Tuesday, August 18, 2015

10 reasons we’ve fallen for the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt

26-year-old J.J. Watt is an All-American dream: a Wisconsin native who played football for the Wisconsin Badgers and since 2011 has been a top defenseman for the Houston Texans. Here are our top 10 reasons for loving what’s Watt.

1.  His mega-Watt good looks. Just look at him in this video when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, especially when he winks at 1:17. His smile can melt you like chocolate in the sun. And if we ask our own guy to start using Axe, it might just be because J.J. promoted it.

2.  His 6’5” height and 290 pounds of brawn. Women love to wear heels and still have a man tower over them like a pillar of strength. J.J. is more than just a pillar—he’s a whole cathedral! And, standing next to him will never make your butt look big.

3. His biggest muscle may be his heart. The J.J. Watt Foundation has given over $1 million to middle school sports programs in Wisconsin and Texas. J.J. also gives his time and attention to a variety of other causes, including visiting hospitalized children, speaking to youth sports programs, and once sending pizza to the Houston fire and police departments in honor of Salute to Service day.

4.  His mental intensity. We find his intensity both motivational and sexy. When J.J. steps on the gas pedal, he floors it—and beyond, because he seems to have an extra gear that most people lack. “I’m a real nice guy off the field. But when it comes time to play the game, when I go into that tunnel, I go from man to monster … that’s when I go into beast mode.” It’s that mental intensity in combination with his explosive physicality that has earned him nicknames like “the wrecking machine” and “the human freight train.”

5. He makes good choices. Many pro athletes are stars on the field, but act like thugs, criminals, or spoiled jerks off the field. J.J., on the other hand, surrounds himself with good people and stays on the straight and narrow. He credits his parents for bringing him up right and it shows, from the way he offers a hand up to the quarterback he just sacked to the way he treats fans. When he talks to young athletes, he urges them to take the right road and make right decisions, especially when other people are trying to tell you that it’s not cool to do the right thing.

6. His relentless work ethic. In response to questions about his lack of a personal life, J.J. responded, “I have a limited amount of time to build a career out of football. When I get done with football, then I can relax and drink as many beers as I want and hang out and be a regular guy. Right now, I am a football player and I will sacrifice whatever is necessary to be the best.” When he’s done with football and ready to start a family, he’s sure to give that same dedication and devotion to his wife and kids.

7.  His humility. When J.J. talks, his words consistently ring true and humble. In interviews and award speeches, J.J. gives credit to everyone from his elementary school teachers to the team cafeteria staff. When asked how he felt about not playing in the first pre-season game in 2015, he replied sincerely, “Whatever’s best for the team, I’m always going to do … I’m completely on board.” The arrogance that might be expected from a $100 million contract holder just never got a hold on J.J.—maybe because he’s too busy working out.

8.  His athleticism on and off the field. J.J. is thrilling to watch on the field because he often does the unexpected. He’s the first NFL defensive lineman since 1944 to have at least five touchdowns in a season, and the first to do it with three offensive and two defensive scores. He’s also the first player in NFL history to make 20 or more sacks in two different seasons. His ability to bat down passes—a total of 33 in the past three seasons—earned him the nickname J.J. Swatt. Not only is he an incredibly versatile player on the field, he demonstrates amazing athleticism off the field as well. Not many near-300-pound guys can do a 6’1” standing box jump!

9. His sense of humor. As the NFL YouTube channel puts it, “J.J. Watt is as entertaining on the mic as he is intimidating on the field.” Some of his on-field quotes include, “I’m beating these guys like a drum out here!” and “It ain’t pattycake! Let’s go!” In one interview, he admitted that his choice for a karaoke song would be “Call Me Maybe” and that his favorite TV character was Tommy Pickles from Rugrats.

10. His ability to pump up everyone around him. In the huddle, we’ve heard him say, “How many times in your life do you have 80,000 people and you’re the volume knob? We need to turn it up! Let’s turn it up!” He’s constantly yelling “woo!” on the field, to the point that in one game he laughingly announced, “I have woo’ed myself out. I am tired just from woo’ing.” He’s not just doing it to draw attention to himself, he’s really focused on amping up his teammates and winning games. Need some daily motivation? Follow him on Twitter at @JJWatt.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Kitchen at Squaw Bay (circa 1975)

“Sah-hah! Va-LEER-rie!” Laurette, our French-accented morning cook, calls up from the commercial kitchen on the lower floor of the lodge, summoning me and my little sister Sarah down the back staircase to pick up our breakfast on one of the silver waitress trays. We live in an apartment above the guest dining room and lounge, but we’re still in our PJs at 8 am. We’re 11 and 7 and know better than to go downstairs until we’re dressed. It’s pancake day, and Laurette will have my stack of three looking like islands in a plate-lake of syrup, just the way I like them. I like the bacon to get all syrupy, too. One of the kitchen girls will have poured us our preferred glasses of 2% milk and Tang.

You see, from mid-May to mid-September, our lives are pretty much dictated by the schedule of the resort my parents own and operate in northeastern Minnesota. The dockboys eat first, at 6:30, then head down to the lake to load minnow buckets, fill gas tanks and launch fishing parties. Guests have their breakfast between 7 and 9. The crew has lunch at noon and dinner at 5, and the guests eat between 6 and 8. The breakfast rotation is equally fixed: pancakes, French toast, eggs, pancakes, French toast, eggs. We pretty much stay on this schedule all year-round; my mom says keeping a regular schedule is good for kids. We've lived here since I was 9 months old, so it's imprinted on my soul now.

We had a babysitter until Sarah turned six, but now we’re on our own. If we’re not up by 9 when the kitchen closes, we have to fix our own breakfast. We have a kitchen in our upstairs apartment, where mom feeds us in the winter. But in the summer the normal-sized upstairs fridge and cupboards are mostly empty. To get a glass of milk, we have to go down to the big six-doored, white porcelain-coated monster downstairs, with shiny steel latch handles that remind me of an old-fashioned icebox. All our cereal and bread and stuff is downstairs, too.

Laurette arrives at 6 every morning in the summer, beating even my mom to work. She rules the kitchen with a wood-handled steel spatula that shines like new -- the kitchen girls keep it that way by scouring it with Comet and SOS pads – or else! Her work ethic was drilled into her by the nuns at the Belgian convent where she grew up and I hear their voices behind hers when she scolds the girls for spilling, “Don’t rush! Slow down! You just make a mess!” She commands the cook's side of the kitchen which is dominated by the massive gas range with its six cast-iron burners and flat iron grill. One of her first tasks every morning is to snick a wooden match on the cast-iron to light the grill, dropping the blackened match into the match can that sits on the stainless steel shelf that runs the length of the wall above the range. That shelf never holds anything else, until Laurette puts a fresh stack of our heavy white plates up there to warm. On pancake and French toast days, the next thing Laurette does is make the syrup, boiling brown sugar, white sugar, and maple flavoring in a steel pot.

The kitchen girls are in charge of the other side of the kitchen, divided from the cook’s area by a center counter where they load trays to carry into the dining room. On the wall opposite the stove are the three stainless steel sinks, the beast of a dishwasher, and rows of open wooden shelves painted light gray for the dishes. Two or three girls come in every morning at 6:30 to pour glasses of juice and make up bowls of butter pats by muscling a set of wired steel plates through a one-pound block of butter.

On pancake days, Laurette mixes up our special resort recipe with flour, eggs, sugar, and buttermilk in the unmovable white Kitchenaid that sits on the big butcher block island. The island sits at one end of the center counter that divides the cooking and dishwashing areas, and its surface is rarely empty except when its being scrubbed. Later in the day, this is where bread dough is panned, desserts and salads are assembled, and carrots and potatoes are peeled. In the mornings, its where the kitchen girls assemble the shore lunch boxes for the fishermen each morning, making up bags of potatoes and onions chopped and ready to fry, a lump of lard, breading for the fish, Bush’s baked beans, sandwiches just in case, and our scratch-baked cookies. Laurette’s husband, Richard, is one of our fishing guides, so he’ll be in shortly to pick up his box.

Laurette is usually gone by 9 am, leaving the kitchen girls to finish the dishes and then sweep the floors clean before they head out. Her daughter Vicky – Cookie, to me--is our supper cook and she arrives around 11 to bake bread and desserts and prepare for the dinner meal. I sometimes hang around the kitchen in the afternoon, begging scraps of cookie, pie, and bread dough to make my own little creations in toy-sized pans. Cinnamon-sugar pie crust is a favorite, and nothing beats fresh bread hot from the oven. If I have nothing better to do, I can usually coax the cook into a hand of gin rummy once everything’s in the oven. We sit at the big round table in the crew eating area between the kitchen and the store room, with the same chrome chairs with chartreuse vinyl seats that are used in the guest dining room. It has a big window from which I can watch the pool and swingset, keeping an eye out for possible playmates. Around three I can hike out to the mailbox at the end of the driveway and bring back the mail, which usually includes magazines and catalogs, my lifeline to the world beyond our small town (population: 5126).

Once the kitchen crew arrives at 5:30 pm, there’s no more hanging around the kitchen. It’s back outside or up to the apartment to play veerrry quietly so as not to draw the wrath of Dad if he (and thus the guests) can hear us downstairs. We usually watch something on the new 20” color TV in the evenings: One Day at a Time, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Six Million Dollar Man. Once we’re back in our PJs, there’s no more going downstairs. Thankfully, the kitchen girls can always be counted on to fetch us a dish of ice cream in one of our fancy glass sundae dishes with little silver-plated ice cream spoons, or a Coke and a Hershey bar.