Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.

Friday focus: Seth

I know I repost Seth Godin’s stuff way too much, but it’s so darn thought-provoking. Here are a couple of points to ponder this weekend:

And here’s a recent blog post of his that should be required reading for every American:

We are not the enemy (if we try)

Fewer than 1% of our population works hard to divide us. To pit people against one another for their selfish aims.

These are the pundits, divisive politicians, media companies and short-term trolls who have decided that schisms and fights are a good way to achieve their aims.

But if everyone is demonizing the other, then everyone is the enemy to someone.

We end up spending our time fighting each other instead of fighting for the things that really matter. We end up focusing on the current thing while something more important shrinks away in the background.

It’s possible to be fierce, fierce in your dedication to change, to what’s right, to making things better–without finding the source of your power in the destruction of others.

We ought to be fighting inequality, corruption and inefficiency. Working to stamp out ignorance and missed opportunities while creating access and possibility. Keeping our promises and making things better.

Every system is improved when it’s in sync, and the narcissism of small differences is a seduction that keeps us from focusing on creating real value by doing important work.

Realizing that things can get better (they can always get better) opens the door for productive conversations, conversations that aren’t based on prior decisions about what team someone is on, and instead, on putting our shoulder to the work, taking responsibility and actually making things better.

We can fight injustice without becoming pawns in a boxing promoter’s game.

 

Playing soccer just for (penalty) kicks

My youngest kid plays soccer for the junior high team at his school. This past weekend, they won the city tournament, capping off an undefeated season. The finals came down to penalty kicks, and his team’s goalie, who is also our carpool buddy for practices, made a great leaping block of one PK to seal the win.

My son also played for the squad last year, as a 7th grader, and they won the tourney that year too. Which is certainly exciting, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Can you pick him out of the photo below?

Probably not. Because it’s a team sport. And the life lessons that come from that are what really matter. Last year, he didn’t get much playing time. Even this year, as an 8th grader and one of only five returning players, he wasn’t a starter. Because that’s how life works: nothing is handed to you. You have to work hard, get better, earn it. Which he did. Besides, a player can lead without being the leading scorer — he excelled at that.

The team’s practice jerseys have “Team over Self” written on the back. A not-so-subtle reminder of how to play.

I’m happy for the team, but not because they’re “champs”… because they’re a great group of kids who get along well with each other. Long after the trophies are collecting dust in a corner of the basement, the friendships he’s formed will remain. That’s a much bigger win in my book.

 

You’ve got the power

It’s easy to feel powerless these days. At work, at home, in the political arena, in social circles… or just when your cell phone dies…

But Brené Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, claims there are two types of power, which she calls “power-over” and “real power.” Here are a couple excerpts from the book:

Unfortunately, when most of us hear the word “power” we automatically jump to the concept of power-over — the idea that power is the ability to control people, take advantage of others or exert force over somebody or something. We think of power as finite — there’s only so much, so if I’m going to get some, I’m forced to take it away from you.  

But real power is far more… you guessed it… powerful.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines power as “the ability to act or produce an effect.” Real power is basically the ability to change something if you want to change it. It’s the ability to make change happen. Real power is unlimited — we don’t need to fight over it because there is plenty to go around. And the great thing about real power is our ability to create it. Real power doesn’t force us to take it away from others — it’s something we create and build with others. 

Have a powerful day!

Gone but not forgotten

T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruellest month” but September and October have been pretty darn harsh for my college friends. We’re in our 50s, which means our parents are in their 70s and 80s, which means The Grim Reaper has been making a lot of house calls.

First to leave us over the past month was Alice, the mother of my friend Vinnie. Because I work in communications (and have always been good about keeping track of email addresses), I’m usually the one that gets the call (or text or email) and is saddled with the very un-fun task of letting the rest of our gang know about the “celestial discharge” as my wife and her nurse friends call it.

Two days after the celebration of life for Alice, my friend Robin sent word that her father Gil (a.k.a. “Gil The Thrill”) had passed away. When I sent out the note about Gil, my friend John emailed back to let me know that his mother Marilyn had gone to a better place. When I sent out word about Marilyn, I got an email and text back that our friend Jeff’s father had died rather suddenly. I’m starting to fear that my email notes are like those old chain letters, but in reverse. “If you DO pass this along, bad things will happen.”

I don’t want to be a complete Debbie Downer about it. All of these parents led full lives and raised great children. But I know firsthand that losing a parent is brutal.

My favorite author is Ray Bradbury. My favorite short story of his, The Leave-Taking, is about death… but it’s as far removed from morbid as can be. If you’ve lost a beloved parent or grandparent, please take five minutes to read it. And remember what Ray says: “No person ever died that had a family.”

My friend Vinnie’s brother John wrote a wonderful tribute to their mother, and shared it at her celebration of life gathering. He’s given me permission to post it below. But first, the backstory: Alice and her husband had seven kids, six rowdy boys and then a baby girl. When their youngest was still an infant, her husband left her… and she was left with the gargantuan task of raising seven children all by herself. The fact that all seven have been successful is great, but the fact that they are wonderful human beings is even more important.

                                         Our Renaissance Mother

           Mom marched to the beat of several drummers—each uniquely her own.   Referred to as “The Duchess” in the Farrell family household back in Philly, she was not only captain of her field hockey and basketball teams in high school, but also homecoming queen. She drew high honors in her academic endeavors at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and at Trinity College.  She walked down the fashion runway as a model back in the day, and was an artist who picked out the perfect shade of yellow for our family’s front door on Stratford Road. A Jill-of-all trades; she turned an old cast iron claw foot tub into a flower garden, cooked homemade meals for people in need, and started a sharing library for her neighborhood at her last home in Severna Park.  Mom was somehow always transforming herself, never being ashamed or too proud to do so. She inspired us all to do the same.

          We all could sit here for weeks on end and tell stories about this lady. But I guess that is why Mom wanted this party–so we could share those stories and maybe create some new ones.  There is nothing more honorable than having your wisdom passed down in a story, and Mom (or “Grandma,” or “Aunt,” or “Sister,” or “Friend,” or just “Alice”) had thousands of them.

          Mom once told me she was born too early, and if she had come of age in this day and time she would have been a doctor, or president of a company or even of these United States.  While those titles could have been impressive, I am so grateful and honored to call her Mom. She often sacrificed her own dreams and goals for her 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  Mom was our first caregiver, our first friend, our first teacher who helped shape and form all our strong foundations. Teaching us that there is no substitute for higher education, independence and a good upbringing, she passed down her wisdom, her values, her manners, her strength, her dedication, and her determination using tough love (and the occasional bar of soap in the mouth) helping prepare us all for what existed outside our front doors.  And by “all,” I mean every one of us gathered today since Mom was a true believer that “it takes a village to raise a person.” The tough part, she once told me, was knowing when to let go and let us all live our own lives.

          The whole family meant everything to Mom and she did everything in her power to keep it together.  The glue at times grew thin and dry, but Mom made sure it never broke. When I was young, she took night classes to acquire a second college degree in accounting to help keep the powdered milk on the table and the heat set at 52 degrees.  Even in the end Mom was thinking and giving of herself to her world family. She was always ready to send a small check to support various charities, and she asked that the final one be written to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She recently told me an interesting story about why she had wished her body to be donated to Johns Hopkins University Medical School.  Mom told me that her father had applied and was accepted to Johns Hopkins many years ago, but his family could not afford to send him there. Her grandfather (his father) was a coal miner. Her father eventually graduated from Temple University and became a doctor. But Mom wanted to make sure her father got to Johns Hopkins one way or another.

         Mom was always a task-oriented person — one who did not find fulfillment at the end of the day unless a project was completed or new one was underway. Well Mom… you have done your job and you have done it well.  Sit back and relax. We will take it from here and we will pass along your wisdom and unconditional love so the next generations can build upon it. Something you and the world will be proud of.

We will love you and miss you forever.  May God bless you and keep you.

 

 

Monday morning breakfast Patti

The punk rock poet high priestess Patti Smith is 71 years young, and she has a lot of wisdom to share about the power of positivity, even in times of despair. Please read this Yahoo! article and this one from the LA Times. Ostensibly they’re about fighting climate change (a cause Patti’s daughter Jesse is championing), but no matter where you stand on that issue, you can find some pearls from Patti in the articles. A few excerpts are below.

From the Yahoo! article:

And in terms of everything else, I would just say that each of us, we each have one life, and we cherish the lives around us. We cherish our family. We cherish our children. We cherish life itself, and I think in these times that are so dark and seem so overwhelming, partially because also the social media and the media in general, we’re being bombarded, and also by our own government, bombarded, bombarded with so much conflict, so much negativity, so many fear-inducing statements or news, that we just have to find some way every day to be grateful to be alive, to be grateful for what we have, and try to just take a beat every day.

I know that sounds so simple, and it’s not a religious or philosophic thing. It’s just a human thing. It’s really hard starting the day quick looking to see what bad thing has happened [on the news]. So start the day, drink a glass of water, think about what you want to do today, think about what makes you happy. Any small thing to start the day feeling some energy for and enthusiasm for life, because it’s so easy to get beaten down as soon as you wake up. And that’s what I do, because I felt myself getting caught in that loop, starting with the election process. I admit that, and I’m not usually a person that can be brought down or made anxious. And we have to fight that, because it becomes its own addiction. We have to fight that inclination and try to enter the day just glad to be alive, because no matter what is the stuff is going on around us, it’s beautiful to be alive.

We only have [one life]. This is what we have. Despite our belief system, if one believes in afterlife, resurrection, or all these things, right now on Earth, this is the life that we have. And there’s so much beauty and so much wondrous things. We have to find a way to save a little for ourselves every day. And remind ourselves why it’s beautiful to be alive. Go to the botanical gardens and look and think, “This is what we want to preserve.” Go to the river and say, “This is what we want to be clean.”

And from the LA Times piece:

Well, I think, like anyone else, it can be debilitating. It can be depleting, humiliating, every single day. It’s amazing that there’s not a single day that goes by that something is said — our so-called president carries things out in such a way that he can’t make one gesture without trying to magnify himself.

Truthfully, I have found it so difficult. But my philosophy has been in the last several months just to do my work. I keep attentive to what is going on — I know exactly what’s going on on the news. But I have to put it in a certain place, because I’m 71 years old. I have a lot of work to do — a lot of positive work to do. And I think that if I can’t change the things that are happening right now, what I can do is just resonate positivity, strength, unity, individuality.

You know, when others articulate things in a strong and dignified manner, we have to magnify that type of response. In the end, no matter how bad things get I always believe that good will prevail. So I just try and do as much good work as I possibly can from the smallest gesture on, and that’s why I am supporting my daughter’s work.

All I can say is, focus on the good that you can do. We want a pandemic of good. We want a pandemic of positive change. I think that we all just have to find each other, step through the mire, find each other, support each other and do good work.

 

 

We’re more connected than ever. We’re less connected than ever.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

Thanks to our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops… heck, even our “smart refrigerators”… we’re more connected than ever. We can get the information we need (or a bunch of time-sucking listicles and memes) easier than ever before. But there’s a tradeoff: what we’re losing is our ability to connect with other people, face-to-face (sorry, FaceTime doesn’t count).

… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Exhibit A: Tourists. “Back in my day” when you were in a strange city or country, you’d have to stop and ask a local. “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the museum?” Mundane, sure, but also a chance to connect… “Where are you visiting from?… Oh, I have an uncle who lives in Albuquerque!”

Now, we use Google Maps to help us navigate (even though Google Maps doesn’t know the shortcuts). We use Yelp to figure out where to eat. Heck, even hailing a cab required a bit more conversation than Uber or Lyft… “Where to, Mack?”

Seems like we’re forgetting how to strike up a conversation with any stranger who isn’t named Siri or Alexa.

…we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

But don’t worry, there is a cure for this social malady. It’s lederhosen. Yes, that unique German combo of cargo shorts and overalls. Allow me to explain. A couple of days ago, I went on a Pub Run with a bunch of co-workers. We ran (or walked) from one pub to another, from downtown Cincinnati across the Roebling Bridge to Northern Kentucky and back again, and had a beverage at each stop (or some of the stops, depending on when you had to pick your kid up from soccer practice). The pub run organizers, John and Jay, decided to give this run an Oktoberfest theme. So they dressed up in lederhosen (and in Jay’s case, a mullet wig – don’t ask).

At our 4th stop, a couple came up to us and — wait for it — struck up a conversation! They had spotted us at one of our previous stops, then saw us again half an hour later, so they just had to know what was going on… especially because there were lederhosen involved. Les and Amy were co-workers, in town from Tucson for a conference, and looking for a good place to eat. We were happy to meet them; they were happy to meet us. We were more than happy to explain the lederhosen (the mullet remains inexplicable). We were thrilled to be able to share our local knowledge and offer several restaurant options.

The entire encounter took less than five minutes, but I guarantee you that Les and Amy left feeling much better about the friendly folks in Cincinnati. And they probably had a better meal than Siri could serve up.

Next time you’re on the road, put down the smart phone. Act dumb. Talk to a person. Especially if they’re wearing lederhosen.

 

Green acres is the place to be, farm livin’ is the life for… not me

Yesterday afternoon the Neltner Family hosted their annual pig roast on the family farm. They’ve been hosting a pig roast for two decades – inviting generations of neighbors and friends to their place for an evening of great food and even better company. It’s old school all the way, like a church picnic… “bring a side dish or dessert to share.”

The Neltner family has been farming the same patch of land in Northern Kentucky since the late 1800s. Farming was their main occupation for generations. Plant some corn and tomatoes and apple trees, grow enough to feed your family and if the weather gods smile down upon you, sell your surplus. Nowadays, it’s more of a side hustle – the hardest side hustle ever. My friend Keith Neltner and his brother Rick are both graphic artists, and Rick does photography too. Which makes for an interesting mix of people at the pig roast:

But Keith and Rick and their siblings (and now their offspring) spend a lot of their “leisure time” working the farm.

Keith is one of the most talented artists in the world. Yet he spends his weekends doing manual labor to keep the family business going. That’s a tough row to hoe, literally.

The Neltners host a family festival at their farm several weekends in the fall. You won’t find a nicer family, or one more deserving of your hard-earned dollars. And it’s an honest-to-goodness working farm, not one of those “dump a bunch of pumpkins next to some hay bales and call it a ‘farm'” places.

Load up the family truckster. Stop by, say howdy, have some fun. And show a little appreciation for the hardest working folks around.

The (Radio) Kids Are Alright

This past weekend, I got to catch up with three folks whom I first met in my 97X radio days, when I was the morning show co-host and they were student interns. (Actually, we called them “co-producers” of the morning show because we felt that the term “intern” had some negative baggage, even in the pre-Lewinsky era, and we also wanted them to know that they were integral to the show.)

It’s been a quarter-century since those salad days, and it had been that long since I’d seen one of them, and 15+ years since I’d seen another. They’re not kids anymore, but they’re a decade younger than I am, so they’ll always be kids to me.

Jessica, Steve and Joe

Jessica (far left… in the picture… I don’t know her political stance) is a suburban Chicago native (a lot of Miami University students are) and returned home after graduation. Ditto for Steve (a.k.a. “Roemie da Homie” – center square in the photo). Joe (at right) was an army brat, so he grew up all over, including a stint in the Chicago ‘burbs in junior high. He stuck around Cincinnati after graduation.

Joe and I drove up to Chicago to see Buffalo Tom in concert. (Meaning I’ve now seen 28.6% of the shows on their North American tour… 2 of 7). On a whim, I emailed Jessica prior to our trip and asked if we could meet up. As fate would have it, she too is a Buffalo Tom fanatic (the few, the proud…) and was already planning to attend to the concert. Next thing you know, she was graciously offering to host Joe and me in her home. Meaning she is still just as kind-hearted as she was in college (and perhaps just a bit naïve, given the proximity of the guest beds to the basement beer fridge… hic!). We managed to meet up with Steve both nights too, and shared many a laugh over the radio station foibles (it was like an indie rock WKRP) and the sweatshop-like conditions of their internships (they got “paid” with promo CDs, band t-shirts and free concert tickets).

They’re different now – they’ve morphed from college kids into adults with real jobs, and real kids… and all the chores that come with that – the daily commute, the carpool line, homework reminders and sports practices. Yet they’re still the same great people that they were back then – smart, witty, kind, enthusiastic about life.

It’s great when you can go a couple of decades without seeing someone and pick up right where you left off.  The only difference is, as you get older, you cherish those moments more.

Seems like I was just a kid not so long ago
So many arrivals
So many hellos
Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead. Save up the minutes like flowers before they’re all dead and gone….

 

 

 

 

And then there were none

Got a call from my cousin Tom yesterday, letting me know that his mom/my aunt had passed away over the long weekend. Aunt Pat was one of my dad’s two sisters, and never really strayed far from her Jersey City roots. She and her husband (a.k.a. Uncle Vince) lived in Verona, NJ for most of their adult lives. After Vince passed away a few years back, she moved to Virginia and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law to be closer to family. She loved her kids. She adored her grandkids. She was over the moon about great-grandchildren.

Aunt Pat was pushing 90, but you’d never know it. “Young at heart” fit her to a tee. I remember when she was in her 70s and several members of our family had gathered at my older sister’s place in Brooklyn. My sister’s kids were riding Razor scooters on the promenade along the Hudson River, in the shadows of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Aunt Pat promptly commandeered one of the scooters and took it for a spin, as fun-loving and carefree as any teenager. That was Aunt Pat in a nutshell – when her peers were riding Rascal scooters, she was on a Razor.

Aunt Pat loved Seinfeld too…

She had a joie de vivre that always came through, with a smile on her face and a joyous lilt to her voice. Now she’s gone – the last of that generation to leave us, preceded by Uncle John, my dad, Uncle Vince, Aunt Virginia, Uncle Don… and my mom, Uncle Remo and Zia Inez on the maternal side of my family. Which means I’m now part of the eldest generation of the Dotterweich/Osellame family. The connective tissue with the greatest generation has been severed… we still have the stories they shared, but it’s not the same without them here.

There’s not much we can do about it, but we can live the rest of our lives like Aunt Pat lived hers – with fearlessness, with a fun-loving attitude, with a smile on our face and a joyous lilt in our voice. Aunt Pat never let us down, and there’s no way I’m letting her spirit fade away. Hand me that scooter and get out of my way.