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Your Call Cannot Be Completed As Dialed

For those younger readers, the image below is the remnants of a pay phone. Prior to the widespread use of cellphones, these things were all over the place. You could pay a certain amount to make a call. Most of the phone part of this one is gone. My guess would be that it is hanging in someone’s apartment as a decoration. Regardless of what happened to it, there is no chance that any calls are being made from or coming to this unit. Even if the wires still exist inside, the connection just isn’t going to be made.

There used to be a pay phone here.

Despite all of our different formats for connection, people seem to be more disconnected than ever. It is not a question of means for communication. We have more than we know what to do with: text, instant message, Facebook post, Tweet, etc. The issue is not the means. It is the quality and interpretation of the signals that are coming through. Wearing masks seems to have made this even worse. People are generally not sending the signals that they want to put out into the world. It is usually a watered down version of their truest feelings. It has become just a bit too dangerous to put your authentic self out there. It can be misinterpreted. You could be labeled a thousand different things. Or worst of all, you could be heard clearly and no one responds. That might be the scariest of all. Putting yourself completely out there and no one cares enough to hear you.

We’re losing something in these overly cautious half messages. That piece of ourselves that makes us truly human. Other animals travel in packs but the human animal can relate on a level that they cannot. Pack animals travel together for the protection of the individual and the whole. Our society has grown to a point where we no longer need the protection but we still need the connection. We still need the pack, not because of physical danger but emotional connection. The pack could be as few as two people. The blanket of emotional safety that it creates is not so much a want but a need. We need to feel safe emotionally in this crazy world. Our ability to say anything to anyone anywhere has not freed us. It has stifled us because that phone call used to be with one person. Now all that we say and do can be turned from a gift into a weapon regardless of our intent. Unfortunately, the voices of the masses are not truly hateful voices. They are insecure voices. That insecurity is based in a fear that they also won’t be loved, appreciated, praised or even just heard. So it’s easier to send out a half truth that keeps us protected than the whole truth that leaves us exposed. The trivial, trite and mundane becomes the message on everyone’s masked lips. Those masks are not due to COVID. They’re invisible protection from putting one’s self “too far” out there. Because if the real me shows up and no one answer my call, then what does that say about me.

The truth is that it probably says nothing more than most people are disconnected like that phone above. They have all of the wiring to make a true connection but choose to stay separate and protected. Don’t become a rusted out shell of your former self. People were meant for more than the snarky and filtered. We were meant to be raw and imperfect. This is not a call for you to post your “emotionally naked” self online. More than anything, it’s an invitation to be real with one person at a time. Like a pay phone, it’s small investments that over time with make a big difference in the value that you are returned.

Hello! Is there anybody out there?

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Define Yourself

If you look up any word in the dictionary, you will read a variety of other words that are used to represent that item, idea or whatever. So understanding that definition is dependent upon knowing the other words. It’s an odd kind of shell game. There are also other words that we feel like we know what they mean. But without a dictionary in hand, if we were asked for a definition, it would be a struggle to come up with one. We just know. Much like a dumbbell, there is a balance to be struck with the things that are dependent upon others in order to have meaning and things that just are.

High School Soccer from Senior Year
It may look foolish now but at the time, we LOVED these jerseys!

As human beings, we are often trying to make sense of things. We are looking for meaning in a largely random set of circumstances and characters. Sometimes we use the dictionary approach. Our meaning is dependent upon others. Things that could be easily represented to people. At times, the more intuitive route “feels” right. We do not know how to explain it but our decisions seem to have a cosmic GPS that we couldn’t really explain to someone else.

I’ve had both experiences and cannot say wholeheartedly that either is 100% correct. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. At a certain point though, you need to be you. Defining that completely externally is dangerous because it can end with losing yourself. The completely intuitive route can ignore vital information in favor of feelings that may be misguided. It would be a lot easier if we had a map but then we would lose the joy of “figuring it out.” Our lives are largely lived in duality. Too much certainty is boring and too much uncertainty is chaos, not fun.

At the moment, we’re going through a tough time. A lot of the paths that we believed were important are becoming less so. A deluge of readily available “information” has made us doubt ourselves on a variety of fronts from how we look to our health and well-being. Within all of this turmoil, each of us must try to define who we are. This is a constant process that requires a bit of thought and some trust that you’re going to get it right eventually. The definition of who you are is not showing up in a dictionary and thank god! You get to figure out who you want to be over and over again. Take the time to get to know you, so maybe you can define you.

None of this will be on the quiz!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Someone Is Coming After You!

It sounds almost sinister if you put the wrong inflection in your voice when you say it. Horror movies find a way to make this idea last for almost two hours. A series of jump scares and near misses that bring the hairs on our arms to stand up straight. The panic that comes with the idea of some shrouded figure who is following our footsteps is almost palpable. But what if they meant you no harm? What if they didn’t even know that you existed? They were just someone who is coming after you. When you are gone, they will show up and they mean you no ill will. If they are not coming in order to hurt you, would you be willing to do the little things that will keep you from hurting them?

This thought experiment was brought on because I tripped on a dumbbell in our gym yesterday. I was the first person to enter in the morning. The lights were off and the weight was right in front of the door. It ended up ok. I didn’t end up on the ground or impaling myself on any of the nearby metal. The person, who left that weight there, just forgot that “someone is coming after you.” They gave no thought to the fact that I would be there in the early morning and could have gotten truly hurt. No malice, just indifference.

At this point in history, we seem to have forgotten that this moment that we are living in was created by a lot of people who knew someone was coming after them. No doubt mistakes were made and there was carelessness on their part at times. The recognition of the future was key. The future seems to be coming so fast that it has pressed itself directly onto the present. We seem to have trouble remembering the next people who will be here. Are we leaving something behind that they will actually want or be able to use? Or have we decided that our moment is so important that leaving a mess is our right?

More than likely, it is in our best interest to remember the people that are coming after us. We should be leaving them gifts to find rather than messes to clean up. It’s a force multiplier if everyone does it. The good will moving forward allows for others to be “infected” by it. If each of us is able to see the gifts from those before and remember that someone is coming after us, then the world becomes a better place to live on a regular basis. It’s not our moment that is most important. It is just most important to us. Giving a portion of it to the people coming after shows respect to the people who built our present.

They are coming! But it doesn’t need to be scary for either of us.

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Turn On The Bat Signal!

If you want Batman to show up, then turn on the Bat Signal. It’s not a difficult thing to figure out when you live in Gotham City. There is only one superhero with a signal that the commissioner has at his disposal. However, what if there were lots of signals? Not just for the heroes but also for the villains, sidekicks and everyone in between. Depending on what signals you put out into the world, you could have the entire population of Arkham Asylum on your doorstep. Or you could attract the “Caped Crusader” and Boy Wonder. The key would be putting out the right signals.

Obviously there aren’t a lot of winged vigilantes hanging around looking for spotlights in the clouds. However, you are putting out signals all the time. The world is picking many of them up and people are reacting to your signals whether you realize it or not. If your world is full of villains, is it possible that you’ve called them into your life?

I waiver back and forth on exactly how strong the powers of our intentions are. At times they seem to be “all powerful”, a single thought of an old friend seems to cause a text message or phone call to come my way. Other times, it seems like the signals just aren’t getting through. Either my spotlight isn’t turned on or Batman isn’t looking. Regardless of what is floating out there in the ether, we are sending a variety of signals throughout the day.

  • Texts and emails – They are probably the most pervasive messaging that we send out at the moment. When was the last time that you audited: Who you’re sending messages to? What are you saying? What’s your tone? Would you want to get a message from you?
  • Words – These come in combination with the next category but they are extremely important. Not simply because other people hear them but because you’re hearing yourself say them. They are double signals! They go to yourself and your audience. Be careful how you use these signals because they can repel or attract equally well.
  • Body language – This is a crucial signal that needs attention. Eye contact, body posture, hand movement, etc. can all play a part in attracting the forces of good or evil toward you. Or sending the message to stay away! It can be difficult to see yourself in the moment. So consider practicing in front of the mirror. It’s almost stupid enough of an idea to work!
  • Mental messages – If this is too “woo woo” for you, then move on. I’ve already said that I waiver on how strong this can be. It’s one of those things that is not reliable enough to be scientific but at the same time I’ve seen enough evidence to believe there is something to it. Our intentions have power! I’m just not sure how much!

These are just some of the signals that are available to you. There are also: smoke, dress, scent and more. Regardless of whether you are conscious of the signals that you’re sending, they are out there and people are receiving them. The main thing is sending the right messages. Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t assume that the message that you want to send and the one that is received are one in the same. This requires some detective work on your part. It may be cumbersome (good song) but it’s worth the time and effort.

Holy subliminal messages Batman! Be loud and clear!

Pete

Blogpost

Skippy Handelman Is Dead, Long Live Skippy

As a child of the 1980s, many of my thoughts are encased in characters from sitcoms and movies. I wish that I could say that William Shakespeare had a huge influence on my thought processes on love and loss but alas it is Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court. It’s not the worst thing but my references are not particularly known by the world. So you’ll have to indulge me a little as I explain.

Just to avoid any confusion, Marc Price, the actor who played Skippy is alive.

In the TV show, Family Ties, Irwin “Skippy” Handelman is the quirky neighbor to the featured family in the sitcom. The Keatons accept Skippy as an extension of their family because he is kind hearted, although slightly dimwitted by nature. While he is truly Alex’s friend (Michael J. Fox’s character), Skippy is possibly best known for having a huge crush on Mallory. His feelings for her are never reciprocated yet he presses on with little or no hope. Even his best friend, Alex, undermines other love interests that Skippy has. It has been a really long time since I’ve watched Family Ties. So this next part might be just what I want to believe. Eventually Skippy finds someone and Mallory recognizes her loss. That may not have actually happened in the show.

However there is a moment from Night Court that has stuck in my memory for years. The custodian, Art, brings Christine (Markie Post) to a function and it ends poorly. Eventually he puts it all on the line “I’d always treat you right. You would never want for anything.” Upon hearing those words, Christine gets upset. Art lets her off the hook though. It’s not Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet but it represents a part of the human condition. A man who would do anything for someone, sacrifices his own feelings for the other.

The role of the “nice guy” (or girl, this is not gender exclusive) is not an easy one to play. Decisions need to be made about what to do and there isn’t usually much wiggle room. The answer is the right thing. Sometimes that’s hard to swallow because the Skippy and Art characters of the world are not the stars. Their names are not on any marquis and they don’t usually get the girl in the end. So why do they do it? Because someone has to!

I don’t want to live in a world without the nice guy. Despite getting the distinction of “finishing last”, they tend to keep the world in balance. With self-less abandon, they go into every situation trying to do right by other people. This is not in a superhero kind of way, although Captain America could be characterized as a “nice guy”. Mostly this is done in simple ways through small actions that no one notices at first. That’s why I force myself to believe that Mallory has the recognition moment when Skippy has moved on. The nice guy tends to not get noticed until he’s gone.

My hope is that at some point, the nice guy gets his due. The Skippy characters of the world get a little bit more than a pat on the back. If you have one in your life, recognize it because they would quite literally do anything for you. That’s a great person to have around!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

The Formation of Your Life

Formations in soccer are popular solution to game time problems. Often one formation or another is viewed as a cure-all but in reality, they are mainly aimed at defining responsibility. Soccer is such a fluid game that very rarely after the first whistle will the alignment of players look like a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. The positions morph to respond to the moment. It is completely possible in a moment of crisis that all eleven players could be called upon to defend in their own box. We don’t call that a 1-10 because generally those players responding to the crisis have a role that is at least partially defined by their position in the formation. If you never told a striker that they were playing that position, it’s conceivable that they spend all of their time defending in their own box.

One of the many jobs that a coach has is to align the team in a fashion that will lead to success. Perhaps that will mean crawling into a defensive shell, initiating an all out attack or finding a balance. Each of us must do the same thing within our own lives. Decide on a strategy that moves us toward our goals and protects against conceding our self-esteem. And the people that surround us are also part of that equation. Some are on our team while others are opponents to our cause. Putting the right people into positions that will help move you forward and protect you as well is important. Obviously I can’t do this for you but the suggestions below may help you begin to decide if people are in the right positions or not.

Your goalkeeper: This should be someone who will defend you with everything that they have. Depending on your station in life, this may be your parents or spouse. I wouldn’t normally put a best friend in this position. The reason why is that you don’t usually want your last line of defense to also be constantly helping to move you forward as well. However this is your team. You may do as you see fit.

Your backs: Similar to the goalkeeper, these people are interested mostly in your protection. The difference is that they are also part of your progress forward. Family, friends and possibly selected colleagues who truly have your back. There’s no perfect number to delineate their responsibility but 75% defense and 25% attack would be reasonable. So these people are invested in your protection more than your progress forward, REMEMBER THIS!!! It becomes important later.

Your midfield: These are people who are half protection and half defense. Again, friends and family are the most likely to make up this group. However there are plenty of sections to your life that may produce people to help in this area. Work colleagues may be helping to push you forward, possibly even a boss who sees potential in you. Personally in the past, significant others were almost always a catalyst for improvement, either personally or professionally.

Your forwards: This is the group that is most likely to help you to achieve (score) your goals. This may be the most diverse group. It is possible that you don’t even need to know these people. Inspiration to get you close to your goals can come from anywhere: books, podcasts, videos, speaking events. However the people that we’ve mentioned before could also play this role. It all comes down to who it is best equipped to help you in this area.

Your formation: Depending on where you are in your life, you may be playing defensive or offensive. It may also be a different strategy depending on the portion of your life that you’re considering. Regardless, it’s worth considering the roles of each person. Some people may need to be put on the bench. Others may need to become more important players. Remember that your team isn’t the only one that is playing. You can have direct or indirect opponents. Some will show up in places that you wouldn’t expect.

Opponents: These are the people who are looking to take shots at your self-esteem or just thwart you from achieving your goals. They might be “enemies” but more often than not they are people that you probably thought of as we worked through your teammate list. Remember the people who were 75% protection. Although they have your best interest in mind, they may be trying to protect you from going beyond their comfort zone and not yours. It’s worth considering the fact that the line between teammate and opponent could get pretty blurry at times. The most difficult opponent to get past is usually yourself. You know your fears and weaknesses. So it easy for you to stand in your own way at times.

As the coach of your life, it is up to you to get the right people in the right positions on your team. It’s also your job to read the opponent and change the game plan to get around them. None of this is easy! Especially when we’re not talking about getting a ball into a net but rather our lives. Regardless of whether it is easy or not, it’s necessary. Surrounding yourself with the right people and having them serve the right roles in your life is important. Only you can make those decisions though. Find your formation but don’t fall in love with it. It needs to be adjusted when necessary.

Go team!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Break Up With Yourself

A slap across the face, a bucket of tears, possibly even a few curse words thrown my way. These are all components of past breakups. Breakups are infrequently mutual, so at least one person feels like they are on the losing end. I’ve been dumped and I’ve been the dumper. Neither is particularly easy unless you have no soul. Despite the fact that it is hard, there are times when it is completely justified. Some people just don’t know how to treat another human being and it is time to say goodbye.

A breakup can be complicated by factors that make the connection linger. I once dated a coworker and that breakup made work difficult. Living together is probably the most complicated because someone has got to go. No matter what that sitcom with Pam from the Office might try to sell to you, living together after a breakup is no joke. However most people tend to live with the person who is most critical of them. Even worse, they can’t get away from them because that person is inside of their head.

It’s no surprise that the harshest critic is usually inside of our own head. That voice is usually a mismatched combination of different voices from our past mixed with our own self-judgement. Being self-critical is not difficult because we know our every shortcoming, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, etc. The issue is that neither party can leave. This is a true “til death do we part” scenario. As with any relationship, it’s possible to make it better but it requires the right communication.

How could you leave this good looking guy?

Since each of us has our own preferred way of communicating, it’s possible that one strategy will work better for someone than it does for another. My suggestion would be do them all and maybe increase the dose on your preferred way.

  • Write to yourself everyday. This doesn’t need to be a love letter (or maybe that’s a good idea) but it should be a positive narrative to you about yourself. Give the positive reinforcement that you would extend to someone that you care about. Also give thanks for all that you are and all that you will become. That’s right! Give thanks for things that have not happened yet. Keep it in the near future but still project outward from where you stand.
  • Tell yourself positive things. Again, this is a difficult thing to do when you’re on autopilot. So use that technology in your pocket for a better outcome. Record yourself talking to yourself in a positive manner about where you are and where you’re going. You may need a script and summon your inner actor to say these things with some emotion. Don’t say it monotone, like you don’t believe it. Put some feeling behind it. Once you’ve recorded listen to it twice or more per day. Ideally the two times would be right before bed and as soon as you wake up. However you may be embarrassed doing this with a roommate etc. Put in your earbuds and hear what you have to say.
  • Break the cycle of abuse. If you have a habit of using abusive language with yourself, inside of your head or out-loud. The first step is to get that voice to stop or at least detour it. Pay attention to the common phrases and when they come up. Practice thinking the negative thing and attach the inverse. For example if the habit saying is “I’m so stupid.” Flip the script by thinking the “I’m so stupid” and saying “when I’m not being brilliant.” Saying something out-loud gives it more power. The mixed message should scramble your brain a bit. If you’re also doing the other work, it shouldn’t be long until you’re talking to yourself differently.

I suppose I lied to you a bit with the title. You’re not truly breaking up with yourself. More than anything you’re training yourself on how to be a good roommate. If you want to stay in that abusive relationship for the rest of your life, then by all means stick with it. My guess is that if you’ve bothered to read one of my blogposts this far, you’re not going to stand still. You see the potential inside of yourself but also see the ways that you’ve held yourself back. Take off the anchor and propel yourself forward.

You can do it! I believe in you! And you should too!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Who Has Your Nuke Codes?

Next month we are going to go through a presidential transition. Whether you’re happy about the results of the election or not is irrelevant to this post. As the commander in chief, the sitting president has a variety of weapons at his disposal including nuclear weapons. The destructive capabilities of these weapons are so devastating that only the president can order their use. This authority is not given out to everyone in the armed forces.

Usually when I talk about this concept, I use the example of keys. I’ll ask an audience who I would trust with my keys. Answers like wife, friends, siblings, parents are all common. Eventually after we’ve established that I would not trust my keys to just anyone, I relate the keys back to the mind. Who do you trust with the way that you think about yourself? Are you as discerning when choosing the people who can impact your self image? Most of the time, this brings to light some judgment issues. People often given power of influence to strangers, acquaintances or even “enemies.” Although this discussion is one that I think is worthwhile, I wanted to take it to that next level. Who has your “nuke codes”?

The difference here is that nukes have the ability to destroy everything. This goes far beyond the ability to influence. Perhaps the best strategy is never to give these codes to anyone. Keep the pushbuttons that could destroy you hidden away. Never let anyone know that they exist. Pretend like you’re invulnerable. Some people seem to go to the other extreme, giving the power of destruction to everyone and everything.

The best strategy that I’ve been able to come up with is to give them to the people who would never use them. An exchange of codes that allows each side to feel a level of safety but also trust. In real relationships (not nuclear standoffs) the key is vulnerability. It is only when we show our weak underbelly that people can feel that. they really know us. Acting like that weakness doesn’t exist guarantees that no one can get close enough to our reality. On the one hand, that might seem safe because then no one else can hurt us. While that might be true, it also means that the only possible destruction is self-destruction. The gamble comes down to vetting people that you trust with the real you or propping up the walls around you while trying not to hit the button. It’s not as hard of a choice or a task as it seems. Most people aren’t interested in pushing your button, they’re just trying not to push their own.

Go be vulnerable!

Pete

Blogpost

I’m Broken (The Only Mechanic Is Me)

meaningMy first car was a 1977 Chevy Nova!  I inherited it from my great aunt and it was the perfect first car.  It had holes in the floor boards where you could actually see the road below you.  It had an 8 Track tape player in it that never really worked.  It was pale blue and covered with rust spots, as you can tell from the description, I loved it!  There were plenty of reasons to love it that had nothing to do with how looked or how it ran.  And now looking back on it, I understand even better that it was the perfect first car exactly because it was a piece of junk.  At no point did I ever have to worry about messing it up.  I learned how to change the oil, replace the bulbs and change tires on that car.  At no point did I think, “If I mess this up, I’m screwed!”

Fast forward to the present day and I don’t even change my own oil anymore.  Cars have become computers and more complicated, therefore the idea of doing my own maintenance while possible is much easier to outsource.  There are so many things like that today.  Complexity of many systems within our world have changed us from capable amateur mechanics to people in the waiting room in anticipation of someone else fixing our problem.

While this may be helpful or even necessary with many of our possessions, it seems to have become pervasive to the point of a cultural norm.  Day care, personal trainers, landscapers, etc. are all examples of outsourcing things that used to be done by the amateur ‘owner’.  While these services can be helpful and possibly ‘necessary’ in a modern context, there is one thing that we can never turn the complete management over to someone else: your mind.

The best therapist in the land can be employed for multiple hours each day and still, it is on the individual to get their hands dirty and do the work.  No one can change you without your conscious or unconscious consent.  Recognizing this fact, I am amazed at how many brain owners keep waiting for the world or their life to make them happy.  That is like expecting your neighborhood to take care of your lawn without ever communicating with them about it.  And even if you did make that request, I’m sure that you’d get some raised eyebrows or questions like “why is that my responsibility?”  So in this area, we need to realize that that amateur mechanic ethos is absolutely necessary.  Help is not only desirable in most cases, it is necessary but it is on each and every one of us to maintain, diagnose or even overhaul our mind at times.  With the amount of anxiety, depression and other mental concerns that seem to affect most of the population, it is time for all of us to recognize that we are all broken in at least a small way but we are also the mechanic.  Learning about yourself, your habits, fears, triggers and so many other components of your mindset is no longer an option.  Developing the tools to navigate this complex world is not only your job, it’s integral to your survival.  So remember, you’re broken (but so is everyone else) and you’re the mechanic.

Get your hands dirty!

Pete

Blogpost

Steam Is Contagious

Huryk-LukeIt was many years ago but I’ve still not encountered a better example.  I was the field marshal at a youth tournament in Pennsylvania.  The players were under twelve years old and engaged in a very back and forth game.  One team was extremely adept at the offside trap.  Late in the game, there was a corner kick.  The cross was cleared out of the penalty box and the defense pushed up.  The ball fell to the foot of a offensive player about 30 yards from goal.  He shot.  The ball rocketed toward the goal and hit the post.  The rebound fell to a forward who was slow getting back onside and he scored.  The referee instantly called offside and awarded a free kick to the defense.  The coach of the team that had the goal disallowed went ballistic.  He screamed about how “ridiculous” the call was and asked about the referees sight, etc.  As the field marshal I felt that it was my job to diffuse the situation in order to avoid it interfering with the game.  I said, “Coach, if you’d like, I can explain to you why that was the right call.”  He responded, “I know it was the right call!  I’m just blowing off some steam.”

In most cases, soccer is not a life or death situation.  It’s a passion, diversion, recreation, fun or even a teacher.  The game has the possibility to do so many things because it garners the emotions of the people around it.  There is nothing inherently wrong with emotion.  We need them to live and color our lives.  However emotion without any sense of reason is problematic.  The word was chosen very deliberately.  REASON!  The reason why we’re there in the first place gets lost when we cannot control our emotions.  Referees become demons.  Opponents become enemies and sense of our self-interest overrides the judgment that we use elsewhere.  This is not so much of a problem when it is a single person.  However it seems to have become a societal norm.

The steam that so many people are letting off is clouding our vision.  The ability to see what is right in front of our faces.  Children.  Children who are looking at us for how to act.  Not just on a soccer field on Saturdays or Sundays but in their daily lives.  When something doesn’t go their way, they’re supposed to have an emotion freak out session because that’s what you do.  You don’t take a breath and refocus on the task at hand.  You don’t see the bigger picture.  You don’t recognize that human error is part of life and needs to be coped with.  Those things aren’t done because they’re hard.  They require effort, judgement and self-control.  These skills are difficult to develop, especially when you’re a child, watching the adults act like children.

So don’t breathe in the steam, just breathe!  Recognize that the children on the field have spent hours this week trying to improve their skills in order to perform for you.  Put your focus on that.  Double, triple or quadruple your focus on the fact that these are kids, trying to do something that is difficult.  AND DIFFICULT THINGS ARE THE ONLY ONES WORTH PURSUING!  So don’t produce steam, produce esteem for what everyone on that field is trying to do.

See you on the field!

Pete