Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm going to jail - for GOOD!

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a very pleasant woman telling me that someone (who preferred to remain anonymous) had decided that I was so fun and inspiring that I should be nominated to "go to jail for good" - the "good" being Muscular Dystrophy. What she basically meant is that I was being called upon to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association via my own set "bail".

"Ugh," was my first thought. "I will hunt this so-called friend of mine down and make them pay. I have NO time for this." But being the type of person that would rather completely overbook her life instead of say "no", I agreed. But I knew I had my work cut out for me. First of all, MD isn't a disease that I'm close to. I have friends who have experienced many forms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and a host of other diseases that are still desperately in need of funding to find new treatments and cures. The only thing I knew about MD was that Jerry Lewis used to sing a bad rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the end of every Labor Day telethon.

So I began to research the disease, and was completely moved by what it can do to not only a child, but the family that supports that child. Here's the best explanation of the disease that I found:

"Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a genetic disorder that gradually weakens the body's muscles. It's caused by incorrect or missing genetic information that prevents the body from making the proteins needed to build and maintain healthy muscles.

A child who is diagnosed with MD gradually loses the ability to do things like walk, sit upright, breathe easily, and move the arms and hands. This increasing weakness can lead to other health problems.

There are several major forms of muscular dystrophy, which can affect the muscles to varying degrees. In some cases, MD starts causing muscle problems in infancy; in others, symptoms don't appear until adulthood."

And here's what families may have to face if their child is diagnosed with MD:

"If your child is diagnosed with MD, a team of medical specialists will work with you and your family, including: a neurologist, orthopedist, pulmonologist, physical and occupational therapist, nurse practitioner, cardiologist, registered dietician, and a social worker.

Muscular dystrophy is often degenerative, so kids may pass through different stages as it progresses and require different kinds of treatment. During the early stages, physical therapy, joint bracing, and the medication prednisone are often used.

During the later stages, doctors may use assistive devices such as:

* physical therapy and bracing to improve flexibility
* power wheelchairs and scooters to improve mobility
* a ventilator to support breathing
* robotics to help your child perform routine daily tasks."

Since 1950, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has funded promising scientific investigations seeking treatments and cures for the muscular dystrophies. The Association makes every effort to support new experimental treatments whenever there is a reasonable scientific basis for doing so. Though there's no cure for MD yet, doctors are working to improve muscle and joint function, and slow muscle deterioration. It's tough to look at these poor children and wonder if they'll ever know what life is like without this disease.

During my research, I encountered an amazing blog authored by Josh Winheld, a victim of MD. As a fellow blogger, I was intrigued, and as I read it, I realized that the author had recently passed away, but his sister is keeping his legacy alive through the blog in the hopes of creating awareness and raising funds to find a cure.

I encourage you to read Josh Winheld's blog by clicking HERE. If you are as compelled by his words as I was, please consider donating by April 22 to my "bail" - which will go entirely to the MDA - by clicking HERE. I don't get anything out of it other than the satisfaction of helping these children and their families find a cure for this heart-wrenching disease.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Discovery: Life - what if it was about us????

So I'm watching the latest amazing production from the Discovery Channel called Life. For those of you who haven't heard of it, think of it as Planet Earth up close and personal. For three years these videographers and documentarians risked life and limb for once-in-a-lifetime footage of some of the most elusive wildlife traits and behaviors.

As I listen to Oprah Winfrey articulately narrate this 10-part miniseries, it occurs to me - what if turnabout was fair play and we all had a show about us? Our behaviors? Our traits? Our mating rituals???? (And no, "Seinfeld" did not completely cover this...) I started thinking small - with a documentary all to myself. "Life: The Amy".

My first question was, of course - who would narrate my Life? I'm sure I wouldn't be worthy of someone like Garrison Keillor, as much as I admire him. Sigourney Weaver was fine in Planet Earth (and excellent in Alien), but she may be a little too stern for my tale. Morgan Freeman was awesome in March of the Penguins, but I'm not sure how he'd fare in "Hoofin' it with the Kennards". I settle on John Cleese, who in my opinion will capture both the irony and humor that seems to signify my life.

So, in my best John Cleese accent, here's how I think "Life: The Amy" would go down:

Evolution: Born the third of four children to a good, Catholic mother and father, the Amy enters the Midwest, middle-class world. Bald until the age of three, she spends her formative years living a very normal existence that includes daily church, regular chores, family fun and an inordinate amount of sibling rivalry that causes her mother to take long baths at two in the afternoon. She struggles through adolescence and the restless upheaval that was her 20's before finally settling into a marriage at 30. During that time, she experiences job highs and lows, childbirth, and 10 months in Leavenworth.

Raising Young: Research into the parenting habits of the Amy found that they are quite similar to that of the black bear. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, "While the cubs are with their mother, she teaches them what to eat, where to look for shelter and what dangers to watch out for. If the mother senses danger she will grunt and the cubs will run up the nearest tree until she signals them to come down again. The mother is extremely protective and often very aggressive." Need I say more?

Mating: Evidently Amys do not mate for life, and have an average relationship span of nine years. The Amy bears two children, and though she is not of the highest intelligence, she is smart enough to know when to say when. No additional information is available regarding the mating habits of the Amy, but she is known to partake in a ritual known as "EOF".

Predators: Though the Amy is fiercely independent and self-sufficient, she can become the victim of relentless predators such as pessimism, rejection, fatigue and disappointment. The Amy has very high expectations for her life, and is at times her own worst enemy.

Lifespan: The Amy seems to hit her stride around age 40, when maturity, wisdom and the ability to laugh at herself really start to kick in. Based on a recent internet chain email, she is scheduled to live to be 92 years old.

I think we may have a hit here. I mean, not me, but just with the idea in general. How cool would it be to get some elusive, spectacular footage of us that would show others what exactly makes us tick? I know, it might be kind of scary... but would you rather watch the Stalk-Eyed Fly inflate his own eyeballs?

Perhaps you would.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We plan, and God laughs

I recently asked a friend of mine, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I got the standard answer - how he saw himself advancing in his job, the status of his children, the hopes for his relationships. Then he asked me the same question, and I replied, "We plan, and God laughs."

Because it's true.

If you would have told me five years ago that I would be divorced, unemployed, and struggling to get my own writing business off the ground while single parenting two young boys, I wouldn't have believed you. But here I am. If you would have told me I'd be doing all these aforementioned things and still be happy, I'd have laughed in your face.

Yet here I am.

And it made me think - God DOES laugh at our best-laid plans. We can have the best of intentions. You might say, "In five years, I'll be the senior VP of a major company, happily married and independently wealthy." But in those five years, your company may downsize you and you might find yourself in a completely different field of work. Your relationships with your spouse, or a lifelong friend, or a family member may have hit a speed bump and be in turmoil. You may have suffered a financial setback - whether that be the stock market taking a dump, an unforeseen medical bill, or just this damn recession.

But just because God is laughing doesn't mean you can't laugh right along with him.

Oh, it's OK to have goals - it's good to have goals. But you must have the internal flexibility to realize that "life stability" is an oxymoron, and you have to be ready to roll with the punches.

I try to look at it this way: they're not obstacles, these curve balls that life throws you. They're challenges. For every "failure", a lesson is learned. Every door that slams in your face jars another one open. You just have to SEE it, and be open to it.

Where will I be in five years? Who knows. Will I still be in this house? Probably not, but possibly. Will I be working for a company or working for myself? Only time will tell. Will I be single or married? That's the $64,000 question. And don't even get me started on where my kids will be in five years. I can't even imagine.

My point is this: Yes, we plan, and God laughs. He's the pitcher, and we're up to bat. It's up to us to decide if we're going to swing at his curve ball, or let it go by and hope the next pitch is the one we hit out of the park.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Civisync answers the question, "What's Playing in Peoria?"

Despite some people's opinions to the contrary, Peoria is becoming more progressive with each passing day. At least, there are groups and individuals in the community who are attempting to make it more progressive.

One void that desperately needs to be filled is the answer to the question, "What is there to DO in this town?" I've often asked this, while in turn spending a good deal of time searching for happenings and events for myself, friends who may be in town, or my kids. Usually I peruse a variety of sites, or "portals", as some call them, like ExplorePeoria.com, or the Cue section of the Journal Star, ArtsPartners or the Peoria Convention and Visitor's Bureau website. It's kind of a pain, and more times than not I find out about an awesome art exhibit, a great kids' event or a good band in town days after it's happened.

Wouldn't it be nice to have an all-inclusive website for things to do in your community? Better yet, what if you could go to that site, log in, and create your own personal "to-do" calendar, then upload it to your computer or mobile phone?

Genius. And it's about to happen - right here in the River City.

Civisync is the brainchild of Jake Hamann, a lifelong Central Illinois resident with a creative and entrepreneurial background looking to make a difference in the community. He also runs OneFire Media Group, a freelance design company that helps small and medium sized businesses and non-profits in the areas of strategic consulting, social networking and creative services.

Jake came up with this bright idea based on the void he has observed over the past few years as a musician and as a social person trying to find things to do in the Peoria area. He felt there was a need for a service that was more user-content driven that would allow people to search, locate, and actually interact with what's going on around town.

Civisync will be the go-to place to search and create your own personal calendar of things to do in the Peoria area. Information will be divided into the categories of ARTS, TUNES, EATS, SPORTS and FLIX - with ARTS and TUNES being the first categories to be developed.

Current local websites such as those mentioned above do contain event calendars. However, none of these sites have the ability to let a user choose from events and create their own personalized event calendar. Civisync will combine all of these calendars into a centralized location where a user will be able to search and locate events, add them to their own personalized calendar and have the ability to export this list to their computer or mobile device - with ease.

So say you want to plan your weekend. You go to the Civisync website, log in, then click on the categories - ARTS, TUNES, EATS, SPORTS and FLIX. Select the event you want to add to your calendar and build your weekend from there.

Obviously, the more people that get on board, the more successful this will become. Civisync plans to offer a tiered membership, with a basic search free to consumers, and the option of more advanced fee-based services such as text alerts and unlimited calendar creation.

For providers (artists, restaurants, sporting organizations, bands etc.), Civisync will serve as a place where they can be included in a comprehensive directory that will receive high visibility and become the "go-to" place to find all this information. Again, a basic directory listing will be free, but groups and organizations can take advantage of additional services such as featured profiles, online ads, videos, photos, audio, customer reviews, etc. for a reasonable monthly fee.

In addition to the website, Jake plans to launch a complimentary print publication that will feature providers from each of the categories, but more importantly will mirror the event calendar and listings found on the website. This publication will be available for distribution throughout the community and will aim to serve as the most comprehensive entertainment publication in the Peoria area.

If that weren't ambitious enough, Jake also has dreams of opening a Civisync-themed venue that would feature local artists galleries, music and food. As the original owner of The Waterhouse on Peoria's Riverfront, his breadth of knowledge for business and his dedication to the Peoria area and its culture makes him the ideal candidate for a venture such as this.

Civisync is a win/win for businesses, organizations, restaurants, bands and any event provider in the Peoria area, but most of all, people in Peoria of ALL ages looking for things to do. Civisync's launch date is slated for sometime this spring. In the meantime, Jake has teamed up with ArtsPartners and ci|creative and formulated a survey to get input from the community for the first two categories, ARTS and TUNES. (A more general survey will follow soon.) I encourage you to participate in this survey (and enter in a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Blick Art Materials, Guitar Center or Hobby Lobby) by clicking here:

Civisync Arts Community Survey

Jake is also interested in input from the community regarding what YOU want to see in an informational website of things to do in the Peoria area. You can send any comments or suggestions to him at info@civisync.com. He also invites all Facebook aficinados to "Become a Fan" of Civisync by clicking HERE.