdays of new family and friends — and always remembering the departure of the same. To see myself standing next to people that are so much more than friends.

I suppose now you want to see some of these pictures? Well, it’s the least I can do. Here’s a tease. And if you’re coming to the party, there’s a lot more where these came from. (Invites to the party, by the way, out soon.)

The family tradition of bringing home the perfect tree. If you don't know, I'm the smallest.


Yup. That's a Batman floatie.


Afterall, I wouldn’t be who I was or where I am today without having taken all of those steps along the way. Each one being so much more than a step — each one being part of who I am.

And that’s what I’m trying to do — to reclaim who I am. Not just for you (though I know you’ll appreciate that), but, more importantly, for me.

And, you know, like my friend said, to accept those things you can’t change and move on.

If I can do that — all of that — then 2010 will be so much more than 2009 ever was.

Is it a resolution? No, it’s not. Because it’s not something for this year.

It’s something for life.

Your Third Favorite Story

Well, here it is, the last of the three top vote getters in my survey to you. If you’re new to this, I gave my faithful and loyal readers five stories to pick from. I would then write about whatever they picked.So, the previous two posts underneath this one are a direct result of that. This is the final installment. And I hope you enjoy it.

I know I’ve been slacking, particularly when my wife, a once and again reader of this space, says to me tonight, “A little behind on the blog, eh?”

But, it could be that she said that because she knows this post is, in fact, about her, and that I won’t be writing about a salutatorian, cheerleader, homecoming queen and former crush (like I did in the previous post).

So, without further adieu, here is the third most-requested story:

We were living in Vermont at the time. My wife was teaching math at the local high school. She got to be friendly with one of the language teachers. Nothing strange about that. But what’s good about that is that the language teacher takes a group of students to Italy every couple of years. And, for the trip that was to take place in February 2000, she asked my wife if she wanted to come along as a chaperone. The other good thing? There was no cost for chaperones.

A free trip to Italy? Um, yes, please. Where do I sign up. Or, well, where does she sign up. It was a chance of a lifetime. So take it! And she did. For a moment, it was almost looking like I would be asked to be a chaperone, too. But, that didn’t pan out.

The trip was in the middle of February. My dad had passed away at the end of January. She was worried about leaving for a week or so just after we were back and settled in to our routine. Are you kidding me? Go!

Besides, little did she know….that just a few days into the trip, I would be joining her.

Yup, since she would be spending her 30th birthday there, I thought it only fitting that I help her celebrate — in person.

So, in December, I went to work. First idea was to clear it with the lead teacher. Would she mind if I came and tagged along for a few days. My plan was to arrive two days in, stay for three days, and then head home before the group.

Did she mind? She loved the idea! Then the challenge was keeping it a secret. Only two teachers knew and certainly none of the students. Only my parents and her parents knew, as well as my college roommate. He paid for my airline tickets on his credit card so she wouldn’t see any record on ours. That would be my only true cost, since she had her own room in all the hotels while there.

So then I cleared it with the trip company to make sure I could ride the bus with them at no trouble. Well, more on this later, but let’s just say there was a major miscommunication.

So my wife left for Italy, all nervous about leaving me behind, but realizing she couldn’t pass up the trip of a lifetime.

Two days later, I was ready to start my journey. A snowstorm struck the east coast, making it debatable if I was going to get out of Vermont on the way to Newark, where I then took off for Rome.

I just got out of Burlington — barely. The next flight after me was cancelled. If I didn’t get out that day, I wasn’t getting out, that’s for sure. It just wouldn’t have made sense.

So, Burlington to Newark, no problem. Newark to Rome, no problem.

Then the fun started.

Now, keep in mind that I am so directionally challenged, that I don’t know which way to go when walking out of a store in the mall. Directions are just not my strong point. I am male, afterall.

After landing in Rome, I had to make it south to Naples, which was where we were scheduled to meet up that night, at the hotel the group was staying in.

My challenge was to get on a train out of Rome and head south. I made it to the rail area and looked over everything. I saw Naples. I figured out the train I needed. Everything was all set.

I walked to the window and said, “I’d like one to Naples, please.”

“Napoli,” came the reply.

“No, I’m trying to go to Naples. One ticket please.”

“Yes, Napoli.”

“Um, no, I’m trying to get to Naples.”

Then it hit me. Naples. Napoli. Same place. Oh boy. This is going to be fun.

Train through the country side was fabulous. As it turns out, I was ahead of schedule. I figured I had a couple of hours to kill, because I was definitely earlier than expected. I had to change trains at some point. And when I was off the first one, I realized I was near the lost city of Pompeii.

Well, I mean, how often do you get to see that. I was close, so why the heck not.

I paid my ticket and went in and wandered around for a bit. And, despite making it on the flights and on the train ride, I managed to get lost in Pompeii. What happened was, I somehow actually got outside the place. I found myself on the outside looking in.

So, I started the long walk around to the main area so I could get back in.

But then a funny thing happened. While I was standing there, a group of kids comes in the area. I’m like, wait, I know these kids. I knew they were going to Pompeii, but I had no idea that I would actually meet them there.

A couple of kids saw me and were obviously surprised. I put my finger to my mouth to keep them quiet when I saw the lead teacher, who knew something cool was about to happen. She just sort of smiled, didn’t really say anything, and got out of the way so I would see my wife.

Or, more importantly, my wife would see me.

When she did see me, she couldn’t say much. She took a couple steps back in disbelief, started crying and then threw a big hug around me, asking, well, you know what she was asking! What the heck was I doing there!

I told her I couldn’t let her celebrate such a big birthday without me. She still couldn’t believe it. And, honestly, either could I!

She then realized that the other teachers knew and that she had been had, so to speak! It was great fun.

The good thing, I was then able to tag along with them on the Pompeii tour, so I knew I wouldn’t be getting lost on my way out this time!

So, we then boarded the boss and made our way to Naples and the hotel, my wife just still in shock. I don’t think she was shocked so much that I was there, but rather, that I actually made it there completely on my own!

I was only going to be with them for three days, so my plan was to just tag along on the boss and see whatever I could see, not so much worried about that, but just wanting to spend time with my wife.

Then we got the bad news at dinner. The woman who represented the tour company came to the table and said that I couldn’t ride the bus with them anymore. What are you talking about?

I couldn’t believe this turn of events, which no doubt put a damper on things. It turns out, the company was only allowing me a one day pass on their bus, not for longer than that. I was like, wait, I’ll sign any waiver you need, just let me ride the bus. She was kind of snobby. I mean, didn’t she realize what I just did…and what this would mean for the rest?

So, basically, I then had to take cabs, buses and trains to meet up with the group, wherever they were going. My biggest adventure was going north to Rome (they had already been) so I could get at least a quick peak at the Vatican. I was then going to take a train up to Florence and meet the group there.

Not exactly how I had envisioned spending part of the trip, but my wife insisted I see Rome, and I’m glad she did. And, perhaps she realized that if I made it all the way to Italy, that I could probably do alright finding my way around within the country. She was right.

We had a nice birthday dinner in Florence, after seeing the David (which really just looked like a guy without clothes). I wanted to do a lot more with them, but my hands were tied, thanks to this tour group woman. But, I did get quite a bit of time with my wife, so it was totally worth any of the aggravation.

I mean, seeing Rome was great. Seeing the David was great. Being on the Isle of Capri was great. But, really, to see her face when I arrived and to know that I pulled off a pretty amazing surprise, that was so much better than great!

So I left the group and headed home, knowing I would see them in just a few days when their bus arrived at the school parking lot.

I knew a couple of the parents there, and as we waited, I struck up a conversation like, oh, the kids looked fine. They were having a blast.

How the heck do you know, was the obvious response. Then I explained what I had just done.

It felt pretty good.

What else? I got nothin’.