2013′s New Year’s Resolutions–How’d I Do?

Exactly one year ago today I posted my three New Year’s resolutions for 2013. A lot of people make resolutions, few keep them throughout the year, and even fewer, I think, reflect on them upon the dawn of the next new year. I thought I would take a look back at them and grade myself on how I did. 

I quote my resolutions below, but they have been edited for time and space. You can read the entire post here.

The first resolution:

1. Grow religiously.  …Going to church regularly was one of mine from last year as well, and I kept it, on and off, throughout the year. The last couple of years I’ve been trying to grow spiritually. My background is Catholicism and I enjoy the rituals that go along with it. In just the last couple of years, I’ve gone from an agnostic to a believer. My goal this year is to continue going to church on a regular basis and get involved in one… Another goal related to this is that I want to familiarize myself with the Bible on my own terms, rather than in the short readings read in church. I’d like to grow more as a religious individual and as a Christian this year, and there’s no better place to start.

Throughout this year, I’ve gone to mass regularly and officially joined my church down the street. According to my Goodreads.com page, I read no fewer than four religious books pertaining, in particular, to Catholicism, and enjoyed most of them and learned a lot. I’ve also read the Bible on a regular basis–not every single day, but I would often read a chapter from the Bible before I would do my regular reading for the night. As I’ve read and studied, I’ve also begun to pray more, everyday. What are the effects of my increased religiosity? Nothing but positive. I find myself at peace with myself, the world, and God. I reflect more often on the kind of person I am, and what I can be better at, namely, in the ways I treat others, especially my wife and close family. I’m a happier person than I was one year ago, and I feel that that has a lot to do with my religious life, and the increased sense I have of a higher power. Grade: A

The second resolution: 

2. Grow as a leader. This is my most important goal this year. For me, part of achieving this goal involves seeking regular input from my bosses on how I’m doing as a leader, reading (at least) five good leadership books, and reflecting, which I’m sure you’ll see on this blog.

This last year at my job has been trying. 2013 started off as a transitioning year in leadership where I work. Then, in the fall, we lost a close co-worker to suicide, a guy I had known and worked with for over eight years. Challenges have been abundant. In the last year, I have grown more confident in myself and my skills, learned from my mistakes, and regularly sought input from my bosses and coworkers on how I could have handled situations better. I feel that my staff respects me more now than they did a year ago, as does my boss. My boss even told me that, during a discussion with some of our staff members, he told them that I was “working [my] ass off.” Last December, I dreaded going to work most days. This past year, I’ve begun to thrive. I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way toward being a confident leader. 

My biggest failure related to this resolution? Looking back at Goodreads, I didn’t read a single leadership book. My goal was five and I didn’t read one. Truth be told, the five leadership books goal completely slipped my mind. I have a few on my “to-read” shelf, but never got around to them. I’ve considered getting one from my library, but thought differently. It may sound like a lame excuse, but reading leadership books reminds me of work, obviously, and when I come home to read for pleasure, I want to put my mind on something other than my job. That said, I’ve read several books about leaders (Churchill, Lincoln, The Kennedys, pilots in World War II) but I don’t count those books as the same thing. Grade: B

The third resolution:

3. Drink less and go to bed earlier. I don’t drink hard liquor hardly at all, except for the occasionally glass of scotch at a wedding, but I enjoy good beer, and probably too much of it. The fact is, I’m much more productive at work and on the weekends when I wasn’t up late the night before watching a Cubs game or imbibing one beer too many. This has actually been a goal of mine for quite a while, especially this past year. I’ve been pretty good at getting to bed early during the week, but there’s room for me to improve.

In the last year, did I drink every night? No. Did I have a beer or two most nights? Yes. For me, is that too much? Yes. But was it less than the year before? Definitely. Compared to the last few years, I’ve cut back on my drinking. I still love good beer, but I drink too much of it. Rarely do I have more than two in a night, unless it’s the weekend. Still, I need to continue to cut back. I have a lot of room for growth related to this goal. 

One success I had regarding this goal was that I made it a habit to go to bed earlier most nights, even on the weekend. In previous years, I had regularly gone to bed well after ten on a work night, and near midnight on the weekends. My wife, who goes to bed quite early because she wakes up early to work out, was often in bed for hours before me on the weekends. Now we frequently go to bed together on Friday and Saturday nights, often around nine o’clock–late for her and early for me. Being better rested makes me happier and more productive on the weekends and throughout the work week. Grade: C+

I’m not sure if I’ll make resolutions this coming year. Aside from continuing these, and maybe exercising again, I can’t think of anything new I’d like to change. That said, if I think of any, they’re sure to be posted here.

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Full Circle

The Christmas break remains a great chance to spend time with old friends in from out of town, and even those that I rarely see but who still live in my area.

Late in high school, I spent my time with a small but close group of good people. It was a heterogenous group of guys and girls, though rarely was their dating between us. The kids were good–the type I hope my own children will one day spend time with. They were generally good students from good families, didn’t drink or do drugs, and laughed about as often as anyone else did in high school, if not more, when we were together. I cringe when I think of the way that teenagers are portrayed in the media–horny, superficial, and downright mean at times. While some kids fit the mold even then, we didn’t.

We weren’t wild, so we spent a lot of our time hanging out at each other’s houses, shooting pool in someone’s basement or gathered on a family room couch. I remember spending hours just talking with them. Someone might put on some music in the background, but it was conversation that drove the friendships. We gossiped, talked about people we had crushes on, and complained about school or our parents–typical teenage topics. But we also spent time talking about life, relationships, and our individual philosophies. We challenged each other’s actions and beliefs without hurting feelings. The opinions and constructive criticisms we offered were in the best interests of the friend we cared about. Those conversations bonded us together in the waning days of high school, and still help maintain the friendships, though we’re older now and in different places.

Monday night, I gathered with some of these people at a buddy’s mom’s house. My buddy, his wife, another good old friend from high school, and my buddy’s mother and I sat in a family room talking until the wee hours of the morning. Wine was drunk, but no one was intoxicated. At most, it lubricated the conversation.

Ten years ago we would have been bombed at some loud bar drinking crappy beer. Five years ago, we would have been smashed at someone’s house or apartment. But Monday night, we gathered as we had when we were half our ages, to talk and laugh as we always have.

Looking around that evening, I was struck by how we had come full circle from high school. A decade and a half before, we would have been doing the same thing (minus the wine), and now we find ourselves in our early thirties simply enjoying one another’s company. A couple of nights before, we got together at my and my wife’s place to get caught up and reconnect. This night was about furthering the friendships.

We spoke of where we were in our careers, a friend’s anxious wait to be proposed to, politics, religion, marriage, family drama, and old friends who weren’t with us (we gossiped a little, so what?). We cracked jokes, some old, some new. We talked of our plans for the future, now including spouses, mortgages, and children. A TV was on, but only provided momentary diversion from our talk.

At nearly two o’clock in the morning, we put on our coats to head back home, and found ourselves engaged in some of the deepest conversation of the night around the kitchen table. Finally, hugs were exchanged, as were general sentiments that we need to do this a hell of a lot more often than we do. Another great night spending time with people I loved concluded.

The older I get, the more I recognize that the most important things we have in life are our connections with others: our families, first and foremost, but also our friends, and especially our oldest friends.

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The Worst Thanksgiving I Ever Had

I had just turned twenty-four years old at Thanksgiving 2005. I was in the middle of my first year teaching, and still living at home with my parents. It was not a good time in my life.

I was involved in a relationship with a girl who was controlling, unstable, and making me more miserable the longer we stayed together. Within another month or two, my suspicions that she was mentally ill would be confirmed.

My first year teaching wasn’t going well. Everyone’s first year teaching is the most difficult, even under ideal circumstances. I had yet to adjust to the rhythms of the school year. My students were a tough group, and I was unfamiliar with the curriculum. On top of all that, the team of teachers that I had to work closely with was dysfunctional, at best. Several times that Fall I dreaded going to work so much that I developed significant back pain and struggled to sleep.

But the worst part of that holiday season was the fact that my brother was gone. In August, his Marine Corps unit had been sent to  Iraq for a nine month tour. Growing up my brother and I got along fairly well, though we regularly beat the crap out of each other, more for fun than to be antagonistic. He was three and a half years younger than me. As I entered my teenage years, I grew distant from him. We were on better terms by the time I was in college, but not close. The summer before he went to Iraq, he and I drove his Jeep Wrangler across the country, from Oceanside, California to Suburban Chicago in two days. Our conversations in the car, mostly having to do with funny events from when we were kids, brought us closer together than at any time in our adulthood. I knew that the trip was a turning point in our relationship for the better.

After he shipped off for the Middle East, there was an emotional gap within all of us in the family. We didn’t talk about him all the time or glue ourselves to the television news every night, but I know he was on all of our minds. My mother was suddenly hugging me more than usual, seemingly every time I walked in the door after school. She started sewing more too–blankets, especially. I think that was how she coped with her worry. I would often get emotional at the thought of him when I was out at the bars with friends and had had a few too many Jagerbombs or shots of Goldschlager.

We were lucky that my brother was in an out-of-the-way place in Western Iraq called Camp Korean Village. He wasn’t going door-to-door, or taking on insurgents, but he had mentioned that, when he went to bed, he could clearly hear small arms fire in the distance, and his base had been mortared. He may not have been on the front lines, but he was still in a hostile country risking his life every second he was there. We knew that there was a chance he might not come home.

For some reason, my new girlfriend of two months and I had decided to split Thanksgiving between our families. I would go to her uncle’s place for a while, then go to my family’s for dinner, where she would join me later for dessert. I thought it was too soon to be spending so much time together at the holidays, but I gave in to her. She had hinted that she was upset I wasn’t spending all of Thanksgiving with her family (and ditching mine), but didn’t push it. For the first time in my life, I realized how some people could hate the holidays.

My parents were unhappy with my new relationship. I still lived at home and they didn’t approve of the nights I spent at her house, especially during the week. Later, I realized that they could sense my unhappiness.

Early in the afternoon, I drove to her uncle’s place. I was nervous to be with her family, and feeling stressed about having to be in two places for the holiday. I thought to myself, The holidays shouldn’t be this stressful. She had a large extended family, and her parents and brother were there. I was increasingly on edge, checking my watch to see when I could leave.

Her uncle, who I got a creepy vibe from, offered me some Jack Daniel’s whiskey. I (We? I can’t remember…) proceeded to do several shots. I can’t remember how many  (Three? Four? …Six?), but I was obviously more than buzzed within minutes. I said my goodbyes, and, stupidly, drove to my grandmother’s house a few towns away.

I arrived at her condo clearly intoxicated. My family acted like they were glad to see me, but a few of them could tell I wasn’t myself. I grabbed a beer and shared a dirty joke with my uncle. Surprisingly, he responded with one of his own. The rest of the afternoon I only remember snapshots, partly because of the alcohol, and partly because of the passage of time.

At the dinner table, a pall hung over us. Very little small talk was made. One of the family was missing, and there was no forgetting it. To lighten the mood, my mother brought her video camera and filmed each of us wearing goofy hats saying something encouraging to my brother, who would be mailed the tape. I can be seen wearing a ridiculous hat, telling him sarcastically, “Happy Thanksgiving, wish you were here.”

I continued to drink through dinner and when my girlfriend arrived for dessert. She made strained conversation with my family, and finally we left, heading back to her place. When we got to the house she rented, my angry father called my cell phone, and chastised me for being drunk and driving. At one point, he was yelling at me so loud that my girlfriend could hear him in the next room. He hung up on me.

And so ended Thanksgiving 2005.

One year later, the family met again at my grandmother’s home to celebrate the holiday. The same people were there, with one addition: My brother had survived his tour in Iraq, and made it home in one piece before the insurgency began to rip the fragile country apart. The mood at dinner was lightened.

My girlfriend was long gone. I had tried to work up the courage to break up with her before Christmas, but failed. Finally, in January, I succeeded in cutting the cord.

At Thanksgiving 2006 my family and I watched football, sat around the table, and just enjoyed being with one another. Beers were had, but I didn’t even get buzzed.

 

It may sound like a cliche, but my miserable Thanksgiving helped teach me what’s really important in life, and how lucky I am to have my family safe, together, and in one piece. It shouldn’t have taken a psycho girlfriend and a Marine brother thousands of miles away for me to appreciate that, but it did. I remember that holiday every year, and then sigh with relief that that time is passed, and I’m in a much better place. These days I look forward to spending time with my family, and with my wife’s family, at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

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Happiness

I’ve been reading Christopher Kaczor’s book The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church. It’s one of those books that I read only one chapter every day and underline important thoughts as well as write little notes to myself in the margins as I read. I don’t do this with every book that I read, only ones that I intend to revisit years from now, especially stuff on Catholicism or leadership. There’s one part in the chapter about the myth of the Church being indifferent to Earthly welfare that I found particularly interesting. The author cites a different book, Robert J. Spitzer’s Healing the Culture, as the source for the idea.

Spitzer states that there are four levels of happiness. They are:

  • Level I–Pleasures of the senses (i.e. good food, drink, sex). This stuff makes you happy, but the happiness leaves almost as quickly as it arrives.
  • Level II–Winning in a competition for social good (i.e. fame, great wealth, possessions, nice “toys”). This happiness is longer-lasting than level one, but “having it all” may not be as satisfying as some of us might believe (think: screwed-up Hollywood celebrities, the lottery “curse,” etc.)
  • Level III–Making a meaningful contribution to the well-being of others (i.e. loving and serving other people, whether it be friends, family, strangers). Service to those around you.
  • Level IV–Happiness in loving God and being loved by God (via meaningful activity).

The point is that all four levels are enjoyable, but it’s level III and IV activities that make you most content. One must be careful not to let an excess of levels I and II interfere with service to others or love of God. Food, beer, and sex can all be great things, but drug use, alcoholism, and adultery or sexual addiction can ruin your life. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast about Catholicism and…beer. The priest, who was enjoying a beer while recording the podcast with a deacon, shared some wise words: “All good things in moderation.” I can think of many times in my life when I should have applied this wisdom to myself and failed.

According to positive psychologists cited in another book, once a person has escaped dire poverty, there are four things that contribute most to making a person happy: meaningful activity, good relationships with others, personal control, and religious ties.

I got to thinking about my own happiness activities. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I love good beer. Good food is second to none. And who wouldn’t love sex, especially when you have a wife as hot as mine?! I have a nice, if modest house, though not much fame, unless you count my former students remembering lame jokes I told them years ago. These level I and II activities are great, but I’ve found that, especially as an adult, the things that make me happiest have been making others happy.

Something as simple as surprising my wife with a cupcake from her favorite place or making her dinner (or pancakes after a long run) bring me happiness as well as her. Part of the reason I went into education is because I wanted to serve others through teaching history, language arts, and life skills. I love leaving a server a big tip, holding a door for a stranger, and other small acts of kindness. It is in serving others that one also serves God, though I regularly pray, attend mass, and give money, albeit not as much as I could, to my church too.

Helping people is incredibly rewarding, but frankly, I don’t do enough of it. I’m not nearly as involved in my church as I should, could, or would like to be. I don’t reach out to my neighbors enough for small talk, let alone to see if they need assistance with a problem. I don’t reach out to my or my wife’s families enough to see how I can serve them. My job description could be “serve everyone around you.” I work hard  to serve the adults and kids, but I can certainly be more sensitive to their needs, rather than my own needs to get paperwork done or e-mails sent. My new challenge is to reach out to others and find new ways to serve them. In doing that, I hope to make others happy, but also find more happiness for myself.

What do you do to serve others? How have you reached out to other people?

I end with a quote:

Even if we had all the money, fame, and power in the world, all the bodily pleasure we could handle, and all the worldly success possible, we could not be happy without true friendship and true love. ~Christopher Kaczor

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Beer Brats, Low-and-slow

I never got around to grilling much until my wife and I got a grill for our wedding. I’m far from an expert, but it’s a skill that I have enjoyed developing the last couple of years. Tonight I’m making my speciality, beer brats.

To make the best beer brats possible, I start with good meat. My wife and I get ours from Wallace Farms, an organization that raises animals humanely, and without extra chemicals. Think: grass-fed beef, free range chickens, and animals running around outside as opposed to being trapped inside of large, smelly buildings. The bratwurst we use has no nitrates in them and they taste damn good. They’re a little more expensive than you’d get at a grocery store, but comparable to a local meat market.  Plus, you get piece of mind that you’re eating meat without all kinds of extra crap in them.

Notice you can pronounce all of the ingredients on the label.

Notice you can pronounce all of the ingredients on the label.

I get one of those disposable aluminum foil pans from the grocery store. Then I put the brats into the pan, and cover them in beer. You can use just about any beer, but if you use a beer with more flavor to it, the result will be the same in the brats. I prefer to use Sam Adams Boston Lager, but tonight I’ll be using Tyranena Brewing Company’s Rocky’s Revenge, which is an American brown ale aged in bourbon barrels, a leftover from our last beer tasting.

I cut up a whole yellow onion and a green pepper and throw them in the mix, and then add red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and a couple of garlic cloves run through a press. Using a fork, I poke 2-4 small holes in the brats, to allow some of the steam to escape. By this time, I’ve preheated my grill on medium. I place the pan onto to grill and cover it, letting them cook for twenty minutes, turning them halfway through. Notice that I don’t boil them on the stove in beer before grilling them. In my opinion, boiling them risks overcooking them.

Perhaps you’ve heard the “low and slow” rule when it comes to grilling brats. I follow it to a “T”. The idea is that you cook the brats at a low temperature for an extended period of time. The advantage of cooking them this way, as opposed to just slapping them on a hot grill, is that the brats maintain their juices and don’t shrink or burst.

Brats I cooked last Fall on our old grill.

Brats I cooked last Fall on our old grill. These days I use a smaller pan.

After twenty minutes in the beer soup, I remove the pan from the grill and turn the heat down to low. I place the brats, one by one, directly onto the grill. I cook them at four minutes per side, for a total of sixteen minutes, keeping the grill lid open the entire time. While the brats are on the grill, I take the pan back to the kitchen and scoop out the onions and peppers into a bowl.

My mother-in-law taught me a trick when grilling that steams the buns. After the brats are done, I put them directly into a bun (always whole wheat) and then wrap them in aluminum foil. The result is a bun that’s moist, but not soggy, and a brat that stays hot. I do the same thing when I grill burgers.

I garnish the brat with the onions and peppers from the mix and some spicy brown mustard. My wife prefers giardiniere. These guys go great with potato salad and a cold beer.

Hands down, these are the best brats I’ve ever had in my life, let alone cooked myself. Beer brats have much more flavor than those put right onto the grill, and the low-and-slow method helps them maintain their juices.

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How I Made Extra Cash in College (and Got Free Alcohol in the Process)

420 North MacArthur, My Home for two and a half years at Western Illinois University

420 North MacArthur, My Home for two and a half years at Western Illinois University

For two and a half years at the end of college, I lived in an old house in Macomb, Illinois while I attended Western Illinois University. I lived with a group of great guys who I’m still friends with, even as most of us are married, and a few have kids. There’s a million stories I could tell you (the haunting of the house, the time my buddy knocked himself out with a tire iron, etc.), but today I’ll share with you how my friends and I made a little extra money on the side.

If you look at a map of the state, Macomb is located in the “belly” of Illinois. If you look closer, you’ll realize that it is also located in the middle of nowhere. No large towns or cities within a couple of hours, which means not much shopping, very little entertainment, and no indigenous culture to speak of. College kids, being resourceful, create excitement where there is none. Namely, in the form of gathering with a large group of people to imbibe alcohol.

At other colleges, kids drank in their dorm rooms, had small get-togethers in their apartments, or went to the bars. House parties, while they existed at other schools, were a specialty of Western Illinois University students. When kids from other schools would visit, they would tell us that they never experienced partying anything like it was at WIU.

The school campus is surrounded by old houses. Absentee landlords rent them out, maintain them minimally, and make cash hand over fist. It was more common for students to rent houses after their sophomore years than apartments, or stay in the dorms. These houses were the epicenter of social life in Macomb, especially for underclassmen. Starting when you were a freshman, you’d get a group of people together from the dorm and wander the neighborhoods to find a keg party. It wasn’t hard to find one, and seemingly every house that hosted one wanted your company (read: money). You’d pay for a cup, head to the keg, and build the courage to talk to other people, specifically girls. Say what you want about the perils of underage drinking, and I’ve had my share of bad experiences, but those parties brought me closer to friends I still know and gave me the confidence to talk to strangers (which I can do now, drunk or sober).

During my freshman and sophomore years, I looked forward to renting a house with my buddies. The father of a guy on our dorm floor owned a house a few blocks from campus. The fall of my junior year I moved into the place along with several friends. Naturally, we immediately began throwing parties.

Friday nights we hosted the keggers. It wasn’t an exclusive gathering–anyone was welcome–but it wasn’t broadcasted across campus either. Some party houses wrote their addresses and starting times in chalk outside of the dorms to draw as many students (and therefore money) as possible. Crowds that large often attracted law enforcement as well as thirsty underclassmen.

A nicer keggerator than ours, but similar.

We had it down to an art. After going to The Pace for happy hour, a couple of us would get a keg of beer–usually Icehouse, because it was relatively higher in alcohol content than other beers, once in a while Nattie Light if we felt like splurging. Originally we’d place the keg in a plastic tub, garnishing it with ice. I became a pro at tapping it without any beer spraying out. Eventually though, my buddy Josh used the profits from our parties to transform an old refrigerator in our basement into a keggerator, which kept the beer cold without ice. It also allowed for quicker, more frequent pouring.

The parties were confined to the large basement and backyard. Aaron set up wireless speakers in the ceiling, and we played music on his six-CD changer. A lot of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Sublime, and Dave Matthews Band were the background to our parties. You’d think that things would get pretty wild when you had a bunch of drunk college kids to your house, but it was actually pretty tame. People would drink, talk, play flippy cup, and generally socialize. We had a few fights, and the windshield of one of the roommates got spider-webbed, though I can’t quite remember how. The most excitement we had was getting some visits by the police when neighbors complained about noise once. We paid the $150 ticket with the profits from the party.

My job was to collect cash from people as they came into the house. I’d have the cups and some small bills for change. We charged four dollars a cup, which was fair. Four dollars was the going rate for a cup at WIU parties, though you’d find the occasionally steal for three bucks, and once in a while a five dollar kegger. Most of the people at the party were freshman and sophomores, too young to get into the bars.

Not long after we started the regular parties, I realized that carrying a wad of money was a great way to get jumped by a couple of drunks–not to mention that I don’t exactly radiate “badass” when you see me. Back then I was five-foot-nothin’ and a hundred-and-nothin’. These days I weigh a little more. To keep the money safe (and protect my own ass), I’d make regular trips up two flights of stairs. My room, complete with blue Christmas lights and soft Bob Marley playing on the stereo, served as the bank. Most of the cash was kept in an envelope I’d hide under one of my pillows. That way, if I did get jumped, I might get my ass kicked, but we’d still have most of the cash to divide between us the next morning.

I was amazed at how nice everyone was. When you have parties at your place for two years straight, there’s bound to be some trouble–and there was–but it was few and far between. Most of the kids just wanted to drink some cheap beer, catch a buzz or get drunk, and wander home. Almost no one wanted any trouble. Sometimes, people would even thank us for having parties for them. I told all of them the same thing: “You can repay us by renting a house of your own in a couple years, and hosting keggers for anyone who wants to come. House parties are of the things that makes Western Illinois special.” Carrying on the tradition of the school, you know?

The parties usually wrapped up around one or two in the morning. Early on, I had the tendency to pass out early in the evening, leaving others to close up, which they did.

In the morning, I would divide the cash among the roommates. Before doing that though, the first thing I did was to put cash aside for the next week’s first keg. After doling out the money, it was off to McDonald’s for greasy burgers to chase away our hangovers.

In college, I wrote for the school newspaper to pick up some extra money, but never worked a regular job. Throwing the keggers allowed me to have money for the bars on Saturday night, beer during the week, and to pay the cable bill. Plus, it was all the free beer you could drink, and you only had to put up with a bunch of drunk kids in your basement for a few hours.

We held the parties nearly every Friday for two years. For the first year, we loved it. Our friends from the dorms came, girls were around, and we had a good time. The next year, things began to change. More of our friends moved out of the dorms and threw parties of their own. I think some got “over” coming to our house to drink. The parties were still crowded, but I knew fewer and fewer people in my house.

The nadir of the parties was one night when I walked into my crowded basement and didn’t recognize a single person. My eyes scanned the place for a familiar face when I saw, in a back room of the basement, a large group of, er, large people playing strip flippy cup. Several completely naked people I had never met in my life were frolicking and yelling in my home. I was done. The debauchery had to cease.

Not long after that, we quit throwing parties. For a couple of weeks, freshman showed up at the house looking for the party and we turned them away. It had been fun while it lasted, but was glad it was over. The stench of stale, spilled beer and smoke emanating from the basement faded, and I didn’t miss sweeping the cigarette butts up from the floor on Saturday mornings. I have good memories from throwing the parties, but I laugh and shake my head when I think of how we lived then.

A few years after college, my little sister, who had attended Western (and our parties) at the same time I had, brought some friends into town to visit. We were reminiscing about our college days when some of the girls explained to me what our parties meant to them during their freshman year. A few of them struggled to adjust to life after high school and were stressed by their classwork. They told me that, when they would get down during the week, they would say to themselves and each other, “If I could just make it to Friday, then there’ll be a party at Kevin’s house. If I can just make it to Friday…”

I like to think that, in a small way, we made that girl’s life a little easier, and let her blow off some steam when she was going through a rough time.

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The Joy of Sports

The Greatest Trophy in All of Sports Comes Back to Chicago

Last night I found myself in the exact same spot I was when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three years ago, across town at my buddy Chris’s house. Back then, it wasn’t his house, it was Debbie’s–my wife and I wouldn’t introduce the two of them until the following Fall, and they would marry in December of last year. I hunkered down with my buddy and his brother for the game in Chris and Debbie’s living room.

After Bryan Bickell scored late in the third period to tie the game at two, Chris asked me, “Kev, you want another beer?” “Sure, we got time,” I told him, figuring yet another playoff game was headed to overtime, and that it would be a late night. Just then, Dave Bolland scored to give the Hawks the lead. All three of us jumped out of out seats, yelled and hugged each other (we’re really not that close, but it was a great moment!). With less than a minute to play in the game, the three of us were on our feet, intensely watching the Hawks fight off several Bruins scoring chances. With ten seconds to go, Chris started screaming in anticipation of the victory. When the clocked ticked down to zero, we repeated our shouting, jumping, and hugging act. We must have looked like a bunch of kids, but winning a game like this gives people a chance to act their shoe size, not their age. We watched in awe as the Blackhawks celebrated on the ice, shook the hands of the defeated Bruins, and were presented with the Stanley Cup which, for my money, is the greatest trophy in all of sports.

My wife, in bed at the time, texted me, “There are fireworks… Did they win??”

Later, on my drive back home across town, I honked my horn in celebration as I pulled down my street. I’m sure I woke up a few neighbors, but I bet there were probably more people who knew exactly why I was being so obnoxious. At home I re-watched the ending of the game (I DVR’d it in advance, just in case they won) and saw coverage of the masses of people swarming the streets in Wrigleyville, dressed in red, celebrating.

Today I’m at work, tired as so many other people in the Chicago area are, but smiling through the sleepiness.

Before the game started, I was at home with my wife, cleaning up after dinner. We were talking about sports, and what it means to fans to win a championship. She knows I’m a diehard Cubs fan, and I might have said something about weeping if they ever won the World Series. My beautiful, intelligent wife, has no interest in sports. She doesn’t mind that I watch games–I’m not one of those guys who’s glued to ESPN for hours everyday–but she couldn’t care less. She told me that she thought it was kind of sad that an adult would get so worked up over a game that kids play.

I can’t fault her for feeling that way. When you think about it, it is a silly thing for a grown man to yell at a television screen, or cry when a group of other men win a big game, even if it is a championship–even if, in the case of the Chicago Cubs, they haven’t won one in over one hundred years.

But sports are an emotional outlet. In life, we experience great days. My wedding day was the happiest day of my life. My dad, who I’ve never seen cry, wept when his three children were born. When else would a person feel similar joy as those monumental life events? Being emotionally invested in a sports team, something that, is of no real consequence but entertainment (“sports is the best form of reality TV,” one sportscaster called it last night), is another way for people to experience the emotional highs and lows that have so much to do with making us human. Who wouldn’t want to experience the emotional high that comes with your team winning a championship?

The joy that you feel when your team is successful is what makes it worth it to follow a sports team through good times and, especially if you’re a Chicago fan, bad.

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