Happy Mother’s Day To One Brave Lady

My mother, Marion Brown, being cool on a trip to Connecticut.

I was about an hour away from having a doctor stick a knife into me and splice open my skin when the nerves started getting the better of me.

This was just about three years ago and, in the larger scheme of things, going under the knife for an umbilical hernia was rather minor surgery and I would be home in a matter of hours.

To calm my nerves, though, I only had to think of one person.

My mother.

Marion Brown.

I was closing in on 50 years of age when I had this surgery and came through it was flying colors, I suppose.

But to make sure I don’t sound like a little boy crying for his mommy when he was scared, I decided today – Mother’s Day – is the perfect day to share that story.

The reason I thought of my mother is because more than a decade earlier she bravely faced major surgery – open heart surgery for a valve replacement.

How could I be scared of a three-inch incision next to my belly button when my mother had survived – and thrived – after something much more serious?

But it also made me think of my mother in a different light.

Brave?

Yes, brave.

It dawned on me that my mother had shown many different levels of bravery over the course of her own whole life.

Knowledge of that left me rather staggered and stunned.

My mother was a brave woman.

She was born in Watford, England, and it was just today that I realized that her bravery might have started there and then.

During World War II, her father, my grandfather, was one of 11 brothers who went off to fight for the allied forces in defense of their country, against the epitome of history’s most-evil figure.

God blessed our family as all 11 brothers came home safe and sound.

My mother remembers racing into bomb shelters, or hiding under stairs during the war. She remembers seeing the red skies over London, just 16 miles away, as the city burned from one of the Nazi forces steady bombing runs.

Our children are growing up worried that the cable will go out, or the Internet gets bogged down and streaming videos start to lag.

My mother was hiding in bomb shelters hoping her father would come home from the war.

The times they have a changed.

In the mid-1960s, she and my dad hopped up on a ship and left their entire family behind – save for a sister, my aunt – for a new life in the United States.

That’s bravery, right there.

She knew one person on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but she decided to head off into the great unknown, leaving everything she knew behind.

I left Bangor, Maine, in the fall of 1998, moving three hours south to Dover, N.H., and I had a small (albeit left unsaid) concern about being alone from the only home I had ever known.

My mother wound up having three kids – none of us perfect, each of us testing her in our own vastly different ways.

My mother with her first born.

She loved us all, though, (some more than others, right favorite middle-sister Michelle? Ha) and says she’s proud of where we all have ended up in life.

It is us, though, that should be proud of her.

She made a life for us, making sure we never went without, even if that meant months of government cheese and powdered eggs during our darker times.

She knew nothing about sports, but she would make it a point to go to my games in Little League and in high school. Or, sould be sit there beside me in the living room watching an NCAA college basketball game.

She went through a divorce and made it a point to never bad mouth our father, and when she remarried, she opened her home and her heart to two other children.

She quit smoking (after I moved out of the house, which she claims to be the reason she was able to quit) and along with my step father she became a home owner.

They owned their own business, showing us children first-hand what hard work was all about.

And, after she got all five of us kids out of the house, she started to travel to see many different places she wanted to see.

As proud as she was to be our mother, I sense a deeper pride in becoming the grandmother of our own children.

My mother, left, and step-father along with my son.

I can only hope they brave the future she faced her own so many years ago.

The last year as been tough on my mother as a variety of different maladies and infections have chipped away at her health.

Yet she keeps fighting back, refusing to give in.

There’s that bravery thing again.

She’s even proud (brave?) enough to admit she’s a Donald Trump supporter.

I’m not perfect and this proves that neither is she.

But I remain proud of my mother, one of the bravest woman I know.

And I love her and thank her for everything she’s done for me over the past 51 years and one week.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Stay strong. Stay brave.

An American Tragedy: A Fallen Star is Dead

Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez listens during his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Mass., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Hernandez is accused in the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancée’s sister. (AP Photo/Dominick Reuter, Pool)

Like every other New England Patriots fan — well, let’s make that NFL fan, why don’t we – I woke up to the news this morning that Aaron Hernandez was dead.

Hanged in his prison cell.

Just like that a former star is gone.

He was just 27.

I knew what was coming next. As I bounced around social media and the World Wide Web this morning, I would find a lot of hatred pointed in his direction.

After all, he blew an opportunity 99 percent of us can only dream about – success, money, adoration – and was found guilty of blowing it all by killing a man.

Me?

To be honest, I don’t feel any hatred.

I feel sadness.

Aaron Hernandez was a convicted murderer, yes, and he also killed his golden goose.

But he was also a son, a brother, a father.

As much as people hated him, he was also loved.

So I’m sad to hear this news this morning. For his family. For this whole damn story.

When I moved to Connecticut nearly 10 years ago, Aaron Hernandez was a senior in high school.

I was never a fan. He was a helluva football player, though. The colleges were calling. The NFL scouts was watching. The girls were flocking.

The world was his oyster.

His world was his downfall.

The word I’ve heard a lot today – just heard it on ESPN, in fact – was that Aaron Hernandez wanted to be a gangster more than he wanted to be a football star.

As such, his posse of hangers on weren’t ideal choices and trouble also seemed to follow the talented tight end at many turns.

His father died when he was 16 and things changed, people say.

Instead of going to play football at Connecticut, he opted to go to Florida, a national power.

Warning signals were fired almost immediately.

In 2007, Hernandez was in a restaurant drinking – despite being just 17 – and tried to leave without paying. He threw a punch that landed on a restaurant employee, rupturing the employee’s eardrum.

Later that fall, Hernandez was linked to a shooting of three people in Gainesville.

It was a sign of things to come.

Despite being drafted by the New England Patriots, Hernandez couldn’t escape his darker side.

In 2012 and 13, Hernandez was linked to three more shootings.

One of them – the murder of a man named Odin Lloyd – would begin Hernandez’s downfall.

He would be found guilty and sentenced to live in prison without parole.

Just days ago, he was found not guilty in another shooting.

And now he’s gone.

His story is over, but this story, for now, is just beginning.

People are offering up their opinions – some just flat-out emotional, others with some thought and conviction, others just spouting off at the mouth because they have their own hatred built into their own lives.

Today, the New England Patriots visit the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl championship.

A day of joy has been tinged with some mourning, some anger, some hatred.

Me?

Well, to me the whole story is just sad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Hernandez family today. Same to Lloyd’s family and the families of any other victims would might have been wronged by the poor choices of a man who made some mistakes.

It’s the end of another American tragedy.

What did you say? Listening to my body

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For the most part, I feel like I’m in tune with my body. As such, my body communicates back to me pretty well.

I know I’m fat. I know I need to lose weight.

That is why I joined a gym last month.

Granted due to my scatter-shot work schedule while juggling two jobs, I’ve only been able to get to the gym on two occasions since I’ve joined, but that’s more on me than anything.

 

As the Little River Band said, I need to, “Take time to make time; Make time to be there.”

So at 10 this morning I trudged into my local Crunch Fitness for a free one-hour welcome-to-the-club appointment with a trainer.

As I said, I know my body.

I also know the trainers are in the gym to book training time and make money.

But, I went into this session with one goal in mind — to find exercises to help strengthen and gain flexibility in my ailing shoulders. I told the trainer straight up that’s all I wanted to do because I know I need/want to drop 30 pounds before I even considered raising my training goals at all.

My shoulders, however, are an issue I need to address sooner than later.

Playing golf more than 15 years ago, I injured my right shoulder. I don’t remember the moment, or the shot, but I remember the burning pain and sensation that followed. I was working as a freelance writer at the time and had no insurance, so with Obama-care still a decade-plus away, I never got it fixed.

The pain subsided over time, but the mobility in that shoulder has been limited since and has gotten worse with age.

I haven’t played golf since, but it’s an old injury that crops up far too often these days. In short, it now affects my day-to-day living.

My trainer, Lionel, was a nice-enough guy. Twenty six years old and in shape, he was a fan of the Boston Celtics and the New England Patriots. For a Maine native like me, living so close to New York, City, I could live with that.

He weighed me (too high, but down three pounds from when I last weighed myself), took my BMI (off-the-chart high, albeit it barely) and as we warmed up for five minutes on the treadmill we talked nutrition.

We did two sets of one minute on this rope-climb machine, including one on the hardest level.

We moved to a machine that worked my shoulders in a couple of different positions — first facing the “weights”, then facing away. Three sets of 12s and he told me how good I was doing. (Butter me up, yeah, I get it).

We worked with some free weights, doing this two-pronged exercise that was part curl, part overhead lift. Again, three sets of 12.

I was feeling the burn in my shoulders, but it was nothing too bad.

In the past, I’ve known the feeling of giving 110 percent and running until I puked.

This was kid’s stuff.

Until it wasn’t.

Then my body reminded me, I’m not a kid.

I had just done my second set using some sort of rope that provides stress and tension when the world started to go fuzzy.

My left shoulder — which is my good shoulder — started screaming at me. I asked for a moment before starting the third set.

I didn’t get full-blown dizzy, but I did get fuzzy headed. My vision didn’t get blurry, but it was hard to focus. The ears felt filled with cotton as the music that was blasting through the gym sounded as though it was suddenly being played behind a brick wall.

I never went down, but I did sit. I had to sit.

The trainer was talking and I tried to listen, but my body wouldn’t let me focus. He was almost doing his imitation of Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah wah wha wha … wah wah wah wha.”

The worst was over quickly, but the symptoms didn’t disappear with any speed.

As I sat, I tried to regain my wits. I told him I had eaten breakfast earlier that morning. He said it could be dehydration, though I had been drinking water through the workout. He got me a second bottle and handed it to me.

He asked if I usually worked out in a hoodie. Normally, I don’t … just a t-shirt.

“You could have just overheated,” he said. “It came on fast.”

Just like a car, I thought. One minute you’re chugging down at highway at 55 miles per hour, the next you’re parked on the side of the road swearing.

I took off the gray Hampden Academy Basketball sweatshirt I was wearing, pulling it over my head, letting the cool gym air waft over me.

I started feeling better quickly after that.

Overheating? Perhaps.

I told the trainer I was shutting myself down for the day and he understood, again telling me how good I was doing and he had no concerns over it at all. He seemed surprised how quickly it struck.

Him? Try being me.

I wasn’t pushing too hard, at least it didn’t feel like it when I was doing the exercises. It all seemed pretty tame … though my muscles were feeling it.

Feel the pain? Feel the burn?

For the record, the heart felt fine. No chest pain, no numbness or tingling, or anything out of the norm.

It’s odd that this workout and, hence, this post comes just days after I posted about the loss of a coach who died following a workout back in my home state of Maine.

It’s been almost an hour and a half since the “crash” happened I’m sitting here writing with fatigued shoulders, but everything else feels fine.

I’ll try to get back to the gym tomorrow for a nice leisurely 5K walk. The next day, I’ll try another mile or two and throw in a few of those shoulder exercises.

My body tells me to go slow into this new routine and I know I need to listen.

We have that kind of relationship.

Today, I pushed it even when it felt like I wasn’t.

But I’m listening now.

I’m listening.

October: The Most Important Month of My Life

(Courtesy of picturescafe.com)

(Courtesy of picturescafe.com)

It’s October 1st.

The 31 days that make up the month of October have a long-and-storied history in the first 49 years of my life, which is surprising since I was born in May and, on paper, that should be the top month in my memory books.

For some reason, it’s October that stands the tallest.

And this October — this 50th October in my life — could very well be the most important.

October always has been a rather prolific month for me when it comes to epic memories and staggering changes in my life. Sometimes the two join forces.

I guess the reason why can be found in the very beginning. After all, my father was born in this month. Without him, there is no me.

I’ve fallen in love in the month of October. More than once.

This very blog is named after an epic two-week long “weekend” that occurred in the month of October, 1985. (In a strange twist, the blog was actually started in February of 2013 with this post, which you can read here).

One year later, October 25, found me dancing as happily as I ever have, only to be left heartbroken in the time it took a ball to dribble up the first base line and go between somebody’s legs.

Yeah, October.

Did I mention I’ve fallen in love during the month of October? More than once, too.

Last October, I made it a goal to post 31 times in the month of October. I failed miserably.

Seven times I sat here to write in this space. When I fail, I fail epically.

Crash and burn, baby.

So here I am back to say I’m going to try to do it again. And, after I hit publish here, I’m one-seventh of the way from matching last year’s total.

While I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude toward actually achieving those 31 posts, there is one thing I know about this specific October — the one that lands in the calendar year 2016.

This is the month where I plan on deciding the rest of my life.

The end-all, be-all goal is simple: Be happy. Period. I can’t remember the last time I was truly happy … at least most of the time.

You see, the last time October threw me a major life twist was nine years ago in 2007. I moved from Maine to Connecticut to accept a job with a company that was such an honor to work for.

Six months ago, that company was swallowed up by a bigger company.

When I woke up this morning, I realized it was October.

I also realized something else.

It’s time.

 

The First Step … Plus 5,000 more

Photo courtesy of active.com

Photo courtesy of active.com

There it was — 5-feet, 10-inches or so from eyes … a new-high sticking its middle finger up at me from my scale this morning.

One of the worst things that has happened to me in my first 50 years of life is spending 32 of those years working a desk job. Ok, sure, I’m living my professional dream, but doing it at the pace I do it has it not been conducive to my health.

I’m sure if I was a 9-to-5er, I’d have made some time to stay active. To play more hoops when I was younger, to play a round of golf of two during the week, to get up off my ass and pull myself away from binge-watching the latest season of “Shameless” and exercise.

Instead, my job could begin at 8 a.m., as it did last Saturday. Or noontime, as it did yesterday and today. And it could run as late as 9 or 10 o’clock.

So when I do get down time, I like to stay down … rest and relaxation.

And, more often than not, I’m eating on the go. I don’t eat a lot of fast food anymore — maybe once every two weeks. But I’m big on sandwiches because you can buy one, hold it in your hand drive to the next place.

Only I can’t do that anymore. Any of it.

Those three numbers down below told me that this morning.

So I stepped off the scale and my first step was toward my sneakers. Then toward my dresser for shorts and socks. Then out the door for a 5,000-step, 40-minute saunter with the West Wing Weekly Podcast in my ear and disappointment in myself in my heart.

But I’ve taken the first step.

Now, I just need to find the discipline to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after.

I joined a gym a little more than a year ago — a local place called “Edge Fitness” — and I did pretty well for a month or two.

Unfortunately, the people that work there were pushy when it came to “up-selling” their programs and trainers, and when you finally did sign up with the best of intentions, when the job and the real world got in the way, they didn’t care, and wouldn’t budge on matters of money, or doing what was best for the client.

They lied up front about the costs of certain things, as well.

They get your money. That’s all they wanted.

So, fed up with their attitude and poor business practices, I just stopped going.

Bottom line: That’s on me.

Those three numbers are on me, too.

Soon, I hope, they’ll be off me and the number will continue to go down.

I’ve taken the first step and I know from past experience that’s the hardest one of all to take.