Three Sport Star

This may come as a shock to you, but I ain’t exactly the most athletic dude in the world.

Sure, I can hit a baseball – well, a softball, anyway – and I can throw a football and I can dribble a basketball. However, I didn’t play in any organized sports leagues after the eighth grade (aside from the co-ed rec league softball team I coached in Denver), partly because I was busy doing other things, and partly because I never felt I was talented enough to make a contribution to any team.

The reason I bring this up is that I just got back from a two mile lunchtime run, and I spent the majority of that run replaying some of the highlights of my athletic career over and over in my mind. Let me share some of my personal highlight reel with you.

_____

First off, there was the time in seventh grade where I was promoted to middle outfielder. The grade school league we played in allowed for four outfielders – leftfielder, rightfielder, centerfielder and middlefielder, the last of which was a sort of rover behind second base, and would act as the cut-off between the outfield and the infield on deeply hit balls.

I usually played center field because, although I couldn’t really hit or field that well, I had a cannon of an arm (at least at that age). I could throw the ball from deep center and hit home plate on the fly, zero bounces.

Our home field in Miramonte, California, didn’t have outfield bleachers, because the outfield was bordered by a creek that ran through the school. Balls that were hit that far were often lost in the overgrowth, or landed in the water.

During one particular practice, I was playing middle field when a ball was smacked deep to left. My buddy Rick went trudging after it – we were a small school on a limited budget, and could scarcely afford to lose too many balls. I assumed he’d go looking for it, give up, and come back to the field of play with his hands raised, as if to say, “I tried, but couldn’t find it anywhere!”

My mind started to wander. Forty-odd years later, I have no idea what I was contemplating. It might have been a test coming up; it might have been what happened in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man; it might have been how do I get the cutest girl in my class, Cindy, to notice me. Whatever it was, it kept me from noticing everyone around me yelling at me to PAY ATTENTION!

Because Rick hadn’t given up. He’d found the ball, and coming out of the thicket by the creek and seeing me standing there in the outfield, he heaved the ball with all of his might at me.

The next thing I remember, I’m laying on the field with Mr. Buxman, my teacher (and also the principal) pressing a towel to my face and asking if I was all right. I reached up to my face, and all I could feel was wetness. I apparently let fly with a few choice words, from what I was told later. It is literally all a blur to me.

Rick had let fly with a rocket that sailed straight at me and pegged me square in my day-dreaming face. Knocked me out cold, bloodied and broke my nose, the works.

_____

We were a pretty small school. My graduating class of eighth grade, for instance, had seven total kids. There were nine kids in seventh grade, just below us. So, we had to make due with what we had. All of the boys played on all of the teams – flag football, baseball and basketball.

At that age, I had zero upper body strength. I can recall one afternoon on the basketball court – a cement slab outside, surrounded by chain link fencing to keep the wildlife out, with four goals and two courts painted on the cement – we were doing free throw drills.

I stood at the line and prepared to shoot. Twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys can be merciless, so I wasn’t about to try to do a “granny shot,” where you cradle the ball between your legs then heave upwards and fling the ball at the goal. I stood at the line, dribbled two or three times, then jumped and shot.

My hope was that the upwards motion of me jumping would give the ball the added boost it needed to make it to the goal. And I was right, it did. And I even made the shot.

That didn’t stop everyone – kids and Mr. Buxman alike – from laughing their asses off.

My form was, to say the least, interesting. As demonstrated by the much-more-athletic Jerry, I apparently jumped with one one leg while kicking the other leg back behind me, in a sort of bunny hop. Very masculine; very athletic.

Mr. Buxman considered my form for a moment, then made the proclamation, “You look like a bird, hopping around looking for bugs to eat instead of shooting a basketball. From now on, your nickname is ‘Magpie’.”

And it was.

_____

We weren’t necessarily dirt poor when I was growing up and we lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but we were definitely “you only need one pair of shoes” poor.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, this wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t terribly fashion-forward as a kid – I was happy in my JC Penney jeans with the reinforced knees and my hiking boots. “Waffle stompers” is what we called them, because of the pattern they made when you walked in soft dirt or mud – a sort of waffle-like pattern.

The other one percent of the time, though, was when I was playing sports. There were many times when I was chasing down a fly ball in center field or trying to do a pick-and-roll on the basketball court in my waffle stompers, and no one said a word. At least, not to me.

That was, until we played a game against our chief rival. Dunlop was the school just down the road from us, and they were bigger than us, but not by much. Their facilities were much like ours – a cement slab for a basketball court, a field that doubled as both a baseball diamond and a football field, depending upon how it had been chalked that day.

Mr. Buxman, who aside from being the 7th & 8th grade teacher and principal of Miramonte Elementary School, was also it’s coach. He decided to try a new play that we’d been working on, called the hook-n-ladder. This type of play is a staple for most teams, but this was forty years ago on a team that was coached by the principal who’s main goal in life was to make it as a painter. Trick plays were a new wrinkle for us.

We played six-man teams – quarterback, two halfbacks, center, two wide receivers. On this particular play, I lined up as the left halfback and my buddy Quentin would be the left receiver. Bobby would snap the ball to his brother Jerry, the quarterback, and Jerry would throw the ball to Quentin, who was doing a ten yard hook – that is, he’d run straight for ten yards and turn around. Meanwhile, I’d run wide, out along the sideline, making sure to stay behind Quentin. As soon as Quentin caught the ball, he’d pitch it out to me running along the sideline, and I’d make a beeline for the end zone.

We ran the play twice that day. The first time we ran it, I scored a touchdown, but it was called back because I’d gotten ahead of Quentin, and forced him into making a forward lateral. The second time, though, it worked perfectly, and I scored the only touchdown of my two year flag-football career.

It was glorious, that second time. Running down the sidelines to cheers of “Go! Go! Go!” and “Run, Magpie!” – it was like a drug to me.

I returned to our bench after scoring my second touchdown (and the only one that actually counted) to high-fives and laughter. I wasn’t quite sure what was so funny, so I asked Mr. Buxman why everyone was laughing.

“The sight of you running down the sideline in your hiking boots (he didn’t know they were called waffle stompers, apparently) with your laces untied and flapping in the wind, with the entire Dunlop team chasing you, was like a scene out of some movie, like you’d stolen that football and they were the cops trying to catch you!” he said, between fits of laughter.

I was simultaneously elated and crushed. On the one hand, I had actually scored a touchdown! On the other hand, though, I looked like an idiot doing it.

_____

My experience with Mr. Buxman, as deflating and crushing as it often was, ended on a high note. He gave me a gift when I graduated eighth grade, and it turned out to be one that changed my life. But that’s a subject for another post.

I graduated and moved on to high school shortly thereafter, and didn’t even make the attempt to play any sports in ninth grade or beyond. I discovered music, and concentrated on that, which I very much enjoyed. I’d learned my lesson – I’m good at a lot of things, but sports ain’t one of them.

But how did I know I wouldn’t develop into an athlete as I grew older? How did I know that my talents and abilities lie elsewhere?

A little bird told me. A magpie, in fact.

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again

I’ve never been much of a cook.

I can make a mean pot of mashed potatoes, but that’s about as sophisticated as I get in the kitchen. If something comes in a box that has directions, I like to think that I’m usually competent enough to manage that task. I can also navigate most recipes, as long as the directions are clear, concise and complete. None of this “cook it until it looks done” nonsense for me.

The catch sometimes is that you need to read the directions first.

A few weeks ago, a local grocery store was clearing out their stock of frozen whole wheat pie crusts. We use those to make homemade potpies, and so we bought quite a few of the two-crust packages.

Last weekend, my wife decided that quiche sounded good, so she thawed one of the pie crust packages and used one of them for her quiche – it was quite good actually. She’s a very talented and resourceful cook.

No one could decide what to use the second crust for – my wife didn’t want to make a second quiche, but also didn’t want to make the chocolate pie our daughter was begging for. It went into the kitchen refrigerator for later use.

Fast forward to Thursday, which is usually my night to make dinner. My wife suggested I make another quiche, but that sounded far too complicated for my basic cooking skills, so I declined. I spent the morning trying to figure out how I could incorporate the unused crust into dinner somehow, then it hit me. I could lure our daughter home from her dorm room for a midweek dinner featuring her favorite garlic bread and – drum roll, please! – the chocolate pie she wanted!

At lunch, I rushed to the grocery store – time was of the essence, since I had a meeting scheduled for immediately after lunch that I couldn’t afford to miss. I went directly to the baking aisle, looking for chocolate pie filling. This is apparently not a thing. I worked my way down the aisle to the pudding, casting about for alternative solutions, and that is where I found it – a box of no-bake chocolate cheesecake. That would work perfectly!

I rushed home and pulled out a glass bowl and the hand mixer. I put the powder and milk into the bowl and mixed it per the directions. When it looked ready, I retrieved the pie crust from the refrigerator and prepared to pour the chocolate mixture into the pie crust.

The crust looked a bit funny, so I put everything down and grabbed the plastic cover that had been on the pie crust and looked at the printing on the back of the label. There were clear directions printed there concerning using the crust for a no-bake pie, and that’s when I discovered that the pie crust needed to be cooked first!

Trying not to panic, I set the oven to 400 degrees and put the crust in. I set the timer for 20 minutes – the directions said to cook the crust for 15 minutes at 400 – then grabbed the bowl of chocolate and went into the den. The cheesecake filling was beginning to set already, so I spent the next 20 minutes occasionally stirring the mixture while watching the local midday news as the crust cooked.

The oven timer started buzzing twenty minutes later, so I returned to the kitchen, took the crust out of the oven and quickly moved it to the refrigerator to cool. I was starting to really panic at this point, so I took the it back out of the fridge seven minutes later and slopped the nearly-set cheesecake mix into the still-warm crust, trying to smooth it out as best I could…

Before…

Having finished and put the whole thing back in the fridge to properly set, I returned to work – in time for my meeting. Thankfully, I live less than two miles from the office, so made it back for my meeting with time to spare.

When I got home after work, I pulled the chocolate cheesecake pie out of the fridge. The top looked like a lake during a particularly rough summer storm, so I decorated it with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles and served it with dinner – all three kids seemed to enjoy it, my daughter included!

After…

I may not be much of a cook OR a baker, but when it comes to whipping things up straight out of a box or a can, I’ve got it covered. Usually.

Tales from the Front Lines

Getting set up for the Tulsa Run, October 28, 2017

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending two years as a starving artist/musician, it’s this – always be prepared!

The first year I played the Route 66 Marathon was one long, two-day learning experience. I played for the 5K runners on a Saturday morning. I arrived thirty minutes early to the spot along the race route where I was supposed to set up. It was a little grassy triangle area where three streets converged in downtown Tulsa. I loaded out, set up my gear, then went looking for a power source.

The marathon had agreements in place with local businesses where they’d provide access to power for the musicians and water stops along the twenty-six mile course. However, it appeared that the business that was supplying me with power had forgotten all about that. I tried plugging in to various outlets, to no avail.

Fortunately, Myron, one of the race coordinators, showed up in the nick of time. He quickly found me a spot 300 yards further down the route, and helped me quickly load and move my gear to this new spot. I got set up and did a quick sound check just as the first runners began showing up.

Set up to play just in time!

The next day was a cold and miserable day, and I was assigned a spot near the twelve mile mark, outside of the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Tulsa. I arrived forty-five minutes early and quickly found the hotel manager, who showed me exactly where I could plug in and set up. Within fifteen minutes I was ready to go, and feeling pretty good about myself – compared to yesterday, this was easy peasy!

Until the first runners started coming by. It was then I realized that I had set up not only on the wrong side of the street, but far enough away from the actual route that runners would scarcely be able to hear me, let alone see me. I quickly broke everything down, made three or four trips across the street lugging all of my gear, and got set up again – all in under ten minutes. By the time the first crowd of marathon runners started trickling by – the ones that weren’t necessarily trying to qualify for Boston – I was finally ready to go.

Ready to go…on the wrong side of the street

My favorite – and I use that term loosely – equipment malfunction was when my guitar blew up.

A few weeks prior to my playing the Route 66 Marathon for the first time, I had the honor of playing for runners during the Tulsa Federal Credit Union Tulsa Run. This was the end of October, and it was a bitterly cold morning.

I arrived at my appointed street corner and got my gear unpacked and ready to go. I was assigned to play towards the end of the course, so I took the opportunity to go across the street and make friends with the EMT crew that was stationed directly across the street from me, as it would be a few minutes before we saw any runners.

As the first runners began showing up down the street, I scooted back across to my set up and began playing.

A quick word about my repertoire as it relates to playing these sorts of gigs, as opposed to an open mic or coffee shop or something along those lines. Whenever I’m playing somewhere where the patrons are seated for some length of time, I’m always reluctant to play the same song twice, even if there is some turnover in listeners. If someone is paying me to play for three or four hours, then they get three or fours hours of music, with virtually no repeats.

In the case of these running events, however, the audience is ever-changing. And the nature of the kinds of songs I play means I only have a few songs in my bag that relate in any way to running. So for events like these, my setlist looks something like this:

Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
I Ran by Flock of Seagulls
Run To You by Bryan Adams
Take It Easy by Eagles
(Rinse and repeat for four hours)

Both Tiger and I Ran have pretty catchy choruses, so I leaned on them pretty heavily – it is still pretty cool to watch runners go by singing along, giving me fist pumps or air high-fives as they passed. Those images will always be amongst my very favorite memories.

So on this cold October morning in 2017 just outside of downtown Tulsa, I began to play for the runners that were headed our way.

They began coming through pretty heavily ten minutes later, and that’s when my guitar decided to blow up.

More specifically, the electronics inside of my acoustic/electric guitar decided it was too cold, and they didn’t want to play anymore. I heard a pop and saw a wisp of smoke, followed by a burning smell and a loss of sound.

I panicked for about 30 seconds, then remembered that I had brought an extra mic – the P.A. I was using came with two of them, and I’d brought them both for some reason. However, I had no was to attach the mic to my guitar…

Then I remembered the EMTs across the street. I quickly ran across the street, picking my way through the crowd of runners, and borrowed some medical tape. I took it back to my set up and proceeded to tape the spare mic to my mic stand:

Tragedy having been averted, I continued to play for the rest of the morning, regaling the runners with the same four songs over and over and over again…

What I’ve Learned

All the preparation in the world doesn’t help when things go wrong. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and make the best with what you’re given.

Trains and Muffins and Beers, Oh My!

The author and the band in happier times (9/23/2011)

As if I needed another reason to prove I can’t be trusted with alcohol, I present to you the time I verbally harassed a member of a very prominent and popular rock band right to his face

During the summer of 2011, my (at the time) pre-teen daughter had spent most of that summer telling the same joke over and over to anyone and everyone who would listen:

Two muffins are in an oven. The first muffin leans over to the second muffin and says, “Man, it’s getting hot in here.” The second muffin screams, “AAHHH!!! A TALKING MUFFIN!!!!”

To hear an eleven year old tell this joke is super cute. To hear an eleven year old tell this joke repeatedly, day after day with no end in sight, will make you a believer in corporal punishment.

In September of that same year, my brother-in-law Michael, a very successful insurance agent, treated me to a concert in Oklahoma City featuring Matt Nathanson, Train, and Maroon 5. It was held at the spacious, open air OKC Zoo Amphitheater on the northwest side of town.

While Matt Nathanson opened the show, a group of about sixty concertgoers (including Mike and I) were treated to a backstage meet-n-greet with the band Train. We gathered in a tented area behind the main stage, munching on snacks and helping ourselves to the free beer.

After about thirty minutes of feeling like big shots wandering around behind the stage at a major league rock concert, we were ushered into one particular tent. Moments later, Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford and Scott Underwood (singer, guitarist and drummer for Train) arrived in our tent and immediately began playing tunes.

There was a bit of talking and joking mixed in with the 20 minute private set, and at one point Pat Monahan looked out over the crowd and said, “Man, have I got a joke for you – funniest thing I’ve heard in a while, and I think you’ll love it!”

In my inebriated state, those words hardly registered…but his next words certainly did.

“So,” Pat began, “these two muffins are sitting in this oven…”

“HA! I KNOW THIS ONE!” I said loudly. My brother-in-law, completely mortified, tried to silence me.

“…and one of them says to the other, is it hot in here?”

“THAT’S NOT HOW IT GOES!” I corrected our host, too loudly.

“…and the other muffin says, Aaaahhh! A talking muffin!”

“NO NO NO, YOU’RE TELLING IT WRONG!!” I announce to Pat and the other two band members and approximately fifty-nine guests as they laughed at his joke.

At that point, Pat notices me. Or, he decided to stop ignoring me and let me hang myself – I’m not sure which. Pointing to me over the crowd, he said, “Yes? What were you saying?”

By this time, Mike has me by the arm and is dragging me out of the tent as I’m yelling over my shoulder, “MY ELEVEN YEAR OLD DAUGHTER TELLS THAT JOKE ALL OF THE TIME, AND DOES A MUCH BETTER JOB THAN YOU DID!!!”

Pat said something to the group at that point – I couldn’t hear it as I was now well outside the tent, being towed away by my embarrassed brother-in-law. I heard some giggling, then a loud burst of laughter from the tent we’d just departed, and then Mike was dragging me up the walkway and around to the front of the amphitheater. I was sorry I’d missed something funny, until I realized it was most likely something funny…about me.

Within minutes I started to feel bad for embarrassing Mike, myself, and a musician I liked and respected. However, it was too late to go find him and apologize, and I was sure he had already moved on and forgotten about it – he had a show to do for a few thousand adoring fans, after all. Can’t let one misbehaving drunk ruin your night for you.

To his credit, Mike has never mentioned the episode, and it only comes up when Train comes on the radio and I begin to reminisce about what an idiot I was that night.

So Pat, if you’re reading this – I’m sorry. You’re an excellent storyteller.

It was all the beer’s fault.

Lifeline, or How Not To Record a Performance Video

Writing and performing an original song is hard enough without shooting yourself in the foot when trying to record a video of it.

Yet there I was at Robin’s Roast Coffee Shop in December 2017, trying to record a live version of a new song I had just written called “Lifeline.” In retrospect, I should have used a lifeline to phone a friend to record it for me.

The whole thing started off easily enough. I had what I thought was a catchy guitar riff, added a variation of that chord structure to act as the verse, then sat down to write the lyrics. I’d done this a number of times already, and figured this would be a piece of cake. The lyrics came pretty easily, and within a few hours I thought I had a pretty good song.

Speaking of catchy guitar riffs…another song I’d written around the same time, “So Alive,” featured another interesting chord progression. They say that there’s nothing new under the sun, but I thought I’d really hit on something special with this one. So much so that I recorded a number of different versions of it, and made it the title song of my first album:

Then, a few months later, I had occasion to learn the song “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers – I wanted to play it during one of my gigs at the coffee shop. Imagine my surprise, then, that as I’m learning this tune, I come to find that the chorus of that song was nearly identical to my song, just sped up a little bit and in a different key. I had unconsciously plagiarized the son of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the last fifty years.

Anyway, back to December 2017 – the setup I used at the coffee shop was your basic mic-stand-with-iPad configuration – you can see it exactly as it was in the picture at the top of this post. There was very little space to spread out and move around, so I had to be very compact.

One of the things I loved so much about playing at Robin’s Roast was that the acoustics were very good – I could play at one volume at the front of the shop and there was very little degradation of volume or clarity as you moved to the back of the store.

Another nice thing was that most of the clientele were there to drink coffee and work on homework (at least on the nights I played), so there was very little pressure to “put on a show” – I just played three hours of background music, basically. It really allowed me to experiment with new songs, arrangements, and sounds.

I also thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to record a video of me performing my new song in a live setting. The table right in front of where I set up happened to be empty, so by leaning my phone on the napkin holder and hitting “record,” I was able to record my performance.

Ordinarily I don’t take breaks during a gig, so if it’s a three hour show, I play for three hours, straight through. On this night, however, after about an hour of playing I stopped, set up my phone on the empty table in front of me, announced to the handful of patrons that I was going to play a new song I had just written, and launched into “Lifeline.” When I finished, I retrieved my phone, put it in my pocket, and proceeded with my regularly scheduled show.

The reception after the song was very heartwarming – everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I even received a nice compliment (and a $10 tip) from a couple that left shortly afterwards, saying they really enjoyed that song in particular.

After the show, I packed up all my stuff, finished my coffee while making small talk with the manager, Caleb, then loaded out to my car. Once I had the engine running and the car had heated up sufficiently (it was early December, remember), I pulled out my phone to watch my performance of “Lifeline.”

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:

That is correct – I didn’t bother to check the alignment of where everything was in relation to the angle I was shooting from. For all intents and purposes, it is a four minute video of me singing my song from behind my iPad.

To say I was disappointed in myself and feeling pretty stupid is an understatement. I couldn’t believe I’d made such a rookie mistake. I’d recorded dozens of performance videos in my living room and at the bar where I’d been doing open mic. How could I be so dumb? It boggles the mind.

I resolved right then and there to do it again next week, but didn’t follow through. Then the gig ended when the shop changed owners, and the opportunity had passed.

Fortunately, I have a good friend who, aside from being a good sport, is a damn fine musician, and he learned the song so we could add it to our repertoire. So without further ado, here is our version of Lifeline:

Lifeline recorded Dec 10, 2017 by Hardwick & Caldwell

The song had finally made it to video, though not in the way I’d originally intended. However, the fact that I got to release it to the world with a good friend more than made up for my earlier screw up, and made the whole experience that much more meaningful for me. I wouldn’t change a single moment of the whole experience. It ended exactly the way it should have.

Immigrant Story

Have I told you about the time I was mistaken for an immigrant?

I was born and raised in the dustbowl of southern California. After graduating high school, I spent two years in the Bedfordshire, England, and three years in San Vito dei Normmani, Italy, before finally settling down in Denver, Colorado in 1988. I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the December of 1993, and I’ve been here ever since, livin’ the life.

As I related in an earlier post, and for reasons I won’t go into here, I took it upon myself to learn to speak Spanish last year. During the spring and summer of 2018, every other sentence that came out of my mouth was en español. I visited taco trucks with my daughter at lunch – she happens to be fluent in Spanish – and attempted to order in my new language. I visited Mexican panaderías. I listened to Spanish-language radio. And most importantly (for this story, anyway), I changed my name on the Starbucks mobile app to Esteban, the Spanish form of my given name, Steven.

Because there are not a whole lot of Estebans that frequent my local Starbucks, all of the baristas got to know me in pretty short order. I was often greeted with, “Hi, Esteban!” or “Good morning, Esteban!” as if I were the Hispanic Norm Peterson, to which I’d reply, “¡Buen día, mi amigo! ¿Cómo estas?”

One particular morning, I arrived a little early after placing my mobile order, and the barista said, “Hey, Esteban! I’m just finishing up your order, it will be ready in just a minute.”

“¡Gracias, mi amigo!” I replied. We then proceeded to make small talk (in English, as he doesn’t speak Spanish) as he continued to prepare my drink.

As I reached across the bar for my finished coffee (venti almond milk latte with seven – seven! – pumps of peppermint, in case you’re looking to get me something for my birthday in April), a hand reached out and grabbed my arm. I turned to face the older woman who had stopped me from getting my life-sustaining bean juice.

“Do you mind if I tell you something?” she asked me.

Well, this is awkward I thought to myself. “Sure, please do!” I said, perhaps a little too energetically.

“I just want to tell you that your English is fantastic, Esteban! You are assimilating very well to your new country. Tell me – how long have you lived here?”

I was floored. Part of me wanted to laugh, part of me was horrified, and part of me was flattered that I’d been mistaken for being Hispanic.

Competing thoughts flooded my brain. Do I tell her the truth? Do I mock her somehow? Do I accept this little microaggression for what it was meant to be – a compliment?

In the end, I decided not to burst her bubble, to let her think she was being a good American citizen by welcoming a foreigner in to her midst.

“A few years, ma’am,” I responded, “and thank you for the compliment!”

“You’re very welcome, “she replied. “You’re doing a great job – have a nice day!”

“Gracias – ¡que tengas un buen dia!” I said to her as I grabbed my coffee and walked out of the shop.

Activity Rings and Dog Walks

I’m trying to have a perfect month, and it’s causing my dog to think I’m crazy.

In the native Activity app in iOS, for those of you not in-the-know, there are three rings that the user attempts to close everyday. These three rings are the bells that lead to my Pavlovian response of needing to exercise, to get up and move.

The outermost ring, the cotton candy pink one, denotes active calories burned – active calories being those calories that you burn above and beyond resting calories. I suppose this ring is the color of cotton candy as a reminder to not ruin your caloric burn gains by eating junk food. This ring might be more meaningful to me if it were the color of chocolate or donuts.

This ring is usually pretty easy to close – I’m am active dude, for the most part. Whether I’m wandering around my house looking for something to do, or wandering the halls at work looking for something to do, I’m usually on my feet. I never worry about closing this ring.

The innermost ring, the baby blue one, records whether or not you’ve stood up during the course of a given hour. My guess is that this ring is colored baby blue because, just like a young baby, the goal of this ring is to get you to stand up and walk.

I rarely worry about this ring, as well. As mentioned above, I’m constantly on my feet, moving about my home or office. There have been days when I’ve been sick in bed in the past, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get out of bed and shuffle down the hall, only to return to my bed, for the sole purpose of adding another notch to this ring.

The ring that garners most of my attention, though, is the middle ring, the vomit-green one. This one is easy to figure out – it tracks cardio activity, with a goal of completing at least thirty minutes of exercise for a given day to close the ring. The vomit color is fitting, as that is often how I feel after about ten minutes of running.

The goal of closing this ring has led me to do some decidedly odd things, the least of which is not showing up at the gym at 9:30pm (it closes at 10 on most nights) just to do a quick thirty minutes on the treadmill with the express purpose of closing this damn ring.

One of the more questionable decisions this ring forces me into is to go out at 5:30am in the frigid cold to do a little running with Zeus. I’m sure he hates it, and I’m not a fan, either. We often have conversations while out walking/running, and they go a little something like this:

Me: “Man, it’s cold out here!”
Zeus: *looks back at me*
Me: “Is it cold for you? I mean, you’re always wearing a coat…”
Zeus: *looks back at me again*
Me: “…but I know you get cold. In fact, I can set my thermometer…”
Zeus: *looks back at me with concern*
Me: “…by how quickly it takes you to bark to be let back in the house…”
Zeus: *looks back at me and, I swear, rolls his eyes*
Me: “…when I let you out in the morning.”

So, here it is, late January, and so far, so good. Not to jinx myself, but I’m reasonably confident that I’m going to close all three rings every day in January, thereby giving me a perfect month. And my reward for doing this?

A digitally Perfect Month award in the Activity app. And the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter how pointless a goal is, I’m up for the challenge. And a dog that thinks I’m crazy.

Seven Years

Tommy: Did you hear I finally graduated?

Richard Hayden: Yeah, and just a shade under a decade, too, all right.

Tommy: You know, a lot of people go to college for seven years…

Tommy Boy

They say you never stop learning, and I am the epitome of that adage.

I graduated high school in ’82, received my Associates’ Degree in 2009, and am currently trying to get my Bachelors’ Degree through OSU-Tulsa. I’ve taken Spanish courses and marketing courses and continuing education courses in micro- and macro-economics. I was a MAS-certified trainer for a short while. I’ve been on leadership retreats, and even took piano lessons for a time. The fun never seems to end.

I’ve taken painting lessons and drawing lessons and guitar lessons and driving lessons. I learned how to coach young boys playing flag football and how to get little kids to play soccer. I know how to cook and load a dishwasher and put the dishes away. I was born knowing none of those things – I had to learn them as well.

I believe my constant desire to do new things – actually, my constant vacillation between what sparks my interest and what bores me – is the driving force behind my being a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none). Once I accomplish what I set out to do – whether it’s painting a tree or recording an album or writing a book – I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

I went back to college in 2004, after the twins were born. My wife and I were both working, and with three kids, one of us would have been working just to pay for daycare. She had the better benefits, so I quit my job and became a stay-at-home dad. I chose accounting because I already had a few credit hours, and that was the quickest degree I could get. I went to school at night, one or two classes at a time.

Seven years after the boys were born, I had my degree.

Fast forward a few years. I began taking junior-level course at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa back in 2013, taking a class here and a class there. Then I encountered marketing, and a new passion was born. I am leaning towards changing my course of study from business administration to marketing. In fact, I have a call in to my OSU-Tulsa guidance counselor to discuss making this change.

Regardless of which degree I pursue – business admin, marketing, or some other discipline that hasn’t yet piqued my interest – I should be able to complete the degree program by 2023.

Seven years after I started.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that, for me at least, the process of learning new things is just as satisfying as having learned the thing.

Band Of Brothers

Let me tell you a little bit about my friends and bandmates.

It all started with Steve and Kevin. Along with a couple of other friends, they started a band called Lost Giants in 2016 as a tribute to Steve’s brother Chris, who had just died unexpectedly. I joined the group in late 2016, and that morphed into Flaming Bagpipes. Bryan became our drummer in early 2018 and we changed our name to Bent & Bruised. We’ve been rocking out ever since.

Steve is the driving force behind the band, both as our bass player and as a constant source of inspiration. He has a musical background, but had never picked up a stringed instrument until three years ago. He continues to improve as a bassist, partly through natural musical ability and partly because he never puts the damn thing down (according to his wife). To hear him play is to witness true musical fire and grit. Steve imbues everything he does with passion, and his music is no different.

Bryan is the backbone of our little project. Having played in many bands, his experience has been invaluable to us. There isn’t a rhythmic pattern that he can’t play, and as a long-time veteran of the gig scene in Tulsa as well as being a small business owner, Bryan knows business as well as the inner workings of being a band in Tulsa, inside and out. The consummate pro, we would only be half the band we are now without his steady hand on the drum kit.

Kevin is the spiritual leader of the band. As lead guitarist and vocalist, it is his vision of what a band should be that guides us. His musical acumen is second-to-none, and he is certainly the most gifted and talented guitarist I’ve had the privilege to play with, which is saying a lot. Kevin’s attention to detail, while oft-times frustrating to the rest of us, always brings out the best in everyone. Without his vision and experience of playing in a band in college, the rest of us would just be a bunch of guys making noise in the garage. If Steve is the lifeblood and Bryan is the backbone, Kevin is the heart of band.

The thing I love most about hanging with these guys as that we are truly greater than the sum of our parts, both musically and as human beings. The band is a true democracy, and we are there for each other when we need to be, both musically and personally. We’ve taken trips together, gone to concerts together, and gone bar hopping together, both with and without our wives. We are truly a band of brothers.

What I’ve Learned

There’s no better feeling that spending hours upon hours creating music with people you genuinely love.

I’m Ready, I’m Ready!

SpongeBob SquarePants ©2019 Viacom Media Networks

I’ve always loved Mondays.

To my way of thinking, Monday represents a chance to reset and get it right, to be better than I was the previous week. Sometimes weekends are just as jam-packed with activities as the week is, and sometimes (like this past one) it’s an opportunity to unwind and decompress. In either case, Monday is an opportunity to begin fresh.

Psychologists tell us that it isn’t healthy, but I suspect part of the reason I so enjoy Mondays is that I’ve always been the type of person who’s personal identity and self-worth is inextricably link to what I do for a living. I physically spend nine hours at the office (more or less) every day of the week, and I’ve been accessible 24/7 for as long as I’ve owned a cell phone. Some of my “off-duty” activities tie directly back to my job, as well – going back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree, for example, is tied to my desire to continually grow and improve within the company.

Pick up any calendar and you’ll see the week is supposed to start on Sunday. This practice dates back thousands of years – ancient Egyptians wanted to honor Ra, the sun god, by designating the first day of their newly-created seven-day week as Sun’s day. This was passed on the the Romans, who designated the first day as dies solis. For many Christians, this continued tradition is based on the Bible, which notes that God said, “Let there be light!” on the first day of creation.

(I realize that I’m leaving out quite a few cultures – Slavs and the Chinese to name two – that actually start their weeks on Sunday. In many of those instances, their “Sunday” is not named after any sort of sun deity, and is in fact called something different. In Hungary, for example, their Sunday is actually called “market day,” and in Old Russian it is often referred to as “free day.”)

According to ISO 8601, which describes the internationally accepted method for discussing dates and times, Monday is the first day of the week. The United States, Canada, and Japan all consider it to be the second day of the week. (For more on this fascinating subject, visit here: https://www.iso.org/iso-8601-date-and-time-format.html)

This may be my recently-discovered patrimonio mexicaño showing itself, but my week has always started on Monday, for as long as I can remember. I consider the weekend to be a set of two days, inseparable and meant to be experienced as one experience, like chapters six and seven in a book. Others view it as something more akin to bookends, with Sunday on one end and Saturday on the other, to be experienced as two separate entities.

Psychologically, most everything I do on Saturday would fall into the category of “unwinding” for the previous week, while everything I do on Sunday (laundry, for example) is in preparation for the upcoming week. I’ve always made this mental separation of the two days – Saturday for relaxing, Sunday for preparation.

My view of Monday certainly goes against what popular culture would have you believe about this day of the week – a list of popular song titles makes this very evident. Blue Monday, Manic Monday, Stormy Monday, I Don’t Like MondaysRainy Days and Mondays – this list seems endless. I’m not really sure where all of this animosity towards the first day of the week comes from, but I suspect many of these songwriters were in denial about what a productive day Monday can be if you just put your mind to it.

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning, and as I type I’m mentally preparing for everything I need to accomplish today in order to be prepared for the new week starting tomorrow. I’ve sorted the laundry, decided which shirts I need to iron for work next week, verified which rooms on campus my two new classes are in, and checked emails to make sure there are no outstanding tasks that need to be completed before the week begins tomorrow. In the words of the great yellow poet, SpongeBob SquarePants, “I’m ready, I’m ready!”

I’m excited for the new beginning that this Monday will bring – are you?

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned more than I could ever want to know about why Sunday actually isn’t the first day of the week, despite what your calendar is trying to tell you.

En Español, Por Favor

I had nothing better to do this past summer, so I thought I would learn to speak Spanish.

This desire was driven by a number of things. Having been born and raised in southern California, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Hispanic culture. As I’ve aged (read: mellowed and matured), the “hate” part has completely faded, leaving me with an idealized love of all things Latin American. The music, the accents, the culture – I love it all.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become very interested in my heritage. I knew next to nothing about my biological father’s family (more on this in a future post), and much of what I knew of my mother’s family became more shrouded in mystery the further back you went.

So I sent off my saliva to Ancestry.com and waited patiently for the results.

Most of what came back was not surprising – I assumed my mother’s side had come from Europe at some point – Danziger and Boyd are both common European names – and Hardwick screams “British Isles.” What I didn’t expect was the 6% Native American result.

That’s when I started digging, and learned that, for reasons that are obvious if you think about them for a few seconds, Native American results can sometimes be mistaken for Mexican results in certain cases. According to Ancestry.com:

Not long after humans first appeared in today’s Alaska and the western United States, they had already settled as far south as the tip of modern-day Chile. Then they migrated inland. As settlers, these groups were dramatically successful: In only a few thousand years they had occupied virtually the entire landmass.

https://www.ancestry.com/dna/ethnicity/native-america

Armed with this information, I redoubled my efforts at lifting the veil of my father’s ancestral past.

Thanks to public records and contact with a couple of fifth cousins, I was able to ascertain that my paternal great-grandfather, James Jefferson Santigo Hardwick, was married at least three times. He was born in Missouri in February of 1857, and moved to Mexico sometime between 1870 and 1881.

His first wife, Luisa Aguilar, was from Sonora, Mexico – that’s where they met, married, and lived for many years. When she died twelve years later, my great-grandfather married her sister, Esperanza Aguilar. And when she died six years after that, he married a third sister, Josefina Aguilar.

Josefina J de Jesus Aguilar is my great-grandmother, and the cause of the 6% “Native American” reading in my DNA. I am – proudly – part mexicaño. ¡Viva Mexico!

In addition to these facts, my daughter is fluent in Spanish, having gone through the language immersion program at Eisenhower Elementary School from kindergarten through fifth grade. She continued to study Spanish, with a slight detour into Latin, well into her first year of college. We are now able to communicate in Spanish (albeit at a very basic level), and though I can’t speak for her, I enjoy it very much.

Last March, I stumbled onto an online course called Speed Spanish that is primarily geared toward people anticipating travel to Spanish-speaking countries, and I was off to the races. I completed all three tracks in a matter of a few months, just in time to take a beginning Spanish course at Tulsa Community College. Thanks to Speed Spanish, I was able to excel in this class, and am already making plans to take Spanish II this summer as a break from the marketing and business classes I’ve been taking through Oklahoma State University-Tulsa (go Pokes!)

One of my favorite parts of learning español has been connecting on an entirely different level with friends and acquaintances who speak Spanish. I’ve also made friends from American latina who are trying to learn English – I’ve met quite a few people through various iPhone apps, in fact. I write and speak in Spanish, they do the same in English, and we teach each other – a truly collaborative effort!

What I Learned

Ancestry is a fascinating thing – if you don’t know where you came from and who your ancestors are, the process of discovery and be just as exciting as the discovery itself.

Ah, y español. Estoy aprendiendo a hablar español.

Over/Under The Weather

Nothing exemplifies my ever-shifting opinion on everything better than my thoughts on the weather.

For background, I grew up in southern California, but probably not the southern California you’re picturing in your mind right now. Where I grew up (first in the San Fernando Valley, then in the San Joaquin valley), winters were always mild and wet, summers were always warm and arid. Spring and fall consisted of fog. In fact, most of the mornings that I can remember consisted of limited visibility, regardless of the season.

After high school, I spent two years in England and three years in Italy. The weather north of London was exactly how you’ve seen it depicted on television – cloudy, rainy, and bleak. Southern Italy was hot most of the time, and since I lived on the coast near the port city of Brindisi, afternoon rain was a common occurrence.

Oklahoma is different – it should have its own weather category. “How’s the weather today?” “Oh, the usual – ice storms in the morning, followed by tornadoes and a chance of hail. Although it’s below freezing right now, it’ll clear up and we should hit a high of 85 degrees by lunchtime.”

One of my favorite TV shows is the Weather On The 8’s shorts on the The Weather Channel. I love to sit and watch what the weather is now, and what it’s supposed to be later. I’ve been known to play on my phone during The World’s Most Dangerous Weather That Is So Awesomely Terrible That You’ll Scarcely Believe It!  just so I can catch the next 8’s spot.

Part of the problem is that I’m never sure which weather I prefer. This morning, as I was driving home from the gym in the light rain and cold temperatures, I started thinking about how much I missed the warmer weather. Had it been 90 and humid, I’m sure I would have been pining for winter.

When there is snow on the ground (an increasingly rare occurrence here in Green Country), it’s fun for about an hour. Then, I’m wishing it were a little bit warmer, a little bit less windy, a little bit more pleasant. Snow is fun to play in for a very short time, but eventually my frozen nose and ears get to me, and my fingers stop working, even when wearing the thickest, most water-resistant gloves. It’s the worst.

When we get days on end of precipitation, I long for the dry days of summer. I don’t like being outside in the rain, and Zeus hates running in it. I hate coming inside and feeling wet, my sneakers squeaking on the floor as I drip water everywhere. Being soaked clean through and having to change clothes for the third time that day is something I dread. It’s the worst.

And during the dog days of summer, when the overnight low struggles to get down to 90, I long for the cold temperatures of winter, and the ability to bundle up against the frigid weather. I can’t sleep lying in a pool of sweat, and I can’t function when my shirt is drenched the moment I step outside. It’s the worst.

What I’ve Learned

The truth, if you haven’t guessed it by now, is that I’m never happy. At least, not with the weather. Unless I’m watching it on The Weather Channel.