Friday, August 24, 2007

Weathering the storm...

It's Mother's Day - May 14th, 2006. Ryan had a couple days off of practice, so he flew home to Dallas to check on our new home (we'd only owned it a little over a year) and have some furniture delivered. Ryan was so excited to be heading home - he was going to watch a movie for the first time in our state-of-the-art media room. Excitement turned to horror when Ryan walked in the front door. There was water everywhere. Ceilings had collapsed. Insulation from the attic covered the floor. Mold covered walls, furniture, and clothing. The toxic fumes in the house had set off the carbon monoxide detectors. Our home was ruined. Remember how the homes looked after hurricane Katrina??? That's what the inside of our house looked like. It was just devastating.

Ryan could hear water running, so he careful went up the stairs and found the culprit - a toilet right off of Will's room was overflowing. Ryan quickly shut off the water and stood there in horror. Ryan discovered that the valve in the toilet broke - it literally snapped. Normal folks would discover a problem like this right away, thus minimizing any potential damage. Because we were in Buffalo, we had no idea what was happening. We later determined the the toilet was overflowing for 7-14 days - we're not sure exactly how long. Approximately 1300 gallons of water came out of that toilet - enough to fill a swimming pool. When all was said and done, we ended up gutting approximately 75% of this massive 4300 sq. ft. house.

For several months, we tried to deal with the builder, DARLING HOMES, about a possible buy back of the home since it was so new. Our hope was to turn over the insurance check to Darling, let them fix it and eventually sell it. We just wanted out. At one point, Darling had agreed to do so, and then they backed out. With all the legal wrangling, we didn't start the actually home repairs until 8 months after the flood.

Here we are almost a year-and-a-half later and I'm happy to report that our house is almost done. We received pictures from the contractor of the progress and I was just floored. The house is better than I ever could have dreamed. It's absolutely beautiful. I can't believe I finally have my home again.

We learned so many lessons over this past year. We will now have someone going into our house every day to check on it while we are in Buffalo. We know to shut off all the water to the house while we're gone. We got rid of all the toilets in the house - the valve in the toilet was made by a company named FLUIDMASTER. We found out that FLUIDMASTER uses a highly corrosive plastic - if there are elevated levels of chlorine in the tank (say, from one of those chlorine tabs - don't use them), the plastic will begin to erode. FLUIDMASTER has so many claims against it that our insurance company has it's own department that deals just with these claims.

Speaking of insurance companies, we're insured through Travelers. I cannot tell you how awesome our experience has been. Our policy covered all the damage. We've not had any problems whatsoever since the flood. If you're looking for a good homeowner's policy, I highly recommend Travelers.

Lesson learned, albeit an expensive one...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Training camp is over! Woo!

The Bills broke training camp yesterday and Ryan is home! Woo! My days of single parenthood are over! Well, sort of. The football season presents it's own unique challenges with Ryan traveling to away games, practicing, etc. But he's home. There are no words for my excitement!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What happens when your kid's not "normal"...

It's August - it's that time of year when most parents have carefully screened and chosen the perfect preschool for their toddlers. For some, this process can be competitive - the top schools require applications, photos, etc. of potential "candidates" for their classrooms. Can you imagine what it must be like to get a rejection letter from a preschool? Utterly devastating, I'm sure. Unfortunately, I won't be experiencing that stress this year because Will won't be going to a mainstream preschool. As of September 5th, Will will be enrolled in a special education program at Buffalo Hearing & Speech in downtown Buffalo.

Will is still experiencing significant delays in speech and comprehension. He's received therapy through early intervention since he was nineteen-months-old but he just hasn't quite caught up yet. We're hoping that having him in a structured classroom setting with a lot of one-on-one attention will trigger that little brain of his into catching up. The goal is to get him these services now so that by the time kindergarten rolls around in a couple of years he'll be caught up and will no longer need special education services.

As a mother, this has been truly difficult for me. "Special ed" - the words just make me shudder. I remember making fun of people in special ed when I was younger. Didn't we all? How many times have you made fun of someone being on a short bus? In my acting class every week, jokes are made during comedy improve about "special" people. It makes me ill - that's my kid they are talking about. Coming to terms with and accepting the fact that my kid is now in that group has been truly difficult for me. I'm just glad that he's too young to understand the negative connotations associated with being in special ed.

Thanks to reminders from a good friend of mine who is dealing with similar issues with her son, I've tried my best to keep things in perspective. Not to minimize what's going on with Will, but I know there are parents out there whose children are really sick - very sick. We're talking things like cancer, heart defects, true mental retardation, etc. - illnesses that are physical debilitating that may actually claim the lives of those children. I remember visiting kids at a local hospital with Ryan a couple of years ago, and there was a little boy Will's age (about 18 months at the time) with cancer! CANCER at 18 months old! Come on! How is that fair? It is in the moments when I'm having my own personal pity parties that I try to think about and pray for those families. They have REAL problems. Will is just in special ed.

We continue to pray daily for Will that one day things will just click and that he'll become one of those normal kids who never shuts up. Until then, I'll gladly take Will to school everyday (I'm not putting him on a bus - he's three) and I will continue to report on his progress.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Just call me Rosalie...

After a two week audition process, I've been cast to play Rosalie in a stage production of "Real Women Have Curves." The play will run Thursday, Friday, and Saturday during the first three weekends in October at the Alleyway Theater in downtown Buffalo.

I found out today that we'll be making a little money - and it is a little. Good thing that aspect of the production isn't that important to me. I chose to try out for this play because it's been years since I've done live stage work, and this play will provide a wonderful opportunity for me to add stage experience to my resume. It's a fun play - there's lots of comedy in it. Lots of female bonding. One thing does scare me though - have you ever been under those hot, unflattering stage lights? In a small theater like ours will be, the lights bring out the best and worst of the actors. Well, in the play, there's a scene in which we all strip down to our skivies. That's right - I'll be standing in front of a packed house in my drawls (as we like to call them back home). I better hit up the gym!!!!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The trip from hell...

Thanks to US Airways and an overzealous off duty cop in New Orleans, it'll be a while before I make another trip to an away game.

After US Airways cancelled our flight Thursday night, we decided to make a go at it again early Thursday morning. My friend Blake and I booked a flight on Southwest (we didn't want to take a chance getting screwed by US Airways the following day) and had absolutely no problems getting to New Orleans. Our friend Mia picked us up and it was off to our hotel. We spent the afternoon eating (Mother's is incredible) and shopping in the french quarter. Then it was back to the hotel to change for the game. We met up with Blake's in-laws at the Ritz Carlton for some pre-game libations before heading to the Superdome. The martinis were incredible.

So we head out for the game. My friend Michell's husband plays for the Saints and she had a parking pass for the stadium, so we hitched a ride with her. There was so much traffic - we almost missed kick off! But thanks to Michell's willingness to risk arrest by driving on the wrong side of the street (not to mention she'd had a couple of martinis - tsk, tsk), I made it to the Superdome in time to see Ryan get his first tackle of the season on kickoff. Ryan had an awesome game - he even had a catch for eight yards. The Bills were victorious and pulled off a 13-10 win.

After the game, everything went downhill. There is a post-game ritual in the NFL - after the game, we head to the visiting team's parking lot to see our guys before they head back to Buffalo. Long story short, this napoleon-complexed off duty police officer threatened to arrest me. He told me if I crossed the barricade, he'd put me in handcuffs and arrest me. I was just floored. I've traveled to countless away games and I have NEVER experienced anything like this. It was a little traumatic. Even the head security guy for the Buffalo Bills got into it with this dude. It made everything really stressful. Even after Ryan had come out of the locker room and had come over to see us, the cop was still harassing us! At one point, he obviously thought the whole situation was a joke because he was laughing. Let me tell you - there is nothing funny about being threatened with an arrest. Trust that the New Orleans police department will be hearing from me. Thankfully there was this wonderfully apologetic woman security guard who made it clear that the people of New Orleans aren't like that cop, that she was sorry we were treated so poorly, and that she hoped that we'd come back. She was probably the saving grace of the evening. Because of her, I will go back to the Big Easy, even though there was nothing easy about this trip.

We left the stadium feeling traumatized and defeated. Knowing we all had early flights out the next day, we decided to turn in for the night (thus foregoing a trip to par-tay on Bourbon street).

The next morning, I got up bright and early to head to the airport. I check in, only to find out that my US Airways flight is delayed an hour-and-a-half. I wasn't happy, but figured I'd just deal with it. We had a layover at Reagan Int'l but we didn't have to get off the plane, so I wasn't worried about making any connections.

Boy, was I wrong. The Buffalo passengers stayed on the plane when we got to Reagan. The flight attendant came and told us we had to de-plane and proceeded to explain that our plane was going to Indianapolis, not Buffalo. At some point in time, the geniuses at US Airways switched the flight unbeknownst to us. Even worse, the people in New Orleans were informed about the change and were told not to let us board the flight because we'd get stuck at Reagan. This was never communicated to us. We made our way to a customer service desk and were informed that we'd have to spend the night because NOTHING was available that night for Buffalo. US Airways had cancelled so many flights that weekend that they were playing catch up. There was no guarantee we'd even get out the next morning! Mind you, Ryan is at home with Will and had to leave to get back to camp early Sunday morning, so spending the night at Reagan was not an option.

Another passenger and I inquired about any flights to our area - they had a 9:30 p.m. flight heading to Syracuse. We told them to book us - worst case scenario we'd take that flight and then drive the three hours back to Buffalo. But I started to think - the way US Airways cancelled flights, there was no reason to believe they wouldn't cancel that flight.

I got on the phone with Southwest Airlines - they had several flights back to Buffalo leaving from BWI. We booked a flight and took an $80 cab ride to the other airport. We checked in without issue, boarded our flight on time, and made it in to Buffalo by 8:30 p.m.. Have I said before how much I love Southwest? That airline freakin' rocks. I know they have their own problems, but my last couple of experiences with the airline have been incredible. Contrast Southwest to the idiots at US Airways and there is just no comparison.

Take my advice - avoid US Airways at all cost. They are idiots, they don't give a squat about the passengers and can care less whether or not you have a life. I rarely say never, but I will NEVER fly the airline again. I've got to get on the phone right now and attempt to get my ticket refunded. No doubt that's going to be fun!!!!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Big Easy has to wait...

Waiting in the Buffalo airport


I swear, when I was booking my flight to New Orleans, I had this really bad feeling about booking on US Airways. The airline is notorious for cancelling flights, and today was no different. After waiting at the Buffalo airport for hours, they cancelled the flight due to "weather." Nice. So I'm now going to spend the rest of the night convincing myself that this trip is so important that it's worth heading to the airport at the butt crack of dawn tomorrow to try this all over again. It sure does seem like a lot of work for a 24 hour trip.

We've got a flight booked on Southwest in the morning - that's what I should've done in the first place.

The best commercials out there...

There are two commercials running right now that I just love. The first one is the Sun Silk commercial where the girl gets whiplash after having a hair flipping contest. Classic! The second is the Staples commercial where the parents are dressed in cheerleading outfits. Have you actually listened to their cheer? They say "Pop pop, quiz quiz," and then they continue on with their cheer. It's hysterical. Pure marketing genius!

I don't sweat, I glisten...

That's always been my theory. I'm going to put it to the test over the next couple of days in New Orleans - it's supposed to be in the mid-90s and with the humidity, the heat index will be well over 100. But it's my first time heading to the Big Easy, so I'm going to do my best to deal with the heat.

Ryan has his first preseason game of the season tomorrow night against the Saints. It should be a fun game - Ryan should get a lot of playing time in the first half. One of Ryan's former Buffalo teammates, Mark Campbell, is a Saint now, so it'll be great to see him and hang out with his wife during the game. That's one of the best parts about having been in the NFL so long - we know people on almost every NFL team, and it's always fun to have an excuse to go to away games to reunite with our old buddies.

I can't wait to see the pictures I bring back after the weekend - we'll see if I'm glistening or straight up sweatin' on the streets of New Orleans.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I would've been wrong...

I had a "me" day. Yesterday, I looked at my calendar and I didn't have one thing scheduled for today. So I promptly called my favorite local spa and scheduled an appointment for a massage. On my way to the spa this morning, I realized how much I needed a pedicure. Luckily, there was a cancellation and as soon as I was done with my massage, I got my toe nails painted. Talking about a perfect day...

I was famished when I left the spa, so I decided to stop at Panera for some soup and a sandwich. The place was packed with all the other hungry people in Orchard Park. There was this woman in line ahead of me and she had like six kids with her, ranging in age from six to maybe twelve. These kids were in essence wrestling with each other in the middle of Panera, and I kept looking at this woman to see if she was going to admonish them or tell them to chill out. She never did. I couldn't believe it. She just ignored them and kept on ordering.

As I was looking up at the menu, all of a sudden a felt something hit my leg. It was two of the kids who had wrestled each other to the floor. Do you think this woman said anything? NOPE! And these super well-behaved kids - do you think they apologized? NOPE!

Now here is where I have a problem. Let's say the impatient, explosive Dawn of five years ago had gotten hit in the leg by those kids - all hell would've broke loose in Panera. I would've cussed the kids out, then I would've cussed the mama out for not watching her kids. But thank the Lord I've grown - I just said to the kids "come on now - chill out," and that was the end of it.

See, I would've been wrong if I had said anything to this woman about these out of control kids. My guess if I had really gotten into the kids, she would've been ready to get in my face. Now, if one of these rugrats had gotten hurt, she'd probably be ready to sue Panera or something. It was just unreal. If my son at that age ever acts like that in public, trust it will be the last time.

What a way to screw up a perfectly relaxing "me" day. Thanks lady.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Ryan's knee - an update...

Ryan will be limited in practice this evening. He's fine, but the coaches want to be cautious. No reason to push things so easy in the preseason. This way, Ryan will be ready to go this Friday night for the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. I'll be heading down to the Big Easy for the game, so I'm sure I'll have LOTS to talk about.

As for me, I'm off to an audition for a stage production of "Real Women Have Curves." I have no idea how this is going to go, but I figure I'd give it a shot and see how things go.

You know it's going to be a long day when... wake up with a pounding headache. How does that happen? I think subconsciously I know these next two weeks are going to be hellish, so maybe my body is just responding to the stress. Yeah, that's probably it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Injury scare!

Ryan got tangled up with another player during practice today and was on the ground for a little bit - thank goodness it looks like he just hyperextended his knee and he's fine.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Will at camp!

By the way, I took Will out to practice last weekend. Here's a pic of how he spent a good portion of his time in the VIP/family tent...

The Dog Days of Summer

I took the night off from parenting last night (Will was home with a sitter) and drove to Pittsford, NY to check out training camp. It's about an hour-and-a-half drive from Buffalo if you're going around the speed limit, which is probably a good idea because the cops love hiding out behind the trees on this particular stretch of highway.

Anyway, when I pulled out of my driveway at 5 p.m., the temperature outside was 95 degrees. As I inched my way towards Pittsford, the temp steadily climbed. When I got out of the car at about 6:50 p.m., it was 102 degrees! Needless to say, me and some of the other wives glistened (because we don't sweat - we glow) for two hours while our guys were pounding it out on the field. Can you even imagine what that must be like for them? I almost pass out on the treadmill in an air-conditioned gym after running for half-an-hour. No wonder Ryan can lose about ten pounds in any given practice.

Anyway, he's doing great. He looked awesome, fast and sharp last night. He's tired, but that comes with being in camp. Here's an article from today's Buffalo News...

Bills’ TEs doing one ‘H’ of a job
Cieslak, Neufeldthrive in backfield
Updated: 08/03/07 7:03 AM

PITTSFORD — Fullbacks are a dying breed. Only a few NFL teams still use them and others have phased them out altogether.
The Buffalo Bills determined the true fullback was obsolete by declining to re-sign Daimon Shelton after last season. The Bills may not be using a fullback anymore, but they haven’t eliminated the fullback role.

The Bills are now using tight ends to do that work. Some people refer to this position as H-back.

They won’t be used as ball carriers, but neither are most fullbacks around the league. In fact, Shelton had just one rushing attempt in 46 games during his

three years with the Bills.

“The fullbacks around the league rarely carry the ball anymore,” offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said after practice Thursday at St. John Fisher College. “They’re pass protectors and run blockers. They’re tight end type guys anyway.”

The Bills brought six tight ends to training camp. Fairchild said all of the Bills’ tight ends can play in the backfield or be sent in motion towards the play side. Robert Royal is a ferocious blocker, but Fairchild said Royal and Kevin Everett will be used more on the line of scrimmage.

Ryan Neufeld and Brad Cieslak are the prime candidates to work out of the backfield. Matt Murphy and rookie Derek Schouman are in the mix, too.

Though Neufeld (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and Cieslak (6-3, 253) are not as big as the 6-foot, 262-pound Shelton, they have the right body type to be lead blockers. Blocking out of the backfield is different than doing it on the line of scrimmage. Neufeld and Cieslak are taller than the average fullback, so they must be technically sound.

“Coming from the backfield, you’ve really got to be a lot lower, and you’ve got to be coming through there with a lot of speed to be able to bump off some of those guys,” Cieslak said. “On the line, it is about pad level but being under control as you’re coming through it ’cause it’s not college. You’re not going to blow people off 20 yards back. Coming from the backfield, the main thing is just being willing to stick your head in there.”

Shelton often joked that he used to be taller before becoming a human battering ram. Fullbacks are often asked to go on kamikaze missions into the line to blast open holes. No problem, Neufeld said.

“I’m fine with that because my whole career I’ve been sent on kamikaze missions going down on kickoff coverage,” he said. “So it is no big thing.”

Seeing what Neufeld and Cieslak have done as blockers in the past helped lead to the Bills’ shift in philosophy.

Neufeld did some work out of the backfield at UCLA, as an NFL rookie in Dallas and with the Bills in 2003. He also stepped in at fullback when Shelton was hurt in a Sept. 24 game against the Jets last season.

“We kind of threw him in there before he had enough reps, but he had a nice feel for it,” Fairchild said.

Cieslak replaced an injured Shelton in a Week 14 game against Miami last year and started the last two games, splitting time at tight end and fullback.

He played a similar role at Northern Illinois, so the transition wasn’t too difficult.

“I think playing in the backfield will be great for our position as a whole,” Cieslak said. “It will give us a lot more chances to get on the field. We’ve got a really talented group, and we can do a lot of good things out there.”

Variety is what Fairchild is looking for. The Bills want to get their tight ends more involved offensively. By using them in the backfield, Fairchild expects the offense to have more flexibility and allow him to use different formations with the same personnel. It also will keep defenses guessing.

In previous years, teams knew the Bills were probably going to run or pass depending on whether Shelton was part of the two-back set or not. With the tight end in the backfield, defenses won’t be able to anticipate what the Bills are going to do on every snap.

The tight end’s presence in the backfield can free rookie running back Marshawn Lynch from pass blocking and allow him to use his considerable receiving skills. In some passing situations, the tight end will swing out of the backfield and become another target for quarterback J.P. Losman.

“It will keep defenses guessing because Brad and I can do multiple things,” Neufeld said. “If you have a true fullback, defenses can kind of narrow down what’s coming. Whereas if the tight end is back there they don’t know if it’s a run or pass because we can do fullback stuff as far as lead blocking and pass protection as well as be a receiving threat out of the backfield.”

Training camp is only one week old, but Fairchild sees the tight ends’ new role taking shape.

“We know all of our tight ends are good receivers,” he said. “We’re trying to get a feel for what they can do as far as the run game from that position. It’s going good. I like what I see so far.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

August, already????

Where did the summer go????

Anyway, here is a great article about the Bills' tight ends from today's Rochester Democrat & Chronicle...

Bills employing tight ends more - Team adapts to a new offensive structure as role of the fullback fades

Sal Maiorana
Staff writer

(August 1, 2007) — PITTSFORD — When Daimon Shelton went down with an injury in Buffalo's 14th game last season, it effectively terminated his career as a Bill, and the traditional position of fullback in Steve Fairchild's offense became obsolete.

Actually, the beginning of the end for both occurred much earlier in the 2006 season when Shelton had to leave the Sept. 24 game against the Jets and tight end Ryan Neufeld stepped in to replace him.

"Ryan had a nice feel for it," Fairchild, the Bills offensive coordinator, recalled of Neufeld's adaptation to the lead-blocking and pass-protecting responsibilities Shelton shouldered.

Shelton returned to work the following week, but he went out for good on Dec. 17 against Miami and with Neufeld already on injured reserve due to a foot injury, backup tight end Brad Cieslak finished that game and started the final two games against Tennessee and Baltimore.

It was at that point that a light went off in Fairchild's head, signaling that a change in the teams' offensive structure was on the horizon for 2007 as tight ends would fill the role of the fullback.

Shelton carried the ball one time in 46 games during his three-year career in Buffalo. Going back the previous four years during his stint with Chicago and part of his time in Jacksonville, he carried three other times.

That's four rushing attempts in seven years, and numbers like that are not uncommon around the league for fullbacks, a position that is truly a dying breed.

"The fullbacks around the league rarely carry the ball anymore," Fairchild said. "They're pass protectors and run blockers, tight end type guys anyway.

"This gives us some flexibility."

The decision was made not to bring Shelton back because Fairchild realized that using players like Neufeld and Cieslak in the backfield would enable him to give opposing teams a variety of looks without changing personnel.

In the past, teams knew that if Shelton was in the game, the Bills were most likely going to run the ball. When Shelton came out, he was usually replaced by a third receiver, and that meant Buffalo was probably going to pass.

With Cieslak or Neufeld in the backfield, and Robert Royal or perhaps Kevin Everett in the normal tight end position on the line, it will be tough to focus in on tendencies.

The tight end lining up in the backfield can lead block on a run, help in pass protection while running back Marshawn Lynch gets into the pattern, or they can also swing out of the backfield and catch passes themselves.

"We can put the same two tight ends in the game, and run pretty much any formation we have, so the defense won't know what to expect and they'll be guessing," said Cieslak.

"The possibilities are endless."

It is very early in camp, but it seems as if Royal and Everett are being used more on the line, while Neufeld and Cieslak have lined up in the backfield. Also in the mix are rookie seventh-round draft pick Derek Schouman, who played a similar H-back type role at Boise State, and sixth-year NFL veteran Matt Murphy who has played 26 NL games with Detroit, Houston and Buffalo.

"We all can be thrown in at any position at any given time," said Royal.

"We've got a great group of guys that are interchangeable, and the more we can do that, the better chances for more tight ends to be on the field."

Cieslak played a similar role in college at Northern Illinois and has found the transition to be seamless, though it does make for more studying of the playbook.

"I did a little last year when Daimon went down, and then in college I did a lot of motion stuff and a little stuff coming out of the backfield," said the 252-pound Cieslak, who like Neufeld actually weighs about 10 pounds less than Shelton.

"It's a lot more offense to learn, but it's camp so you've got time to hit the books, plenty of time to learn it."

It is no surprise that after almost every practice, the tight ends as a group stay on the field to do extra work, whether it's running through assignments or catching passes.

That's because while the big names on offense are quarterback J.P. Losman, receiver Lee Evans and Lynch, the tight ends know they will be playing a pivotal role in how well the Bills move the football and they need to be ready when the real games start Sept. 9.

"Whatever it takes for us to be successful on offense, that's what all the tight ends are willing to do," said Royal.