Category Archives: Friends

Becoming a Cornhusker

For the last couple of years, when people asked me where I went to school, I would chime back with Emporia State University and the University of Melbourne. The Melbourne one would catch their attention which would lead to a perplexed look before asking either “Where is that?” or “Australia?.” The conversation would continue for a bit about my days in the land down under and just as the topic would start to conclude, I would add, “Oh yeah, I am also going to the University of Nebraska. Forgot about that one.”

That was the case time and again. Despite the majority of my disposable income and time being sent north of me, my being a UNL student would honestly slip my mind. I am not really sure why. It may be caused by my program (a PhD in Educational Studies – Educational Leadership and Higher Education) being largely online. Sure, since January 2015, there have been a couple of visits to the campus to meet my advisor as well attend a one-day conference for the program, but a bond really had not formed. However, last week happened, everything changed, and I became a Cornhusker.

Online classes are a fascinating development in higher education. For quite a few years, I taught one, and repeatedly, my mission was to try to build a community during that semester. The students mastered the material, wrote great papers, and had great discussions; however, there was no place for the spontaneous conversations to take place. I even made a discussion forum for random topics; most semesters, it was untouched. The students had a mission, which was earn the credit and the learn the material. Many did, but it led to my often telling people that one will never meet a best friend in an online class.

While my statement about meeting a best friend was proven wrong last fall when the amazing Mary came into my life thanks to a group project in our online class (we met in person though thanks to her being in Kansas for a work project), the bond with UNL still hadn’t happened. Then summer I took on the first half of my residency requirement for the program, which led to my spending last week in Lincoln.

Leading up to that week set the stage of what I had decided would be my own adult summer camp. In the spring, I made my second friend in the program, Adam from Boston, in another class during what first began with questions regarding an assignment and later developed into long chats in Google Hangouts after we both realized we had greatly incorrectly stereotyped each other (I thought Adam was a super religious, super conservative Marine, and he thought I was a Palin/Trump Loving Diehard Kansas Tea Party conservative). While trying to figure out our summer schedule, we decided to take the summer research course from our advisor, Dr. Hatch-Tocaimaza.

The rest of the class, with the exception of Boh from Atlantic City, were familiar faces. There was Erika from Salt Lake City who was in the same spring class Adam and I took, and her posts were always top notch and some of the first ones I would read. Then there was Aprí from Santa Cruz, who was another person I had greatly admired over the years thanks to her fantastic discussion posts I always admire in several courses we previously had together. Finally, there was Miles from Longview, Texas. He and I had been group partners before in another class, and we shared some common connections thanks to the honors world.

Although our paths had crossed sometimes repeatedly, connections hadn’t really formed. That all changed with this class. First, the class had live sessions starting back in May, so that gave us a chance to see each other on a regular basis. Then what started as a simple email to ask for clarification led to Erika and I forming a fantastic friendship as we got to know each other via electronic missives. By when it was time to head to Lincoln, I was excited for a vacation that would have me staying in the residence halls and bringing a bike to explore the area.

From my many conversations with Adam and Erika, I knew it was going to be a good week, but I didn’t realize how much. The class itself was great with Dr. Hatch-Tocaimaza bringing in many guest speakers to give us a variety of ideas about how to approach research. The best part, though, was being on campus. There is just something about being in a physical classroom, and it was something I had been missing. Sure enough, spontaneous conversations happened and ideas built upon each other.

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Our class also took the opportunity to get to know each other better too. There were the conversations before class, during breaks, at lunch in the Willa Cather Dining Hall, and then afterwards when Adam, Erika, Aprí, Miles, and I would grab dinner each night and then find ice cream (motivated by to Adam’s love for it).

I look back at the week, and so many memories were made beyond those in the classroom itself: meeting Erika and then Adam at the Omaha airport – welcoming both, of course, to Nebraska with a sign before giving them a ride to Lincoln; sitting outside Memorial Stadium with my great friend Rob and hearing about the energy at Cornhusker football games and the day he was crowned homecoming king; walking around Sunken Gardens.

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Exploring the stunning capitol building and taking the nifty elevator to some amazing views of the city; watching Aprí and Erika see lightning bugs for the first time; tasting the greatness of sweet corn ice cream from East Campus’s Dairy Store.

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Walking in a massive downpour with Adam to retrieve my car so we could pick up the rest of our crew after class to save them from getting drenched; going bowling with Dr. Hatch-Tocaimaza and his adorable son; the heated bowling competition and Aprí sneaking right past Adam and me to win the gold.

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Waking up early to explore the bike trails to first Holmes Lake and then to Pioneers Park; Adam (sort of) saving my life; getting a huge hug from Mary when she joined us for our Thursday night adventures; the night of karaoke and finding out Miles is one amazing singer (Mary, Aprí, and Erika were great too)

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The late night conversations with Adam in our residence hall room; searching campus for a UNL drawstring bag Adam and I were wanting for running and biking adventures (a huge thanks to the College of Business Administration once again!); strolling down the department’s hallway and office to meet others we knew by name and electronic correspondence but little more; getting a challenge coin; taking a long lunch so we could see the largest urinal west of the Mississippi that just happens to be on UNL’s campus

Hearing about Aprí’s “grandparents” at her Airbnb; a late-night search for the perfect UNL water bottle with Erika and Adam and finding shirts and hats instead; a drive by the community gardens at East Campus and then soon after seeing a herd of deer that seem to live in the middle of Lincoln; seeing the look of happiness on Miles’ face as he showed pictures of his son; the great conversations with Erika when either picking her up or dropping her off at her apartment for the week; and many, many more.

People and memories are what make a place, and both of these came together last week in Lincoln. Going forward, I will be looking at my grad program in a completely different light. Sure enough, I was definitely wrong and one can make fantastic friends in an online program, something I didn’t really see happening when I started the PhD work. Needless to say, I am so glad I was wrong. Now and forever into the future, I will be holding these amazing people and my times in Nebraska close to my heart while also embracing the fact I am indeed a Cornhusker.

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A Boy and His Dog He Loves So Much

Dearest Callie,

Did you know when you licked my face that late December day back in 2008 what exactly you were doing? I am pretty sure you did. You figured John would be easy to convince to take you home, but I would be the one whose heart you would have to win. Well, it worked. You have definitely won it time and again. Your jumping up and giving me a kiss the moment the lady at Caring Hands Humane Society opened your kennel sealed our fates together, and I am a better man because of it.

Oh the things we have tackled and the adventures we have had over the years are many, and there are still many more yet to come, but I thought a simple note to you would be better written now rather than later.

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So here you go – a list of the reasons I am thankful to have you in my life.

1. Your Zest for Life

From getting excited about breakfast to being thrilled when Mom comes to visit so you can greet her before the two of you play Frisbee outside, you have a passion that spreads. Simply saying either the word “Milk Bone” or “Bunny” leads to your zest to show. No matter how bad my day may have been, walking in the door to hear the pitter patter of your feet coming towards me and then seeing your excited face brings me back to a great place.

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Then there is your pursuit after those little fluffy banes of your existence that still brings a strange joy to my life (unless you catch one, but that is a different story. Then I am extremely upset with you which breaks your heart I know. Thankfully, that has very rarely ever happened). It doesn’t matter the season or the weather, the moment I open the back door, you run immediately to look under the deck before making a loop around the storage sheds to make sure no bunnies are in your back yard. Then you either sit on top of the deck or the small hill above the storm shelter, watching over everything to make sure it is a safe and sound from any of Peter Cottontail’s relatives. And you do all of this with such a passion.

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Although I am not around to see it, I can also imagine the excitement you had each time you had found something either on the counter or in the pantry to take to the couch to test taste. How proud you must have been each time your teeth grasped whatever your prize was that day (a bag of flour, a head of cabbage, romaine lettuce, a container of peanut butter, a bag of thankfully non-instant rice, a package of soft tortilla shells, etc.) and you carried it without making a mess to the living room where you then explored its contents on your couch before I came home to the result of your adventure that served as yet another reminder of the importance of always keeping a clean counter and closing the pantry door.

There is a lot I have and can continue to learn from your appreciation of the little things in the world around you. It is so easy for me to lose focus, but your way of living is a constant reminder to have a zest for living and to be excited for another day, for friends and family, for a self-given worthwhile pursuit, and for a hunger for life.

2. Your Motivating Me to Pause, Reflect, and Improve

IMG_0010 (1).jpgSo many of my romantic relationships have been doomed because of my workaholic ways. I am working on it and plan to be better should I find myself in one again. And you are also helping me do so. If it were not for you, I know I would fall into the habit of eating at my desk and working through lunch rather than heading home to let you out. That down time as you check for bunnies in the back yard and I eat my lunch is, without a doubt, a very healthy thing for both of us. However, it goes much farther than that. You cause me to take the break I need, something I should do more often.

This, of course, goes far beyond just my coming home for lunch. Life can move so quickly, and a day can become packed before one knows it; however, when I am with you and giving you the time you deserve, I pause to take in my surroundings. No matter what craziness is happening, you become my sole focus and everything else can fall off to the side for a while, and during that pause, I can regain some sort of strength that allows me to come back to a situation with better ideas and a reminder of not only who depends on me but also what truly is important.

3. Your Always Watching Out for Me

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From day one that we met, you decided for whatever reason to always watch out for me. When I am out for the evening, I can count on your waiting at the window for me to arrive home. Even when Mom is here, you don’t go back to sleep in the guest room even with the great love you have for her. Rather, you wait for me to make sure I find my way home. Then after greeting me, you will lead me back to my bedroom to finally call it a night.

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No matter where I am in the house, you have to be watching me to make sure I am okay. If I am working at the dining room table, you are from your perch in the living room falling asleep on your pillow looking towards me rather than out the front window. If I am rowing in the guest room, you are on top of the bed watching me make each stroke. Even if you the leave the room to go get a drink of water and make a round around the house, it isn’t long until you are back to check that I am okay.

The majority of the times, I am fine, but then there are all of the times I so greatly needed you, and you are right there. Without you, I am not sure what I would have done the night when my heart was torn into millions of pieces and I suffered one of the hardest breakups of my life. The words of excitement of a new relationship filled my room despite their origin coming from across the hall from my bedroom door. Only minutes before, we had been an item for over three and a half years during which we had built a family with you and Emi. However, another beau had swept in from the online world and replaced me during the week I was in New York, and there was nothing I could do upon my return. From one room came a voice filled with happiness and glee, and from mine, only sobs and gasps could be heard as the picture of a future we had once painted together dissolved into nothingness with each word heard from across the hall. You had a choice of which room to enter, and you chose the latter. I still remember how you nuzzled your way in between my arms that had been holding tight my ex-of-only minutes’ pillow. And there you remained with your little beating heart close to mine, just looking at me with your emotion-filled eyes and occasionally giving my face a lick all while doing your best to tell me it was going to be okay, the pain would eventually subside, and our now broken family would get through this together.

From the worst moments to the best, you have been right there, wanting to share each one with me and watching to make sure I always found my step forward.

4. Your Being My Best Friend
From the best moments to the worst, you are always right there. In fact, even as I write this, you are right there beside me.

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While I have many great friends in my life, you are easily my best. So often, I wish you could talk, for the conversations we could have would be unreal. I have a feeling you wish you could too. Now you just put up with my talking to you and your answering back with the occasional bark but usually only with your expressive eyes. It is those same eyes that always seem to see the best in me, the me I hope one day I can actually become.

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There was a life you once had before we met. I will never know what happened during it and how you ended upon wandering the streets of Newton and surviving wind chills in the negative numbers to the point you were only skin and bones when you were picked up and taken to the place where we would meet.

We have also been through so much together. Unfortunately, some of those times have been when you were at your worst. The memory of picking up your nearly lifeless body from the snow, carrying you inside as tears fell upon your fur, and having John drive us to the vet as quickly as possible still haunts me. I kept telling you that you had to hold on because you had to help us raise our kids. When we said goodbye to you that day, the vet prepared us for that to be our final time seeing you, but whatever it was that had hit you that day, you successfully beat it, and you have continued to be a fighter. The same goes for our 2014 New Year’s Eve when I held your trembling body as close I could to mine as you fought your hardest against the sterile nodular panniculitis that had you in so much pain and was trying its best to take you away from me. More tears were shed as I asked you not to leave me, and you didn’t. We won that battle, and the massive scars from the once open wounds covering your body are a reminder the two of us can power through so much.

One day, even with our best fighting efforts, some outer force will get the upper hand; however, until then, we will continue to be us, a boy and his dog he loves so much.

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With much love and eternal gratefulness for your being in my life,

Your Ryan

PS

And now for a few more Callie photos (with some Emi cameos too)

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