Thursday, December 13, 2007

Human Tetris

Speaking of funny

11 Guys You'll Always Find Playing Pickup Basketball

This is pretty funny

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt of 2007

I love the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. And a Christmas tradition I've really come to enjoy since moving to Montana is the tradition of cutting my own Christmas tree. Friends of mine have property that butts up against national forest land and land owned by Plum Creek (A big timber company) and for the past 5 Christmas's I've headed up the mountain to cut down a tree. This year we opted to stay closer to home, going up into the Pattee Canyon Recreation area of the Lolo National Forest. It is an area Jen has gone to before and is literally only 4 or 5 miles from our house. I was a bit skeptical we'd find a nice tree so close to home and without the long hike into the forest, but Jen was confident and we had the Liam factor to contend with, so off we went.
On the way back into the woods we passed the remains of a deer carcass hanging from a tree...either tossed there by a hunter or maybe left by a mountain lion and then when we pulled off the dirt road there was another carcass right off the road...ahh hunting season in Montana! It was a pretty short hike to get into a stand of pretty good trees...young, in a dense area that could use some thinning and the right type (we both like Douglas Fir and Alpine). Within a short period of time we got two great trees, one for Mary Ann (Jen's Mom) and the other for us. Here are some photos.

And now for the rest of the story….

When we got the tree into the house it was so skinny that we both thought we needed another one…we weren’t about to load Liam back into his fleece get up and the backpack,so I headed down the hill to the Pink Grizzly. In typical Missoula style, the Pink Grizzly (a family owned nursery since the 50s that occupies the last open space on Russell street and Missoula icon) offers hand cut trees from forest land and also the more traditional shaped and farmed trees they call “plantation” trees. Those trees go from $40 - $70 while the hand cut trees go from $12 - $30. We got this doozee for $18 clams. Not a bad deal and a beauty of a tree.


We decorated it tonight (the kids were a big help…not) and drank egg nog.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Very Nice Thanksgiving

For the second year in a row, my Mom & Dad joined us for Thanksgiving in Missoula. We had a blast despite the fact I was away from most of my family again and not in Indiana. We started cooking pies on Wednesday night and got up early Thanksgiving morning to begin the rest of the cooking in earnest. Even though we were planning a meal for 5 instead of 15, we cooked up a storm. Dad and I picked out a nice Hutterite turkey, fresh from the New Rockport colony in Choteau, MT to go with all the dishes we prepared. Jen had stuffing and sweet potato dishes that are traditional in her family, and we had stuffing, dressing and pie dishes from ours. It was an awesome meal, spent with family...we even pulled out Jen's grandmother's China, the first time I've ever hosted a meal and used China. We started off with a nice relish tray and roasted nuts. Then to go with bird we had cornbread dressing, oyster stuffing, sage stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, candied yams, sweet potatoes and pecans, cranberry relish, cranberry roll, and yeast rolls. For dessert we had two types of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, mincemeat pie, cherry pie (using Flathead cherries we pitted and froze this summer), and pumpkin bread pudding. In short, we stuffed ourselves.
Dad and Mom have been super fun to be with and as usual, every time they visit we do some really fun things. We headed out to Tarkio for the day and stopped at the Nine Mile Roadhouse for a burger afterwards. We shopped and dined and hung out to watch movies at home with some of Grampy O's famous popcorn.
A great holiday!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Liam turns One


Hard to believe, but this Sunday marks one year since little Liam John Hays O'Connor entered the world. Liam is just a super cool, super mellow little man. He's saying the ubiquitous "uh-oh" now, along with "night-night", "thank you", "hi" and "Allie" (our dog). He sleeps through the night most of the time, gets up with a smile most of the time and plays hard until he crashes and burns. Kind of like his Dad!
Happy Birthday Liam!!!!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nationals 2007, Flycoons take 9th and 2nd....

By now most of my avid readers heard Missoula’s Mental Toss Flycoons competed in the 2007 UPA Club Ultimate Championships in Sarasota, Florida at the end of last month. It was the final round of competition, and MTF was one of the final 16 teams in the mixed division to make it to nationals. Ultimate continues to grow in popularity and the competition keeps getting tougher and more intense each year. Every team looked big, fast and deep. The mixed division is developing "elite" teams and our region is the best in the country, with 4 teams making the championships. I was really impressed with the talent level overall and, save for a few teams, across the board the teams were well represented in talent and ability.

I’m happy to report that MTF is well on its way to establishing itself as one of the top Ultimate teams in the country; the team finished the competition with a 5-3 record, placing 9th and improving two places from last years 11th place finish. Of the 16 teams, our spirit ranking was 1/10th of a point behind the winner (Bashing Pinatas), meaning all the teams we played ranked us extremely high in our Spirit of the game evaluation. We battled every team that beat us honorably and to the end. Our three losses were to the teams that finished 1st (Shazam Returns 9-15), 2nd (Slow White 12-15) and 8th (Tandem 12-15) and, truth be told, we felt the only team that really outplayed us and deserved the win was Shazam, the eventual champs. The other two losses we sustained we pretty much beat ourselves. Along the way we beat teams from Colorado, North Carolina, Atlanta, New York and Minnesota; all teams from much larger markets with more Ultimate players to pull from. We cheered, hugged, laughed, cried and laid it all on the fields. We shared floor space, bed space, food, rides, clothes and whatever else anyone needed. Despite my personal bias, I am confident when I say we represented true team spirit and what I’d consider the ideals of “teamship” if I could add that word to Webster’s…or in the least “sportsmanship”. It’s hard not to be a great team when you have so many kind souls supporting you as well as kick ass athletes getting it done on the fields. Lots of family and friends made the trip to support and watch us and my good friend Sean Brown (of Indy fame, Three Martini Lunch and Chico's Bail Bonds nattys appearances) made the drive over to say howdy.
Offensively we had some major standouts in James Kennedy (winner of the coveted Offensive Parrot), Skyla Sisco, Kerr and Fast Johnny. THese guys were unbelievable, making highlight reels and photo shoots throughout the tourney.
Defensively, it didn’t get much better than Will Sutton, Ryan Applegate, Jen Nichols and Jesse Adams. But I don’t think anyone one of the people listed above would put themselves up on a pedestal above their teammates…it took everyone to make it happen and often it was the small gesture of a back rub or word of encouragement or a hug that spurred on our stars and journeymen alike. All in all, this was a very special year and nationals was a very special event.

If you’ve seen Hugh Carey’s incredible shots on Flickr, click here to see the photos , without a single caption or word they tell the story better than I ever could in most cases. Hugh was simply amazing and he has an uncanny ability to capture a moment almost before it happens, something you rarely if ever see in a person, let alone one with his experience. My words hardly compete with many of those shots to describe the emotional highs & lows but I will do my best below. I also must admit to you my own shortcoming (one of many)…I’ve spent the last several days dreaming of a different finish in the Tandem game, dreaming of that next game to get to the semi-finals and dreaming of a chance to play for the championship. I’ve at various times inserted myself into a situation (of course, giving myself superhuman skills I don’t actually possess), changed a dropped pass to a completion, a missed score to a turning point and a just barely missed bid to a beautiful game saving layout defense. The loss of that pre-quarters game to Tandem, the second time the same un-spirited, ill-mannered group from Boston has knocked us out of the top 8 (Tandem placed last in the Spirit category the past two years), which prevented us from placing higher than 9th, was a crushing blow emotionally. So I’ve spent most of my waking and sleeping moments since Saturday bouncing back and forth from dreaming of what could have been to moping about what was…frankly I wasn’t much in a mood to write up until yesterday and, although it might be better to not make that public knowledge, I think it adds some honesty to the review I’m about (or as our Canadian teammates might say, a-boot) to give.

So…without further ado…

EVERYBODY WAS FEELIN” FI-E-EYE-NE

Nationals Day One (Thursday, 25 October 2007)

Our first game of the day was against the Black Molly, a team from the Raleigh-Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle area of North Carolina. I’d heard they were a team with a mixture of nationals veterans and young guns ready to run. During the warm-up it seemed like every time I looked over to their side, another 6’4” dude was showing up. This game went fairly true to form with both teams having first game jitters. It was close early, with us trading points before we stretched it out to take the half 8-4 I believe. We put pressure on early on and kept it the whole game, despite allowing a small run from the North Carolinians and we got some stellar defensive plays to get breaks going in our favor and we went on to win 15-11.

Our next game was against nationals veterans Bad Larry, an experienced team that went to Worlds last year but a team that had a disappointing performance at nationals last year and an up and down year this year. We knew some players on that team and knew they were really good, which fired up our team. As with the first game, we traded points early on as we tried to figure out their defense and adjust to their offense, but just like the first game our defense shines. We get the breaks early and then a late break to take half, 8-4 just like game one. It’s clear as we talk in the huddle, that what really sparks our team is defense. And nothing fires us up more than seeing one of our teammate’s layout for a defensive block. Bad Larry tried to get back into the game in the second half, but truth be told, it was a lackluster effort and we just weren’t interested in allowing that to happen, so we beat them 15-10 setting up the big game of the day against Slow White, the #1 seed in our Pool and 3rd seed overall.

Last year we Played Slow White in game 1 and, well, they crushed us. We got a chance to play them at ECC this year and they beat us there too, but we were missing several key players and had just come off a universe point loss to Brass Monkey. S we entered this game confident that we could hang with last year’s runner-up and beat them. This was an epic game. We started on defense, exactly what we wanted and used our zone to confuse them early going up two breaks to make the score 4-2 good guys. They come right back and score to make it 4-3…we hold our offense together and score right back to make it 5-3. It is at this point, when we are up two scores and are on defense that the game starts to slip from us. Make no mistake, Slow White is a good team with good players, but our team is better. We cause the turnover and push towards their goal line, actually getting the disc to within about 4 feet of scoring. But we were inpatient and tried to push in a score to a player who was covered. As oft happens, off the turn they run and get behind the defense, huck once and then throw to an open player. Now instead of being 6-3 good guys, the score is 5-4. After some mistakes on our part and great defense on their part, they go up 6-5…they get one more defense on us and close out the half 6-8. The second half was hard fought and we closed the gap to one point at 11-12 and Slow gave us three opportunities to tie it on the next point but they go up 13-11. We turn it over on offense on a long huck that doesn’t work and Slow’s d-line scores on our o line to make it 14-11. We score to make it 14-12. As it did all day, our defense stifles them and has a chance to score but we just can’t punch it in and they win 15-12. This loss was disappointing only in the fact we knew we could beat them, were in a position to do it but just couldn’t quite make it happen. Still, we finish the day right where we need to be, 2-1 and on our way to the Power Pool with the other top 7 teams.

THE GLORY OF VICTORY AND THE AGFONY OF DEFEAT

Nationals Day Two (Friday, 26 October 2007)

So this is where things get funny. The UPA format for the championships takes the top two finishers from each pool (Day One) and moves them to two new pools of four called Power Pools. The bottom two finishers move to two other pools which are play-in pools. Last year we were in the Play-in pools and worked out way up to the pre-quarters. This year we were in the Power Pool! For the purposes of rankings, the UPA takes the winners of the previous day pools and gives them a 1-0 record to start day two (even though they may have had a defeat) and takes the 2nd place from each pool and gives them a 0-1 record to start the day. Since I am not a statistician please do not ask me to explain this logic…I can’t. We were placed in a Power Pool with Slow White (1-0), Rival (1-0), and the number one seed in the tourney, Shazam Returns (0-1). Shazam was upset in pool play by Rival, which had a direct consequence on us as you will soon see. So we started off the day playing Rival, who by virtue of their upset was the current #1 seed. We were pretty pumped up for this game…we beat Rival last year and felt like our women were stronger than theirs. We decided to zone as much as possible and play aggressive defense. This strategy worked great. We got an early break on them, then another, then another and got on a roll. They called time-out when the score got to 5-2. Their captain is heard screaming, “come on Rival…WE LOVE TO BE DOWN…come on” and they quickly score off the time-out but we score right back, giving our defense another chance on the field. Some not so good call come into play on tier part, with one of their vets in particular making about three calls in a row to try and disrupt our flow. It didn’t work and we take half, 8-3. The second half started much the same, with us scoring twice to take the lead to 10-4 but Rival is a come from behind team and they started to mount a come back. We call a time-out and Tim Murray settles us all down. We knew they’d make a run so don’t worry was the message. A good time out call and we go on to win 15-9, making us 1-1 in the pool, Rival 1-1 and on the other side Shazam beat Slow White…so owe are all 1-1.

The next game was nasty for us in that it was the only game where I could honestly say we were outplayed for most of the game. Shazam is good, smart, fast and deep…we pride ourselves in all of those things too so it is never easy to admit when another team is better. But they came out hard early, running head to head with our best players and anticipating our offensive scheme with great effectiveness. We tried to stick to our game plan on offense but they out jumped us when our throws were on and took advantage of every single error. The second point of the game was a marathon point, which they won to go up 2-0. They pulled a perfect pull into the back corner of our end zone and we stranded Ryan. At stall 9 he was forced to try and throw a hammer against the wind, resulting in a Callahan and us being down 3-0. Amazingly, this low point didn’t affect Ryan, who was so fantastic all weekend. Had it been me, my own mind games would have taken me out for the tourney, but not Ryan. As a matter of fact, I think he played better AFTER the Callahan than before and he was definitely on my “studs of the tourney” list. There was a reporter for the UPA covering this game and he had a quote about the game from here on out…he thought we let our history with Shazam effect us too much and thought we wasted too much energy trying to get back into this game. There may be some merit to this, as the game of chess being played around us was hidden to most of us and we couldn’t expect the turn of events to follow. We made a run in the second half, but Shazam controlled the game and won 15-9, our worst loss of the tourney and one of the worst of the year. So now we are sitting at 1-2, Shazam is 2-1 and all attention moves to the other field where Slow White is beating Rival 12-5. If Slow wins the game, they are also 2-1 and Rival falls to match us at 1-2 but we beat them head to head so we would advance to the final round of 8. If Rival somehow won the game, then we’d drop down to the pre-quarters and have to win to get back into the final 8. Imagine the turmoil and knotting of our stomachs as we saw Rival score point after point to close the gap to 12-11…then 12-12. The soft cap horn went off meaning the game was to 14. Slow scores to make it 13-12 and then get the turn…a score and we are in. The captain of the team turfs his throw…just throws it into the ground and Rival scores to tie it at 13…next point wins. Slow gets the disc and after a throw or two, just turns it over again. Rival jumps on this opportunity, scores and wins. Ugh, the sound of 21 people getting hit in the stomach issues up from the windy fields of Sarasota’s Polo club.

So there we were, back in the same place as a year before despite doing everything we needed to do to be in the top 8. And we faced Tandem again, the same team that knocked us out last year. So it is the end of the day, the only teams left playing are the teams fighting for a spot in the quarterfinals. Tandem is big, they have strong women (despite an erroneous report that they didn’t use their women) and they are more than happy to make bad calls to screw with another team, as we soon found out. At this point I’m going to throw out a personal observation…our team is nice; too nice at times. We want to say nice things about people, we want to smile and shake hands, and we want teams to like us even when we are beating them. This can sometimes lead to us not be willing to tell each other the truth. Before this game started we huddled up and said things like, c’mon guys we are better let’s just go out and win…we want to play this game and they don’t. Well, the fact of the matter was we really didn’t want to be playing that game, under the worsening skies of Sarasota. We wanted to be off somewhere celebrating as a team that we’d made the quarterfinals…and Tandem did want to play that game to fight their way back up to the top 8. So when the game started, both teams played the way they really felt. We were flat, unemotional and uninspired. Our best players were in a fog. We dropped the disc, we panicked against the zone and we got beat on defense. They went up 3-1 and then 5-2, then 7-4 before taking half 8-4. We are on our heels and you can see it in our eyes. It is at this point I close my eyes very tight and search for that thing that is so elusive…the thing that can shake a person out of a fog and right the ship…the energy that will turn us all back into the people we really are…but I can’t find it in my head and like everyone else, I am quiet and listen as Tim and mark try to spur us on and Emily tries to fire us up. The second half starts much like the first, with Tandem throwing over our zone, breaking us and going up 9-4. But suddenly it is Kerr and Jesse Adams who begin to inspire us. Kerr is determined to not let up and Jesse is laying it out all over the fields. We open up our offensive rotation even more and it works. We score and then score again. Suddenly it is 11-6. Can we do it? Can we score 9 more before they score another 4? The wind picks up a bit and it starts to rain. As odd as it may sound to outsiders, this brings a smile to our faces…we love bad weather. We score again. Now it is 11-7. They score after a long period of time and are now up 12-7. Just like that disaster strikes. We are called for offsides for the second time and are forced to take the disc 10 yards deep in our own end zone…and they get to set up their defense: Unbelievable. They score and suddenly it is 13-7. But we aren’t done. We score on O to close it to 13-8 and give our defense another chance. They don’t disappoint and we score off the turn to close it to 13-9. They score to make it 14-9 but our offense is finally clicking and we score again to make it 14-10. They shoot for the endzone and Jesse makes a spectacular defensive stop and our d scores…14-11. The very next point we get a drop and put it in again 14-12. Our sidelines are going crazy. The rain is coming down hard and it is cold. Tandem is defeated…you can see it in their faces which were the mirror image of ours at half. The energy is palatable on our sidelines. We are ready, finally, to put them away and reach our goals. Suddenly the loud speakers crackle…lightning strikes have reached close enough that all play is suspended. Players must seek cover immediately. So at 12-14, poised as we are for the strike, we must go and sit under the shelter of the club house porch. First a 30-minute delay is called, then the speakers crackle with more news, the delay will be at least 45 minutes. Players from both teams try to get warm, to eat something and to ignore each other as we are under the same porch. Some Tandem parent I splaying the violin…he is terrible and it is excruciating to listen to him attempt to entertain us, but because we are polite we only send imaginary lightning bolts of our own his way. When play finally resumed the hair on my arms stood up as we huddled and pushed our defensive players onward. I was sure we would win. We pull, they get it midfield and try a big swing…Ryan (I believe it was Ryan) lays out and misses the disc by less than an inch. They go up the sideline and another layout bid barely misses the mark…suddenly I see their star female player streaking for the end zone with Skyla on her hip. They huck it deep…time starts to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and the players on our sideline all lean out to seek the end zone. The disc is coming in at a perfect angle, both players dive at the same time, Skyla’s arms outstretched, both players land….where is the disc, did she block it, did the other player catch it, did she drop it??????????? The Tandem player rolls over and raises the disc…she scores, we lose. Game over. That’s it, we can’t finish better than 9th No one speaks, and instead there are looks of disbelief, tears, hugs and silence. Our fans, mostly parents, try to cheer us up. They are awesome…they stuck through the elements to cheer and support us and it really meant a lot to us to have every one of them there. But the reality is, we can’t help but be devastated and feel fate conspired against us.

So what’s left? Day three and placement

BADGES? WE DON”T NEED NO STINKING BADGES

Nationals Day Three (Saturday, 27 October 2007)

I won’t lie…it hurt to be in the 9-12 bracket. Not only did we all know we were better than that, we had to play the first game on the field right next to Mischief vs. Slow White a game we would have loved to have been in ourselves. Our first opponent was a team called Bashing Pinatas and….well let’s just say we did not want to lose to a team named Bashing Pinatas. We start a little slow but then cruise out to a big lead, something like 6-1. After that we get a little sloppy and let the back in the game, 6-4. Much to everyone’s chagrin, I call a timeout (I had to do something this tournament, didn’t I?). Luckily someone else says what I am thinking, which is quit messing around, finish this team out in a way that will reflect we are mad at being in this position. We beast them badly, 15-8 I think.

So now it is the final game of the tourney for us and we face off against the Carleton players…dressed in black jerseys designed to look like Tuxedos and with a blue and black flag waving their name,, The Poodle Club of Tulsa…say what? We mix it up this game and play wonderful defense. They are never in the game as we break them, break them and break them again. We cruise to a 15-8 or 15-9 win I am not sure and we take 9th place.

I am not trying to belittle any person or team with this review, but I stand by my comments. We were better than most teams there and I think that bodes well for the future of this team. There will be room for new faces next year and for a renewed commitment to being the best we can be. Ultimate is a great sport and it means many different things to different people…some love to play pickup and spring league, some love it to the point they’ll change wedding plans or miss important family events to play with their team. Whatever your love for the sport, I hope you can respect and honor the people who sacrificed so much this year to play together as the Mental Toss Flycoons…I know I am amazed by every single one of them.

For another year, this is your friendly Ultimate addict signing off. See you all Saturday for the hat tourney.

Johnny O

Friday, October 19, 2007

Off to Florida...Again

For the second year in a row, my Ultimate Frisbee team has made it to the national championships. Last year we went into the final round of 16 seeded 13th and finished 11th after a tough pre-quarter final loss to Boston's Tandem. This year we've had a pretty solid showing in tournaments and won the Big Sky sectional (Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Alberta). We then went to Burlington, Washington (about 80 miles north of Seattle) and competed in the most difficult and power stacked regional championship. We qualified by finishing 4th in the tourney (out of 16 teams) behind the last three consecutive national champions.
We go into Florida next week seeded 6th, the highest we've ever been ranked in the country. The format of the tournament puts us in one of 4 pools to start and then the pools are reshuffled based upon our initial results. We are up against the third seeded team in the country, Slow White out of New York City. This team beat us last year at nationals and finished 2nd. This year we played them one time, at the Emerald City Classic or ECC and they beat us again. So we are hoping to break that streak. We'll also have to play a team from Denver, Bad Larry who is a perennial nationals qualifier. And the final team in our pool is Black Molly from the Triangle area. All of these teams are good and if we want any chance at holding seed or better, we need to win all these games...or at least that is how I feel.
Our team has changed from last year, we lost Rick to retirement, EZ, Kasi and Russ decided to take the year off, Rebecca moved, Andy Short got injured and Nevin isn't playing the series. But we added some great talent with Matt Luck, Timmy Murray, Theresa Weber, Alex Zimmerman and Grant Alban. Unfortunately, Grant was hurt early on like Andy and neither will be on our roster next week. We're a little worried about the time change, last year it really effected us in the first two games and we lost them both. People are trying to go to bed earlier and get up earlier to prepare as many of us will be getting into Sarasota Wednesday night and have to play at 9:30 AM Eastern time the next morning...that is 7:30 AM Montana time!
I hope to keep you all posted on our progress.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Coming Up for Air

Yesterday morning at 5:00 AM MST, I took Emi Hokaida, our Japanese exchange student, to the airport for her return trip home to Kumamoto. This sentence alone should alert any reader to what you might have already expected...my life has gotten even crazier since my last post.
Emi (pronounced like the award...emmy) is a wonderful 16 year-old student from the city of Kumamoto, in Kumamoto Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. For the past 16 years, the top students from her school "audition" for a chance to come to Missoula. Big Sky High School here in Missoula hosts the students. Amazingly, they are only in the states for one week. We picked her up Saturday morning after a small ceremony during which her principal (who doesn't speak a lick of English)gave a rather long and impassioned speech of thanks. She arrived at 1:00 AM that morning, slept for a few hours and then had her first breakfast outside of Japan, consisting of scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon and clam chowder. She seemed to like her breakfast, especially the clam chowder. Emi has studied English for 5 years, but anyone who has learned another language will agree there is a big difference between learning and speaking with someone of your own tongue and actually trying to converse or understand the language as spoken by a native. So, we struggled the first two days with communication, but Emi was so delightful it did not matter.
They study alot more and harder courses in Japan, not a surprise to me. I was surprised to find out how busy her schedule really is and how much time away from home and family she spends on school work. She generally leaves her home on bicycle before 7:00 AM and arrives back home after 8:00 PM, 6 days a week. She also plays field hockey (not a very popular sport in Japan but Emi revels in the uncommon), helps with chores and enjoys spending time with her family.
We packed as much in 5 days as we could but were super happy to discover that the things she liked the most involved spending time with us and doing fun and simple stuff like making pizzas, visiting with neighbors and meeting our friends. On the last night she and her classmates put on a farewell dinner and read to the host families what they loved about their trip...breathing fresh mountain air, drinking coffee, riding in a car, dancing, meeting nice people, going to a football game, etc.
We had a blast.
In other news, my Ultimate Frisbee team won two tournaments and finished second in two others since my last post. We also won the Big Sky sectional and advanced to the Northwest regional championships to be held north of Seattle next weekend. It is our 4th trip to regionals in a row and we're hoping to qualify for the national championships again. We've been practicing real hard and everyone is more committed than ever to reach the championships.
In August we traveled back to the Midwest for my annual trek to Holland, Michigan and to spend time with my family. Liam loved being with Grammy and Grammpy O and getting to hang with his cousins, aunts and uncles. The kids loved the fair, although we chose to go on the hottest day of the year (literally) and Chris's fiance Nichole got heat stroke.
Life really is one big blur these days and it's affecting my memory and ability to keep up. I'm always tired, and I seem to be paying dearly for my years of foot loose and fancy free shenanigans. It's definitely different and definitely worth it.
As I've said dozens of times, I will try to get back on track with posting.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A wonderful reunion

I seem to start all of my posts these days with some sort of disclaimer about time and me not having any of it let alone having time for blogging. A few years ago I would have claimed such a statement as heresy, but life is one big lesson now, isn't it? So I'll start this post off the same way...my life has been busier than ever (seriously) and I'm just now taking a break to try and write some of it down.
Here are a few things I've failed to write up:

In March I went to Denver, where I was an attendee and a speaker at a medical group management leadership conference. Besides speaking to a group of 300 peers, the only thing worth mentioning is that it took me 17 hours to get from Missoula to Denver thanks to a bad travel day with the airlines. The conference was very good and I've been invited to submit my name to the organizations speakers bureau to speak at future conferences; I guess that is sort of a big deal.
A week later I hopped into my car and drove to Park City, Utah for a great long weekend with Purdue buddies Eddie O, Dave Sousa and John Busald. It was a fantastic time, with a couple of days of spring skiing and catching up and a huge bonus, seeing the Blasters live for free at the base of a mountain. The drive from Missoula to Park City is simply breathtaking and catching up with old friends is always fabulous.
While I was in Utah, Jen was dealing with family stuff back here which resulted in us starting a new adventure in our household as we added one more body (her 16 year old niece) bringing the total to 6 humans and a dog. We're happy she's here with us and the adjustment was quick and relatively painless. I'm still adjusting to having more than just me and my dog Allie around, so one more body in the house doesn't change things much for me...although I'd be fibbing if I said dealing with a 16 year old girl and all that she is going through is easy.
April came and went like lightning, with my folks here from Indiana for a two week visit, which was great fun. Mom and Dad are always a great help and we love them so much. Their stay was capped off by a monster road trip through the Big Hole valley (where we literally almost ran over a wolf). Liam was a trooper throughout the two day drive, showing me once again that there is a lot of O'Connor in that boy. We spent a night in Butte, Montana and also spent some time in Anaconda, Montana. We came across an old cemetery in Anaconda with graves from as far back as the Spanish-American war and even a plot from the USSB...the United States Serbian Brotherhood. The graves were from the era of the mine boon in the Butte-Anaconda area. It was a very cool trip.
At the end of the month I took a quick trip to Las Vegas for a conference. The Vegas trip was short (2 days) but amazing as we were treated to VIP luxuries by an insider, including a dinner at the Cafe Martorano, possibly one of the best meals I've ever eaten.
So here it is, Memorial day weekend and May has flown by. Liam and the rest of the family are battling some nasty viral bug, but surprisingly I have staved off the puking and most of the other associated other nastiness...triple doses of vitamin C, high potency vitamin B and Emergen-C are my weapons of choice.
I titled this post a wonderful reunion because the best things that's happened this month is the online reunion I've had with my friend Heidi who lives in Australia with her hubby and two boys. Heidi was part of the Heidi and Birgitt duo...two physical therapists I recruited to come work in the States around 1993. They were both just incredibly fun, cute, spunky and delightful...I was smitten with them both right away which soon turned into friendships and we then went about having great adventures whenever possible. It seems like ages since we last saw each other and in some regards it really has been, as Heidi moved back to Australia and married her longtime boyfriend and I wandered around in my head, finally meeting Jen and starting a family of my own. And because Heidi and I reconnected, I also reconnected with Birgitt, who is now living in Toronto with her long time boyfriend. It has been so amazing to back fill the spaces between when we last chatted and now; Heidi has been on many adventures herself and has a great family. I'm sure I'll be posting more about her as we send email back and forth weekly.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spirit of the Game

This was an article that appeared last week in our local Independent newspaper.

Spirit of the Game
Ultimate Frisbee has become one of Missoula’s most popular organized sports. Jason Wiener sprints into action—mostly singing and drinking—to find out why.

By: Jason Wiener
Posted: 04/26/2007

On the opening night of Missoula ultimate Frisbee spring league, it’s maybe 45 degrees and definitely drizzling, but spirits are high. Most competitors are wearing an informal uniform of longjohns with shorts and either a light or a dark shirt to differentiate one team from the other; almost everyone wears cleats. Before the matches, some teams discuss strategy. Others appear to be trading information about a weekend party. Others go around circles formed by their team, reconnecting with old friends and learning new teammates’ names. Everywhere, Frisbees fly.

Almost 200 people turned out for opening night, nearly triple the number who started the league six years ago. The crowd makes up 10 teams, the only thing limiting more being the lack of available playing fields. Each player paid $25 and signed up weeks ago for the privilege of participating in the 10-game season running through April and May. And another dozen who missed the registration deadline wound up on a waiting list or decided to wait till next year. Nevertheless, some of the latter, still hopeful of finding a team in need, have appeared hoping to become a walk-on.
Photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark
Nate McConnell comes away with disc while vying for it with John MacLean, aka Fast Johnny. “For those members of the ultimate community who are competitive and really take it seriously,” says Fast Johnny, “its kind of like a duty to run spring league and participate and help people out and teach people how to play.”

Despite opening night’s inclement weather, the size of the crowd and its enthusiasm prove the sport has come into its own in Missoula. The decades-old game—think of a cross between soccer and football, sort of, only using a disc instead of a ball—began as a countercultural lark for some late-’60s high-school students. But since its inception, it’s grown into a sport with a national governing body, the Ultimate Players Association (UPA), blasting almost 25,000 registered players.

In Missoula, from pick-up games to competitive traveling teams, ultimate has become a community force, and the burgeoning spring league—equal parts party and play—is the public face of the sport. (Since Frisbee is a trademark of Wham-O!, which is not the exclusive supplier of competitive discs, the sport’s generally known as simply “ultimate.”)

I came to spring league’s opening night to figure out what the fuss was all about. Expecting to do this from my observer’s post on the sideline, I arrived in the clothes I wore to work—cargo pants, a sweater, long sleeves and a windbreaker with heavy boots. But when the captain of one team turned to the hopeful walk-ons standing next to me on the sideline and told them to join his team, and I realized everyone else was about to do something more than watch, I laced up my boots tight and tried to learn the ropes.

I never touched a disc on my first night. A couple of times I came close while covering someone who had the thing. I even got open once or twice with the chance to catch it. To be honest, though, I didn’t worry about not getting the disc; I worried more about what I would do if I got it.

I’m in some kind of shape (though “great” wouldn’t be a word you could substitute for “some”). I swim three times a week, most weeks, and travel around town by bicycle. But I’m in no kind of condition for sprinting, and I’ve never been very coordinated anyway. So when I’m winded, the last thing I’m thinking about is about how to make a disc fly, especially if I can’t keep up with or get away from the guy playing opposite me. Yet every time I came off the field, teammates congratulated me for my play.

When I asked what I did to merit the encouragement, the veterans on my team just answered “spring league” as if that was enough of an explanation. Eventually, it would be.

“A different game”

Missoula’s ultimate players have a number of competitive outlets, not all of them places where playing like a rookie will get you treated like a king.

In addition to the hundreds of spring leaguers playing this year, Missoula boasts a traveling team, the Mental Toss Flycoons. Though the team’s name—adapted from the lyrics of Frank Zappa’s vibraphone-enhanced opus “Montana”—has been associated with ultimate in Missoula since the 1980s, the Flycoons’ current incarnation only formed in 2004, after a Missoula-based team called Trigger Hippy with members from Bozeman, Idaho and northern California won the national championship in 2001 and then disbanded. (In between some locals tried to form an all-local squad under the name Missoula Ultimate Liberation Army. Despite T-shirts sporting the face of Patty Hearst, the effort ended with the revival of the Flycoons.)
Photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark
Penelope Taylor gets off a forehand pass against Leigh Greenwood. In ultimate, covering someone in a man-to-man (or woman-to-woman) defense essentially amounts to forcing the handler to throw the disc forehand by covering any passing lanes available for a backhand toss.

The Flycoons make up the most competitive level of Missoula’s ultimate scene. Three years ago, they made it to the Northwest regional tournament where, according to Flycoon and spring league Commissioner John O’Connor, “We promptly got stomped.” The experience made team members more serious about preparing for the championship season and, in 2005, the Flycoons missed a trip to nationals by just a single point. Redoubling their efforts in 2006 earned them a trip to nationals where they finished 11th out of 16 teams. The result left the team with “the feeling we have some unfinished business,” says O’Connor, which they aim to take care of at this year’s national championships in late October.

First, however, there’s six months of practice and tournaments. The largest component of practice is local pick-up games, played Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at River Bowl, the athletic field just west of the Madison Street bridge on the south bank of the Clark Fork River. Despite not being explicitly competitive, pick-up players tend to be less tolerant of ineptitude than spring leaguers; the pace of the games is quicker and skilled regulars predominate.

On Wednesdays during April and May, pick-up at the River Bowl is suspended in favor of spring league games, played on Missoula Parks and Recreation fields at Playfair Park. During spring league games, former members of Trigger Hippy and current members of the Flycoons share the pitch with rookies and rank amateurs. With a focus on recreation rather than competition, spring league tends to be something different from other ultimate.

“There’s this competitive ultimate out there and when you participate in that, it’s actually quite a lot of training and practice and stuff like that,” says Flycoon and spring leaguer John MacLean, known on the field as Fast Johnny. “It’s just like any other sport and so playing spring league is completely different. It’s basically a different game.”

On opening night, those differences are apparent. For starters, the five-minute warning for the start of matches comes 15 minutes late. Commissioner O’Connor, know as Johnny O., or just J.O., gives a pep talk to the team I’ve joined while I empty my pockets. It’s about having fun, he says. Don’t get upset if you blow your coverage or drop the disc. If we lose, we still get to drink free beer like everyone else.

Some strategy talk ensues, something about normally playing a zone but not this week, and then how we’re playing man-to-man (or woman-to-woman, this being a thoroughly co-ed sport), which I also don’t really understand. The basic rules are clear enough though: Ultimate is played by teams of seven on a field 40 yards wide and 120 yards long with 25-yard-deep end zones at either end; if someone catches the disc in the end zone, their team scores a point; the person with the disc can’t move from the spot where she caught it nor can she hold it for more than 10 seconds; if the disc hits the ground, it changes hands. And one thing becomes abundantly clear: it involves a lot of running.
Photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark
Spring league Commissioner John O’ Connor, aka Johnny O. or J.O., prepares to throw the disc to start off a spring league game.

After my team’s first point, I rotate in. Defense suits me better than offense because I don’t have much idea about how to get open and would prefer to have the attention somewhere else anyway, something that seems most likely if I’m not handling the item everyone is focused on getting. Regardless, I’m hardly an asset going in either direction. I sub myself out. My teammate Skyla Sisco—a former Lady Griz basketball standout and WNBA player, and current Flycoon—is looking for a stick to draw a diagram in the dirt. I give her my notepad and she diagrams out the force defense we’re playing, which makes the concept clearer to me and the other rookies looking on. It boils down to always trying to make your opponent throw the disc forehand.

The match is exciting, full of bobbled catches and spectacular dives, long runs mixed with lightning-quick give-and-gos. I’m glad I’m not just a spectator, and my teammates seem glad of it too even though that means mostly tolerating my performance. I got beat for several points, maybe more than my team lost by, and it wasn’t just because I was confused either. I saw my guy running away from me and there was nothing I could do about it.

“I play to win”

Spring league might tailor its demands to a mellower set, but it still serves the needs of even the most competitive in the ultimate community.

“It’s really good to have a spring league,” says Fast Johnny, “because it gets new people playing ultimate and it gets the community aware of ultimate and it shows people that it’s a good thing, that it’s a lot of fun and so it helps the sport grow.”

J.O. points out that the competitive level relies on the recreational scene. “The more open you are and the more exposure the sport gets,” he says, “the better it will be for the growth of Missoula ultimate because if we can get one guy…who comes out to play barefooted with beads around his neck and then a year later he’s finding himself playing in the national championship—if we can get one of those a year we can keep the competitive team alive.”

He’s not just making that example up. Ken Billington, a UM student who traveled to nationals with the Flycoons last year, was first exposed to ultimate in 2005.
While the league has a “great relationship” with Missoula Parks and Recreation, from whom it gets field space at Playfair Park, J.O. says, the portion of park recently given over to Splash Montana is evidence “the available space for field sports in Missoula is getting squeezed further and further.”

“I found out about spring league,” says Billington, “[because] I was just walking through the park and they just picked me up. I was just barefoot and I like to play Frisbee and they were just like ‘Hey, you should play with us.’ I was like ‘Sweet, is it too late?’ and they were like ‘Nope.’ That was two years ago. A year went by then just last year I got on the [Flycoons].”

Part of developing new talent includes making spring league a priority throughout the ultimate community. Daphne Evans, a current Flycoon and former Trigger Hippy member who has been playing ultimate since the mid-’90s, points out how practice for the Flycoons deliberately avoids days that would interfere with spring league or pick-up games.

“We chose to train on a different day so that spring league wouldn’t fade away,” she says, “which I think was pretty important and pretty hard for the team because it meant four days of Frisbee if you were going to all the pick-up [and spring league games]. But it was important to the people who have been playing for years because it meant that we weren’t going to let it die…The ultimate scene is the pick-up scene.”

For someone like me who assumed ultimate was somehow laid back just because it involves sporting equipment stereotypically favored by starry-eyed love children taking a break from sun-drenched hootenannies, hearing that pick-up was the heart of the game in Missoula wasn’t so surprising. But seeing hundreds of people toughing it out in cold, drizzly conditions—and hearing about why they do it—shows ultimate is more than that.

“The joy that I find in ultimate,” says Fast Johnny, “is not the social laughing and joking around all the time. I mean, it’s still fun and I enjoy it, but that’s not where my joy in ultimate comes from.” Gesturing around at the clusters of competitors standing in the waning twilight with plastic cups of beer, he says, “Some people play ultimate for the party. I play”—and here he pauses a little like a heretic in a church—“to win.”

Judging from the mass of people milling toward and away from a keg on the ground next to the field, Fast Johnny has hit upon something elemental about spring league: plenty of people play for the party.

I can see why; it’s a good party.

“Value the disc”
As spring league progresses, the complexion of the game changes. I notice the opposing team introduces a zone defense. So there’s some theory, something to wrap my head around and watch as other rookies try to do the same. My team broke the zone most often with some long bombs. Hucking the disc the length of the field isn’t ideal—quick swing passes are the way to beat the zone with good form, says J.O.—but it is a way to score.

When we matched up man-to-man, I tried to defend someone from the other team that my teammates told me came to ultimate from disc golf. Carrying a couple of extra pounds around the middle (like me) but possessing a deadly ability to put the disc wherever he wanted (unlike me), he beat me most of the time. But at least I could hear him breathing. The first game, I couldn’t hear anything—I just watched as my guy repeatedly ran clear.

I get more advice as I come off the field. Don’t cover someone with the disc like he’s handling a basketball; since he has to pass and can’t dribble, the key is to obstruct the throwing lanes. Don’t move laterally. Crossings the field when there’s a bunch of people in play just clogs things up. Run up and back—pop in and out—and open up space for people to move the disc downfield by either occupying your own defender or getting clear of him. On a turnover, let someone who can handle the disc handle it; we need to value the disc.

If the hint of flintiness in that last piece of advice tilts toward competition at the expense of inclusion, it’s more than overwhelmed by the silliness built into spring league to ensure no one could possibly take it too seriously. Every week each team honors one man and one woman with awards like best spirit, best defense or best lay-out; the names are announced during a drawing for prizes like belt buckles and beer coozies. Team chants open each half of the game and each squad makes up a song about the other team, performing it at the conclusion of the match.

By the second half of the second game, my team seemed to have settled on a chant—our name, T. Hux!, followed by a long, low growl—not as elaborate as some others but elegant in its simplicity. Our songsmithing could use some work, however. At first, we had a pretty good one playing off the last couple syllables and the implicit promise of our opponents’ name—Teruanewactyl. The next time we were somewhere between passable and sad, adapting a lullaby to rhyme the words periwinkle (the color of our opponents’ shirts) and tinkle (what we would have done if the score was any closer). We also tried to execute a maneuver in which the lightest of us would flap her arms while rolling forward on top of us and screeching like the namesake of the Pterodactyl team we were serenading. We botched the maneuver horribly, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. I resolve to learn the name of next week’s opponent and come up with a better song for them. It seems like the least I can do.

“Social capital”

After Little League games, there’s no keg of beer. That’s a big difference between the inclusion-oriented sports of my youth and ultimate. But something else strikes me as incongruent: after the game is over, when I slap hands with members of the other team and say “Good game,” for the first time I can remember, I mean it.

While teamwork is a big part of play at spring league, the league itself—rather than the individual club teams—seems to be where players’ allegiances lie, at least in the early going.

“My concept of team,” Commissioner J.O. says, “has to do a lot more with wishing people well and caring for them than it does with coming together to crush somebody. We’re not really about coming together to crush somebody and make them whimper off the field.”

At least, not during spring league. Things like cheers that downplay the competitive angle of the game—after all, it’s almost impossible to take yourself or the results of the game too seriously after you’ve rolled around on the dirt and screeched like an extinct dinosaur in front of your opponents—aren’t forced upon it at the higher levels.

“We didn’t really cheer at nationals,” says J.O. “Nobody really cheered at nationals.”

But one element of the sport is consistent among all levels and every player says it’s ultimate’s defining feature: Spirit of the Game. Ultimate does not have referees; players call fouls on themselves and have to work out disputes through discussion, even in the heat of competition. That might seem feasible at spring league’s slow-pitch pace, but it’s a practice that carries up to the highest levels, both club team tournaments and varsity college teams. J.O. describes it as an ethical practice.
Photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark
Will Sutton, left, passes while Nate McConnell looks on during a pick-up game at River Bowl, the athletic field west of Madison Street on the south bank of the Clark Fork River.

“From a formal point of view, [Spirit of the Game] means it’s self-officiating,” he says. “From an informal point of view you try to say idealistically that it involves integrity, honesty, fairness and respect for your opponents.”

In Missoula, ultimate players aim to use Spirit of the Game as a teaching tool as well. This year, they started a youth league in conjunction with the Flagship Program as a way to get young people active and have some fun but also instill virtues exemplified by Spirit of the Game.

“Because it’s a self-officiating sport,” says J.O., “what it does for high-schoolers who are full of hormones and whatever else is it makes them figure out conflict resolution on their own in a non-argumentative, non-hitting-each-other sort of way.”

Conflict resolution isn’t the only value taught through ultimate. The people who play it form a community, a social network in which people feel free to call upon one another for things that have nothing to do with scoring points during a match. Missoula ultimate maintains an e-mail distribution list with just more than 200 members; J.O. estimates about 30 of them “are interested in playing on a very competitive level and spending every waking moment thinking about ultimate.” The volume of the traffic on the e-mail list seems to bear that out; job postings and requests for a truck topper or the loan of a bicycle mix in with and often overwhelm official ultimate business and trash-talking.

“The thing I like about spring league,” says J.O., “is that yeah it’s a team sport and you’re sort of cheering for your team and all, but it’s a lot more about meeting people, having fun, getting some exercise, learning something different and really just being part of what I consider to be an extremely cool community.”

In his 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, social scientist Robert Putnam discusses the decline of what he dubs social capital, defined as “social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” Evoking the image of a lone bowler knocking down pins without the social structure provided by a bowling league, Putnam traces a fair amount of malaise to declining social capital, noting, for instance, that children in places with greater amounts of social capital fare better by seemingly unrelated measures like health and literacy than children in places with less. Watching people socialize after an ultimate match, it’s clear those networks are being formed and the positive effects will extend beyond those networking.

The youth outreach program started this year is a case in point. While a UPA grant funded a portion of its costs, the majority of the money came from spring league registrants—100 players voluntarily paid an extra $5 when registering with the understanding that the money would fund high-school clubs.

The civic spirit embedded in those donations complements the benefit spring leaguers clearly perceive for themselves.

“After the games people are all hanging out,” says J.O. “You just meet so many different people, and you have a common thread so for me the idea…is taking that common thread and making it more solid…It is about building a community…That’s probably the reason I keep running the league even though I say every year I’m not going to do it next year.”

Ultimately, the connections are not just about the game either.

“When I need something or I have something [to get rid of],” says J.O. “I just send an e-mail to the group—‘I want to sell this to someone in the community. I’ll sell it cheaper to you than I would if I put it in the paper—and when I need something, I say ‘Does anybody know anything about this?’ If I needed carpentry work, I’d rather hire somebody who I play ultimate with than I would to go out and hire someone I don’t know.”

“I didn’t know you played ultimate”

The growth of Missoula ultimate is now up against constraints beyond the league itself. According to J.O., the challenge boils down to available field space. While the league has a “great relationship” with Missoula Parks and Recreation, J.O. cites the portion of Playfair Park given over to Splash Montana as evidence “the available space for field sports in Missoula is getting squeezed further and further.” That only compounds the fact, he says, that Missoula “already has a pretty pathetic amount of field space per capita compared to all of our peer cities.”

Not surprisingly, this community issue has spurred the invilvement of Missoula’s ultimate players in a community solution. The plan—to create a complex for field sports as part of a proposed Fort Missoula Regional Park, located on city and county lands between South Avenue and the Bitterroot River—was presented to voters in a 2002 county bond issue that would have funded the project. The bond passed in the city but still failed overall because of opposition in the county, although proponents—including Missoula ultimate—hope to get a retooled issue on the ballot again for next year’s election, says J.O.

“When I was [most recently] setting up the fields for the game I had three different groups of parents come and ask me if they could have space in the park for their kids to play soccer,” says J.O. “I had to say ‘I’m sorry but we’ve got it rented’ because we don’t have the space, which really bums me out and peeves them off. But I keep telling every one of them, ‘Make sure you support the development of Fort Missoula Regional Park because we’ve got the land out there.’”
Photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark
Michael Farris and Jesse Adams return a keg to the truck after the conclusion of a pick-up game. Each week spring league games conclude with the draining of a keg by the nearly 200 players in attendance.

But at the end of opening day, when the competitors move off the field as a complimentary keg of beer is being tapped and the names of the best spirit winners are being called out, there is enough space, at least, for socializing. In the crowd are university students and their teachers, lawyers and freelance photographers, nonprofit administrators and real estate agents; a few players stand watch over baby carriages, including one woman who rushed off the field at halftime, explaining her daughter is “announcing to everyone that she has a poopy diaper.” All the while, familiar shapes and faces emerge from the deepening shadows.

“I didn’t know you played ultimate,” a few say to me.

I didn’t know I did either.

But I know I’ll be back next week, if my team and the league allow it. The thought gives me a little extra incentive to go out and run around the park or stop and throw the disc when I see a group of people doing so. Furthermore, it gives me a reason to look forward to Wednesday afternoons, when I’ll get in a good game, improve my play from the previous week, see some familiar faces and get to know some new people too.

Maybe when spring league is done, if I’ve improved enough or am just feeling ornery, I’ll drop in at River Bowl and play some summertime pick-up. Or maybe I’ll just wait for next spring to roll around to get my fix.

Either way, the next thing I need to do is get some cleats. I haven’t had a pair since playing intramural football in college, but someone else in spring league has already promised to hook me up.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Feeling the Burn of Bad Willpower

I am so far behind on posting it is ridiculous. I wrote this and stuck it in my drafts folder two weeks ago.

Saturday Jen and I had big plans to workout together…they were thrown for a loop when the Purdue University men's basketball team managed to get into the Big 10 semifinals against #1 Ohio State and the game was aired nationally. Since I hadn’t gotten to see my beloved Boilermakers play all year I decided to alter my plans and fit the game in. So my friend Rick Simmons came up to my chateau on the hill to watch the game. Jen went for a run and Liam stayed with the men. It was a very good basketball game for 35 minutes until Ohio State pulled away at the end. Jen slipped off a sidewalk coming down from a neighborhood higher up the mountain and sprained her ankle so I went and picked her up and decided to head off to the gym on my own, leaving her with her ankle elevated and Liam feeding…what a woman!

So I hopped on my bike and rode the whopping 2.7 miles downhill to the YMCA. Felt pretty good. Then I got my ass kicked. I Started off with the official Crossfit warm up: 3 rounds of 15 reps of
Samson stretch
Overhead squat with broomstick
Sit-ups (25 reps on flat extension apparatus)
Back extensions
Pull-ups
Dips

I did this in a little over 15 minutes, which isn’t setting the world on fire but was more than enough to get the heart pumping and the sweat flowing.

I then moved into a Workout of the day Rick had described during the game…it sounded easy and manageable (what a fool believes).

4 Rounds for time of:

1. 200M sprints (about 30 seconds of sprinting)

2. 15 burpees

After completing the second round I thought I was going to puke and I’d only been at the gym for about 25 minutes total. My heart was trying to jump out of my mouth along with all the water I’d consumed. I failed to complete all 4 rounds.

Riding home and struggling to get to the top of the backside “shortcut” up the hill, I thought about my willpower and how weak it was at the moment. I need more crossfit and running and less '24' and Good Eats on the Food Network!

A good burpee demo can be seen on this page http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/excercise.html which is part of the Crossfit site, one of the coolest concepts my friend John Chandler ever turned me onto.

Hope you’re all getting those bones moving and muscles loosened. See you all on the fields very soon!

J to the O

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Losing Weight the Rotavirus Way

Catchy title, don’t you think? After last week I needed to find some humor somewhere, so as I was driving away from the airport Friday morning from a canceled flight, I thought I could write a book entitled Losing Weight the Rotavirus way.

I was on cloud nine Sunday night after the Colts completed their unexpected run in the playoffs with a nice Super Bowl win and was looking forward to exchanging barbs with my Chicago friends on Monday as I lay down to sleep. Unfortunately I woke up at 5:00 AM with a rumble in my tummy that indicated I needed to make a quick dash to the toilet. Thinking I must’ve gotten hold of some bad food, I proceeded to get ready for work since I was already awake. After 4 more trips to the bathroom in less than an hour I knew I was headed for a miserable day in the least. I’ve got a bathroom right next to my office so it didn’t seem to bad at first, but by Noon I’d worn a nice path in the carpet between my desk and the loo. I decided to stick out the day (mistake #1) and drink lots of water. By the time I got home I was finished. What proceeded the following three days is probably considered torture by the United Nations. Between Monday at 5:00 AM and Thursday night I lost 12 pounds (I only weighed 160 lbs to begin with) and nothing stayed in my system.

At 2:00 AM Friday morning it started again and I wished to heck that I could cancel my trip to Denver, where I attended and spoke at a small conference. But life goes on, I said to myself, and so I plodded off to the airport at 6:00 AM only to discover the flight hadn’t landed the night before and everyone with half a brain had already re-scheduled to the other three flights to Denver leaving Missoula. After an hour and a half wait, I was re-routed to Denver through a 5:00 PM Delta flight stopping over in Salt Lake, with a 9:00 PM arrival time. The flight from Missoula to Salt Lake was actually quite pleasant, leading to the false belief that I had turned the corner. The rotaviran gremlins danced with glee in my tummy as I arrived at my connection gate to find my flight was delayed 2 hours. I didn't arrive in Denver until after 11:00 PM, 14 hours after I was originally scheduled to land.

But waiting in airports does have advantages for busy bodies like me…I met a young man from the sticks of Montana who wais heading to Iraq for a 9 month contract to replace armor on Bradley’s and Humvee vehicles… He was at the airport with his 4 month pregnant girlfriend and her family, all very Montana-esque. I also eavesdropped on two evangelical couples heading to Dakar in Senegal… They were so clean that I picked them out as either mercenaries or evangelicals from the get go…I’m good. Across the aisle from me was another woman who was in line with me in the morning, on the same flight Friday evening and on the connection to Denver; she kept staring at me (or I kept staring at her?) and I’m wondering if she either thought I was stalking her or if she wondered if I thought she was stalking me… Boredom and a wandering mind in airports are a bad thing.

And another thing…I hate those damn Bluetooth headsets people wear around these days like hood ornaments. There was a guy in the airport two seats down from me watching a movie on his laptop…..the volume was loud enough to cause stares…and he had his bluetooth in. His ringtone was set to the sound of an old-fashioned ringer and it was LOUD, really loud, as weare his conversations. This type of person bugs the snot out of me. And worst yet, the movie he was watching was “The Postman”, that super shitty Kevin Costner flick.

Ramble, ramble, rambling.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Show Your Colts Pride

Vote for the Colts

It is very strange to me that the Colts are actually in the Super Bowl. Indianapolis is never center stage. Except for the old days when the ABA Indiana Pacers were tops and the Indianapolis 500 was THE sporting event in the world, Indianapolis one claim to fame from a sporting perspective was the Pacers vs. Lakers blowout NBA finals. Although Butler University is enjoying great success (Hinkle Fieldhouse is still one of the best places to see a basketball game), Indianapolis has always been the red-headed step child to the sporting mecca of Chicago. So now here we are, against Chicago.

I really hope Indianapolis wins. Why? Well, they aren't a flashy team with star players (except for Manning) and they don't make headlines. No players are adting movie stars, no one is getting arrested (at least lately), nobody makes the headlines. On the whole, they are a humble lot and they aren't like many of the other players of this generation who are all about "me" and instant gratification. They've been plugging away, doing this the old fashioned way. Plus, their coach is the most humble man you'll meet, who has endured plenty of personal tragedy and who quietly rose through the ranks to become a true leader.

Go Colts!

I have more side bets with Bears fans than I've ever bet on anything in my entire life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Homemade Protein Bars

Recently I started my workout routine again. It has been slow going but I am determined to start the Ultimate Frisbee training season in better shape physically and mentally this year. I'm hardly an impact player on our team, and admittedly last year I was hardly a role player either but I am hoping to keep this pipe dream alive and hope to try for one more year of playing mixed club before moving along to the pastures of the masters division.

So I began doing the Crossfit warm up and workouts about three weeks ago. After a week of slow going, things started to pick up and I am now feeling like I'm getting back in shape a little. I need to work on the cardio big time and I also need to concentrate more on what I am putting into my body. I'm a big fan of protein and love the Zone bars. Last week I made a sideways remark about the price to Jen and said I should try to make my own...she called me on it and so I spent a little time surfing the net looking for homemade protein bar recipes.

I found two I liked and decided to use a combination of the ingredients they offered as a base for my own bars. I relied heavily on the directions provided by Alton Brown (Food Network) for mixing and cooking. From the base concoction you can go many directions. In my case, for this first attempt I decided on a "G.O.R.P." type recipe, adding fruit, nuts and chocolate chips. The bars turned out quite tasty and, by my rather rudimentary calculations, are high in protein as well.

I decided to list the recipe here. As I said, I just built off recipes readily available online, so you can feel free to take mine and make it your own. On my second batch, I took a huge shortcut and used Nature's Path Organic Granola with Flax and Pumpkin Seeds instead of the rolled oats and other base dry ingredients...bars were actually better but that is probably due to the added sweeteners in the pre-made granola.

Johnny O's Gob -o- Stuff Protein bars

1 cup whey or soy protein powder
1/2 cup brown rice flour
11/2 cups pulverized organic Rice Krispies
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup flax seed
1 cup crushed raw almonds
1/2 cup crushed pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup crushed pistachios
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup crushed chocolate chips

2 large whole eggs, beaten
1 package soft silken tofu
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unfiltered honey
1/2 cup unfiltered apple juice
2/3 cup natural peanut butter

Canola oil, for pan


Line the bottom of a 2 13 by 9-inch baking dishes(glass works best) with parchment paper and lightly coat with canola oil. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the tofu until smooth. Add the apple juice, brown sugar, eggs, and peanut butter, 1 at a time, and whisk to combine after each addition.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the protein powder, oats,flour, bran, rice krispies, salt, nuts and seeds. Set aside.
Coarsely chop the dried cherries and chocolate chips. Set aside.

Add the wet mixture to the protein powder mixture and stir well to combine. Fold in the dried fruit and chocolate (if you want to chop the nuts instead of crushing them, add them to the fruit/chocolate mixture to be folded in rather than the dry mix). Spread evenly in the prepared baking dishes and bake in the oven for 35 -40 minutes (Alton Brown recommends the internal temperature reach 205 degrees F). Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Johnny O's Best of

Each year I make a "Best of" compilation of the best new music I've come across issued that year. This annual tradition dates back a couple of decades to the days of cassette tapes when I'd trade my best of tapes with Pat Gallagher, a fellow Purdue student and the first person I knew who listened to The Replacements. Pat always seemed to be the man when it came to new music and I miss getting his compilations. In the past three or four years, I've been exchanging compilation CD's with Mark "Weed" Need, who happens to be the hippest law professor I've ever known and surely the hippest Indiana University has ever employed. Although Weed's compilations tend to lean heavily towards the alt.country genre, they are still fabulous gifts and lead me to broaden my musical horizons each year.
Alas, 2006 was not a banner year for me in the realm of discovering music. Not only did my spending priorities change from those of my single-man lifestyle, but there was a surprising absence of what I consider new and exciting in the world of music...or at least the part of that world I 'm exposed to.
Some exceptions I should mention:

1. Love Train - Wolfmother.
I was absolutely delighted by the Australian Rock power trio Wolmother's self-titled release. One reviewer claims this band was 30 years late to the rock party, with their hard-hitting beats and "psychodelic" tunes. Not sure I'd go that far, but they get my nod anyway
2. Seer Believer - The White Birch.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Wolfmother is the group The White Birch, another trio but this one hails from Norway. Their 2006 release is their 5th and earned rave reviews internationally, but longtime fans accused them of "moving to the mainstream" with one reviewer issuing this cautionary statement, "Just a word of caution out of the book of Coldplay: we all know what happens when emotional bands move to the center. Millions of records sold, marriages to supermodel actresses and windsurfing in New Zealand. Don't say we didn't warn you guys."
3. Black Swan - Thom Yorke.
What can I say, I love Radiohead. Someone said he should have called this album Kid B, although I wouldn't go that far. Many of the songs don't do it for me, but Black Swan, featuring the phrase, "This is F*cked Up", repeated over and over, gets in my head and won't leave. My message to Thom, keep creating, keep creating.
4. You Could Be Happy - Snow Patrol
I promise I am not selling out...really. Snow Patrol seems to me sometimes to be another one of those Best Buy created bands, although I know that striking generalization is not fair. But let's face it, there IS an awful lot of mass promotion going on in the box stores for this band. Having said that, I really like You Could Be happy. Haunting melody.
5. Paralyzed - Rock Kills Kid.
I seem to be reverting to Pop-Alternative with these last two selections, or maybe pretending I'm a 20-something, I don't know. What I do know is this song, the result of two years of being a squatter by the lead singer, is catchy and post-punkish in its own way.
6. Level - The Raconteurs.
From the early French, a raconteur is someone who tells a good story, in the case of The Raconteurs, it's a damn good story at that. White Stripes, yada, yada, yada...this side project gained steam and then took off.
7. Hey Now Now - Michael Franti & Spearhead.
I really could have chosen almost any song off of the 2006 release, Yell Fire! This is a solid disc perhaps enriched for me since I was fortunate enough to see Michael and friends perform live at the Wilma Theater here in Missoula. This was the best show I've seen in a very long time. He sings his mind and is a positive voice for peace in the world. Yell Fire Michael!
8. Think Long - Mates of State.
I'm pretty sure this song is included because of a very long solo drive I took to and from Salt Lake City this summer. I was on my way to play in an Ultimate tourney and spent some of the trip calling friends to tell them the news I was going to be a Dad...I played this song about 20 times in a row.
9. The W.A.N.D. - Flaming Lips.
Damn, these guys not only have staying power, but they keep getting better. I think this song puts the Lips back in my rotation, after a sad absence.
11. Put Your Records On (Acoustic) - Corrine Bailey Rae .
I'll admit it...I never heard of here before a recommendation from iTunes. What a beautiful voice! Makes me want to sit on a back porch with a group of friends, a guitar and the lovely Ms. Rae.
12. Could We - Cat Power
Charlyn "Chan" Marshall's 7th album is her best. Her minimalist sound, combined with backing from a group of Memphis musicians, is the perfect combination. I hope you agree.
13. Come Together?Dear Prudence/Cry Baby Cry - The Beatles
Love does it for me, not entirely but the recomposition is a nice round out to my Beatles collection.
14. It Beats 4 U - My Morning Jacket.
From the Live recording Okonokos, this song and Off the Record are strong live performances from a funky, wild crazy southern rock band. I'm in.


So that's it for CD1...I'll post more but before signing off I should mention that CD2 will contain many remastered releases, like The Clash, Neil Diamond, Ella Fitzgerald and Neil Young....plus some new stuff from Pavement, Sonic Youth and more.

Enjoy.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bathtime for Liam


We know a couple of things already about Liam; he loves to take a bath and he loves to snuggle after a bath. He also loves to hear sounds like clucks and whistles and tongue blows. He is fascinated by his aqua mobile sent by Aunt Nancy.
Of course everyone thinks their baby is perfect and we're no exception. About a week ago, Liam decided to answer my repeated clucks with one of his own. Now he waits to hear a cluck and then will smile and cluck back. He is tracking and holding his head steady by himself. We think he's awfully advanced and suspect he will start talking any day now...or at least making sounds that I can pretend are words.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Deep Freeze

This morning it was -8 degrees (-22 Celsius) here in Missoula, which was nothing compared to the -30 in Butte and the -47 in West Yellowstone; in short Montana has been hit by a deep winter freeze. Despite the fact that it is too cold to enjoy many things outdoors, the sun is shining brightly into my kitchen window and I am enjoying looking out and over the house behind us into the Sapphire Mountains looming nearby.

I converted my old blog to the new Blogger platform yesterday, changing the layout in the process. during the conversion I was looking at some statistics and saw just how sharply the number of posts I make has dropped off, from almost daily to not even monthly anymore...so I'll add that to my list of resolutions for the new year...that I will once again start posting regularly.

I thought I'd start by posting some of the highlights of my crazy 2006:

In 2006 I got almost 35 days of snowboarding in, including my first out of bounds experience. I enjoyed another season pass at Snowbowl and took my annual 4 day trip to Montana's answer to aspen, Big Sky.
In April I discovered my girlfriend and I were expecting. Lots of complicating circumstances, lots of anxiety but an overall feeling of joy and obligation ensued.
For the 4th year, I ran the Missoula ultimate leagues and we once again had a record number of players.
I traveled to Salt Lake in May for a men's Ultimate tournament, I hadn't played Open in a while, so it was fun and surprisingly I played decent enough to decide on playing another season.
I started training hard for the club Ultimate season in early June, only to be sidelined by an emergency Appendectomy. Despite this, I made the trip to Calgary with the Missoula team, where we finished 3rd. I also attended tourneys in Portland, Bozeman and Boise, all the while trying to grow my relationship with my girlfriend (as her belly was also growing).
In September our Ultimate team won the ID, UT, WY, MT section in Idaho Falls and qualified for the regional championships, where we then qualified for the national championships (as previously posted).
My girlfriend and I bought a home together in October.
On November 17, 2006 at about 6:00 PM, I proposed and she accepted...an hour later she went into labor.
On November 18 (as previously posted) our son, Liam John Hays O'Connor was born...the first non-Hoosier O'Connor (from our clan anyway) since the late 1800's.
We hosted Thanksgiving for much of my family.
Liam got to visit Indiana over Christmas and we spent New Year's eve in a hot tub down the Bitterroot Valley watching fireworks go off under a cloudless, star-filled cold, cold sky.

Not a bad year.

Being a Dad, at this stage in life, and in the manner I did it, has some unique challenges. I must admit sometimes I feel like I am not myself, rather I am a zombie going through the motions of work, changing diapers, getting up 4-5 times a night and doing it all over again. But as all of you parents out there already know, one smile from Liam or observing him interact with his Mom or siblings, and every other care in the world melts away. It's a feeling I've been waiting for a long time to have and it makes up for all the "stuff" I am missing, like snowbaording, hanging out with my friends and teammates, working out, vegging out and spending time writing letters and emails.

Happy New Year.