When my high school counselor first told me “It’s not where you start, but where you finish,” I was disgruntled. He shared that dictum in response to where I wanted to go to college and, at the time, I expected more encouragement than pragmatism. Unfortunately for me (at the time), he was right. I didn’t get into Northwestern out of high school. Instead, I went to community college, applied again and was accepted as one of two transfers to the School of Communication at Northwestern.
His phrase, which may be a twisted epitaph, was likely born out of his role as the coach of the cross country team. As I mature and only run to catch trains, his advice has proven to be a life truth. But its utility is when looking in the past. In the moment it’s easy to lose sight of what could be.
It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.
There was a TED talk that explored how resilient we are when facing the extremes of life. People experience traumatic events and survive. They don’t return to life as they previously knew it, but they adapt, they grow, they persevere. It isn’t about where you start, but where you finish.
With a new year freshly in front of me, I set aside some time to reflect on 2016. It was a full year; full of challenges, new experiences, important life lessons. Let’s take a look back! Continue reading 2016: A Year of Advice
In a city known for its music, an evening trip to the opera is a must. Prior to Vienna, I’d only been to one sampling of the operatic arts for a preview show at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. That program was 90 minutes and featured selected works from all of their upcoming operas.
On our first night in Vienna, after a flight full of aspiring baby opera hopefuls, we decided to go big and see Macbeth performed by one of the preeminent opera companies in the world.
Looking at available tickets a few weeks ago wasn’t encouraging. Opera is expensive, especially when going to see one of the best in an opulent setting. There are tickets for 20€, but those were long gone. The available tickets were in the 60-300€ range. A bit more than we intended to spend.
Have no fear; Rick Steves is here! For tourists, or those who just want a sample, there are standing room tickets known as Stehplatz. Turn up to the theater 90 minutes before curtain, wait in line and then grab standing room tickets for 3€ each. Rick’s book on Vienna has full details on where to go to get your stehplatz ticket.
Once inside, we followed the custom and roped off two spots with our scarves. The scarves serve as placeholders so you can wander around the opera house before showtime. When I travel, I often wonder if certain customs would work in the US. I can almost guarantee this polite claiming of space would result in a Macbethian death match in the US. You’d lose your scarf, space or both. For a moment, I considered swapping my scarf with someone else’s for a more advantageous view.The opera was beautiful. Alas, after a long flight, a disco nap and wandering the streets of Vienna, my ability to remain awake was tested. Without shame, I admit I fell asleep to some of the most luscious sounds. At intermission some of the tourists cleared out so Leann and I moved up a row. After my opera nap, I was ready for Act II. We lasted a bit longer before calling it a night. Upon looking at our phones for the time, we discovered we’d only been at the Staatsoper for about an hour. There were two more hours of Macbeth.
Thankfully for me, Leann’s knowledge of Shakespeare meant I could be filled in on the ending on our stroll to find dinner.
Pro-tip for anyone traveling: if your eight-hour flight is littered with crying babies, going to the opera can be simultaneously the best and worst decision you make for things to do on day one.
Leann and I are in Vienna, Austria; the city that seems to have invented classical music and fried meat cutlets. The weather was dreary today, but far warmer than Chicago. As has become our tradition, we spent our first day wandering the city to get oriented on landmarks and get a sense of the city’s pulse. My first thoughts are Vienna loves Christmas and commerce. There are tons of stores, many clothing brands from the US, and huge Christmas decorations on most streets.
Thanks to a disco nap post-babies on a plane, we were able to wander around and see some of the attractions. The city’s layout is reminiscent of Rome, with cobblestone streets, winding roads and huge churches. The upside is there are great discoveries as you wander. The downside is it’s difficult to stay on target with your destination since the streets often are rings and angle away from where you want to go.
We did a large amount today, especially considering we got less than an hour of sleep during the flight. We checked out an impressive baroque church, got schnit-faced with a huge pork cutlet, took in “Macbeth” in Verdi’s operatic account at the Shakespearean thriller, ate sachertorte and goulash.
Fun fact: don’t order water in restaurants. We tried unsuccessfully to request tap water and received bottles of water that cost more than our food. I told myself I’d let it go. But I can’t.
In happy news, the city is pretty and has a lot more discoveries in store for us tomorrow.
For those who missed the live stream last night, here is the dramatic saga of one man’s quest to fix a running toilet.
On a day focused on giving, I was presented an unexpected gift tonight on #GivingTuesday. It wasn’t wrapped and it wasn’t something on an Amazon wishlist.
For those that don’t know me that well, it’s best I share that I am quite frugal. My friends tell me I am cheap. Seldom do I put a fair value on my time and choose convenience over cost. This past weekend I drove 25 minutes to the car dealer for a “free” car wash. Then another 15 minutes to drive home. I traded an hour of my life for a $3 car wash.
As is quickly becoming a pattern, whenever I hustle out of the office to catch an express train home, something goes amiss. One train lost power at the station and was unable to roll homeward. Another train was halted due to a collision at a station in between my home and the city. Continue reading Unintended Gifts on #GivingTuesday
After strong winds, the garden is mostly intact and some plants are leaning. The cherry tomatoes are still growing at a rapid pace. The race now is if any of the tomatillos, poblano peppers and zucchini will get to full size before frost.
For a stint in my teens, I baby sat three young boys with my sister. My sister had far more experience than I when it came to babysitting. The boys were all under the age of 8 and recently got a puppy. One weekend, my sister wasn’t able to watch the boys so the parents opted to give me a shot at solo duty. The boys were very well behaved…when my sister and I were there. But when it was just me the dynamic changed. The numbers were against me. Mutiny was inevitable. In addition to the puppy, the boys added a hamster to their burgeoning petting zoo.
Wrangling three young boys isn’t easy, especially when fights erupt over allegations of cheating at Super Smash Brothers. One of the boys “hit” the other. Tears began to form. Whether or not they were mine or the boys you’ll never know.
I managed to keep them entertained and out of the ER for the evening. When it was bed time, the two older boys put on their pajamas without incident, but the little guy proved to be more of a challenge. His jammies were of the Superman variety and included a cape. Beyond my pajama envy, there was a problem. He didn’t want to brush his teeth. Rather than be the cool babysitter who didn’t care whether or not he brushed, I feared my future as a babysitter rode on his dental hygiene. His parents would ask him during breakfast if he brushed his teeth and if he answered negatively, my future at getting tenure as a babysitter was gone like Superman out of a phone booth. Continue reading In Praise of Lester Holt