Sunday, April 28, 2024

What is the Breakfast of Champions: Answers from Unexpected People and Places

Perhaps you will remember a significant turning point in the movie "Rocky." Mickey arrives late night to Rocky's apartment in a drunken plea. Rocky listens with a deaf ear as he throws darts at his bathroom door. The two men verbally spar. Rocky's had it. He enters the bathroom, closes the door—shutting Mickey out. When Mick leaves, Rocky unleashes the rawest of emotions only run to down the street and embrace Mickey a few minutes later. We can't hear what they discuss, but it's clear—Rocky relents. He must have said, "You're hired." The next morning. Rocky wakes up at 4:00 a.m., hits the alarm and immediately gets out of bed. Rock goes to the refrigerator and cracks open, not one, not three but six eggs and drinks them for breakfast. For fun, I ask my students: on a scale of one to ten, How gross is that breakfast? (I will post my viewer's guide soon). And, Is it the breakfast of champions?

While Wheaties cereal might have coined term, the BofC, I love the question. If food is fuel, What is the Breakfast of Champions? And whether or not Rocky continued to drink eggs on training days, What is your breakfast of champions? For those of you who travel to South Bend, IN I have a suggestion. Even if you don't go there, there's a life lesson in here, too.

To me, a championship breakfast it devoid of sugar. Therefore, most cereals, muffins and pastries are off limits. For others, a good breakfast disinvites a heart attack. So many hotels and restaurants offer bacon and sausage, home fries and hash browns, biscuits and gravy. Cholesterol city. No thanks. At St. Francis High School, the principal made a point of having hot breakfast for teachers on inservice days. Did that make us feel like champions? Let me give credit where credit is due. Some of them were pretty darn good. Thank you, Katie! I think your care and intention might be one of the essential ingredients for this type of meal. Read on...

If you're like me, you enjoy staying at a hotel that offers free breakfast. It's nice to wake up and not have to go very far to eat and get the day going. In some hotels, you will find processed and packaged offerings, fruit that is no fun and cheap. At others you might have a breakfast bar, omelette stations, and more. To be honest, I'll take what is given. Free is free, right?

For the past two years, I have stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in South Bend for the Alumni Association Leadership Conference. This hotel has an ideal location. One can easily walk to campus and its proximity helps me get to my meetings on time. 

Running slow and lagging behind due to that three hour time change, I remember feeling grateful that I could just grab and go. I picked up a bagel and put it in the toaster. It must have been obvious that I was in a rush. An employee came up to me and said "You know the longer you stare at that bagel, the longer it takes to come out of the toaster." It was so unexpected and so funny, I didn't even have a come back. His made me laugh, smile and relax—even if just for a few minutes! When that bagel popped from the toaster, I enjoyed it that much more. 

Returning to that hotel this year, I saw that same employee. He greets all the patrons. He asks them about their morning. He is always organizing the offerings, replenishing supplies, emptying garbage and keeping things clean. His name is Martin. 

Though I opted to go no bagel, I told him, "last year, you shared a brilliant comment. I haven't forgotten." I repeated  what he said." He smiled and said "well, it's true right?" He added, "this morning we have breakfast tacos. I have put out all the ingredients right here." He approached another guest and said "add a little chorizo to that. It gives a lot of flavor. Fresh salsa is over there." Martin emerged a few moments later with a sign that had said "breakfast taco bar" I told him "I would not have thought to make a breakfast taco, but you and that drawing are convincing." It was the Breakfast of Champions. 

I might have missed the opportunity for this delicious meal, had we not had that encounter.  Another board member came over to me and said "I'm going to head to the meeting. The breakfast here isn't very good. Theirs is better." I replied "not today. Check this out." I pointed to my breakfast tacos. I said "they have fresh sliced strawberries too." She said "that looks great. And it will save me time."

I have no idea what it must be like to work in a hotel, let alone oversee free breakfast for over 200 people. However, I do know that Martin and others work in the hospitality industry and that is exactly what I encountered during my stay. I also know that hard work, taking pride in a job well done, being creative, and having fun make something go for ordinary to extraordinary. That breakfast surpassed my expectations because someone was willing to go the distance. I think it was the breakfast of champions because it was really good food, made with cariƱo. 

Though Fairfield Inn and Suites doesn't offer raw eggs for breakfast, perhaps they should ask their patrons: On a scale of 1-10, how was breakfast? I know my answer: Breakfast of champions. Thanks, Martin! 

Photo Credit
Fairfield Inn and Suites

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Encounter is when something unexpectedly new happens: Time at Notre Dame

In recent year, many Catholics have grown more familiar the term "encounter." Why? It's a phrase that Pope Francis has returned to over and over again in his addresses and writings. In fact, the Holy Father has made famous the phrase “culture of encounter,” which simply means that I have something good to give to another person, and the other has something good to give me. It's not a revolutionary term or teaching. It's quite simple and yet, it's worth further consideration. What might that good be? The Daily Reflection from Dynamic Catholic coupled with my return to the University of Notre Dame for the Alumni Association Leadership Conference gave me an answer.

Notre Dame Women Connect Board hosts Cheering Her Name, welcoming seniors as alumnae!

Notre Dame is French for Our Lady. Father Hesburgh entrusted the University to her. It is a place and space of encounter…for encounter. Every time I return to my alma mater, I encounter friends, classmates, visitors who have so much to give. I hope I offer the same. But what makes each pilgrimage back to campus so dynamic is what no one can plan for. There is always something unexpected, and new. Truly, the best way to summarize four days on campus is through the lens of encounter. Here are but a few worth sharing.

The first speaker was Super Bowl Champion, keynote speaker, and bestselling author, Ryan Harris. As written on his website, "Harris inspires audiences across the nation by incorporating lessons learned in success and failure throughout his 10-year NFL Career." He is one of the better speakers I have heard.

In addition to this mantra: I am. I can. I will. he promoted the importance of personal example. He said "leaders don't lead by example but with example." His secret to success was "have fun" everyday and celebrate every win. Sometimes, you might have to trick yourself into doing that. For example, he admitted arriving at practice, tired, sore and not exactly excited about going up against teammate DeMarcus Ware. He shouted out, "Whoo! Oh yeah! Rock n Roll!" He added, "That's the attitude I had to take." It was certainly a fun story to hear. 

The audience was eager to give him a standing ovation. His energy and passion, his clear message and challenge for the leaders in the room was so inspiring. But a few minutes later, the chair of our group, Erin started talking to him. Knowing my interest in Sports and Spirituality, Erin made a point of introducing me to Ryan.

I told him that I see DeMarcus Wear every summer at the American Century Championship Golf Tourney and I can only imagine how much *fun* that must be to go up against him. NB: If you have ever met or seen the Hall of Fame linebacker, you would say the same thing. 

A devout Muslim, I was able to share with Ryan what I teach about another Muslim athlete, Hakeem Olajuwon in my class, Sports and Spirituality. I thanked him for his message and the preparation he put into it. Our conversation was such a spirited and special encounter. 

Later in the day, I went to mass in Alumni Hall chapel. I was happy to see the return of Father Mark Poorman, CSC to campus. A "recovering administrator," he teaches an ethics class, Character, Conscience and Case Studies: Applied Christian Ethics. 

In his homily, he said that most students see themselves as the leading character—of their own story or blockbuster movie. He asks students to consider "Is it possible that you might be living in a story larger than your own?" And, with that increased perspective in mind, why not reflect upon: What is God enabling me to do? I said to myself, what a great way to think about vocation—What is God enabling me to do?

After mass, I asked him about his class. He shared that students spend the first week completing and discussing a values inventory. Why? Our values drive our decisions. Our decisions reveal our character. Our character is our destiny. This inventory asks students to answer questions like: What is the most important quality in a friend? honesty, loyalty or trustworthiness. The inventory is thorough. Look for one for athletes in the future.

While neither of these encounters required walking, the next day, I asked a fellow board member if she would like to go see the statue of Muffet McGraw. Erected in December 2023, the art work honors the two-time national championship winning women's basketball coach. It is the first statue of a female coach on campus. 

Kellie and I had a short break before our next meeting. I live by the principle that art is meant to be encountered in person. We debated if we should even go. I knew it would be more fun to go there together; I'm glad we did. On the walk, we were able to discuss what Coach McGraw meant to us (and especially to her husband. Huge fan!). We took these photos and rushed back. As we walked by Notre Dame stadium, a golf cart was headed directly toward us. In the passenger seat was none other than Coach Marcus Freeman. 

Being farsighted, I realized pretty quickly who it was. He looked at us and not wanting to injure the head coach of Notre Dame football or make a fool of myself, we simply said "Hey Coach!!" I gave a virtual high five, while jumping for joy.  I couldn't help but think, had we not visited Coach McGraw we would not have encountered Coach Free. Thank you, Coaches!

Upon finishing our meetings, I decided I should walk to the Grotto—for fear that I might run out of time and not make it to the spiritual center of campus. I took some time in prayer, I lit a candle and touched the stone from the Grotto in Lourdes. I decided to walk back on the path opposite of how I entered the sacred space.

As I came close to the Main Building, I realized Father Bob Dowd, CSC—the incoming University President and I would cross paths. I have not seen Father Bob in maybe 20 years? I reintroduced myself and we talked about Mass in Farley Hall. I mentioned that I saw him at Holy Cross Center in Berkeley after my time in ACE. We recalled a few memories, he asked why I was on campus and I wished him the very best in his new role. 

I thought to myself: no walk to the Grotto, no encounter with Father Bob. And, In what other place can a person encounter two great leaders in the very same day?

I told another board member about my encounter and she informed me that he was her neighbor in Cavanaugh Hall. And, he will continue to live there as President. Love this—President of the University and living on the second floor of a woman's dorm. Nice work.

I came to the board meeting with a fair amount anxiety about the work that had to get done both at school and on campus. While it comes with a fair amount of responsibility, my role with Notre Dame Women Connect is an honor and privilege. My parents reminded me how fortunate I was and I am to have an  opportunity like this. Gratitude can help manage anxiety.

What makes my time at Notre Dame so meaningful and memorable are the experiences...the encounters, the people and the places. I can't begin to name them all—NDWC board, the seniors from Cheering Her Name, my classmate and friend Marco and learning from Sara about Iowa basketball in the 80s. My new (but should be longtime) friend Mike Brown, John in from Mexico City, the award winning SFND Club leadership, especially Steve and so many more. None is a given. Each one is a gift. So many are unexpected ...and that so special.

Grateful for Our Lady who lights the way. We are ND. Go Irish

Photo Credits

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Lessons from Masters Week+: What Money Cannot Buy

At the 58th Annual Hibernian Newman lunch, John Duggan, Sr. the 2024 Hibernian of the Year, shared a little bit of his Irish upbringing in San Francisco. He thanked and told wonderful stories about his parents. He said "while we may not have had a lot of money—or material wealth—we were incredibly rich in love, family, strong values and more."

His speech gave me pause to consider further all that money cannot buy. I continue to return to this question because it's worth serious reflection. Though we live in a society driven by consumption and the mighty dollar, are these the things that make life worth living? What makes people truly rich? This is not a new question, but I see how Sports and Spirituality has given me answers. 

I kicked off Holy Week with Mass at Notre Dame de Victoires for "Erramu Eguna." This Palm Sunday liturgy, is entirely in Basque. Inside the church, I heard the voices of the Elgarrekin Choir as well as the drum and bugle corps of the Klika. I was surrounded by a multi-generational gathering of families and individuals—so many of whom were able to respond and sing in the Basque language. 

After Mass, we convened in the basement for croissants and hot chocolate. While my ethnic heritage is anything but Basque, I appreciated the colors and symbols associated with their heritage. I found the language fascinating—it is so different than Spanish, Catalan or French. The day's festivities also included handball and a special lunch and Easter basket raffle—at the Basque Cultural Center (BCC). 

As we left the church, I turned to my friend Eileen and said "one of the greatest gifts you can give a child is culture. Whether it's ethnic or religious—one cannot buy culture." Those who have a strong sense of culture are rich indeed.

Earlier this week, I received a message near and dear to my heart from a former colleague.

Subject line: Happy Masters Week.

Dear Annie,
I know this is one of your favorite weeks of the year, so I want to cheer you on. Hold on during the rest of Fourth Quarter.

This message cost nothing to send, and yet to me—it is priceless. Having friends and colleagues who understand us and our passions is a rich blessing. Thank you, Shag!

One of the joys of teaching about The Masters is informing young people about it's unique culture and traditions. Culture is expressed in language, attire, color, food, drink and more. It is understood through action and shared traditions. We often come to know culture through people. The Masters is one I have participated in and appreciate. I think it's a great case study in culture.

Language: While golf has its own language—birdie, bogey, eagle and albatross, the Masters Tourney does too. For one, those in attendance are not known as fans or spectators—they are patrons. You need not get a ticket for the first golf major of the year, you will need a badge. A patron in 2016, I am always happy for golf fans who get their own badge.

Actions: Augusta National holds its patrons to high standards. What other sporting event can one attend in today's world where cell phones are completely forbidden. And one of the more unique practices is what Mark Cannizzaro refers to as "the chair culture."

The  chairs are purchased at Augusta National. Patrons cannot bring their own chair onto the grounds. So there are thousands of those green folding chair with a Masters logo all over the golf course, ringing greens and tee box. 

"The etiquette is if the person isn't there, you're allowed to sit in the chair," Katcher said. "If the person who owns the chair comes, you simply get out of the chair. If you're smart, you have your name on the back of your chair so you can always find it."

How does one decide what hole and where one will leave ones' chair? When the gates open at the designated time, patrons are free to walk—not run to the particular perch. It's incredibly exciting, egalitarian and civil. Not something to take for granted in today's day and age.

Because of the no cell phone policy, you better make a plan of where and when to meet friends and family. One tactic patrons use to work with what might be a logistical challenge is to wear bright colors. The only problem is so many other people are wearing them too. On the other hand, the caddies are required to where a bleach white jumpsuit and green Masters hat. In spite of the uniform, which I find striking next to the green of the course,  caddies still find ways to express themselves, within the rules. Whether it's a Grateful Dead t-shirt under the jumpsuit, cool kicks or a personalized yardage book‚—humanity always finds a way to show who we are and what we care about. Give it a close look...

In Conclusion
I could write so much more about the unique culture of the Masters—traditions like the Champions Dinner or the Par-Three Contest, the prized green jacket, its heroes as well as its faults, failing and limitations. I mentioned these three because they were the examples I used in class. The lesson I shared however is not limited to The Masters; it doesn't end after the final round on Sunday. 

I told them one of the reason I love teaching at St. Ignatius is because we have a strong sense of culture—thanks to our Jesuit tradition, Ignatian way of proceeding, and our San Francisco heritage. Each one of them has inherited that culture. In four years time they learn and participate in our traditions; many shape them in their own way. Students at SI speak a new language. We hold them to certain standards, we expect they will act as men and women for and with others. And yes, even in April and May, I ask my seniors to wear an attire that consists of a collared shirt and no blue jeans. Though their education is anything but free, what might be most valuable is not for sale—a faith that does justice, our values, culture and traditions. I hope Sports and Spirituality at school and beyond help young people understand that gift.

Photo Credits
John Duggan, Sr.

Tiger and LaCava
Basque: Kilka

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Gratitude Adjustment: A Tool for Appreciating the Live Experience

I paid $250 to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play at Chase Center on Holy Thursday. Fortunately the hex of Ticketmaster was included in that hefty price tag. My seats were approximately 21 rows from the stage—albeit, the back of it. The crowd in front of me stood for the vast majority of the three hour show because we needed to and we wanted to...I didn't mind. I have seen the Boss 24 times. I never really question whether or not I will attend. But this time around, a number of questions found me. They have lingered long. A few are nagging. Certain ones require answers. Maybe you have your own.

Whether or not it's Springsteen, I think fans ought to question the cost and the value of a ticket. For $250, I got a three hour live performance. I agree with Springsteen's manager. Jon Landau who said “I believe that in today’s environment, that is a fair price to see someone universally regarded as among the very greatest artists of his generation.” But, I'm not paying for another person, children or my family. Some fans can and do spend much more, others were left “dispirited, downhearted and yes, disillusioned.” What's a fan to do?

Fortunately, I found one solution. Although it is not surprising or revolutionary, I think it's an important spiritual discipline: intentional gratitude.
Attending a concert, a professional sporting event, or a live performance is a privilege. Some find their way to them regularly. Other make an annual trek. A few are checks on the proverbial bucket list. Regardless, the opportunity and ability to attend a ticketed event is a gift. None is a given. 

“If dreams came true well wouldn’t that be nice.” -Bruce Springsteen, from “Prove it All Night.”
Missed this one due to the price of the ticket. A cool $600...

I did not see "Springsteen: Live on Broadway." I drew a line in the sand of my check book. I am happy for those fans who went—I mean it, and I was happy to watch it on Netflix. Springsteen had a second show on Easter Sunday at Chase. I had hoped to find a last minute deal and see if I could crash the party, arriving late after an Easter feast. No luck. Instead, I focused on the show I did see and I made a point of answering the four questions outlined in "A Gratitude Adjustment."

According to "All it takes is recognizing what's good in or about your life and why it's happening. Start by creating your own Yay! list. Here are four questions to guide you." I have the questions and my answers below. 

1. A sight, sound or taste I savored
There is much to hear—29 songs in total and much to see in a singular show. Turns out there are 17 people on stage forming t
he E Street Band, choir, and a versatile section of horns. 

The sight and sound that I enjoyed the most was Springsteen covering "Night Shift" —
The Commodore's hit tribute to Marvin Gaye. Bruce has a lot of soul and this performance was only enhanced by Curtis King. He toured with the Boss from 2009-2014 and still has the voice of an angel. What a great performance. Thank you.

2. Someone who showed up for me.
I find it both mysterious and strange that Bruce's wife, Patti Scialfa never shows up for Bay Area performances. However, a good number of friends did show up for this Thursday night show and brought their kids to see the living legend. 

I sat with my longtime friend and colleague Sean and toward the end of the show, I saw my friends—the Murray family— were sitting just one section over and a few rows down. They told us to come down to their seats so we could take a picture together. This was my favorite part of the night. Not only did we gain a killer vantage, I got to enjoy the show with the four of them. BONUS!

The Murrays show up for me time and again. I don't think they realize how much their presence matters and to me and brightens my day. Whether it's a quick hello, watching a game, having a beer or giving me a ride— I feel as though every member of their family shows up for me. Encouraging Sean and me to join them captures who they are: welcoming, inclusive, and present. #Grateful

I feel so lucky to share so many memories with these girls.

3. This made me smile.
I hate the comment "if you know you know" BUT if you know the first few drum beats of  Atlantic City—you know. And I knew. My set list wish came true. I couldn't help but smile. 

I saw the fluorescent yellow sign in the pit calling for the Nebraska hit. I was hopeful The Boss would take the request. Who doesn't love it when he calls a great audible. Great choice, outstanding song. Still smiling....

4. I learned this cool new thing
I have always wondered why Bruce wears black wrist bands. When you're a rock star, you get away with a number of fashionable question marks. Turns out it is an arthritic thumb brace. This might be the only sign of wear and tare on the man who turns 75 on September 23, 2024. 

I don't know that an arm brace is that cool, but I did learn this new thing via a review of the show—one that gave props for "some really aggressive and muscular guitar playing from the bandleader himself." Shredding the fender at 74 during "Prove It All Night?!" Not sure what's more cool than that.

In Conclusion
Although it's formal, I think the four questions on the Yay! list are a helpful way to practice gratitude. I had so many thoughts after the concert, and the perspectives of each question helped me to ground my experience and create memories that I cherish. I think I do appreciate opportunities I have been given, but I also hold many of them in question. 

I have been haunted—in a good way—by a Niko Moon concert I saw just six days before Springsteen. The country/pop artist played at the Fillmore and the ticket cost me just $24 ($37 with Ticketmaster fees). I went into that show with NO pressure or expectations—in part, because of the price point. The cost of a Springsteen ticket puts a person into more than just sticker shock. Springsteen knows what his fans are going to ask of him. His shows are physically and emotionally taxing—for all in attendance. It's his gift to music and all of us. Would I do it again? 100%. Will I raise other questions? No doubt. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. These are important ones to live with. I'd like to know what yours might be.

If they pertain to how he does what he does at his age? I have a few thoughts ;-) And I'm grateful he does. Thank you, Bruce. 
Thank you Sean. Thank you Kealy, Mike, Catherine and Maddie. Thank you E Street. Long live...

Photo Credits
Ticket Cost
Bruce Wrist Bands

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Lent: A Personal Post-Season Evaluation

We are called to be Easter people. We live in the light of the Risen Lord. The purple and gray that once draped a Lenten church is no more. Today, it shines brightly in white and gold. Lillies line the altar. Overnight, a transformation has taken place. Eastertide is upon us, a celebration of 50 days and yet, I can't help but look back. Maybe I shouldn't. In the words of Bruce Springsteen, I find myself "caught in a crossfire that I don't understand." —Badlands.

Lent is more than 40 days. To me, it is long. It's hard; it's heavy. With Easter Sunday, I know  we find a new freedom —we have been released from the burden of sin— but to make that switch overnight is tough. Am I the only one who feels this way? I guess I would have walked to the empty tomb. Like Mary, Peter and John, I would go— but I might pace and space myself to get there.

I don't want to stay in Lent any longer than necessary. Truly, I want to live as an Easter person. I just need some help. I decided a Lenten debrief, also known as a post-season evaluation might assist me in my efforts. Time to turn the page!

As a teacher and a coach, as someone who has worked in an athletic department and now works in an office of Adult Spirituality, evaluations are not new to me. In fact, I had a professor who found them to be as essential as the event/experience/course itself. She helped me understand why they are important—even if but a few people complete them. She taught me how to craft effective ones, how to read the information and what to do with all of it. Thank you, Adrian!

The discipline of creating and completing an evaluation allows the organizer to consider their hopes and expectations. They invite personal input and commentary. They help you identify strengths and weaknesses—aka areas of growth. My athletes completed one at the end of every season. I figured with this mentality, Why not create one for Lent? 

Much like an athletic season or team, each Lent is different. Some Lents are harder than others. I participate and commit myself to practices of my faith. Each one is intentional and formative. Some require sacrifice, others mindfulness. Some of Lenten practices have changed me forever. In order for me to be an Easter season, I need to get a sense of what has changed... How has Abba Father shaped me in a new way, Am I more Christ-like—am I move loving? forgiving? How do I resist temptation? 

Let these questions serve as the introduction of your own post-Lenten season evaluation. Consider the others I have listed here.

  • Describe the change you were hoping for this Lent. How has that change transpired? How has it changed course into something new?

  • Did you share your Lenten journey with anyone? Make plans to have a conversation with a good friend to discuss how it went.

  • You may have started Lent with an idea of the path you were hoping to take to Easter. It's likely that path changed. Did it? What were the graces? What were the missed opportunities?

  • What practices during Lent might you like to keep through the Easter season?

  • In what ways did you incorporate mindful silence into your day? 

  • Who did you write to this Lent? Remember these people in your prayers. Who do you want to reach out to?

  • One of the pillars of Lent is giving alms. In what ways do you plan to continue giving to the poor this Easter season?

Like any effective evaluation, complete this personal inventory / reflection guide within a week of Easter Sunday. 

You won't receive a certificate, a block or a trophy for having completed Lent. I do believe however, the growth and gifts emerge quietly, gracefully and joyfully in the Easter season...and beyond. I hope this post-season evaluation offers insight into all of that, plus more.

Happy Easter. Truly, He is Risen. Alleluia!

Photo Credits