Weekend escape.

We’re creatures of habit, especially when we find ourselves looking to get away for a few days. We tend to have one or two default travel locations, places where we know we will instantly find something resembling relaxation… maybe even rejuvenation. This past weekend, though, I rediscovered a forgotten love I hadn’t visited in years: Chicago. It was a fantastic four days of wander, wonder, friendship, and music. I am, once again, smitten.

Here are a few snapshots from the trip, all taken with my iPhone and posted to Instagram:

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Until we meet again, Chicago. Soon, it will be soon.

[For more pictures of Chicago and various other life moments — that means lots of dog pics — you can find me on Instagram by clicking here or searching for my user name, @jeffreyaward.]

Retreat.

For the last handful of years, we’ve escaped to Scottsdale during the week of Thanksgiving. It’s our oasis, our designated place to relax, restore, and reconnect. And we love it there. When we were there just a week or two ago, I Instagrammed the trip, but thought I’d share a few of those pictures here, too, for those who have yet to see them.

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We’re already looking forward to a return trip in 2013.

Service.

James Ward (my grandfather) and his brother, John Ward | 1944

Both my father and grandfather served in the military. I knew this fact when I was growing up, although neither really ever talked about it much. I do remember that my grandfather had an old picture of a navy ship in the basement when I was a kid. I’m sure I asked him about it at one point or another (at least, I hope I did), although I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t recall his answer.

A couple years ago, the local paper interviewed some veterans in the area. In just a few short paragraphs, I came to know more about my grandfather’s experience than I’d learned in all my years prior. I decided to make a point to ask him about the article and his experiences, a gesture that was admittedly long overdue. To my surprise, he sat down and told me a few stories. While recounting what I’m sure was an extremely sanitized version of the things he witnessed all those decades ago, he began to tear up and had to stop. Death witnessed, friends lost, the horror still alive in his eyes… there it all was, right on the surface.

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the fact that countless men and women over the years have made the decision to serve our county — I certainly did — but it was more of an abstract theory for which I felt no personal frame of reference. That day, though, the look in my grandfather’s eyes was the instant frame of reference that I needed.

For each and every one who serve and have served, on this Veterans Day and every day, I have nothing but gratitude. Thank you.

Backdrop.

I’ve been out of sorts this week. Our house has been in complete disarray, a result of our decision to have almost every square inch of interior real estate repainted at once. I don’t deal with disarray well, which will come as no surprise to those of you who have encountered my OCD ways, so having our house — the one place where I usually can find calm and rest — all torn apart and disorganized has left me strangely off balance. Work has been more demanding, too, as I’ve been caught up in the process of closing one fiscal year and beginning anew, in more ways than one. And so, I’ve just been left a bit depleted and disillusioned.

Then this morning, after less sleep than I hoped, I woke up early. The house was quiet, the dogs were still asleep. I’m not a morning person as a rule, but there was just such an undeniable peace in the air. Thankfully, our house is slowly being put back together, there’s a beautiful new color on the walls (yes, my wife was right), and the scene out our back window served as the perfect morning backdrop.

Not long after taking the picture above, the fog began to lift off the pond as morning gave way to day. The sun is now shining, the air is crisp, and I can now see beyond the mark that was only vaguely recognizable a few hours ago. The perfect backdrop has been a perfect and much needed reminder.

A little hometown pride.

Growing up in a little town like Waldo was a bit of a mixed bag. As a child, Waldo was an idyllic playground begging to be explored, with adventures only limited by the extent of my imagination. Every barn, a foreign country. Each creek, a mighty river. I could walk home from school or bike to the Dairy Bar for an ice cream without a second thought.

Then, as a teenager, those same surroundings became an almost unbearable prison sentence, the one thing standing between me and my big, bad future. I plotted my escape, counted the years, then months, then days, and never looked back.

Now here we are, a couple decades (!) later, and the little hometown of my youth has become the perfect reminder of history and of family.

Just — please — do us a favor and resist the urge to ask Where’s Waldo? Because now you know.

Go ahead. Wiki it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldo,_Ohio