Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 202 - Hunting

I have never been hunting. Despite the fact I grew up in a rural Wisconsin community where annual hunts are almost considered a rite of passage, the idea of trekking into the woods with weapons and killing an animal for sport or for a form of sustenance was never something that piqued my interest. Neither sitting in the cold for hours on end or the idea of taking a life were things I found appealing, which resulted in me openly rejecting the idea of hunting during the first 30 years of my life. Participating in the hunt may have been a big deal to many of my friends and family, but I was absolutely fine with its absence in my life.

As the years passed, this perspective remained largely intact, but a curiosity about the experience of spending a weekend in the woods with some good company started to creep into my mind. When my friends and brothers would share their annual stories about the hunt as the holiday season began, I would be left feeling as though I was missing out on something. I still had no desire to take an animal’s life, but the opportunity to spend time sharing and making stories left me rethinking my aversion to the idea of hunting. Eventually, this perspective caused me to begin tossing the idea of going on my first hunting trip during my “I have never...” year. I wasn’t going to actively pursue the opportunity, but I convinced myself I would take on the experience if the opportunity presented itself.

With that in mind, I began planning my “I have never...” events for November several weeks ago. As I worked, the majority of the month posed little challenge in finding daily events to fill the weeks with the exception of one day, Saturday November 30th. My efforts to schedule an event for the day hitting a dead end at every turn, I began to think about pursuing a brief hunting trip to cover my bases, but the thought remained a last resort as I pressed forward in my research.

Still uncertain as to what new experience I would pursue on the last day of the month, I decided I would wait to look for more opportunities later in the month. As luck would have it, my brother Ian reached out to me a few days later with a brief email asking me if I wanted to join him hunting the last weekend of the month. Realizing the opportunity to gain the experience had fallen into my lap, I decided I would take him up on the offer, which set the plans for today’s new experience. Still hesitant and slightly uncertain about what to expect, I gathered as many warm clothes as I could and I headed up north for my first hunting experience.

The cabin

After arriving Friday night, my brother and a group of hunters immediately welcomed me to our hunting camp, which was stationed at the beautiful Northwoods cabin owned by some family friends. Within minutes of my arrival several members of the group were offering me food and drink and giving me a primer on the next day’s plans. It was easy to settle in and get comfortable with such hospitality, which was only amplified as we worked our way through dinner. Around a spread of hearty food, members of the group traded stories and told jokes to pass the time. It was clear everyone in attendance was happy to be there and ready to kick off another weekend of the annual deer hunt.

Settling in...
As the night wore on I spent some time playing games with my nephew, Bennet, and his friend, Nick, who was also the son of Ian’s close friend, Jason. Over a deck of cards we played some simple games and placed bets with stacks of gummy bears, which sparked a competitive spirit among the kids and left them with more than enough sugar before bed. Ultimately, the night wound down for some members of the camp, which left a group of six ready to gather around the table and play cards. With high spirits and plenty of beer, the guys gathered stacks of coins and settled in to place some wagers playing Sheepshead. Unfamiliar with the game, I watched on as the group worked through hands and shared some laughs. Everyone at the table was more the helpful in helping me learn the game as they played, which inevitably made me feel ready to give it a try. As a result, Ian offered to let me take his place at the table so he call it a night, which I reluctantly agreed to do.

Although it was clear I was still green, everyone at the table continued to help me through the game until I found a sort of rhythm. As we played, we filled time between plays with wise remarks, jokes, and stories, which made the time pass quickly. Eventually, we realized the clock had breached 3:00 am, which surprised everyone at the table equally. While I’m sure we could have continued playing until the sun rose, we all agreed we should get some sleep before the morning hunt. In turn, we decided to hit our bunks as the night made its steady march toward daybreak.

Finding the stand
The next morning nearly everyone at the camp rose early. Despite the fact many of us had very limited sleep, the jovial spirit and energy from the previous day remained. It was clear everyone was excited to get into the woods, which made it hard not to feel the same as I bundled up in preparation for spending a few hours in the cold. Once I was finished, Ian, Bennet, and I made our way out to a tree stand in the woods. Although we had a later start than we had hoped, we quickly took our positions in the forest hoping we could call some deer out of the space around us. As Ian and Bennet climbed high into the tree stand, I set up a portable camouflage blind and took a seat inside. It wasn't necessarily my ideal choice for my first hunting experience, but I realized the blind would serve as my post for the next few hours. As a result, I did my best to get comfortable and stay warm as the hunt got underway.

Several hours later we had seen no activity in the woods around us with the exception of a few woodpeckers and a squirrel. Our stomachs growling, we decided to head back to the cabin to grab a bite to eat and soak up some warmth. As we found our way back to the cabin, we took a brief detour through the woods to see if we could track any deer, but our persistent bad luck remained. By the time we reached the cabin, we had seen little more than some old tracks, which left us disappointed but determined to give it another try later in the day.

The view from the blind

Following a quick meal, I decided to take a short nap hoping the rest would help me stay awake through the late afternoon hunt. As the rest of the group rejoined us in the cabin, I listened to similar stories of little activity in the woods, which left some of the hunters motivated to get back out in the woods and make the most of the remaining daylight. As soon as I woke from my nap, Ian and I decided in was time we too made our way back out to the woods to try to catch activity as the afternoon moved to evening. With Bennet tagging along, we took our positions back out in the woods and set up for a long haul into dusk. To my surprise, the hours moved quickly as I constantly scanned the woods from my stationary position. Like earlier in the day, the forest around us was silent for the extent of our time in the woods, which left us empty handed as the sky became heavy with the first signs of night. Defeated, Ian, Bennet, and I packed up our things and walked back to the cabin to end my first experience hunting.

Back at the cabin I gathered my belongings and prepared to head home after the day’s experience. With the remaining members of the group trickling back to the cabin, it quickly became clear no one in the group had any luck throughout the day. While it was frustrating to some, the fact we didn’t see any activity during our hunt was somewhat of a relief to me. The persistent struggle I have with the concept of taking an animal’s life made me hesitant about the experience from the beginning, and the reality is the absence of deer made me realize the hunt is about so much more than sitting in the woods hoping you shoot an animal. The time I spent hanging out with some good people, having some drinks, and playing cards were the most memorable parts of the event, and I honestly believe that would have remained the case even if we had been successful in our hunt.

Brothers on the hunt

Stated simply, in our time together the group formed bonds and gained a camaraderie that is rare in any experience. We came together around the idea of spending a weekend in the woods pursuing an elusive animal, and with that came great stories of our time spent in the Northwoods. That takeaway was entirely unexpected, and it left me feeling as though I may have been missing out on something truly special all these years. Sure, I might not ever convince myself to kill an animal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself escaping to the Northwoods again next year. If I don’t, I’m afraid I won’t have the chance to make some amazing memories, and that’s something I don’t want to miss.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Day 201 - Counting my Blessings

I have never counted my blessings. While I have taken time acknowledge the things I’m lucky to have from time to time throughout my life, I have never actually sat down and documented all of the things I’m blessed to have in my life. The idea to do so came from two sources that ultimately led me to include such an event in my “I have never...” journey. First, the old adage “You should count your blessings!” was something my mother used to tell me when I would take things for granted growing up, and while I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be taken literally at all times, I figured I would finally follow her advice. Second, with the Thanksgiving holiday occurring this week, I thought it was the perfect time to sit down and truly think about the things for which I should be grateful. Although I originally intended to follow through with this “I have never...” experience on Thanksgiving Day, my plans were spoiled by the encroaching Black “Friday” phenomenon that has now begun to plant roots in the day of Thanksgiving. As a result, I set aside a few hours today to sit down and really think about the blessings I have been granted in my life. In doing so, I realized the experience was probably long overdue and that I’m one lucky man.

For this “I have never...” experience I won’t try to explain my thought process as I worked through the process of counting my blessings. Instead, I will simply let the photos of the list I created tell most of the story. After taking on the task I will say that I think this is something everyone should take time to do. Between the smiles and the few tears I shed, the practice of documenting all the things I have in my life made me realize some of the things I overlook, some of the things I take for granted to readily, and the real weight of the achievements I have fought to gain in my life. By the end of the experience I was humbled and I had a renewed perspective on my life and the story I have yet to tell. From that, I was only able to gain one conclusion; I’m lucky to have more love, happiness, and comfort in my life than one man deserves and I should probably do more to acknowledge that fact in my day to day life.

The front sides...

...and the back sides

There was a big part of me that didn’t know what to expect when I started this crazy “I have never...” idea, but days like today make me realize breaking out of my routines and trying things I have yet to experience is entirely worth it. Today I took on the simple task of thinking about and documenting all of the things I am blessed with in my life, yet I came away from the experience with a lifted spirit, a renewed commitment to do everything in my power to never take anything for granted, and a new outlook on my happiness. I have so much it’s almost more than my heart can stand. That takeaway is worth so much more than the few hours I took to finally count my blessings. I just hope others read this and take a little time to do the same. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day 200 - Going to a Black "Friday" Sale

I have never been to a Black Friday sale. In fact, I have never had any desire to go to a Black Friday sale. Nothing about the yearly commercial ritual, from the overwhelming overtones of materialism to the rioting crowds of people (literally) fighting for “deals”, has ever appealed to me. Each year when news reports of people harmed, hurt, or killed trying to buy things for Christmas would surface I would simply shake my head in disbelief. I didn’t understand why people put themselves in such chaos for the sake of saving a little money of stuff they probably didn’t need, and I wasn’t about to wade into the mess that is the “busiest shopping day of the year.”

Of course, I knew that I couldn’t fully understand the appeal of Black Friday unless I experienced it firsthand, which caused me to reluctantly add “going to a Black Friday sale” to my list of new experiences I sought to obtain during my “I have never...” year. As a result, early in my 365 day journey I blocked off the day after Thanksgiving to make good on my plans to experience a Black Friday sale for the first time. However, as the holiday drew closer more and more retailers began to announce their intentions to move the start of Black “Friday” to the evening of Thanksgiving Day. Although the idea of retailers forcing their way into a holiday focused on joining with family and friends to be thankful for the things we already have was enough to irritate me, I realized I had to play along if I was to gain the Black Friday sale experience. In turn, I grudgingly cut my time with Rachael’s family short this afternoon and made my way to a local Best Buy to experience Black Friday, and all its pandemonium, for the very first time.

I arrived at Best Buy nearly 90 minutes before the store’s scheduled opening thinking I would be in a good position to get in early and observe the event as it unfolded. To my surprise, a line of people wrapping around the building between a series of temporary metal fences had already formed. Despite the cold and the coming night, people had sacrificed the bulk of their holiday to stand in front of a Best Buy, guided by a setup reminiscent of barnyard corral. Somewhat ashamed I was about to subject myself to the experience, I slowly walked to the back of the quickly forming line and took my place behind the fence. Then all I could do was wait.

As I got acquainted with the few square feet of pavement that would serve as my base for the next hour and a half, I looked over the line of people on either side me. As people chattered about the items they hoped to purchase and about their previous experiences at Black Friday sales, it quickly became apparent many of them saw the event as much a holiday as the Thanksgiving festivities that were happening in homes across the country. While I didn’t understand the celebratory status they were assigning to Black Friday, I quickly settled on the idea that the way they chose to celebrate the start of the holiday season was entirely up to them, and in some ways, it wasn’t much different than the rituals many people perform for any number of holidays celebrated around this time of year... sans the violence and tumult, of course.

Getting longer...

...and longer

After nearly an hour of waiting, Rachael decided to join me in the Black Friday madness. With the cold starting to sink into my bones, her company provided a much needed distraction to help me push through the rest of the wait. As time passed, Best Buy employees began to make rounds with advertisement flyers, store maps, and tickets to reserve big ticket items included in the Black Friday sale.  Although Rachael and I didn’t have any purchases in mind for our experience at the Black Friday sale, the time spent waiting gave us plenty of time to review the ad and narrow in on some potential gifts for our family members. Eventually, we decided we would try to scoop up a few items while were at the store. The decision made me feel as though I had caved into the concept of Black Friday, but I knew doing so would help me gain the full experience of the day. As a result, we waited and listened as Best Buy employees walked by calling out the items for which they had tickets. Although the items we decided to purchase were oddly absent from the items being announced as each employee passed, we ultimately tracked down the tickets for the items we were after, which set the plan for our time in the store.

As the clock turned toward the store’s opening time, I shook out my legs and did my best to keep moving to ward off the cold gripping my body. The excitement of the crowd grew with each passing minute until the line began a sudden rapid shift forward without warning. Realizing it meant to store was open, Rachael and I did our best to keep our place in line as people surged forward toward the open doors. In a matter of moments we were inside the building with a rush of people flowing around us.


Doing our best to gain our bearings, we asked a few employees for the location of certain items and quickly formulate a plan for how we intended to pick up the items we were after. In the midst of our discussion I suddenly noticed the wave of people had subsided suddenly, which cause me to begin looking around the store. As I moved my eyes back toward the entrance I noticed a towering Best Buy employee standing in front of the entrance doors with his hands reaching to either side of the doorframe. Behind him, a stack of people packing into the vestibule between the store’s two sets of entrance doors stood at the ready. Relieved at the fact they were restricting the flow of people into the store, I stood by and observed the activity of the crowd for a moment. Around me people raced from one part of the store to another, and outside a line of people stirred and pushed against the Best Buy employee guarding the door in a scene that very well could have been a rehearsal for an episode of “Walking Dead.” The whole experience was strange, and in some ways it made me a little uncomfortable.

Drawing back to our plan of attack, Rachael decided to break off and pick up a few items as I did my best to absorb the experience. Amid the chaos of employees being mobbed with questions and people unnecessarily hurrying from one stack of items to the next, I paced myself and tried to maintain my bearings. As the minutes passed I actually found that effort easier, which made the rest of my first Black Friday experience relatively uneventful. As Rachael and I found our way through the ridiculous maze of aisles Best Buy had set up as a series of one way streets through the store, we were able to track down the items we wanted to purchase and get to the cash registers with little issue. Thankful we hadn’t experienced or witnessed any extreme chaos or violence, I purchased the few items I had decided to make a part of my Black Friday experience and headed for the door. With Rachael at my side, I looked over at the horde of people still forcing their way into the entrance behind the man guarding the door and felt glad our experience was over. I had gone to a Black Friday sale and come out relatively unscathed, with the exception of a little lighter wallet, of course.

Almost out of the madness

After my first experience at a Black Friday sale I can say I still don’t get it completely, but I learned it isn’t my place to judge those people that really get something out of the experience. That stated, I can say quite confidently I will likely never attend a Black Friday sale. As someone that is anxious in disorganized crowds and as someone that generally tries to avoid commercial hype, the event just isn’t for me. That perspective was reinforced when Rachael and I returned home tonight and realized all of the items we purchased in the store were available for the same price online with free shipping to our home. On that finding alone we agreed our time and safety was more valuable than to sacrifice both for the sake of a Black Friday sale. I’ll take convenience and calm during the holiday shopping season over unpredictable chaos and hyper-materialism any day, particularly when it is below freezing outside.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Day 199 - Baking a Pie From Scratch

I have never baked a pie from scratch. While I would normally reserve a new experience of this nature for a “Tasty Tuesday” in my “I have never...” journey, yesterday’s Zumba class and the fact Thanksgiving is tomorrow caused me to shift things around for this week’s events. As a result, I am left with only a day between my first attempt at making a pie and Thanksgiving Day, which made me more than a little cautious about tonight’s experience as I worked through the day. Following the interesting results of my previous attempt to bake a casserole for the first time, I had more than enough reason to be hesitant, but my optimism guided me as my workday drew to a close and I prepared for the pie baking experience. I knew today’s “I have never...” event would definitely be an enlightening experience; I just hoped my effort would yield something that was, at minimum, edible.

As the day of my first pie baking experience approached, I decided to find a recipe for a pie that I thought would present a moderate degree of challenge and would be something I could enjoy when the experience was all said and done. As a result, I began rifling through the catalogue of pies in my mind, searching for the perfect balance of skill level and tastiness for my first attempt at the feat. Eventually, that process led me to the idea of the consistently delicious key lime pie, which I thought would force me to tackle some unfamiliar culinary tricks, would present a moderate degree of difficulty, and would produce a result that would likely stand out at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal.


With my decision made, I gathered my ingredients from a local grocery store and promptly set up a preparation station when I arrive home this evening. Once finished, I took a step back and looked over the spread of eggs, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, limes, and other ingredients resting on the counter, which looked intimidating at first. Undeterred by the mild feeling of anxiety that came with the moment, I turned my attention to my recipe with high spirits and prepared myself to embark on my first experience baking a pie. Although I knew there was a high risk of failure with such an undertaking, I decided to dive into the experience head first, leaving my hands coated in egg whites as I began to prepare my crust.

The ingredients

Formulating a game plan

Over a series of minutes I separated egg yolks from egg whites and blended the yolks into a mixture of sugar and crushed graham cracker. My effort made a substantial mess from the beginning, but I found the process coming with relative ease. My confidence building, I moved seamlessly into the next phase of the process, which required formation of the crust in my pie pan. Sticking with a budding theme, my attempt to form the crust in the glass container resulted in a flow of sugary graham cracker crumbs flowing onto the counter and floor around me. Realizing there was little I could do to stop the growing mess coming from my overzealous crust formation, I pressed forward until I was satisfied I had coated the pan in a suitable manner.

Mixing the crust

My hands covered in a fine, sticky dust I stepped to look at the results of my effort briefly before placing the crust in the over for a light bake. As I waited for the first round of baking to complete, I set to work preparing my remaining ingredients, which required two cups of sweetened condensed milk and a healthy amount of key lime zest. To my surprise, the oven signaled the first round of baking was finished by the time I had placed the sweetened condensed milk in a bowl and prepared my tools for zesting. As a result, I turned my attention back to the crust long enough to remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack ahead of my forthcoming lime zesting. Acknowledging the progress of my pie was dependent on me completing the zesting and juicing of the limes at that point, I quickly organized a workspace to gather the lime zest and set to work zesting my key limes.

A quick bake

Unaware of how intensive the process would be, I began zesting one of the golf ball-sized key limes feeling good about the progress I had made in such a short time. However, that positive feeling quickly faded with the realization the first key lime took over two minutes to zest completely. With a total of 20 limes to zest, it quickly became apparent the next phase of my key lime would demand a significant amount of time, and I still had to juice the limes after I gathered the two tablespoons of zest called for in the recipe. I paused briefly at the thought of the daunting task remaining, but my desire to see the results swiftly forced me back into action and braced me for the long haul of my first experience baking a pie.

So much zesting...

Some 90 minutes after I began the process, I stepped back from a pile of zested, squeezed lime peels with sore arms and stiff legs. To the left and right of the chunks of pulverized fruit a bowl of zest and a cup containing three quarters of a cup of lime juice rested on the counter. I grinned at the fact my efforts had resulted in the key ingredients I needed to finalize my first pie, which made me feel I was only steps away from success. Wiping my brow with the back of my forearm, I stepped back to the counter and immediately set to work mixing my remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl until a smooth yellow-green batter began to appear. In a matter of seconds, I had taken the ingredients resulting from my extended labor over the tiny green limes and made it into the final, most critical aspect of my pie. I was close to victory, and I could almost taste the results; literally, of course.

Juicin' it.

Pouring the filling

Ready for the oven!

Without delay, I moved to pour the smooth, lime-scented filling into my previously formed crust. Although the quantity of the filling initially appeared it to be too much for the pie, its slow displacement over the surface of the graham cracker crust eventually made it clear my mix was nearly perfect for the depth and width of the pie’s interior. After scraping the last gobs of the filling out of my mixing bowl, I carefully lifted the pie from the stovetop and slid it in to the still-heated oven. As I slowly closed the door, I stepped back from the oven and let out a deep breath. After over two hours of work I appeared to be successful at my first attempt to bake a pie, and the small sample of the pie filling I ate as I cleaned up my workspace indicated the pie would be absolutely delicious.

Half way...


Following my clean up, I took a few minutes to relax as the pie baked to completion. When the oven timer finally rang at the end of the baking period, I excitedly raced to the kitchen and pulled the pie from the oven. I felt a massive smile cross my face when my eyes fell upon a nearly perfect key lime pie resting in my hands. I took on a previously unknown and entirely unfamiliar task, and I walked away with a pie that looked and smelled so delicious it was a challenge not to dive into it on the spot. Although I knew the true test would come with eating the pie for dessert after tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal, the sense of accomplishment I felt from my surprising degree of success with the new experience was all I really needed. I honestly didn’t know what to expect heading into tonight’s “I have never...” experience, but the results blew me away. It took some time and effort, but the singular moment of pure joy and unfettered excitement I felt seeing my pie made every minute worth it. Sure, baking a pie is a little thing to most people, but to me it was a huge victory over the unknown. I’ll take that any day.

Oh, and I added this touch Thanksgiving day.
How was it? Delicious!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 198 - Zumba

I have never participated in Zumba. For those that are unaware, Zumba is a free-flowing form of exercise during which participants perform a variety of dances to Latin music in an effort to build strength and burn calories. Although this form of exercise isn’t generally associated with men, the fact Zumba had swept across the nation in recent years as one of the latest “in” exercises made me think it would be worth a try. After all, a theme in my “I have never...” journey has been to find an exercise routine that sticks, and if that meant making a fool out of myself trying to mimic intense dance moves to Latin music I was all for it. As a result, I set aside time this evening to attend a Zumba class at the local Center for Conscious Living in downtown Madison, fully acknowledging it would likely be an experience to remember.

The entrance...
After completing my workday this afternoon, I drove to the Center for Conscious Living with some 15 minutes to spare before the Zumba class was scheduled to begin. With a bag of workout clothes in my hand, I passed through the building’s entrance unaware of what to expect on the other side of the door. Upon entering the building, I was greeted by a variety of colorful lights shooting across a wide open space before a small stage. Music played somewhat quietly in the background as three women talked in the middle of the room, which prompted me to approach the group. Somewhat surprised by my presence, the women stopped talking as I drew near and introduced myself. “Are you here for Zumba?” one of the women asked in a curious tone. I confirmed that was the case, which caused the woman to clap her hands together and shoot back and excited response, “Awesome! Is this your first time?” I nodded my head in confirmation before providing a brief background on my “I have never...” concept, which lifted the woman’s eyes and forced an enthusiastic reply. “Oh, that is cool! This is going to be great! …By the way I’m Lynn,” the woman said finalizing our introduction. With a quick shake of her hand I realized I was locked in to my first attempt at Zumba, but the energy in Lynn’s welcome made me feel I was in the right place for such and experience.

Getting ready for the workout

After Lynn showed me around the space, I promptly prepared for the exercise routine in a nearby bathroom before returning to the workout space. As more women began streaming in the building, I found myself surrounded by a group of about a dozen experienced Zumba participants, which left me feeling a little over my head. Recognizing the newness of the happenings around me, Lynn was quick to have me introduce myself and my “I have never...” idea to the group, which helped explain my presence and ease any awkwardness associated with a bearded stranger standing among a group of women about to do Zumba. The group welcomed me with greetings and smiles as they warmed up with stretches and settled into their places on the floor. Then, Lynn let us know the event was session was about to start.

Starting things out
After making a few adjustments to a nearby soundboard, Lynn took to the stage at the front of the room and immediately grabbed an mp3 player resting on a small table. Standing near the middle of the room, I looked on as she pressed a few buttons and upbeat, Latin-inspired dance music began pumping through the speakers. Before I could grasp what was happening around me, Lynn called out to the group and immediately began aggressively marching in place. Realizing the workout had begun, I quickly responded by mirroring Lynn’s actions with the rest of the group. With that, it was time for Zumba; whether I was ready or not.

Only a few seconds after the workout had begun, Lynn guided the group into a series of dance steps to the music that were accented with abrupt, tense movements intended to put muscles throughout the body to work. Doing my best to keep up, I performed side steps, lunges, turns, and leaps in an effort to mirror Lynn’s rapid changes from one step to the next. Luckily, the phrases of the routine were timed to the structure of the music, which provided redundancy that helped me get more familiar with each step as we worked through the song. By the time we were reaching the end of the song I found myself anticipating the next steps in the routine, which gave me the opportunity to focus on the fluidity of my movements. As the song drew to a close, I was keeping up with Lynn’s enthusiastic directions, I was sweating, and, to my surprise, I was having a lot of fun.

Workin' it!

Following the end of the first song, Lynn gave the group a few moments to take some breaths and grab a sip of water, but the moment was fleeting as Lynn turned on the next song as quickly as the last song had ended. Maintaining the high degree of energy, Lynn immediately led the group into the second routine, which introduced entirely new steps timed to the driving tempo of the new song. As before, I struggled to keep up with the class at first, but by the end of the second routine I was finding a groove and feeling the intensity of the workout. On top of the obvious physical benefits coming from the exercise, I also found myself laughing in response to the enjoyment I was getting out of the experience as we worked through the second routine. I may have looked like a fool trying to keep up, but it quickly became clear Zumba made every second of that foolishness worth it.

Is this how it goes?

Over the next hour our group continued with a series of routines that continued to test my coordination and my ability to keep a beat. Along the way, Lynn and the other experience Zumba participants provided me ample direction and encouragement, which made the experience terrific from the beginning to the end. Out of breath and sweating from head to toe, I paced the floor as the final song drew to a close and left the group applauding our collective effort. Following a brief cool down routine, Lynn thanked everyone in the group for attending, which wrapped up my first experience with Zumba and left me reflecting on the experience.

Post-workout photos with the instructors
As I gathered my things and began making my way toward the door, I stopped and thanked Lynn for the opportunity to experience Zumba with such a welcoming and helpful group of people. With the same level of enthusiasm she maintained throughout the class, she responded with gratitude for making the class a part of my “I have never...” experience, encouraged me to come back again, and wished me luck on the rest of my journey. I couldn’t help but feel uplifted by the experience, and the amount of fun I had in the Zumba class left me thinking I might just take Lynn up on her offer to rejoin the class in the future. Regardless of whatever stigmas people may have about men participating in Zumba, the reality is I got a good workout with a group of great people tonight, and I had a hell of a good time doing it. To me, that says the experience is one worth revisiting, which is something I never expected walking into today’s “I have never...” experience.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 197 - Schindler's List

I have never watched Schindler’s list. When I determined watching one classic movie a month would be a part of my journey early in my “I have never...” year, I knew immediately watching Schindler’s List would make my “I have never...” list. Since it was first released in 1993, I have heard of the film’s amazing, albeit heart wrenching, depiction of Oskar Schindler’s story during the atrocities of World War II. Although the film consistently made the lists of the greatest films ever created over the years, I simply never got around to watching it. Part of that reality was a result of a lack of exposure to a source for the film, but admittedly part of my procrastination in watching Schindler’s List was a part of my aversion to the recreation of some of the worst parts of human history. I knew the experience would leave my heart heavy and affect me greatly. As a result, I held off on watching Schindler’s List for years, waiting for a time I could sit down and truly absorb the film and the story it told. In a year of exposing myself to experience that would help me learn and grow, that time happened to be now.

Seeing opportunity

Setting the baseline for cheap labor

With the Thanksgiving week upon us, I realized watching a movie about people that lived through unspeakable terror and what can easily be described as a veritable apocalypse would likely give me a lot of perspective on the things I should be thankful for in my life. Subsequently, Rachael helped me track down a copy of the film at a local library and I settled in to watch the movie this evening. While I expected the experience to be moving, the three and one quarter hours that followed would prove one of the most deeply impacting cinematic experiences of my life.

Violence in the Ghetto

Face to face with evil

In fact, that perspective is so powerful the scenes of the film that flow through my head as I write this blog entry are leaving me dumbfounded and misty eyed as if I was watching them again. The film simply put me the closest I have ever been to seeing life in the history of the holocaust reenacted, and my efforts to try to understand a shred of what the victims of the holocaust had to endure left me shaken to my core. Sure, I learned about concentration camps and the genocide Nazi’s inflicted during history lessons throughout my academic career, but Schindler’s List presented it in a way that breathed life into that history and put faces to the victims of such a horrible period. I know I will never know exactly what it was like to live through such horror, but the fact so many people did, and the depiction of their reality in Schindler’s List, was so disheartening and so disgusting I find myself left with an unwavering sadness looming over every thought as I try to put my experience with the film into words.

Realizing the consequences of intolerance and power


At the same time that feeling leaves me wracked with guilt over the fact that I know my emotional state is a direct result of an effort to try to empathize and understand what the Jewish people endured during the holocaust. As I sit in my heated living room on a comfortable sofa with oppression, life-threatening danger, and persecution the farthest thing from my reality, Schindler’s List left me struggling to make sense of my right to feel the way I did. After experiencing the film it seems audacious for me to even make an attempt to understand what that life, if that’s what it can be called, was like; what it was to live through such torment. It’s not that I think my overwhelming, almost stifling, feeling of sadness isn’t justified, it’s that I feel like I can’t create enough sadness in response to such a horrific tale... and to think it was just a movie.

Schindler's "grace"

The war is over

With that, I can simply say Schindler’s List was one of the most remarkable films I have ever seen. Although I would like to give a play by play of the rising tide of emotion that consumed me as the movie progressed, the reality is I don’t think I could find the words to do so. Recognizing that was likely one of Stephen Spielberg’s intentions with the film, it is easy to conclude he was successful in helping the world provide a glimpse of one of the diminished sources of hope in a period dominated by outright hopelessness. For all the wrong reasons, Oskar Schindler provided an escape for a people being torn apart by the terrible efforts of a violent and disgraceful movement in Nazi Germany. He was the lesser of two evils, but that meant he saved people from sources of torture, starvation, and death among the worst man has ever created. In shock and dismay by the end of the film, I didn’t know whether to applaud Schindler or hate him; however I knew he ultimately pulled people from the brink and breathed into them new life, which was more than most people could say in the era of the holocaust.

A broken man coming to terms with his decisions

The freed "Schindler Jews" marching to freedom

As Schindler’s List drew to a close, Rachael and I sat in silence with tears gently rolling over our cheekbones and onto the furniture cushions beneath us. As the credits of the film rolled, we sat still in a mutual state of disbelief until Rachael broke the silence. “It’s so sad...” she said in a series of low, broken breaths that almost made her remark sound like a whimper. Removing the hand covering my mouth, I gave her a simple reply, “No, it’s desolate... Everything... It’s just desolate.” The very act of forcing the words from my mouth made my emotions swell again, causing me to fight off another round of slow, silent tears. Perhaps it was because vocalizing the thought made the emotions more real, or perhaps I found the right word to express my thoughts; whatever the reason, that moment defined today’s new experience.

Schindler's grave

As I look back now on my first experience with Schindler’s List, I realize my assumptions about the film and the response it would evoke were expectations far below the mark. However, I honestly don’t think I could have predicted the feelings that would strike me as I worked through Schindler’s List. In fact, even now as I struggle to find the right words to describe them, I don’t think I even knew some of the emotions I felt in response to this film. They were deep to the point some of them may have been previously unknown, and that says a lot about the power and impact of this movie. I’ll openly admit I have cried during films before, but none have ever made me well up at the thought of them after they have concluded. I never expected that would happen. As a result, I can only conclude Schindler’s List is a film everyone should see at some point during their life. It’s heartbreaking and I know it will take me some time to shake this feeling, but there absolutely no question it was worth it.