Hallo Europe!

 

22549702_10105536793173985_8913520491441529036_n

At RDU about ready to board our flight to London, before another stop in Berlin, with our first destination being Salzburg, Austria.

At the age of 43 I finally visited Europe and what a visit it was!  On October 10, Katie and I set out on an adventure to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. This was Katie’s 3rd trip across the pond (London and Paris), so I looked to her for guidance in many ways.

About 13 months ago our Durham neighbors Mike and Mary packed up and moved to Zurich, Switzerland for a work opportunity.  At the time, we vowed to visit and started brainstorming how we would make it happen, how much money we would need to save, and where our main stops would be.  We settled upon Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany; and Zurich, Switzerland with some side day trips along the way.  We monitored flights closely and one day Katie came across a sale that was ~$350 cheaper per ticket than we had previously encountered so we pounced on those and the rest of planning was set into motion.

We locked down AirBnB’s in Salzburg and Munich and we had shelter lined up with Mike and Mary in Zurich.  Thank goodness for that.  Zurich is crazy expensive.

Our route to our first destination of Salzburg was RDU to Heathrow to Berlin to Salzburg.  Not a big fan of 2 layovers when traveling, but if you can save $700, you go for it.  I got a cold the day before travel (which eventually I would pass onto Katie), but I was so excited I didn’t even care.

Our flight path to Salzburg was overnight and we lost 6 hours due to the time change, so I was in full zombie mode floating through the London and Berlin airports, but I got my first passport stamps so all was right in the world.  Heathrow is HUGE and I learned that traveling internationally typically involves a security re-screen and other steps beyond just making your way to the next gate.

Heathrow Airport= mega shopping mall and glitz

Berlin Airport = Boxy warehouse, announcements in German, and of course a beer garden.  Our gate was 43, but we were bussed 60 seconds to gate ~49.  We are still trying to figure that one out.  This was Katie’s first prop plane trip, so that was a fun conversation.

Reality set in on final approach to Salzburg that I was on a different continent.  The lush green landscape and surrounded by mountains was breathtaking.  After deplaning on the tarmac, we were happy to see our travel backpacks coming off the plane.

It was now my time to be introduced to how awesome public transportation (bus, light rail, train, etc.) is in Europe. The good news about Austria and Germany in particular is that there are English options and signage most everywhere.  We bussed to the main train station and 10 minutes later were arriving at our first AirBnB.  Being so close to the main train made it easy to get from place to place when we weren’t averaging 25,000 steps! per day.

22540128_10105536792390555_3839043128190653087_n

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg and Day Trip Highlights:

  • Just walking around!
    If you are Catholic and/or into Churches, you need to visit Salzburg (and Munich).  Everywhere you turned, there was a church that was hundreds of years old and many you can walk right into.  Immaculate (pun intended) detail is everywhere.  If you’re into shopping (we are not), Salzburg has a great district to take care of that.  Most of the streets are pedestrian/taxi only so there was not a lot of interruption to your walk.  We popped in and out of alleyways, walked along the river, and crossed bridges for hours on end.
  • Mozart’s Birthplace and Museum
    Salzburg is the birth city of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  I learned a lot about this guy beyond just his compositions.  I have my museum limits when I travel, but we are talking about freaking Mozart here.  We did a combo ticket that allowed us to visit both his birth house and museum.
  • Augustiner Brauhaus
    We ventured up the hills that surround the city toward the fortress.  Knowing that we would be visiting some other castle structures on our trip, we didn’t drop any euros on this, but found a great greenway along the ridge line of the city.  The best part is that at the end of this 1.4 KM trail was the Augustiner Brauhaus.   Imagine a giant brew house, large beer halls (5),  permanent food vendors, and a 1,400 seat beer garden (the largest in Austria)  under chestnut trees and you have Augustiner. Grab a clean mug off a shelf, pay for your bier, hand it to a guy pouring beer from a wooden barrel and you’re on your way.  It was the perfect way to end a day full of walking.
  • Hallstatt
    I will post a photo after this section, but it hard to describe how beautiful Hallstatt is.  We realized we arrived to perfect weather and peak leaf color change season, but wow.  The lake is surrounded by mountains and this little quaint tourist town is full of character. Outside of some tourists taking photos and selfies every 3 feet, it wasn’t really gaudy at all for a tourist destination. We took a train from Salzburg to a random town in Austria. From here we were to catch 2 buses to Hallstatt.  Hilarity ensued.  The train and unmarked and locked bus station area was the size of my yard.  In the end the bus picked us up 30 yards from where we got off the train and the bus driver let us know that he would take us 5 minutes down the road then we would get on another bus.  Still lacking confidence in the process, and in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land, sure enough another bus swooped us up essentially in a roadside park and took us to Hallstatt.  It was here that I gained great confidence in all things public transportation in Europe.
    Once in Hallstatt, we did a quick through “town.”  There was smoke on the water which led to some great photos.  After discovering that Austrian coffee pours contain very low ounces, we started a trek up the hill that serves as downtown’s backdrop.  This was very vertical in nature, but luckily we packed a lunch to fuel up halfway.  Once on top the views were spectacular.  We checked out the scenic overlook and walked to the oldest salt mine in the world.  The tours were a bit pricy so we chose to hike back down to town.  As we traversed downtown and even found some less traveled areas, we decided to rent an electric boat and putt around the lake.  We grabbed a beer and studied the train schedules.  The Hallstatt station was across the lake, so we took a 10 minute boat to the station and although we missed our 1st choice in train because of a slow and rude American buying tickets we were on our way about 30 minutes later.

 

22688081_10105536790264815_1702597190023285885_n

Hallstatt

Next Stop:  Munich, Germany

A train trip between Salzburg and Munich is a 1 hour and 45 minute lovely journey through small Bavarian towns with several farms, cows, goats, and even magpies along the way. Arriving into Munich station we knew we were dealing with a bigger city.  While Salzburg is a little more subdued, neater and closer to nature, Munich was a legit, yet now overly sprawling city.  I likened it traveling from Bend to Portland, Oregon.

Once off the train, the energy and noise level was totally different from Salzburg.  It took a few minutes to get our bearings directionally toward our next AirBnB, but we managed through the miracle of Google Maps on our smartphones. Our host Angel was very gracious and excited to share his recommendations in Munich.

So, you might think after traveling, we might sit and relax for a bit?  Nope, we were ready to check out this city. This was the start of consecutive 30,000 step days.

Munich and Day Trip Highlights:

  • English Garden
    We traveled through city and passed more beautiful churches and architectural wonders on our way to the English Garden.  English Garden is larger than Central Park in New York City.  The walk was made more pleasant by another perfect day of weather.  To break up our long walk we stopped at the Chinese Beer Garden.  We put in a few more miles around a lake and back into city center.
  • BMW and Olympic Park
    Katie and I split up one day.  She checked out some museums and I walked ~3 miles up to the BMW and Olympic Park area. Katie is a great travel partner and since I am an introvert and she is an only child, we don’t have any problem doing our own thing for a few hours.  I should note that our dividing point was a Cat Cafe where cats walk (or sleep) amongst you while you enjoy your coffee, cake, etc.  I wandered through BMW and as I finished up there, Katie walked from her museums and we met at the Olympic Park.  There was a sports festival going on (Yes, the weather was perfect again) so walked through vendors and exhibitions of any sport/activity you can imagine.  This is the moment we confessed our love for Munich.
  • Hohenschwangau and Neuschawnstein Castles (Fussen)
    The only activity we purchased train and venue tickets for was for our train trip to Fussen to visit 2 amazing castles.  The train arrives to Fussen and most folks will take a bus to the castle area.  Of course the Todds walked 2-3 miles to get there.  Once picking up tickets we had some time to kill until our scheduled entry time into Hohenschwangau.  This was another area where we had to dodge tourists lacking self-awareness taking multiple photos of every possible object.  Climbing hills to castles began to take their toll as this day went on, but we carried on.  Castle Neuschwanstein was very picturesque.  We did choose to take the bus back to Fussen and had some time to kill.  We found a little restaurant and we were the only patrons for a while in this sleepy town in the heavy tourism off-season.  Still with time to kill, we both bought a beer and went to sick in a little city park near the main station. Outside of watching some kid get clipped by a car (it was his fault and he got back up and biked away), this was one of my favorite moments of the trip.  Back to Munich.
  • Dachau
    For our last day in Munich, we took a 21 minute train ride and 15 minute bus ride to the Dachau Concentration Camp and Memorial Site.  This should be required education for everyone.  It was a solemn and educational visit.  If you visit Munich, I also think it should be required for your travel itinerary.
22549845_10105536783942485_402702542810945132_n

Chinese Beer Garden in the English Gardens

22549575_10105536779177035_6464389620455174234_n

Neuschwanstein Castle

Next Stop:  Zurich, Switzerland

We bid farewell to Munich on a 4 hour and 20 minute train ride to Zurich, Switzerland.  After figuring out the tram situation, we were on our way to our friends’ place.  We were dropped off about 2 blocks from their place and were approximately 3 blocks from Lake Zurich.  We are grateful to these neighbors inspiring us to create and take this trip. They have a GREAT apartment and were gracious hosts. Our first night there we walked a bit and saw some sights on our way to a fancy vegan dinner at Hiltl.  The next morning, Katie and I basically traced the Rick Steve’s walking tour and then ventured to the other side of the lake to walk some parks, then we threw down a blanket and enjoyed some recently purchased beers.  Europe living at its finest.  Zurich provided some great moments to reconnect with our neighbors simply by sitting down and shooting the breeze.

At about this time, Katie’s cold (courtesy of yours truly) is starting to peak. Initially we planned a day trip to Luzern.  Between the cold and having been on the move for 9 days straight, we opted not to take this day trip.  While Katie slept I walked more of Zurich (Alps visible through the haze in the distance!).  In the afternoon, I checked out the University area and one of few craft beer locations in Zurich.  I chatted with the owner for about an hour about the beer cultures between our 2 countries. That evening, we walked to the International Beer Bar with the neighbors which was situated in a really cool neighborhood.  We ended our evening with dinner and drinks back at the department since we had a 7:10am flight the next morning. Our neighbors graciously walked us to the train station and after some adventure at the Zurich airport, we were on our way to London, then home.

22539897_10105536764351745_8095968322275629396_n

The Neighbors

Travel Takeaways:

  • Everyone should visit a different part of the world or at least our country.  We can learn so much from others and appreciate what we have in the process.
  • Europe is miles and miles and miles ahead of the U.S. in renewable energy, environmental responsibility, and public transportation.
  • Austrians and Germans are super nice and the Swiss are hard to read.
  • Europeans love graffiti, yet hate littering.
  • Markets and Cafes every 30 feet is a great thing.
  •  Europeans walk or bike everywhere. Portions are smaller.  There are no European countries on the top 20 obese country list.  U.S. is #18.
  • Smoking was everywhere but the per capita life expectancy of the countries we visited destroys the U.S.  Figure that one out.
  • The Swiss do not do small talk
  • Beer gardens were everywhere and were always full no matter the time of day or day of the week.
  • Traveling is awesome.  Jet lag?  Less awesome.

So there you have it.  If you made it this far, you need a hobby, but thanks for reading.  I wanted to capture this experience while was fresh in my mind.  I can’t wait to travel again.  We are already looking at next July to visit Ireland and Scotland and attend The Open at Carnoustie.

Advertisements

College Life, for Life.

329418_10100958590414015_727740777_o

Central Michigan University

I have been in college since 1992.  For 25 years I have spent my life on a college campus either as a student or staff member.  These days, I drive to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and traverse one of the nation’s oldest public institutions in the United States.  I count myself lucky each day.

When I left the friendly confines of Otisville, Michigan for Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, I really had no idea what I was doing. I just assumed you went to college after high school. So I went.

I struggled with many things that first semester.  I never learned how to take notes, study, manage my time and self, or how to not take a 4-hour nap in the middle of the day.  In December of 1992, I slid across an icy Dodge Road in Otisville to snare my grade report (an actual paper report!) only to find out that my first semester GPA was a whopping 1.6.  Academic probation.  Another letter was received shortly thereafter defining what academic probation meant.  It basically meant if my Spring 1993 grade point average is below a 2.0, I will be dismissed from Central Michigan University.

So, rather than be dismissed, I figured it out. I got involved in extra-curricular activities (Thank you, Joan Schmidt and many more), I learned how to learn.  Most importantly, I found my voice and identity at Central Michigan University. That voice was developed by working as an academic advising assistant, finding student leadership roles, serving as a resident assistant, and being one of those shiny, happy orientation mentors. The key was that I had to make a big place smaller.

I made, what are they called?…friends.  I found my niche as a CMU superfan, goofy student leader, and part-time CMU President impersonator.

As my senior year in college approached, I processed a few things:

  • Being a physical education major isn’t exactly the most marketable background.
  • I don’t really like middle and high schoolers, so why would I enjoy teaching them?
  • My college mentors were all higher education administrators. How do I get that job???

I started to research higher education programs and ways to pay for graduate school. I didn’t apply to many programs because 1) My GRE scores weren’t exactly off the charts and 2) Application fees are expensive.

My first application went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Shortly, thereafter I received an invite to interview.  I went. I interviewed. They took me into the Neyland Stadium press box. They offered. I accepted.  Game over.

I didn’t apply anywhere else.  UT was going to provide me room, board, tuition waiver, “big time” athletics, and a pathway to a Masters Degree in College Student Personnel.

1928365_553880951065_6988_n

The University of Tennessee – Knoxville

Classes and work experience there affirmed that I had chosen the right career path.  This is where I dialed in my leadership skills and ethical compass.  I was being taught by a former Chancellor and other well-published academicians.  As I type this I can hear Dr. Grady Bogue challenging me in some “what would you do?” scenario.

Fast forward and I have had the opportunity to work at both of my alma maters (Central Michigan University and Tennessee), Duke University, Peace College, and now UNC-Chapel Hill. All unique places, but with a common feeling about them.  Maybe it is their beautiful green spaces?  Maybe it is their affinity for progressive thought to make the world a better place? Maybe it is their traditions that they claim to be their own? Whatever the case may be, college campuses are special.

25094_795908660595_7580318_n

Duke University

I have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone each and every day.  And while I jest about being a Phys. Ed major, that background has made me a better advisor, teacher, and mentor.  Who knew Teaching of Social, Square, and Folk Dance could be so transferable?

College campuses bring an energy like no other and it gets renewed each fall with new faces, new challenges, and new opportunities.  I have a quote that I read in a graduate school textbook that I typed up and framed at the time.  This framed quote has resided in my office ever since:

“There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university. It is a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see, where seekers and learners alike, banded together in the search for knowledge, will honor thought in all its finer ways.” – John Masefield

240402_10100194477697025_1723926_o

Peace College

Being on academic probation was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It motivated me to get back up and do better. Frankly, having that experience has made me a better professional as I work with students struggling to navigate college life.

So, here I sit 25 years in and I can’t imagine working in a different environment.  I mean, it is not officiating a game of dodgeball, but I think I made the right call.

 

IMG_20170602_143454_119

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have smartphones ruined the concert experience?

 

Let me start off by saying I used to be a serial concert photo taker, but in recent years I have converted to taking 1-2 early on in a concert and putting my smartphone away for the remainder of the show.  I love concerts and over the years I have been lucky enough to see a good number in a variety of venues.

Last night I attended a David Gray and Allison Krauss concert at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina.  If you have never been, Koka Booth is a first class venue lined by tall loblolly pine trees set next to a lake.  Outside of a really awkward Death Cab for Cutie concert, I have always had a great time there.

Kokabooth 2

Koka Booth Amphitheatre is a gem.

 I have often revealed to my wife my adoration for Alison Krauss.

“You’ll never hear a more crisp, clean voice live than hers.”  (Now, Joy Williams, formerly of the Civil Wars can give Alison a run for her money in this department, but last night affirmed Alison’s dominance.)

“You can just close your eyes and listen to her forever.”   I stand by my statement, but so much great musicianship is on display that I have to watch the show too.  The problem with watching a concert these days is that the glow of the cellphone is distracting in every direction.

To my right was a sweet grandmother with a giant Samsung phone.  Bless her heart, she kept turning on the flashlight when trying to shoot a video/photo. Her husband was so patient, but finally gently lowered her arm to her lap to block out the blinding light for all.

Over my left shoulder was a gentlemen trying so hard to capture the moment with the flash on.  Pro Tip #1:  The flash works at night if you are 10 feet or less from the object you are shooting.  Alison was 40 yards away, so not only did you distract me, you also took a worthless photo.

In front of my, a teenager was capturing multiple snaps on Snapchat throughout the show.

Also to my right was a young couple who were probably on their first date since having a child, just a-texting away with the babysitter or who knows?  I give them a little bit of a pass…very little.

Behind me was a drunk couple with small children.  I am actually not sure about their phone behavior, but I did want to use this blog to point out how terrible they are.  I was tempted to ask the kids on the way out if they had a safe ride home because mama was lit up like a Christmas tree.  Don’t talk while Alison is singing!?!

Now, to be clear, nothing was going to ruin my concert experience and it didn’t but I felt sad for those clutching their phones the whole show (I also felt bad for drunk mom’s kids).  I just don’t understand how you can drop money on a concert ticket and not truly listen and watch the concert?

Pro Tip #2:  The photos that are in the next morning’s online newspaper are always going to be better than your shaky and blurry 11.2 megapixel photos.  Always.

IMAG5604

See what I mean?

So, my night was not ruined.  Far from it, but I do have to think twice now about buying tickets for fear that I will be surrounded by some smartphone posse that has been over-served and will not feel complete unless they get in 15 selfies before David Gray plays ‘Babylon.’


 

Bonus Material:  If you made it this far, you get a free rant.  It is a repeat rant, but humans have made no progress, so I rant on.  If you look at your phone while you are driving, you are dangerous.  If you ride with someone that looks at their phone  and you don’t snatch it and throw it out the window, you are an enabler.  If you disagree with these statements, please surrender your driver’s license before you murder someone.

Creating (not finding) Fulfillment in Your Work

IMAG5551

Previous to starting at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in student affairs 5 years ago, I served in professional academic advising capacities at Central Michigan University, The University of Tennessee, Duke University, and William Peace University (formerly Peace College).

As an introvert I always enjoyed these 1:1 experiences far greater than being in a crowded room engaging in empty small talk and networking.  I understand its importance and can survive this environment, but it is never an invigorating experience for me.

NOTE: Receptions at professional conferences are my hell on earth.  I just hope for good beer at the reception.

While I do love presenting to crowded rooms, I think I can have the greatest impact in 1:1 advising sessions.  Because students/an audience are all individuals with a different knowledge base or at a different stages of development, a presenter may have to generalize and speak in broad terms to appeal to the greater masses.  This has lower impact than 1:1 interactions.

Working with students 1:1 allows true teaching and mentoring to take place. There is an opportunity to assess where the learner is and take them on a tailored journey toward success.

I am lucky enough to work at the #1 School of Pharmacy in the country with amazing students that push me to be excellent every day.  Sure, graduate (PhD, MS) and professional (PharmD) students are different from the work I have done with undergraduates, but they still have opportunities for significant growth and it is wonderful to witness.

Over the summer, our pre-pharmacy academic advisor working with undergraduate students stepped away from that responsibility.  Hearing of this news, I expressed my interest in serving in this capacity.  Yes, it was something a little “extra” but I had a good feeling it would be good to get back to my “roots” and advise students 1:1 on a more consistent basis.

Yesterday, was my first day serving as pre-pharmacy academic advisor for the campus. It was so energizing and like the old expression goes, ” felt like riding a bike.”  I had 4 student appointments and hence 4 students in different places in their development, with different needs, not to mention different levels of anxiety as they pursue applying to pharmacy school.

Like a doctor (minus all that pesky schooling), it was fun to diagnose a student’s goals and unhatch a plan of action that not only I was excited about, but one which the student could buy into as well (i.e. what actually matters).

I walked away from the academic advising programs building a recharged professional. I already know this experience will be a positive addition to my schedule and enhance my core responsibilities as well.

Taking advantage of opportunities of passion, even if an it’s an addition to your workflow, can provide a positive gain to the overall satisfaction of your professional life.

 

 

I was Grayson Allen…

 

c0pzxxguuaapssd

I am hoping my wife doesn’t leave me just by reading the title of this blog.  But the truth is, as a young kid and through college, I was Grayson Allen.

No, I didn’t have that silly of a vertical jump.  No, I didn’t attend a private school, nor have the academic preparation to attend and succeed at Duke University.  And no I was never a McDonald’s All-American.  Heck, I wouldn’t even be considered a Bojangles All-American.

I was however emotionally unfit to compete at a younger age.  I played mostly baseball and basketball growing up and dabbled in soccer for a few years.  We could get deep in the weeds that I was the “baby” of my family and stunted emotionally, but I won’t focus too much on that.  I will leave that for my ex-girlfriends.

Anyway…

If we lost..I cried.

If I beaned a batter while pitching…I cried.

If I overthrew home plate from centerfield…I cried.

If I played goalie for the first time and gave up 10 goals in that debut..I cried.
In retrospect, I wish that coach would have pulled me after 6 goals, but maybe he was teaching me some sort of lesson or figured I would stop crying at some point.  I never did and definitely got the “Aaron, I am really disappointed in how you acted out there” speech from my father.  I deserved that.

I could never pull it together.  I was lucky to be a solid athlete and you would be hard-pressed to see someone work as hard as me, but I could never manage my emotions.

Foul me on the playground?  You’re getting a basketball thrown at you. (Sorry Chris Baker).

Pull my shorts down in 8th grade basketball tryouts during the 3-man weave drill? I punch you in the jaw (Sorry Eddie Seames). Note: I made the team. Eddie didn’t. I couldn’t resist.

Playing baseball in the front yard and you try to steal even though there is a “no steal” rule?  I rifle the baseball at you and drill you. (Sorry Jason Matthews). End game.

Oh hey, I am running out a hit and your foot is on half of the bag while receiving the ball as the 1st baseman? I drive my spikes through your ankle. (Sorry Dustin Pettit). Safe!

You’re beating me down the floor on a fast break and I literally look up at the ref then shove you in the back so you fall? (Sorry person I don’t know your name or really even recall what school you played for? North Branch?)

I may have been a total jerk, but I was honest.  One time playing shortstop, I was covering as someone was trying to steal 2nd.  He slides into my glove, dust flies, I drop the ball momentarily, and the ump calls him “Out!.” I actually asked the ump to reverse the call and he obliged and NEWSFLASH:  I cried.

These days I usually just cry during horse movies or that Portuguese marriage proposal scene during Love Actually.  Stop laughing!  You try not to cry during that part you soulless monster!!!

Marriage Proposal

So what changed for me?  I think a big factor was tearing my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in college.  That forced me to observe sports and I hated every second of it (not to mention tearing your ACL really hurts. That was a legit cry). It ended up being a positive experience however.  I focused more on having a career. Once that career led me to academia and in many instances working with college athletes (including Duke basketball players), it mentally put me in a healthier place and my life in its proper perspective. I still love to compete, but it is more subtle and I don’t allow my world to be turned upside down if things don’t go my way. These days I get to hear phrases like, “Do things ever rattle you?/How are you so calm?/I would be off the rails if that happened to me.”  Those are are among the highest compliments I can receive.

Watching sports still gets me riled up and I love to win and root for a winner, but I do focus more on character over wins and losses.  Effort/Sportsmanship/Integrity/Candor/Ethics

Those are the real things that matter. That, and seeing the Detroit Lions win a Super Bowl in my lifetime, but I digress.

Part of my solution was to step away from competition (both by choice and torn ACL) and that may not be Grayson’s choice. This whole basketball thing may be his career. Maybe he grew up in a house without consequences (Dwight Schrute). We don’t know his story.  My Otisville Little League baseball games shockingly were not broadcast on ESPN and we didn’t have social media.  By no means am I defending his actions. I yelled at the TV as loudly as anyone last night. It was another garbage move.  I just can’t make the leap to say he is a garbage human being.  Outside of sitting 1 table away from him at Dos Perros at dinner one night, I haven’t any idea what he is about.

He has to figure this stuff out for himself and find his path to development.  We all do when we have weaknesses.

 

Thank you, Coach….

10985396_10103759871918432_6403753199737285154_n

June 28, 2016

We all woke up to some very sad news this morning. We lost an icon. Pat Summitt passed away at the young age of 64. There will be countless stories in the coming days from those that met her and those that only knew of her legend; both of equal value.

Here is my story…

In 1997, I was offered an assistantship in housing at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This is an offer that would change my life forever. Yes, I gained valuable work experience and I celebrate and utilize my masters degree in college student personnel each and every day. The real education came from the people I was around and worked with. One of those people, although always just in passing, was Pat Summitt.

My first year at Tennessee, the Lady Vols won their 3rd consecutive national championship. I attended a few games, attended the championship parade, and was in awe of the passion of Volunteer fans. I had made a wise choice.

During the summer of 1998, Pat’s basketball camps were in a building where I was working. You would think Pat would be too “big time” to be around during camp check-in, but there she was. When Pat walked into a room, her presence was overpowering. My posture got exponentially better and you could see all the eyes catching a peek at her, but because everyone respected her so much, no one seemed to stare. It was something to behold.

Being an attentive staff member, I stayed nearby at the ready to put out any fire that arose. (Picture me in a polo, khaki shorts, and a walkie-talkie holstered to my hip).

All she had to do was look my way. Her Jedi-like power drew me to her side. There I was with her piercing blue eyes burning a hole through me. She leans my direction and softly says, “Do you think we can get these bathrooms unlocked down here?” At that moment, I understood ‘the look.’ “Yes, absolutely. Right away.”

(Why were the restrooms locked, you ask? Well, the campers the week before found them as a safe haven for, well, things teenagers do at camps)

When Pat spoke, you moved! I darted up the stairs to the front desk. “Quick, Pat Summitt needs the bathrooms unlocked downstairs.” In hindsight, I could have been more subtle and reworded my request, but to me, this was a dire emergency. I wasn’t going to let Coach Summitt down. Not today. Not ever! After sprinting across the Presidential Courtyard on the UT campus, I secured a master key and saved the day by unlocking the restrooms. I gave one of those “we should be all set now, Coach” looks. She nodded her approval and I had my story.

The rest of the camp was more of the same. Pat was always around, so I rarely slept. I didn’t want to miss a moment. This was a time of year many of her best friends would come and help with her camps. They all called her “Trish.” Reach for the Summitt (add it to your reading list today) had just come out and here I was hanging out with “characters” in her book. Did they think it was weird that I asked them to sign my copy of the book? Probably, but they obliged.

Right around this same time, I secured a fall practicum with Lady Vol academics. The practicum would earn me 3 credits by working ~10 hours/week in the Lady Vol academic center. I would monitor study hall, assist Lady Vol athletes (across all sports) in getting plugged into campus resources and even helped design a program called “Life after Lady Vols” that emphasized career and professional development. I would wake Semeka Randall in study hall routinely (that girl liked to sleep). It was a great semester and I always felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

The biggest highlight of the semester actually happened at the very beginning. On maybe the second day of the practicum my supervisor Kerry Howland invited me to the Lady Vol Athletics staff meeting. You want a minion like me at this staff meeting? I of course was happy to attend. Nervous as hell, but happy to attend.

So I wander into a large lounge at Thompson-Boling Arena where couches and chairs are scattered everywhere. I randomly select a chair and about 5 minutes later that presence has entered the room again. Coach Summitt picks the chair right in front of me. At this point, I am starting to wonder if I am in some sort of alternate universe. At the beginning of the meeting, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. “Pat Summitt, Head Coach, women’s basketball.” I am now wondering if I am the only person in the room thinking “no $h!%…of course you’re Pat Summitt.” But as many have attested, that was Pat. Humble and great, but not too great to attend a staff meeting and introduce herself just like anyone else.

IMAG0068

Of course I kept the staff meeting agenda

In June of 1999 I returned to work at Central Michigan University (my undergraduate alma mater). That fall, CMU was opening a Leadership Institute and had just announced their keynote speaker for the occasion. You guessed it: Pat Summitt. Marcy Weston who was the Associate Athletic Director at the time caught wind of my Tennessee connection and invited me to be Pat’s guide for the day. I jumped at the opportunity.

IMAG0070

Pat would land via UT jet at Mount Pleasant’s municipal airport and Marcy would bring her to campus where I would greet her and get her from place to place. There was a chance of rain, so I was practicing holding an umbrella for someone. No seriously. I was practicing this so I got it right. When Pat arrived I was introduced (after she shunned the umbrella) and of course says, “Hi, I’m Pat Summitt.” I replied with something to the effect of, “I’m Aaron, Tennessee, (inaudible), (did I just black out?), welcome”…or something like that.

The next couple of hours were surreal. Walking Pat to a ribbon cutting ceremony. Walking Pat to a reception. Walking Pat to Warriner (now Plachta) Auditorium. This was as close as I was going to get to feeling like a Secret Service agent. To top it off, I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy her speech with 1,225 others in attendance. No notes. No podium. Just a lavalier microphone and Pat pacing the stage as everyone held on to each and every morsel of knowledge she was giving us on the topic of leadership.

I should have known not to relax! After the talk, throngs of audience members lined up at the front of the stage hoping for Pat to sign her book. Over the speakers, I hear “Aaron, can you help coach up here?” I bolted down the aisle and there I was passing books to Pat as she signed them one by one. Always coaching, she looks at me (yes, THAT look again) and says, “Can you pass me the books with the covers already open so I can sign them more efficiently?” I became a master book cover opener right away! She was always teaching.

I was able to say “goodbye” to Pat backstage and thank her (probably nervously and repeatedly) for coming to CMU. I sat outside in the Warriner Mall until I saw what I presume was her jet fly overhead and back to Knoxville.

2255_639752398995_9124_n (1)

“Discipline helps you finish a job, and finishing is what separates excellent work from average work.”

Speaking of back to Knoxville, that is where I returned in 2001 to work in Arts and Sciences academic advising and eventually work with Lady Vol athletes again as their college advisor. I always enjoyed my interactions with student-athletes. Returning to Tennessee allowed me to build and renew old relationships in the athletic department. Kerry Howland (my practicum advisor) from earlier would reach out to me to meet with her athletes for advising before they declared their majors. About 2 years after my return to Tennessee she began asking me to present to her Lady Vol First Year Experience course. This course was designed to help new student-athletes find campus resources, build community across all sports, and explore opportunities at Tennessee to get the most out of their college experience.

Before the semester started, Kerry sent me her syllabus for the course. Curious, I was wondering what other topics were being covered in this course. As my eyes scrolled through each week, I had to pause. Week 4: Guest Speaker: Pat Summitt, Week 5: Guest Speaker: Aaron Todd. Wait a minute. I have to follow that!?!? You’re darn right I was going to be prepared. One way I prepared? I attended the Week 4 lecture. Kerry allowed me to sit in the back of the room. I again had the opportunity be schooled by the greatest. After class, I shook her hand, probably mumbled something stupid again, but walked back to my car floating on cloud nine.

A year later, my friend Tracy was looking at graduate MBA programs and was considering UT. During her visit, we ate dinner at a restaurant on the Tennessee River. For some back story, Tracy designates Pat as her hero. At dinner I was facing the elevator and some Lady Vol players stepped off. Suddenly, there she was, walking our way and talking. At first I didn’t say anything to Tracy. I just kind of let the moment play out. As she got closer, Tracy turned and looked back at me. I don’t remember exactly what she mouthed, but I imagine it was something like “OH. MY. GOD!” That was the presence of Pat. Tracy chose to attend UT. I didn’t recruit her. Pat did. Tracy was able to attend one of Pat’s 1st year class lectures with me the next fall. You realize I went back each year, don’t you? It could be the exact same talk and the inspiration would never wear off. It still hasn’t.

I could go on and on (and probably already have), but if you’re still reading, I have one last memory. After a few years back at Tennessee, Kerry asked me to be an honorary guest coach for a Lady Vols game. “Really?” “Yeah, you will arrive early, tour the locker room, be introduced to the team and coaching staff, sit behind the bench during the game, be in the locker room for halftime, and then attend the post game press conference.”

BE IN THE LOCKER ROOM FOR HALFTIME?!?!?!?

Folks, I was able to sit in her classroom at halftime.

After being introduced and nodding at some of my advisees, I watched as Coach covered the game plan, discussed opponent tendencies, and stressed defense and rebounding. The master was at work. There was no rah, rah speech. ALL eyes were on their leader. The team exited first and I followed them to my seat behind the bench. I wasn’t the only guest coach. This program was also a nice reward for high dollar donors (unlike myself). I enjoyed my Coke and popcorn and most of all I soaked up Pat being Pat during timeouts. The eye contact. The focus. The intensity. The legend.

The ladies did NOT have a great first half. In fact, they trailed. This made me a little nervous about my halftime locker room experience. I walked into the locker room to find just the players and a dry erase board. No coaches. Individually, players would walk up to the board and write things like “box out” “make 22 go left” “spacing” etc., etc.. The teaching was already taking place. In fact, it never stopped. This was an exercise of reflection, ownership for the process, and active learning.

The coaching staff walked in. Free of tension. Nobody was panicking. The room was not just owned by Coach Summitt. It was owned by every player and coach. Class was now in session.

Coach looked up and down the dry erase board and affirmed what the pupils had already known. You see, education is as much about unlocking thought and potential already possessed within as it is about teaching. The halftime syllabus was not only designed by a group of coaches huddled in a neighboring room, it was built by the players themselves.

Coach melded each individuals’ contributions into a seamless lesson. It is not hyperbole for me to say this is the greatest class I have ever attended. Every word and every action was intentional. Over her shoulder was a game clock that was connected to the arena game clock. She knew exactly when the bell was going to ring. With about 3 minutes left until halftime expired she finished the lesson with a loud, yet controlled message. “Are you going to let them walk into our house and walk all over us?” “No, coach.” (Of note, there was always call and response to questions. At no point was there passive learning). “Well, let’s get out there and defend our floor.”

Tennessee went on to blow out Dayton in the 2nd half. I attended the post game press conference which was cool, but nothing and I mean nothing will compare to being in that locker room with one of the greatest teachers the world has ever known.

10385281_10103759864942412_5784050120817697007_n

The world thanks you Coach Summitt.

Why millennials will change the world for the better…

CdJgVgNUYAQcTDL

I can hear you sigh as you read the title of this blog post.  I work with millennials on a daily basis and heck, even married one.  I talk millennial trash often and have been known to take shots like “Oh, you did what you were expected to do?  Congrats.  Enjoy this trophy.” or maybe something like “Do you have a different selfie-stick for each day of the week?”  Maybe they are a little fragile and lack some gumption because since birth they have been told how great they are, even when sometimes they were not.  Maybe they can’t solve a problem by themselves and still rely on parental or team input too often.

Millennials are typically categorized as someone born in the ballpark between the early 1980’s and the year 2000.

I have mocked them for many, many reasons. This past year, I have started to look at millennials through a different lens (Yes, I am infusing millennial language here). Really, you can’t read or write in cursive!?

OK. OK. Notably, I love that they care about people.  They genuinely want to make a difference.  Sure, they want to make up flashy titles for themselves then put together a Snapchat story about it, but they do want to change the world.  Yes, they bore easily and job hop like it’s their, well, job, but they do care.

They grew up in a generation of constant distraction and the attention of a….wait, where was I?  Their faces have been buried in computer screens and…Look!  A squirrel!…  They pay attention to science.  They pay attention to human rights.  They volunteer like no other generation before it.

images
So, why the bad rap? Probably because they were most closely preceded by my generation, Generation X.  You know that jaded, fight the power, I don’t give a flying flip generation. I think it is time for Generation X to embrace these fine youngsters and listen more closely.   Embrace the concept of reverse-mentoring.  Gen X should empower Millennials. They want to want the ball so they can take the final shot to win the game. Allow them to lead and yes, to fail.  Millennials don’t take themselves that seriously.  For them being a nerd is cool and they are more pretentious-proof than most. The two generations can still drop smack talk on each other, but just hug it out in the end. Play nicely together and collectively we can change the world by showcasing our respective strengths and compensating for our respective weaknesses.

Being fully transparent, this blog post was inspired by recent legislation in the State of North Carolina that for all intents and purposes singles out a group of people who live in a free country…you  know, America (Not the beer).  To me, political parties are divisive by nature, so I don’t want to go there.  I just want to not be the laughingstock of the nation and for love of humans to supersede negativity and discrimination.

What I do want is for ye Millennials to register to vote now if you haven’t and to show up on election dayWhat stereotype will win out in November?  That you care about people or that you won’t follow through and show up?  If you turn out, I promise each and every one of you the recognition that you so need…errr deserve. How about one of these?:

.  images    Sorry, no trophies. They’re expensive.

Bucket Listing

901578_10101383735669515_2090858712_o

This past week I was able to attend the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona.  It was a pretty surreal experience and got me thinking about what other experiences would be on my bucket list.  When I think of bucket list items, I usually think of sports and entertainment. I have been lucky enough to visit some cool, bucket list-worthy items during my time on earth.  Take for instance, The U.S. Open, The Masters, a Duke-UNC game, attend a game in Notre Dame Stadium, a game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, an NBA Finals game, etc. So I wanted to do a quick blog to see if I could identify what is left on that list.  Here goes..

  • PGA Championship (2017 at Quail Hollow)
  • An Open Championship (2018 at Carnoustie)
  • Attend a game at Memorial Stadium at Clemson
  • See an Army-Navy game
  • The Kentucky Derby
  • Anything at Madison Square Garden
  • A concert at Red Rocks
  • Attend a Rose Bowl
  • Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY
  • See a game at Fenway Park (tix purchased for July, 2016)
  • Visit/Play St. Andrews
  • See an Auburn-Alabama Iron Bowl (either stadium)
  • Albuquerque balloon festival
  • Camp under the Northern Lights

What’s on your bucket list?

2255_641796103395_5909_n

Music (1974-Present)

Katie and I have been talking a lot about music in recent days.  The conversation was born out of a question posed over an empanada at Calavera Empanada and Tequila Bar, “What are your favorite songs that have been released since you have been born?”  Tough question, right?  (For the record this conversation was not tequila-induced). I even stumped our server with the question while she refilled my water and she “had to think about it.”  (We’re still waiting, Tierra).

I suppose before I rip off a listicle, I should define what creates a favorite  song for me.  This is my criteria:

  • The song survives the test of time (sorry, pop superstars).
  • The song may move me to goosebumps no matter how many times it’s heard.
  • There is meaning in the lyrics whether on the surface or metaphorically.
  • I saw the song played live and I had an “Oh!  I get it now!” moment.
  • Music is art and I just like the darn song.

I started with a goal of whittling the list down to 10, but let’s be real.  That is not going to happen.  I will even list some honorable mentions, including some local favorites.

I was born in 1974 and the number 1 song on the date of my birth (June 23) was Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot.  Having just dabbled in his music, I am confident I would have been a concert-attending fan if born earlier in the 2oth Century.

So, there’s my starting point.  Not a bad start.  It should be noted that I was a VERY late bloomer to music.  I was the teenager that listened to AM talk radio or the voice of Ernie Harwell calling the Detroit Tigers on WJR each evening as I went to bed. Jeez, I can’t imagine why girls didn’t dig me in high school.  Anyway, it wasn’t until college at Central Michigan University that music became part of my routine. It wasn’t really by choice.  Roommates such as Adam Kanouse and Craig Bull from Reed City, Michigan were always listening to music. I am grateful for their immersion and just weeks ago, sitting at Some Random Bar in Seattle, I messaged Craig letting him know that the owners of this business have obviously stolen his college music collection. Thanks, Craig.  Thanks to Adam, too.  Without you I might not know who Eazy E is.

Anyway, let’s get to the list.  I had thoughts of actually ranking  them too, but then I thought, “Does it really matter?”  No, it doesn’t but some of my commentary might reveal where some songs might land in such a ranking. Pro Tip:  Listen to music with headphones. Totally transformational experience.

Landslide, Stevie Nicks

I mentioned that I was a late bloomer to music.  I was even a later bloomer to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.  I had a neighbor growing up that was all about the Fleetwood Mac.  I didn’t care. I just wanted to play basketball and hockey at their house.  Music was secondary.  This song in particular was introduced to me in the form of a cover by Tori Amos.  Beautiful song, no matter who is singing it. Even Nickelback could pull this song off.  I might need to rethink that last statement.


Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Billy Joel

Just try not to love this song. I always liked it because it feels like 3 distinct songs in one and well, it seems based on the years I have been on this earth, there should be a Billy Joel song on this blogpost somewhere.

Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

At Central Michigan University, we were required to complete a general education requirement in the Arts and Humanities.  I enrolled in Music 114:  Listening Experience.  My life was changed forever. In addition to being required to attend on campus musical performances of which I was inspired to attend BY CHOICE the rest of my college career, we would also “break down” music in class.  The class met one night a week for and we spent the entire first class of the class analyzing Fast Car by Tracy Chapman word by word, beat by beat, and layer by layer. It was a fascinating experience that helped me “get” music. I said I wouldn’t rank these, but rest assured this would be near the top.

I Couldn’t Explain Why, Citizen Cope

Citizen Cope is special.  I have seen him on several occasions, sometimes acoustic, but usually with the accompaniment of a band. There are dozens of songs of his that I love, but this is the one that best aligns with the bulleted criteria listed in my introduction. You know that song “Sideways” that has been performed by Santana, Sheryl Crow, and John Mayer?  Yep, that’s a Cope song.


Losing My Religion, REM

REM is another college roommate inspiration. I can’t remotely claim to be a fan or own any albums of REM, but this song (another covered nicely by Tori Amos) is solid.

Precious Things, Tori Amos

You didn’t think I would create a music list that did not include Tori Amos, did you?  You were right.  I could have gone a few different directions with a Tori choice, but the goose bump factor in the live version  probably put Precious Things over.

Stay or Leave, Dave Matthews (Band/Tim Reynolds)

Reviewing the DMB catalog brought back a lot of memories.  They have been at it a while and I would argue  they went from jam band to more lyrically mature and relevant.  This song gives me all the feels, so it makes the cut.

Last Goodbye, Jeff Buckley

This was another song introduced to me by college friends.  I still don’t know much about Jeff Buckley other than he was an amazing talent taken from us too soon. Try not to see the brilliance in this song.

Mad World, Gary Jules Version, (Tears for Fears)
This song deserves a little history lesson.  It was originally the 3rd single off of the first Tears for Fears album. I would argue that version is not good all.  Sorry, 1983.  I will give you “Shout” TfF, but I think Gary Jules brought Mad World to the place it needed to be. It’s a totally different song.  You win, 2001.
Oh No, Andrew Bird
I do like me some Andrew Bird and this was one of the first songs introduced to me.  I gained a great appreciation when I learned of the song’s origin in an Andrew Bird interview.  (The song is)”inspired by the sweet, mournful cry of a four-year-old boy sitting behind me on an airplane. His dread was so utterly complete. I found myself envying his emotional abandon and tracing the musical cadence of his wail as he cried ‘Oh no.’ I suppose we’re talking about repression here. We can’t all behave like four-year-olds but must we be emotionally frozen? So let us lock arms as the harmless sort of sociopath and all sing in together.”
Deep, I know.
Murder in the City, The Avett Brothers

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better live performance than at a Avett Brothers concert. I had tried to see them for years and always had a scheduling conflict. New Year’s Eve at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina filled that void. I had already appreciated their craft but sometimes seeing a band perform live allows you to see and hear songs from a different angle.  This song falls soundly into that category.

As previously mentioned, I had to create some Honorable Mention categories.  There have been a lot of great songs since 1974 and I am sure I missed some that would easily find its place in the text above.  There has also been a lot of empty, pop hook, carried-by-a-beat- songs too.  The older I get, the more discerning I get between what is art and what is..what’s the word?….garbage.  (Not the band Garbage.  That would be OK).

Honorable Mention: 

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, Pearl Jam, 32 Flavors, Ani Difranco, Rise and Shine, Guster, Ran Away to the Top of the World Today, O.A.R., Wagon Wheel, Old Crow Medicine Show Version, Dust Bowl Dance, Mumford and Sons, White America, Eminem

Local Honorable Mentions:
An Artist’s Song, Lost in the Trees, Go Ahead, The Rosebuds, Manteo, The Love Language, several songs by The Avett Brothers.
Now before you go all “HOW COULD LEAVE X OFF OF THIS LIST!?” …… let’s try a different approach:  What would your list include?

We found Santa….Fe.

This year, Katie and I decided to pursue a destination Christmas.  No gifts. Just the shared experience of a vacation.  We pondered a few locations:  Denver, Colorado?, Caribbean cruise?… In the end, we decided on New Mexico.  New Mexico?!  I had never been and Katie had only driven through the State when she moved to North Carolina 8.5 years ago.  After utilizing the miracle of Google, our research turned up endless opportunities. It seems the Land of Enchantment is loaded with monuments and native history around every bend. By far, Albuquerque was the most affordable airport (Sunport), but for a 5-7 day trip, you really need to commit to Central (ABQ) and northern New Mexico or Central and Southern New Mexico. Through some recommendations we settled on Central and Northern New Mexico.  This put Santa Fe into play and northern sites such as Ojo Caliente and Taos. So, in July of this year we booked the flight, the rental car, and most of our lodging.

5 months and 1223 Google searches later, we were off to New Mexico for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 23

RDU to ABQ via HOU starting with a 5:35am flight. We encountered the most sustained turbulence on a flight ever. It was non-stop “bumpy air” along the route, but we landed in the early afternoon and jumped on the shuttle bus to the rental car center.  Learning that weather gets interesting in New Mexico in the winter, we opted for an all-wheel drive SUV.  The Enterprise staffer greeted us nicely and gave us the  ol’ “let me see what I can find for you.”  He drives up in none other than my current car:  A 2015 Hyundai Tucson.  It gets better.  The car had a Michigan  license plate. This was going to be a great trip.

Katie, as a master Yelper had some food options lined up at each stop along the way.  We made a b-line to Tia Betty Blues, a place known for authentic New Mexican dishes.  We went the tamale platter route and I made sure my dish was ordered “Christmas.”  For those that don’t know, if you want your dish topped with both red and green chiles, you order it “Christmas.”

Our first non-food stop was a visit to Albuquerque’s Old Town.  This area has a good host of shops, churches, and history, but my travel fatigue was kicking in fast.  I had booked a hotel north of the city so we weren’t too far from the Sandia Peak TramWay.  Upon checkin, we called to see if the tram was running since the wind was starting to pick up.  Good thing we did.  The tram had closed for the evening, so we headed toward…you guessed it…a brewery.  Before the brewery though, we went to Albuquerque’s River of Lights.  This was a great start to our trip and put us in the holiday spirit.  As for a brewery stop, we decided upon La Cumbre Brewing because they had a food truck called Supper  on site this evening with a great reputation.  Not only were the food truck tacos on point, but La Cumbre is one of New Mexico’s most decorated breweries in regard to competitive medals. Win. Win.

IMAG3169.jpg

River of Lights

Tuesday, December 24

We began our Tuesday morning with coffee and a donut at  Rebel Donuts. We pretty much opened the place and a stream of regulars filled the place from there.

After being properly caffeinated, we charted our course for Petroglyph National Monument.  En route, we had some time to kill before the  Petroglyph visitor center opened so we simply started driving through the desert.  Two coyotes crossed the road (well) in front of us. It was very cool to see, but sad to see the city creeping into their land. At the Petroglyph visitor center, we had 3 hiking trails to choose from and ended up picking out one that was very close to the Inn we had just checked out of. The hike was awesome and included ancient petroglyphs, hot air balloons overhead, large hares, and even some snow flurries.

IMAG3176.jpg

Petroglyph National Monument

After the hike and some beverage and snack shopping ,it was time to take the short 75 minute drive north to Santa Fe. We figured it was too early to check into our hotel room and we were right.  Not to worry, we had already purchased tickets to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  Pretty fascinating work; particularly those of the New Mexico landscape and an equally fascinating artist.

Still needing to kill some time, we grabbed lunch and walked in and around downtown Santa Fe in the Historic Plaza area.  After a while, Katie continued to stimulate the economy and I went back to get us checked into our room for the next 2 nights.

1509137_10104466465589052_4229564422483552343_n.jpg

Historic Plaza selfie

After a customary late afternoon nap, it was time to check out the famous Canyon Road Farrolito Walk. Imagine 200+ art galleries, 30,000 people, fire barrels, Christmas Caroling, and thousands of luminarias. Yeah, it was pretty special.

1923168_10103528724799105_364443981884497607_n.jpg

Canyon Road Farrolitos

Post-farrolitos, we grabbed a drink on the Plaza at Draft Station before enjoying a super Christmas Eve dinner at Fire and Hops. Good fare. Good brews.

Wednesday, December 25

Waking up on Christmas morning in a hotel room is unique, but we had no regrets about our destination Christmas and New Mexico adventure. We hit a mid-morning viewing of The Big Short. Great movie.  However, it is highly depressing that is based on a true story that we all lived through and that shady crooks still exist in our country.

We got a hike in just on the outskirts of downtown and were able to see the Capitol (a round building, as if New Mexico is saying to the other States, “Nice domes, our whole building is round!) and parts of the Guadalupe District near the Railyard area. Dinner was at Thai Vegan and we sincerely hope our server knows how much we appreciate her working on Christmas Day. We also hope she was paid and tipped handsomely.

After some downtime at the hotel, we went on the hunt for an open establishment to provide us a Christmas nightcap. After weaving up and down city streets, we stumbled upon Evangelos Cocktail Lounge. We peeked into the windows and this is what we saw:  townies, “cash only,” no beer taps (but plenty of bottles/cans), and mostly darkness.  For some reason we balked at this dive bar opportunity at first and circled the block only to find ourselves back at Evangelos. We were so happy we did.  We chatted with the owner/bartender/chain smoker for a bit and sat and smiled through our Christmas nightcap experience.  A perfect end to a memorable Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 26

We started this day at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.  It was about 19 degrees as well as the day after Christmas, so not too many vendors were out.  The Farmer’s Market is in Railyard Park, which is loaded with even more art galleries and some great parks and opens spaces. We had a great walk and snapped many photos, including the one you see below.

IMAG3195_1.jpg

Railyard Park

Next, we had another 1 hour drive north to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Spa.  We are not fancy people, but decided to have one splurge day that was surrounded by bratty and entitled people.  The staff was so nice, but I saw some really sour interactions from “guests.”  Not our cup of tea, but we were going to make the most of this experience as neither one of us has visited a hot springs. Our introduction to the springs was pretty rough. It was sub-20 degrees and the winds were about 20 MPH. We thought we were being smart by having flip flops and ski caps to wear moving between pools, but they simply froze in the arctic air. Our bodies now relaxed, we really enjoyed some quiet time before checking out some fires pits and fireplaces on the property.

Friday, December 27

Evidently, there is a winter storm called Goliath over the mountain from where we are staying.  We did see some snow and certainly felt the cold, but never encountered any treacherous driving conditions.  Each of our locations skirted the “pink” warning areas on the Winter Storm Alert  maps.

We began our morning with a hike (see a pattern here?) across a land of now fading pueblos. It was cold, but just a beautiful hike and every direction looked like it could either be a painting or a postcard. After the hike we returned to the mineral springs.  This day was awesome.  Not many people tackled the cold so we had many of the pools to ourselves throughout the morning.  (Pool examples:  arsenic, soda, iron, and lithia). There was also a sauna and a (too) intense eucalyptus steam room.  To end our stay, Katie took a yoga class and I read in the resort lobby. Restful bliss.

On the road again. Another 1 hour desert drive brought us to Taos Mesa Brewing after crossing the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Typically, we would have gotten outside at both locations and taken pictures, but it was crazy windy and cold. We were let down by Taos Mesa’s beers, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more unique location surrounded by desert and mountains. DJ Miles Bonny  (and his kids) provided the awesome music and entertainment throughout our time there.

On this day, we began to hit our vacation “wall.” We weren’t motivated to do much of anything. We were staying the night in Taos, but between the cold and being exhausted, we didn’t check out much of the highy-recommended town.  Taos, like Ojo Caliente, was full of those suffering from “affluenza.”  To quote Katie, “Even the dogs are jerks!” (at one point an unaccompanied dog blocked us on a sidewalk and just growled, lost focus, and walked off). Only half-kidding, Taos. We were cold and grumpy this day 🙂

The Taos Ale House  provided some town redemption  with great food and brews, but we had obviously reached our silver spoon, trust fund kid, 1-percenter limit.

Saturday, December 28

Entering our last full day of vacation, we grabbed our customary coffee and took off on the 2.5 hour jaunt back to Albuquerque.  Since it was north of the city, it was time for Sandia Peak Tram redemption. We rolled up to a 45-60 minute wait to get on the tram.  It ended up being well-worth the wait. The views were stunning and no doubt you will eventually see a gazillion photos on a social media site, but it was hella windy and cold.  Even with multiple layers on all parts of our body, we only lasted about 20 minutes and took the next tram 2.7 miles back down to the tram station.

IMAG3203.jpg

Over 10K feet and above the clouds at Sandia Peak

By now, we were very hungry.  Katie scoped out another food winner and we checked into our low budget hotel with paper thin doors and walls near the car rental return and airport.

Today was the day that CMU was playing Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl.  We watched the first half at our posh La Quinta Inn, but went off to a Bosque Brewing Company Public House to watch the second half.  Before our trip, we had not heard of Bosque, but by the end of it, it was up near the top of our New Mexico craft beer favorites alongside La Cumbre. CMU lost the game, but I was happy to be with my wife, grateful for the week we just experienced, and excited to get home. Dinner was at Bistronomy B2B in the Nob Hill district. This whole area had a really good vibe and is someplace we would definitely explore more should we return to Albuquerque. 4am alarm set.  Off to bed.

Sunday, December 29

4am comes early, even if your body is still slightly on eastern time.  (New Mexico is mountain time). After an easy checkout, I return to the car to hear Katie say, “we need petro.”  Ack!  My plan was to fill up the rental car the night before so I didn’t have to worry about it at 4:15 in the morning.  Luckily we allowed ourselves plenty of time for a 6:05am flight and even more luckily, 7-11 is open 24 hours and came through in the clutch once it was stumbled upon.  My internal Slurpee radar led us there without even firing up the GPS.

Car filled up. Car dropped off. Shuttle to the airport. On time departure ABQ-HOU.  We had a perfect 1 hour layover in Houston.  This was plenty of time to grab coffee and a snack and get to our next gate.  We boarded close to on time only to sit at the gate for 1 hour and 40 minutes with a maintenance issue. The result:  I actually finished a book! Rare feat.

Once in the air, HOU to RDU was smooth and it felt great once we landed, even if it was totally weird to land to 70 degree temps..in December.

Returning home always feels good and we were so pleased in reflection of our New Mexico journey.  I won’t say we will go every Christmas without exchanging gifts, but I can tell you I didn’t miss out on anything by not doing so. If anything I received the gift of a shared experience with my wife and a fond appreciation of many new things:  the kindness and creativity of the residents of New Mexico and the beauty of their historical and enchanting land.  These memories are our priceless gifts. In a word: Go.

10355_10103541117059915_1206452231587662689_n.jpg