Category Archives: relationships/friendships

Experiencing a Different Way of Life

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Most of the time, when we travel, we are touring.  We are visiting places.  We are going to specific destinations.  We are seeing landmarks, or specific points of interest.  Or we are going somewhere to take part in a certain event or activity.

Sometimes, we will speculate as to what it is like to live in a specific area.  Maybe we will even interact with some locals, and ask some questions.  But, even then, in a way, we are still touring.  We are getting some amount of information regarding what day-to-day life is like, but we are really only getting a snapshot of a specific point in time, and some verbal information about what may make that point different from typical day-to-day experience.

Sometimes, when we travel specifically to visit people, people we know, we get a little more of a window into what life is like in a different place.  For me, a metropolitan person, who has always lived in a city or suburban area, most of these kinds of trips involve traveling to a different city, or a suburb of a different city.  While each city, metropolitan area, and region are unique from one another, there are still some basic similarities.  I have a clear understanding of the differences between life in New York, Houston, Denver etc.  But, I also understand that there are many similarities that make life in all those places distinct from life in a more sparsely populated area.

Nederland, Colorado is not too far from home for me.  Nor is it your typical small town U.S.A.  Positioned along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, at 8200 feet elevation, and only about 40 minutes West of Boulder, it falls into the category of one of those quirky types of small towns.

This weekend turned out to be a unique experience for me.  Sometimes when we visit people, we don’t really experience their typical life.  There’s a specific event, or destination, and, in a way we all become tourists.  This weekend, that did not happen.  I ended up genuinely feeling as if I had spent some time in the day-to-day life those that live here!

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The first, and most obvious difference living here is how we get around.  To me, getting anywhere, whether it be between neighborhoods or to the center of town, involved what resembled a short hike to me.  There was no driving, Ubers, light rail, or busses, just walking along a series of trails that felt, and also typically smelled as if I were on a camping trip.

I also began to notice, and even feel, a difference in energy.  Things feel calmer, less urgent, less competitive.  This, of course, is both good and bad.  The good is the ability to relax, not feel like you are competing with everyone you see, and take time to enjoy some of the things around you.  The flip side is that lines move slower, people move slower, and most things take a little longer.  Even while enjoying the reprieve from the stress of everyday life, I recognized that, given that I wish Denver were faster moving than it is, I could never permanently move to a place like this.  I did however, fully immerse myself in the experience while I was here.

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The strangest thing that happened was finally getting a good understanding of a different perspective on a common conflict.  The center of town was packed with what many people refer to as “leafers”.  These are people who drive from the city to some nearby forested area to see fall colors.  Living in Denver, I am technically one of them, as I had been nearly every year.

Immersed in the Nederland experience, I experienced this from the other side.  Feeling the frustration of people dealing with things they don’t normally have to deal with, like waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, traffic jammed up on all of the main roads, and a significant number of people in the lake, I began to understand why people who live in places like this don’t immediately calculate the benefits of tourism on their local economy on days like this.

This month, and for the remainder of 2016, one of my goals is to try harder to see things from the perspective of others.  I just feel like a lot of things in my life, whether it be putting together a presentation with specific audience in mind, or interactions with people, will go a lot more smoothly if I genuinely make an effort to understand them from the perspective of others.

Travel has, once again, taught me a valuable lesson.  To fully immerse myself in this experience, I had to, in a way, let go, of what I know, what I expect, and even what I want.  If more of us, both in our travels, and in our day-to-day lives were to approach people, experiences, and issues, with much of this pre-concpetion taken out of our minds, we would likely have a more positive impact on the lives of one another.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on what we believe in, especially strongly held conviction.  It means taking them out of our mind, for at the very least a few minutes, to hear what others have to say, and feel what others feel.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 2

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I came back to the Chicago area for a number of reasons.  In fact, I had so many reasons to be here, it would have been hard to justify not being here.  Simply put, it was where I needed to be at this particular time, despite the fact that I now live elsewhere.

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The primary reason for my visit was to meet my family’s newest member; my nephew, who was born only a week before I arrived back in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, where both my parents, and my sister/ brother-in-law live.  At the age of 8 days, I got to meet him, and was able to subsequently spend some time with him over the course of the following week.  However, as I sit back at my home in Denver, I cannot help but think of what I am missing out on being 1000 miles away from “home”.  Specifically, I am thinking of this newborn baby, who will go through different phases of development, possibly on a daily to weekly basis for some time to come, as life changes at a faster pace for children than it does for adults.  Even if I come back twice a year, there are phases in his development I am destined to miss.  That is just the way it is.

However, my mind also drifts to all the rest of my family members, as well as my friends, back here in Chicago (as well as the surrounding area).  While adults have lives that do not go through changes in as rapid of succession as children, and it is easier to “catch up”, we still do have experiences on a daily basis.  And, as much as some people post much of their daily lives on social media, or do a decent job of keeping in touch, I do wonder what I am missing.  I dwell on the fun daily events, strange occurrences and “inside jokes” that made all of the people around me so much fun to be around.  But, I also dwell on the ups and downs, and the times when someone important to you just simply needs some encouragement, or, conversely, some advice.

I was wearing a suit the day I met my nephew, as I was on my way to the first of a number of events I would also attend over the course of the week.  This one, a wedding for one of my good friends from college, in Northwest Indiana.

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Here, not only did I get to witness the big day for the bride and groom, but as is common with events like this, I got the chance to hang out with several other friends from college.  In a way it was just like it was back in the day.  There are some people in all of our lives who we can not see for weeks, months, years, and still just pick right back up where we left off as if we had just seen each other the previous day.  I am blessed to have a good number of people like this in my life.

However, there was an obvious difference between now and then, and that is children.  Some of my friends also traveled a significant distance to be at this wedding, and they did so with children.  It is actually pretty inspiring to me, as they had decided somewhat spontaneously to travel to Indiana for this wedding, and were still able to do so despite having a 5 year old and a (not quite) 5 month old respectively.  And, they stayed at the wedding longer than many other people.  It makes me think of a future chapter of life, that my involve children of my own, with a lot more hope, that maybe the “your life is over” camp are significantly exaggerating when they describe the impact starting a family has on one’s life.  So, as was the case with so much of my trip, I was simultaneously living out a past “chapter” of my life, while also getting glimpses of a future “chapter”.

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In fact, the rest of my week was also partially a baby/child meeting tour.  I wanted to try to see as many people, and take part in as many events with my friends, as possible, while still spending a significant amount of time with my family and my new nephew.  Luckily, many of my friends were able to work with me schedule-wise to create a successful trip!  And, I got to take part in all kinds of activities ranging from simple lunches to crazy nights out in large groups.  Over the course of the week, I was living the life I had lived as a child, as a young adult, and as I will live it in the future.  In a way, I spent the week in one place, but in another way, I was in too many different places to count.

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The Chicago metropolitan area is centered around downtown, where trains from all directions converge, as do countless people every day.  It also includes countless suburbs, and even Northwest Indiana.  It is a place where, much like my experiences over the course of the past week, people are doing everything from working hard and playing hard, to relaxing, to trying to do the best the can to raise a family.

And, when I see my newborn nephew, or any newborn child, I see the great equalizer.

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Every single person, from the most successful to the biggest failures, from Bill Gates to habitual criminal, from the most personable to the biggest asshole, began as a vulnerable newborn infant, just like this.  No matter who someone is, they started out in this position, as a baby, completely dependent on someone else to survive and reach adulthood.  And, in the pool of newborn babies at the hospital at any given time, are people that will one day go on to become influential individuals both good and bad, people that will make their families proud, but also people who will one day disappoint, and people who will be nothing but kind and generous to their fellow human beings, but also people who will treat others with contempt and recklessness.  But, for now, each child I met over the course of this week is just a child, a person trying to figure out the world around them in various stages.  All we can do for them is give a good example.  Over the course of the week, I found myself repeating one phrase to the children I had encountered; “A positive attitude is contagious”.  When I smiled at a child, they would often smile back.  It is basic human nature, and one of the most powerful tools we can take into our day-to-day lives to produce the best possible outcomes.

The GoPro Mountain Games

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One week prior to departing for the GoPro Mountain Games, I had no idea that the GoPro Mountain Games even existed!  I would never have thought that GoPro, the company that makes those portable cameras, would decide to sponsor an event like this.  It’s not that it’s one of those things that makes no sense, like McDonalds sponsoring bike rides in Chicago.  In fact, when I looked into the event upon being invited, it made perfect sense to me.  It is those GoPro cameras that people use to film their outdoor adventures, from skiing to mountain biking, climbing, and even those crazy people that swing from arches in Utah.  Thinking about that, it makes perfect sense for GoPro to put together an outdoor celebration like this in Vail, Colorado.  It is just something I would not have thought of had I not been informed of the event.

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In some ways, Vail is a very different place in the summer.  Accustomed to seeing the ski resort in winter, covered with snow to ski on, it looks quite different by June.  Also, with skiing being the main reason people make the trip up to Vail, some things are cheaper.  Not only was the hotel I stayed at in Vail Village a place I wouldn’t consider unaffordable during the ski season, but breakfasts like the one pictured above, normally $20 per person, are free from April to November.

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However, in some ways, Vail is the same place, regardless of season.  The nightlife definitely felt the same as it had in the winter.  The Gondola was still running (what for, I do not know).  And, no matter what time of year you visit Vail, you generally encounter the same mix of people; wealthy but generally casual and in good shape.  It is a crowd I can never figure out whether or not I truly fit in with.  I love skiing and the outdoors, but I am not rich, and I still have many attitudes about life that are way more East Coast than West Coast.

The GoPro Mountain Games consist of many different kinds of events, including biking, climbing, kayaking, running, and even dog jumping.  I think there is even a Yoga event in there.  The easiest way for me to think of it is to imagine the (above mentioned) demographic group that attends this event, and then think of everything this group of people do.

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The event with the biggest draw is called “bouldering”.  It is basically the kind of climbing that you do inside at the gym, as opposed to the climbing you do outside with ropes and such.  Watching this event was interesting primarily because everybody in the crowd cheered for everybody.  Unlike in the Olympics, where we primarily only cheer for those from our own country, and team sports where we genuinely cheer for one team to beat another, in this event, everybody appears to genuinely want everybody to succeed.

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The craziest event was definitely an event called “8 Ball”.  In this event, kayakers race down the river.  However, along the route, there are a bunch of guys in kayaks with 8-Ball wet suits on that basically play defense.  They attempt to impede the racers along their route towards the finish line.  I really wonder who came up with this one!

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My favorite event was an event called dock dogs.  In this event, dogs, mainly retrievers and shepherds, jump off a dock into a large pool of water.  The dog whose jump is the longest is crowned the winner of this event.

I loved this event for two reasons.  First of all, I love dogs.  I own one, and in many of the hiking entries in this blog, you will see photos of my Siberian Husky.  Second, I just love how goofy it really is.  The dogs are prompted to jump off the dock when their owners throw this long cylindrical toy for them to chase.  It looked exactly like what one would encounter while hanging out at a lake home in Wisconsin.  In fact, the world record holder in this event is from Minnesota!

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For a weekend trip to a major event a couple of hours away, this trip was a spontaneous one.  I was basically invited to come along on this trip on the Monday four days prior to departure.  To add to that, I only really knew one person of the eight others involved, the guy who invited me.  It is the kind of invitation that most people would have dozens of reasons to say no to, from previous plans to personal budgeting and even the much more onerous social anxiety.  But, those that remain open to, and say yes to invitations like these are often rewarded with some unexpected significant experiences.

I have come to the realization that one of the most effective ways to meet people and make friends is through mutual friends.  Some of the best friends I have here in Denver I have made through having one or more mutual friends.  The same is true of pretty much every other place I have ever lived.  For some strange reason it is easier to form a bond with someone who knows some of the same people.  Someone who chooses to hang out with the same kind of people is likely to be someone you have a lot in common with.  In fact, in my experience of forming friendships this way, there has even been little to no reliance on mutual acquaintances for conversation topics.  It just naturally starts itself.  Or maybe that is just the way I am.  Either way, it was great to have decided to head to this event, and it serves as a reminder of how much our lives are enriched by spontaneity!

A Weekend to Remember for Under $100?

Genesee Park is a place I had never really thought too much about.  For most of my first year and a half in Colorado, I was barely aware of it’s existence.  I mostly knew that there was some kind of park at the spot along Interstate 70 where the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains first appear, which is about half an hour west of Denver.  But, on most of those trips I would be on my way to the ski resort, or some other destination that is more well known, and farther West along the interstate.  With about half a day’s worth of spare time, and little appetite for a long drive, as holiday travels await, I decided to explore this area and see what I would find.

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Not surprisingly, I was the only person at Genesee Park today.  Not only is it off-season for places like this, but it is also a weekday, a time when most other people are working.  In addition, the park was closed for the season.  Being alone in a place like this is somewhat of a strange experience, especially for someone who is accustomed to an urban environment, with a plethora of noise and crowds.  However, being completely alone was what allowed me to truly tap into my imagination and discover what could come of a place like this during the summertime.

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What surprised me about this mountain park were the plethora of available activities.  The two short red poles are obviously for horseshoes, and the two taller metal poles are for setting up a volleyball net.

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Additionally, the park had a pretty wide open softball field, which even included a home plate and a backstop.  Combined with a subtle smell of wood near the stoves adjacent to the picnic tables and I instantly imagined myself here on a warm summer’s day, with groups of campers taking part in a multitude of activities.  I pictured not only the activities the park is specifically set up for, but a multitude of others, such as Ultimate Frisbee, or just simply goofing off with all of the logs and pine cones all over the ground.  Children seem to never run out of things to do at a place like this, but sometimes a weekend up here can bring out that imaginative side of adults as well.  With the right group of people, a simple weekend away at a place like this could prove to be quite memorable.

It also dawned on me that the experiencing I am currently imagining at this place would also be quite inexpensive, at least compared to many other activities.  I did not do the math, to calculate the cost of gas, food, tents, etc., but I could not imagine it coming out to more than $100 per person.  In fact, it could end up being quite a bit less.  Just the thought of having an incredible weekend like this for such a small price demonstrates what is really important in this world.

It is odd that Christmas time, a time originally designed for people to reflect on what is really important in life, can now have the opposite effect.  Regardless of what people think of the practice, few people avoid the stress involved in purchasing Christmas gifts at this time of year.  But, what is it that people really want?  And what do people really need for Christmas?  After a quick mental survey of the people I know, as well as society as a whole, I came to the conclusion that while a new shirt may help someone’s confidence, and a new game may prove fun to play with, we are generally looking in the wrong places to satisfy ourselves.  What many of us need is not a new gadget, or an expensive coat.  What we need is more subtle.  We need things like companionship, appreciation, a sense of purpose, and security.  These are the things that we can often find at places like Genesee Park when we share experience with one other, and share ourselves with one another amongst the breathtaking backdrop of some unexpected mountain views.

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However, it seems to me that all too often, rather than looking to places like Genesee, or to the people around us to fulfill what we need in life, we look to places like this.

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I will certainly give and receive presents this Christmas.  Some may even excite me quite a bit.  But, in the long run, the things that matter most will be more reflected in the way we view ourselves, the way we view life, the people around us, the way we treat one another, and the experiences we all have.

Takeaways from My Fall Road Trip

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This image provides a basic outline of where I went on my fall road trip.  I did end up deviating from this path a bit, but it still provides a good reference regarding the places I visited, and the length of time I was out of town- roughly two weeks when the time I spent in Chicago is factored in.

This was the kind of trip where all of the pieces of the puzzle came together quite nicely.  I knew I wanted to take a road trip this fall.  First of all, for those of us that live in Colorado and take advantage of the outdoor activities the state has to offer, it is the ideal time of year to take a road trip.  The season for summer activities has come to an end, but the main ski season has not yet begun.  So, basically leaving Colorado in the autumn (or the spring) has the lowest opportunity cost.

More importantly though, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the spare time I have right now while I have it.  Life gets hectic sometimes, and when people get bogged down in day-to-day lives it becomes much more difficult to pull off a journey.  I hear a lot of people discuss trips they would like to take “someday”, or “when the situation is right”.  Unfortunately, sometimes years go by, with one situation after another coming up, and people lament the trip they never got to take.  This is why I was actually quite thrilled to hear that a couple of my friends back in Chicago were planning a trip to Ireland this coming spring, even if it means they are less likely to visit me here in Colorado later in the year.

I never seem to run out of travel ideas.  In fact, I could probably make a list of 100 places I want to visit in only a few minutes.  So, for me, the picture is quite different than it is for many others, who just have that one place they want to go to.  Instead of just making a plan and executing it, to visit that one place, I just need to take advantage of opportunities as they come my way, and keep coming up with new ideas for places to go within the realm of the resources given to me.  This means accepting that unless that weird long-haired guy whose picture I saw at the Museum of Science and Industry successfully develops immortality, I will most likely go to my grave with at least a few places I wanted to visit, and a few things I wanted to do, that I did not get around to.  Knowing that I am taking advantage of opportunities, trying new things, and getting creative about a bunch of things makes this fact substantially easier to accept.  I know taking this kind of trip and visiting people on a whim like this is more than most people do with their spare time.  In fact, some may consider me odd for this, but most people I described this trip to, and saw on the trip gave me overwhelmingly positive responses.

This trip also gave me what I needed during what has turned out to be a frustrating year for me.  It actually reminds me of the theme song to the show Cheers, which explains the reason the show’s characters go to the same bar over and over again.  “Sometimes you wanna go, where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”  This is why I was quite fortunate to have had the timing on visiting all of the people I visited along the way work out (given everyone’s schedules, especially on weekdays) so that I could go to every single stop I planned to go to in this two week period.

Being new in a city whose culture and social scene ended up being more significantly different than anticipated can be a rough experience.  While I advocate fully embracing new experiences, sometimes we take comfort in being around people where we know where we stand, and being in familiar places.  I moved on, but I wanted to see many of the people that still mean something to me.  I do see friendships wither away as people move to new cities and get too carried away with their day-to-day lives to keep in touch.  So, it was quite fitting that the ONE time I had Chinese food, on this entire two week excursion, I got this fortune cookie.

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This trip confirmed this fact for me.  Reflecting on the experiences I had visiting everyone, I can safely say that all of the people I saw on this trip are still my friends, despite how long (in some cases over 10 years), it has been since we have lived in the same town.  I know this because the experiences I had were not limited to simply reminiscing and catching up, as sometimes does occur with “old friends”.  While I did reminisce, and catch up with all of the people I saw, new experiences were created as well.  This includes getting a 5-year-old addicted to The Fox music video, a plethora of jokes at the expense of Kanye West and Justin Bieber (is there an ocean bigger than Kanye West’s ego?), more crazy party antics, but also some heart-to-heart talks about real stuff, the kind of stuff that people only talk about with people they trust.

I designed this trip to have a mixture of the new and the familiar.  Chicago is very familiar to me, and so is Maryland, but I had never been to the Smoky Mountains, or Gettysburg, before, and have limited experience in places like Virginia and Kentucky.  Now that I am back in town, I will inevitably have some conversations with people about my trip.  When I give people the “highlights”, experiences like the Smoky Mountains and Gettysburg will most definitely come up, as well as the craziness that was last weekend in Chicago.  However, the more I reflect on the trip, the more I realize that what meant the most to me were some of the more simple things, like the ridiculous jokes and games.  One of the people I reconnected with in Maryland actually remembered last seeing me over three years ago, at a party in Chicago.  She recalled me describing abstract art as looking like a “raccoon having a period” while intoxicated.  Some of the best memories we have are of thing that weren’t planned.  I planned out my road trip, the timing, routes, and everything, but many of the things I will remember from this trip were not planned, but just as memorable.

Perhaps the greatest display of friendship on my road trip is the fact that on the entire trip I actually only paid for one hotel room!  I am truly grateful to everyone who let me stay over at their places.  Some of these overnights were even on weeknights, which are always a lot tougher, and some even took some time off of work.  That was a lot of money saved, but more importantly, it was also a better experience.  Being alone in a hotel room can be refreshing occasionally, but is also quite boring, and not an experience I cannot have at home from time to time.  Being around my friends was a lot more fun.

My greatest takeaway from this trip is actually something I had already known, but lost sight of over the past several months or so.

— Be Yourself  —

Pure and simple, yet a major lesson we all have to relearn from time to time.  There are many situations in the adult world where we are trying to impress people for one reason or another.  We are often times either told by others to not be who we truly are out of fear of being rejected, or lose confidence in who we truly are due to rejection.  We will often find ourselves considering how to “reinvent” ourselves to make better impression on others.  However, reflecting on some personal experiences, both recent and in the distant past, I realized that my odds are almost always a lot better when I do behave in a manner that comes naturally to me, as opposed to when I hold back, or try to conform to what is expected of me.

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No matter what reason you want to make a good impression on someone, your best bet will always be to be who you really are.  Any relationship, of any kind, based on a false persona is a poor fit that will not last in the long run.  I believe we are all generally better of without them.  Time spent continuing to try to  impress people who want a different version of you will often prevent you from finding the people, the jobs, or the situation that are truly the right fit for you.