Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My New Podcast!

For the last, few years I've had a dream/goal of starting a podcast. It first started as me carrying around an audio recorder (a.k.a. my iPhone) and audibly documenting parts of my day. It really didn't work though, since people couldn't SEE the fireworks show I was attending, or actually feel like they were at the baseball game I went to. I also was never able to figure out how to post it on iTunes (probably better that way). Swing and a miss.

I also tried a video podcast, of sorts, when I posted a video every day for an entire year on YouTube. While I did manage to upload 365 videos that year, things got pretty boring towards the end when I simply would forget to record things throughout the day or have absolutely nothing exciting or funny to talk about. Strike 2.


But earlier this year I gave some hard thought to trying an audio podcast again. Right away, I knew I couldn't do a sports podcast. The market is so saturated with guys who want to analyze last night's game or talk about fantasy football sleepers that you have to already have a well-established fan base or be part of a bigger entity (ESPN, CBS Sports, etc.) to even get off the ground. A nobody like me can't just pick up and launch a sports podcast and expect to get anywhere.

Sure, a sports podcast with the guys would be a ton of fun to sit down and record on a regular basis, but instead I gave some thought to the kind of podcast / information I felt that I needed. Something that I would appreciate and take to heart, rather than just half listen to at work. So that led me to think, 'What might someone in my age range / phase of life be interested in hearing?'

I am in the "young husband/father" phase of my life, and it can be a difficult place to be at times. You find yourself wearing lots of hats that all deserve high priority, but it's hard keeping them all on your head at times. But you know who might be able to help? Other guys who have already gone through this phase of life and can offer up help or solutions. BOOM! That's it!

                                                            

A simple description of this podcast could be "Men Teaching Men." Sitting down and talking to guys to get their tips, advice, stories and life lessons to then passing them along to you, the listener. I'll be (selfishly?) covering topics and questions I want answers to, and also taking input from listeners.

After all that, I'm excited to announce that the Man Card University podcast will be launching on Soundcloud and iTunes on Monday, July 11th! We're also already up and running on Twitter, Facebook and our blog!

I'll post things about the podcast here and there, but everything you want/need to know about it will be in those locations. I hope you stuck with me through this post, and I hope you'll stick with me into the podcast realm as well!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Our Passport Fiasco (a.k.a. "How to Renew an Expired Passport in Less Than 24 Hours")

Right off the bat, this post is going to serve two purposes: 1) to tell you a (slightly) humorous story about the emotional roller coaster that Karin and I went through in getting ready for our recent vacation, and 2) to let you know how to overcome this obstacle if (heaven forbid) you find yourself in the same situation as we did.

Karin and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary later this year, so we decided to book a sunny, tropical, all-inclusive vacation to Mexico to get away for a handful of days in May - even if it meant Karin being apart from Evie overnight for the first time. (Eek!) In the days leading up to our departure, we both had lists of items that we needed to accomplish. One of my items included finding our passports.

The night before our flight was scheduled to take off, I started searching the office for our passports. (In hindsight, I probably should have thought to do this once we booked our trip back in March.) Karin's was right where I expected it to be - in the same box that we keep our stamps, checkbooks and other things we only need once a month (at most). Mine, however, was nowhere to be found. We turned our entire office upside-down, and I even rummaged through my underwear and sock drawer in the bedroom. Leave no boxer unturned!

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

It got to a point where Karin, after having hauled out her suitcase, saw no point in packing it - because there was really no reason for her to do so if I had no passport. Kind of hard to travel internationally without it these days. We were bordering on hopelessness, and after almost two hours, I sat at my desk with my head in my hands. Was this seriously going to happen?

Finally, I checked a small, plastic desk organizer that we have on a bookshelf and there it was - hiding underneath a stack of photos. Of course, this was a location that both of us had looked at least twice before. We both breathed a sigh of relief, and Karin went back to her packing now that we'd found it.

I will never put anything of value in here ever again. I don't trust it.

As I held the prodigal passport in my hand a new thought dawned on me. "The first time I got this passport was for a trip I took to Egypt in January of 2006. That was over 10 years ago, and I'm pretty sure that passports expire after 10 years. I bet you this stinking thing is expired." I took a wary breath before cracking open the book and sure enough - it had expired seven months ago, back in October of 2015. Now what???

We called friends. We called family members. We scoured the internet and found blog posts (just like this one). It was 8:30pm and our flight was supposed to leave at 8:30am the NEXT MORNING! After reading up on our options, we came to accept the fact that our current travel itinerary wasn't going to happen. But what we found out gave us a glimmer of hope that we didn't need to call off our trip...yet.

                                              ----------------------------------------------------------------

SPOILER ALERT: We ended up flying out exactly 24 hours after our original flight was scheduled and got to enjoy our Mexican vacation (minus one day). We even met some new friends - shout out to Nate & Mandi! But how did we manage to pull it off? Read on!

That night, we visited the U.S. Department of State's website and found the list of what I needed to get my passport renewed:
  • My old passport
  • A new passport photo
  • Completed DS-82 form
  • Proof of international travel
  • $170.00 ($110 passport fee + $60 expedited fee)

I also called the National Passport Information Center (they have a 24/7 line) to see if there were any available appointments at the Chicago branch the next morning. No luck. The next available appointment was seven days away. However, they told me I could just show up and hopefully get in without having a scheduled appointment. If that was my only shot, I had to take it. Here is the final timeline of events:

Wednesday Night

  • 8:30pm - I download the DS-82 form and printed it off. We also took a picture of me in front of the lightest wall in our apartment. It was absolutely terrible.
  • 8:45pm - I headed to Walgreens to print off my photo. The photo guy at the desk tells me my photo will most likely be rejected, but that he can take a good one for me (for $14). I get home and double-check that I have everything.
  • 10:30pm - We both struggle to fall asleep with so much uncertainty surrounding the next day. I set my alarm for 6:30am.
The quality passport photo we took at home. Can you tell I'd worn a hat all day?

Thursday Morning

  • 7:15am - I drive downtown to the Chicago Passport Agency to get in line with the hopes of getting an appointment once it opens at 10:00am. I'm told to wait in the cafeteria until 8:15 when I can officially go up to the (apparently sacred) 18th floor.
  • 8:00am - Karin calls the travel agency to try to reschedule our flight. She's put on hold despite the agency just opening at 8:00am. That makes no sense.
  • 8:10am - I hide in the bathroom on the 18th floor in an attempt to get first in line.
  • 8:14am - I emerge from the bathroom to find out that I'm 2nd in line behind an older Asian couple. Drats! 
  • 8:15am - Karin finally talks to someone from the travel agency who tells her that she needs to call the airline to reschedule our flight. Gee, thanks. 
  • 8:35am - Karin finishes her call with American Airlines and we make the decision to pay $XXX to change our flights. Ouch. They say it could be "a couple hours" until the confirmation email comes through. I need this email as my proof of travel though...
  • 9:30am -  An agency worker starts going through the line to make sure everyone has the appropriate forms and materials. She quickly shoots down the hopes of the Asian couple ahead of me, telling the lady she doesn't have a big enough passport photo. Karin sends me the confirmation email from American Airlines.
  • 9:31am - The worker gets to me and I show her all my materials, including the confirmation email on my phone. She directs me to a door down the hall.
  • 9:45am - The agency opens and I find myself in the front of the "Appointments" line despite not having an actual appointment. I'm assuming the urgency of my visit bumped me to the front?
  • 9:55am - I finish my visit at the agency with the promise that my passport would be ready by 3pm that afternoon.
We'd done it! Our flight was rescheduled and my passport was renewed. And by the time I picked it up, it was about 19 hours after I'd first discovered my old book was expired. That then gave us the rest of the afternoon and evening to finish packing and prepping for our 5am wake-up and drive to O'Hare. Like I said, we then went on to enjoy our trip to Mexico. Whew!

I would definitely not recommend putting yourself (or your spouse) through this predicament. It not only resulted in a rough hit to our wallets, but it probably took weeks off of our lives and gave me even more gray hairs. 

Needless to say, I have already set a reminder on my calendar for 9.5 years from now to renew my passport. I can't risk this happening again.

Have you had any crazy travel stories you'd like to share? Comment below!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Our Little Snow Bunny

Winter in Wisconsin is no joke. If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing it, just believe that my statement is true. They can be straight up brutal. Thankfully, we were able to dodge most of the cold, white stuff on our trips across the border this past winter.

The three of us were able to drive up to my parents' house to celebrate Christmas recently, and Evie was able to experience snow for the first time! Thankfully, Uncle Sam (my brother, not America) had the foresight to buy her a cute, little snow suit!

Naturally, pictures needed to be taken. Unfortunately, she's already grown a few inches since then, so it's looking unlikely that she'll fit in it again next winter!

                         
                                               

Monday, January 11, 2016

Recap: October thru December


*Opens eyes, shakes head*

I think I blacked out. Where am I? What day is it? It's...JANUARY?!?! It's been three months since I last posted here? Well I think we need to remedy that, shall we?

Recap Mode, ACTIVATE!

October
The first weekend in October marked my parents' 30th wedding anniversary, and my mom had planned a surprise renewal of vows and afterparty for my dad with lots of friends and family. Not only did this give us all a chance to get together and celebrate how awesome our parents are, but we also got to get all dressed up! Here's a picture of all of us waiting for my (blindfolded) dad to arrive via limo!

                                        

Halloween brought about our first chance to dress our little girl up as something cute and adorable. Naturally, we bought a Darth Vader mask. The mask was for me, but we bought Evie a clip-on, plush fox tail and a little fox ear headband. Karin then decked her out in a fox onesie, threw on a little face paint and voila! The cutest fox your eyes have ever beheld!
  
                                                 

November
Thanksgiving this year was spent in Wisconsin with my family, and I always love the opportunity to go to church with them and show off Evie to the people I grew up with (family friends, grade school teachers, etc). Hey, I'm a proud papa, I can flaunt my baby whenever I want to! Here's Evie with my mom, dad and brother Sam after church on Thanksgiving morning. All smiles! (Until later that day when Karin and I both got hit in the face with the flu...)

                                                

Evie also got to sport her Green Bay Packers cheerleading outfit for the game that night! I've long since forgot about what happened during that game (no need to remind me), but what was important is that Evie wears the heck out of some green and gold! Hopefully she'll be getting some more apparel later this year! (hint, hint!)

                                                                 

December
We were ecstatic for Evie's first Christmas, and looking forward to creating our own traditions that will later become staples in our family's book of memories. One thing we did for the first time this year was head downtown to the Walnut Room for dinner with Karin's parents. We had a delicious dinner, Evie met a fairy that sprinkled her with fairy dust glitter and probably put some kind of weird Christmas curse on her (but had a really cool wand Evie wouldn't let go of), and looked at all the decorated windows of Macy's.
  
                     
                                          
                                
Also, since the line was WAY too long to get Evie's picture taken with Santa, we improvised and got her picture taken with Snoopy!
                                              

Wow, how these months are flying by! Hopefully it's not another three months before you get another update!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Whole30 Update - We Made It! You Can Too!

Yesterday evening marked the last night of our Whole30 experiment. It had its ups and downs, but overall I think it went really well - I managed to lose 14 pounds! Here are some of the points / tips that we took away from the last month that you can use to make sure you stay on track while tackling Whole30 and find success.

                                                 

You need to be prepared.

The reason most of us cave to the sultry temptations of fast food is because we "don't have time" to make a meal at home or are "in a rush" as we zip around from one commitment to another. Our lives have transformed into a "Go! Go! Go!" routine that leave little time for crucial things like preparing our own food.

This is one of the many areas where my wife took the baton. She made sure to prepare a week's worth of breakfast foods on Mondays when she had the day off of work. I would have severely struggled with this plan if I wasn't able to just grab some of the pre-made egg muffins and sweet potato/apple hash every morning. If all I had was a banana, my usual cravings would have reared their ugly heads much earlier in the day making it really hard for me to make it through the work day without grabbing sugary snacks from the pantry.

Have a partner in crime.

In the past, I've tried to tackle weight loss programs or diet plans on my own. If they would have gone well, I wouldn't have the need to try Whole30 this past month. But doing this alongside Karin made all the difference. Having someone where to keep you accountable and go through the same struggles helps you keep moving forward from days one to thirty.

Make dinner leftovers into next day lunches

To cut down on having to make SO many meals, Karin made a point of making large dinners every night that could then be turned into leftovers for the next day. Again, easy to grab at 5:30 in the morning as I toss together my lunch to take to work.

Become best friends with your grill

My landlord couldn't have had better timing when he offered us a large, free, propane grill for our back "patio." When you fire up the grill as much as we did this past month, a charcoal grill just takes too long - especially when I don't get home from work until 6 or later sometimes. It made it easy to grill everything! I made chicken, pork chops, steaks, corn on the cob, zucchini and Italian sausage! And I will continue to use the grill well into the fall and winter. It just tastes so good!

                                              

Stick with the same 4-5 meals

To avoid killing yourself trying to always make a new and different meal, it's a great idea to find a handful of items that you enjoy and keep making them. Over the course of our 30 days, while it took some trial and error to find the meals that worked, Karin found some solid meals that we utilized many times. Even though most of them just contained a meat with a side of veggies, a handful of them were pretty creative! Check past blog posts to see some of the meals we had!

Get rid of tempting food
If you're like me, you find it extremely hard to eat healthy if there is something unhealthy in the house. If I know there are cookies in the pantry or ice cream bars in the freezer, it's a struggle to stay away. So before we started Whole30, we gave away a ton of our snacks and non-Whole30 foods to my brother in-law who lives in the same building as us. Problem solved! A win-win for everyone!

Eat before parties

During Whole30, the main thing that made me regret doing the plan was when we attended family / group parties. These were the types of functions where they were serving pizza, soda, chips or even meat/veggies marinated in the wrong mix of spices/oils. The two things that come to mind were my fantasy football draft and our family Labor Day get together.

To combat that (and hopefully curb fits of rage), we tried to eat something BEFORE going to these parties. In the case of the draft, I brought my own Italian sausage to eat so I stayed away from all the other snacks that were set out.

Let me know if you've had success with Whole30 in the past. And if so, what tools you utilized to stick with it!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Race Recap: Super Bears Shuffle 5k - September 10, 2015

 Apparently I've decided to conduct further research and experimentation on what happens when a guy my size runs a 5k after training approximately zero times for it. Round two of the research happened last night at Soldier Field in Chicago for the Super Bears Shuffle 5k.

                                             

Let me preface this by saying that I am a HUGE Green Bay Packers fan. I only paid money to do this race because I lost a bet to my brother in-law (a Bears fan). In fact, I'm pretty sure the Bears shirt we got was slightly burning my skin over the duration of the evening... Not really. Maybe kind of.

Like any race held near Soldier Field, parking cost much more than one would want to pay, but I guess it comes with the territory. We walked out of the parking garage to this scene:

                                             

As you can see, there was orange and blue everywhere. Ick. We arrived MUCH too early, so we decided to walk around the perimeter of Soldier Field. I wasn't terribly excited about that decision since I wanted to be on my feet as little as possible leading up to the race, but we did it anyway. During our pre-race walk, I actually ran into two, brave souls decked out in full-on Packers gear. I gave them a huge "Go Pack!" and explained that I lost a bet, but truly was a Packers fan. They gave me a high five and said they were sorry I was in my predicament. I'm sure they caught an ample amount of crap throughout the night. I hope they made it out unscathed.

As you can see, they had huge "BEAR DOWN" letters displayed on the grounds, but the rest of the area wasn't too impressive. They had an inflatable game where you could kick field goals, a DJ playing music, a selfie station (isn't that what your iPhone is for?) and a concession truck for 'beverages.' The Bears drumline was a nice touch. I didn't see Nick Cannon though...

As we all lined up for the race, the racers got a quick pep talk from local FOX sportscaster Lou Canellis. The emcee asked him why the Bears were going to beat the Packers this weekend, and he - no lie - dodged the question and talked about how the team would grow over the next, few years under their new head coach. I had a nice chuckle at that one. As the starting horn sounded, a Bears hype video appeared on a screen set up by the start line, and fireworks shot off as the runners headed out onto the course. But I was already immersed in my Dave Matthews Band playlist by that point.

                                                       

Going into this race, I decided that I wasn't going to start off by seeing how far I could run without stopping. That's what I did during my last 5k and it came back to bite me. This time around, I decided to voluntarily alternate between running and walking, so I could make sure there was some left in the tank for a strong finish.

Along the route, there were activities set up for the runners that mimicked NFL practice drills. You could run through a gauntlet of tackling dummies, high-step through a row of tires or do some cone drills. They also had a handful of large banners set up for you to take selfies with some of the Bears players. Unsurprisingly, Jay Cutler was not one of the banners featured.

In the end, my strategy paid off and I was able to "sprint" the last leg of the race to finish three and a half minutes better than my time back in late-July! Since I trained just as much as the last one, I'm thinking that whatever weight I've lost so far during Whole30 may be to thank for getting me to the finish line faster. Or maybe the fact that I just wanted to get away from all the Bears fans A.S.A.P.  Here's my time, I managed to finish 2,001st out of 2,600 or so.



In the end, I got another medal to add to my collection, but I never plan on wearing the Bears shirt again. In related news, congrats to my wife in receiving a new shirt! Let me just wash it first... All in all, it was a fun night with my brother in-law, and I'm glad the only photo he got of me was a blurry one. Go Pack Go!

Did you participate in this race too? What'd you think? Which 5k should I look into doing next?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Whole30 - Day 22 - The End is In Sight!

If there's one word that I could use to describe our Whole30 experience recently, it would be "persistence" or "stick-to-it-iveness." I know that's two, but they more or less mean the same thing. Either way, the essence of Whole30 is gutting it out - at least for someone like me who loves him some carbs and desserts.

But the end is in sight! Our last day of Whole30 will be next Tuesday the 15th. And while we may celebrate by indulging on something we've had to stay away from for a month, we will be continuing to eat healthy after that! But I'll have more on our future plans next week.

Since my last report, Karin has continued to cook up some incredible meals (no surprise there), and we've managed to endure some social functions without caving and cheating on the plan. At the beginning of the month I had to withstand the temptation of donuts and bagels in the break room to celebrate all the September birthdays at work, and yesterday we had a family Labor Day get-together which featured some tasty looking pies and other desserts! Here are some of our recent meals:

Coconut-crusted drumsticks with an apple romaine salad
Broccoli (and other veggies) Beef
I even chipped in and grilled some tasty Italian sausages!
Sweet potato, pepper and onion hash w/ eggs and bacon

Last week, Karin and I also had our 4th wedding anniversary. And to celebrate, we took a trip to a Brazilian steakhouse! You know, the place where you get served meat on huge skewers like kings and queens? It was something we were VERY much looking forward to. Not only was it a great way to enjoy our four year anniversary, it was also the perfect way to celebrate the (near) end of Whole 30. We've done an amazing job so far, so we deserved this treat!

                                                     
                                   

Only one week left. Then the results will be tallied! I cannot wait! Do we look skinnier yet? :)