Friday, January 31, 2014

Back in Business

After a couple of weeks of family matters, this blogger is back and ready for Sochi. Hot off the presses, two new Olympic blogger pins for trade in the Winter Games city. Fingers crossed the friendly customs officials take a shine to both designs.

Today is all about tying up loose ends in Wisconsin before a Saturday flight to Frankfurt. ETA at Sochi is Monday, Feb. 3.

For fellow travelers, be safe and enjoy the commute. For those experiencing the Games from home, enjoy!

See you soon from Sochi!

Images via Lapel Pins Plus from designs by Nicholas Wolaver; blog logo by Emily Albuquerque


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Q: How Are You? A. все сложно

There are too many timely truths to Alina Simone's opinion piece in Sunday's edition of The New York Times.

Under the headline "The 'How Are You?' Culture Clash," Simone details the typical yet vastly different Russian or American response to the common question on one's condition.

Often the USA reply of "fine" is lost in translation for our Eastern counterparts.

I loved the illustration that ran with the story (shown with this post), reminiscent of USSR era propaganda posters, this time exclaiming one brutally honest Russian answer to how one is doing: "Terrible!"

The same could be said for me and my sister given recent family news from my home town in Oklahoma. But we're trying not to say it, rather counting blessings while navigating the next phase of a tricky family situation.

On the home stretch to planned travel to Russia, a few days ago I booked a multi-city series of one-way tickets to visit family in Oklahoma this weekend, then my Wisconsin-based girlfriend later next week, prior to a scheduled Feb. 1 departure for Sochi.

Then during last weekend, my dad, who is 80, developed stroke-like symptoms, spending the last three days in intensive care. Scary!

Fortunately, he did not have a full-blown stroke (thank God!), but he did have an internal bleeding issue that I cannot pronounce, and he's not been himself for a few days (and as I understand it, several more days or weeks may be required to get a handle on his future ability to live at home without assistance -- hoping for the best, but preparing for an array of possible alternatives).

So for a few days now, the "How Are You?" query took on a new meaning, because it is not easy
living and working a few states away when a parent is very ill and a $600+ airline ticket change fee is in the way of getting there (if I fly or drive home early, the booked travel is all extensively up-charged, and if I don't show for the first scheduled flight from ATL on Saturday, then like falling dominoes, all latter flights are nixed -- thanks, American Airlines ... not/nyet).

With many resources already tapped for Sochi, it's a hurry-up-and-wait situation on several fronts.

Questions about dad's condition bring on more unanswerable questions such as "What does this all mean for family?" or "What does this mean for the next few days, weeks or months?"

And relevant to this blog, what does this mean for my pending trip to Sochi (for which I have several thousand invested rubles, er, dollars and a good chunk of my freelance P.R. enterprise on the line)?

But here's where additional truth shines from Simone's report: As much as I have feelings of grief, sheer frustration, impatience and bewilderment about the unpredictable and ever-changing-ness of dad's elder health (and the curious pre-Games timing of the latest elder care adventure), I cannot answer "terrible" to how I am doing.

It's not exactly "fine" either, but perhaps a guarded "O.K." is apt given my home state's license plate proclaiming how Oklahoma is doing.

I am incredible grateful that my sister was there when dad's health issues arrived and that she knew what to do (and did it quickly) -- with the help of a neighbor, she was able to summon emergency care that probably saved dad's life (a feat my sister achieved during another sudden health scare for our father two years ago). She's been a real trooper through several days of dramatic and sudden change, holding down the fort in my absence and hands-tied inability to get there sooner (Okie pun not intended while first typing this, but leaving in as it has a nice ring to it).

We are also appreciative for the many other neighbors and family members who also stepped up to help with time and good counsel during the last few days (going above and beyond many months or years of help they already contributed). We are blessed and thankful that my mom is also in great hands with professional care for her elder health challenges. And, of course, we cannot say thank you enough to the medical team caring for dad while tending to all our questions with poise.

Good news arrived Tuesday night that dad was resting and moved to a non-I.C.U. room, a sign of improvement (whew!). Messages of "Get Well Soon" arrive for dad with each call or email.

I'm anxious to get there (hopefully on Wednesday or Thursday, or eventually on Saturday) to talk in person and start to determine the possibilities for what's next for family and the (for now) TBD nature of Sochi embarkation. So thankful that with the help of many others, the long-planned travel remains on the table.

I love the kicker to Simone's Opinion-page contribution as she brought to readers some thoughtful words that fit my situation and decisions to be made during the next week, not to mention the pre-Games tension that Sochi organizers must feel given all the recent security-themed headlines.

How are you doing? "все сложно" -- It's complicated!

Wonderful to find a phrase of inter-continental relevance for this Olympic blog.

Illustration by Gail Anderson and Joe Newton, with image by A. Sverdlova/Sovfoto - UIG via Getty Images (all via The New York Times); other Soviet-era posters via Pinterest; license plate photo from personal collection.


UPDATE A WEEK LATER: Last week I did find a way back to Oklahoma and spent time with parents and family. Dad continues to improve daily, now in a nursing therapy program down the hall from mom! It looks like he may be there for a week or two, then we'll assess and proceed with future plans. We are so thankful he is alright, in a safe and nurturing environment and we appreciate many friends, neighbors, family members and healthcare professionals all helping.

With both parents secure, my comfort level (to resume Sochi travel as scheduled) improved, and the trek down the Road To Sochi is again underway. Just a few more days to the Olympics!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Word of the Street

Olympic champion Picabo Street may exude fearlessness.

After all, she built her successful downhill ski career by careening as fast as possible down the slopes.

During yesterday's special appearance at the suburban Atlanta corporate office for U.S. Olympic partner Citi, Street did talk about fear and how she tackles it through lessons learned from family, friends and coaches.

"Replace your fears with the task at hand," said Street.

The three-time Olympian said pausing to assess one's frightening situation only makes it more difficult, likened to standing on a high-dive -- the longer one waits or taking time to look down, the harder it gets to just take the plunge.

Street is heading to Sochi with Citi as an ambassador in the company's five-ringed Every Step of the Way initiative through which Olympic fans may help channel donated funds to one of 10 designated Team USA affiliate nonprofits. With just a few clicks online, anyone may elect to support Street's charity of choice, ski and snowboard safety organization Stay On the Slopes. (Disclosure: The P.R. firm for Citi Every Step, MATTER, is an agency for which I will freelance in Sochi.)

Does Street have fear about heading to Russia? Probably yes.

"[Please] pray for us all, for our safety," Street said to about 100 Citi employees in attendance.

To overcome her apparent concerns about personal security in Sochi, Street's selected tasks at hand include her Citi project and an on-air gig with Michelle Kwan as the duo will appear as Fox Sports One correspondents. With a smile and nervous chuckle, Street mentioned the network's plans to activate the pair of Olympians as hard news anchors if the need arises.

But the prospect of frightening Sochi scenarios was only a brief portion of Street's 45 minute, mostly unscripted, very animated and often hilarious chat with Citi team members. Observing Picabo's great storytelling techniques and "keeping it real" demeanor reminded me of great scenes portrayed by Melissa McCarthy.
 
With one of her sons joining the event for "mom's take the kids to work day" Street shared many stories of her own upbringing as a tomboy coming of age in Idaho.

Street explained that some of her earliest memories of skiing went back to a day when her older brother and father left her home to hit the slopes. Upon their return, Street made a strong case for future inclusion, donning her brother's oversized-for-Picabo boots and other gear.

When she finally did get to join the family ski experience, she was all about getting to the bottom of the hill with haste.

Street said she was more afraid of getting pushed off the chair lift than speeding down the mountainside with as few turns as possible.

"I tried turning but it only slowed me down," Street said.

At age 10, Street started telling family and friends of her Olympic aspirations. After many unheeded conversations, her dad finally turned the tables on the young female skier.

"He said, 'O.K., we're going to put all of the family apples into [Picabo's Olympic dream] basket, so it might get heavy -- don't drop it!'" said Street.

No pressure!

Of her many years among the world's best skiers, Street cited a point of pride was rallying her U.S. teammates to dominate. She also cherishes the friendships made with Team USA and European peers.

On those who inspired her most, Street said fellow Lillehammer '94 Olympian Dan Jansen was the biggest impact and that he "epitomized perseverance."

Perseverance came into play when Street later crashed, breaking both the biggest and smallest bones in her body, her jaw and many other body parts. When I asked her one-on-one how she tackled the frustration of being cooped up for a long recovery, Street was frank about the wrath the experience brought her.

"I was angry!" she said. "I was angry and everyone knew it."

She said she channeled that anger into finding other ways to keep her body in shape for an eventual return to the slopes. Street added that being holed up in the hospital made her achingly anxious to pounce.

"It was like being a hungry tiger pacing back and forth in a cage," Street said. "It's like [a tiger who] can smell blood outside and wants to, can't hardly wait, to attack!"

She said she thinks Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn may be in this place mentally during her own recovery from injury.

When a Citi audience member inquired about getting from greatness level to Olympian level technique in sport and in life, Street said she learned to put the lion's share of focus on improving weakness, and that hard work will help overcome flaws while naturally refining one's areas of strength. She said 2014 Team USA members Mikaela Shiffrin and Patrick Meek each remind her of Street's own drive, speed and hard work.

"All choices have consequences," said Street. "My wish [to get to the Olympics] became a daily choice. It was my wish on everything: birthdays, on the clock at 11:11, anything.

"I used to write the Olympic rings in the frost of the windows on the bus," Street added.

Funny, I used to do that on the bus in Oklahoma. And on the windows of my Volvo last week during Indiana's blizzard.

Further keeping it real, Street said during her Sochi TV project she will make it a point to ask Olympians and celebrities to talk about their "crappiest job" for which Street has her worst: Cleaning toilets. As a youth, Street used to help her mom with house cleaning assignments, perhaps another motivator to hit the slopes with dad and brother.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Simon Says ...

While researching Sochi Olympic venues, I came across a fun comparison of the Bolshoy Ice Dome with the 1970s Milton Bradley electronic game Simon. LOL!

Given the building's LED-topped canopy -- useful for creating an electronic image of most any illustration -- my mind eventually wandered to the Mike Myers SNL character who sang "Well, you know, my name is Simon, and I like to do drawings!"

I don't yet have tickets to an event inside the "Major Ice Palace" (the literal translation of its Russian name) but aim to find one -- this Olympic venue is the coolest thing since Beijing's Water Cube!

Image via Imgur

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Soiree Olympique

My first few Olympic viewing experiences -- for Montreal 1976, Lake Placed 1980, Sarajevo and Los Angeles 1984 -- felt like a party.

As a toddler, seven year old, and fifth grader, respectively, watching the Games on ABC Sports meant extra TV time and the rare "up past eight" opportunity.

During and after the LA84 opening ceremony, when every kid in the neighborhood went home to watch with family, I naively assumed that everyone in the world dropped everything to view the Olympics.

It wasn't until 1996, when my sister and I viewed the start of the Centennial Games ceremony on a small screen in a suburban Atlanta Chinese restaurant (we were both staying at apartments sans TV access), that it sunk in not everyone cared to watch.

Now I get it -- I may be in the minority on tuning in (LOL).

But some friends DO religiously watch the Opening Ceremonies and competitions. And today via Facebook I spotted an Olympic viewing party invitation from some five-ring fan acquaintances in Janesville, Wisconsin. Bravo! An Olympic Party, Sochi-style!

Perhaps everyone should drink a shot when NBC Olympic commentators utter dramarama terms such as "Olympic security" or "protest zone" and "figure skating controversy."

I'd like to know -- who out there in Blog Reader Land is going to attend or host a Sochi Olympic party? What are you including in your Soiree Olympique to make it authentic? Special Russian recipes and décor, or planning a fondue service with a mini-Olympic cauldron?

After the 1996 work experience, at an auction I purchased an Olympic cooler and official Coca-Cola picnic table and umbrella in anticipation of hosting a Games gathering. Later these items turned into great Ebay sales to fund travel to Sydney 2000, so I never did host an Olympic party. Please share your memories of torch-inclusive gatherings.

Meanwhile, one time I did attend a Golden Globes viewing party (and also attended several client GRAMMY viewing parties in Atlanta). Turns out in tandem with this weekend's Golden Globe Awards broadcast on NBC there will be a "Gold Meets Golden" party featuring many notable summer and winter Olympians and stars of the silver and small screen. According to a press release sent to this blogger, numerous luminaries may attend.

The second-annual NBC/Universal Golden Globes party includes Hollywood hosts Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Ryan Kavanaugh, Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Sofia Vergara, Adrien Brody, Chelsea Handler, Kerry Washington, Owen Wilson and Hayden Panettiere, who is engaged to Atlanta Olympic gold medalist Wladimir Klitschko.

Atlanta Olympic Village visitor Arnold Schwarzenegger will host a table for winter and summer athletes to attend the Globe Awards ceremony.

The celebrities will join scheduled-to -ttend Olympians including gymnasts Mary Lou RettonNadia Comaneci, Bart Conner, Gabby Douglas, Carly PattersonNastia Liukin and Jake Dalton; figure skater Sasha Cohen; speed skaters Apolo Anton Ohno, Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen;  athletics greats Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Alyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, Will Claye and DeeDee Trotter; diver Greg Louganis; swimmers  Nathan Adrian, Rebecca Soni, Eric Shanteau, John NaberJessica Hardy and Summer Sanders; water polo player Tony Azevedo; freeskier Nick Goepper; fencer Tim Morehouse; beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh Jennings, Misty May Treanor, April Ross and Jen Kessy; original Dream Team basketball player Magic Johnson, and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow (recently announced as members of President Barack Obama’s Presidential Delegation for the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games) will also participate.

An Olympic auction is set to launch at the event, with items available for online bidding including VIP tickets to exclusive parties to celebrate the Sochi Games with Olympic legends at Team USA Clubs in Los Angeles (Feb. 7) and Vail, Colo. (Feb. 15), official Team USA apparel, and a Cola-Cola snowboard to be signed by Gold Meets Golden party attendees. The auction launches Jan. 12 and continues this month via CharityBuzz.com/USOC.
I will probably do a party dance when my visa application for Russia Federation is finally processed -- getting anxious for "official" access to Sochi to arrive by mail. Why must this take so many days?

Images via Rich Fletcher and CW3PR

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lessons Learned Snowed In In Indiana

Four years at Minnesota State University in Mankato provided more than a few lessons in how to brave cold weather.

For instance, the experience taught me never, ever, EVER again reside at an address north of Tennessee.

Polar Vortex of January 2014


Winter weather driving lessons of MSU days came into play this past Sunday during a post-holiday road trip from Milwaukee to Atlanta.

The highways were terrible and only got worse with deepening wet snow as fellow drivers joined the 20 mph crawl from Chicago across the Indiana state line. In four hours, I got only as far as West Lafayette before calling it quits in white-out snowfall, which officially closed I-65 for three days.

Thanks to the Polar Vortex, even if the Interstate had re-opened Monday, my Volvo S70 was having none of the subzero temperatures.

How cold was it?

It was so cold the key hole for the ignition froze shut! And even after a day of prying the key slot open with a pocket knife, the car still did not defrost until Wednesday afternoon as the steering column remained locked in the bitter cold. It was so frustrating to remain among the last three snow-bound travelers stranded at The Lodge.

Yessir, three nights and four days at the Econo Lodge provided many reflections on patience and how Hades may not be hot but more like an Arctic Circle of Hell.

View from W. Lafayette Econo Lodge

When the key finally did slip into the Volvo ignition and turn, at last starting the car, I hollered "yes!" with pleasure, giggled uncontrollably and even got tears of joy in my eyes -- euphoria likened to losing my virginity. 

Finally made it back to Atlanta this afternoon, thankful for the experience but more appreciative of its conclusion.

During the day's drive to Georgia, several lessons learned from being snowed in in Indiana emerged:
  1. There are a lot of good people in Indiana, and many of them work at the fast food, fuel and lodging establishments at Exit 178/N. River Road
  2. The West Lafayette Econo Lodge is nothing fancy but it was clean and warm and I think most of the other snowbound guests would concur we were treated well during the experience
  3. According to friends and this news article, Indian-Americans with the name Patel own a large percentage of economy lodging establishments across the U.S.
  4. On cable TV in northwest Indiana, advertisements are in heavy rotation for the dating website FarmersOnly.com
  5. A little cabin fever goes a long way toward getting things done, including the establishment of the official Facebook page for this Olympic blog (please check it out)
  6. The HBO broadcast of "Life of Pi" provided a timely reminder that God is with you even when you are adrift in the Midwest Regions of Siberia
  7. When you realign the letters of "Volvo S70" it almost looks like "Volvo P.O.S"
  8. The lyrics to the Genesis song "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" take on a whole new meaning after one is ice bound for a few days: "Please get me out of here, Someone get me out of here/Just help me, I'll do anything, ANYTHING, if you'll just help get me out of heeeeeeeeerrrre, Tonight - oh, ohhhhhhh!"
  9. There are dozens of Olympians from The Hoosier State including Lafayette's own Ray Ewry (among the most decorated Olympic athletes in history)
  10. In Indiana, when it snows, they do not plow the Interstate exits nor rest areas (and I will always wonder "why not?").
During the crying, er, waiting game in West Lafayette, I also earned another dose of tested patience as the USPS held in limbo my passport and Russia Federation visa paperwork mailed to Washington last week (finally delivered today).

It will be a tremendous relief when that document soon arrives back in Atlanta.

On to Sochi! And Volvo reminds you, Drive Safely!

Volvo interior and exterior photos by Nicholas Wolaver; map image via this link; postage stamp image painted by Bart Forbes via this link

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vonn Boyage, er, Bon Voyage

Bummed to learn the news of Olympic Champion Lindsey Vonn bowing out of Sochi pursuits due to injuries. It is sporting of her to open up a U.S. Ski spot for a teammate to trek to Russia next month, though curious she opted to announce via Facebook.

I suspect we may see Ms. Vonn lined up as a commentator or other "live from Sochi" personality (she is, after all, the most decorated American skier in history), but only time will tell. It won't surprise me one bit to read of a Vonn run for PyeongChang 2018 as well.

Here's hoping for an injury-free transition and bon voyage to the next phase of Vonn's career.

Another thing that's bummin' me out is that my 1998 Volvo S70 (a.k.a. P.o.S) is frozen in Indiana. I'm posting today from McDonald's (Worldwide Olympic Sponsor) in West Lafayette, Ind., where the high temp of the last 48 hours was just about zero degrees.

Though appreciative of safe and warm place to stay for a few days, I am growing tired of hotel living and ready to get back to Atlanta. But the car steering column remains locked in place, possibly due to subzero cold, but just as likely a mechanical issue with "the usual" crud timing (it was so cold here yesterday the ignition key slot was frozen shut).

Know anyone in Lafayette who wants to chat about the Games? Give me a call at the EconoLodge!

Stay warm, my friends.

Image via AP Photo by Gero Breloer

Friday, January 3, 2014

To Russia, With Glove(s)

With client projects and holiday deadlines galore, November and December were a wash for free time to blog. Crud!

Lots of big Olympic news headlines of late, notably the selection of initial Team USA competitors and some final preparations for Sochi 2014.

Of course, troubling headlines are also on the brain given recent events in Central Russia.

During Christmas break, time at last arrived to finalize travel plans for the Winter Olympics.

"Are you going to Sochi?" is finally answered: YES!

For those who remain interested, it's not too late to book passage to Russia. Accommodations are available on several cruise ships set to dock at Sochi Port and Adler (with thanks to Tom Burke for the pointers on reservations). Also found an actual hotel available via Hotels.com, though I will be biting my nails until checking-in on 3 Feb that the hotel is there and open for business.

The cruise ship agency includes with their fee the required host documents needed for inclusion in the Russian tourist visa application process (more on that in a few paragraphs).

Flights are not cheap. Fortunately, after banking tens of thousands of SkyMiles, I'll get half-way to Sochi on Delta Air Lines' dime. The second half of the journey will be via Aeroflot from Germany, one of three nations with direct flights to Sochi available for the Games (it pleased me to avoid long layovers and out-of-the-way connecting flights via Moscow). Yahoo! Travel was helpful to locate these direct flight options.

And individual Sochi Olympic tickets remain available via CoSport -- it will be fun to visit Krasnaya Polyana for ski jump (the one ticket purchased so far). Locating a single Opening Ceremony ticket is on my wish list, but the Sochi ticketing process (which includes a new layer of security via the Spectator Pass process -- Meh) will prevent last minute wheeling and dealing like in Beijing.

Now, about that tourist visa for Russia Federation. Whew! I've put in a dozen hours and still the process is a work in progress. There are plenty of (nearly too many) checklist items to keep in mind, and that's just to get the paperwork in an envelope to the embassy (in my case, to a company that helps process the applications). I think only the visa application for China was more detailed, but it will be worth the time investment when arriving at the host city.

With just over 30 days to go, the time is now to get things booked without delay. Here's hoping others who are finalizing their plans will comment and share pointers.

During the booking process, I reflected many times that just 25 years ago a visit to Russia was likened to flying to the moon. It will be great fun to learn the culture in person, and I do wish to visit St. Petersburg, Moscow and other Russia Federation destinations in the future. Sochi will be a good place to start the Russia travel experience.

See you there!

Image via RussiaMap.org

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