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Becoming No. 2 in your marriage, before kids and only months after ‘I do’

I had heard of wives relegating their husbands to No. 2 in favor of a child – a real, adorable, cute-as-can-be baby who coos and giggles – but a cat?

Yet there I was last year, the clear second favorite in my months-old marriage, and Cleo, our part siamese cat that weighs 8 pounds and pukes after she eats too quickly, my wife’s No. 2.

Krystal, my bride, would kneel down and scratch Cleo’s belly. “Sometimes,” Krystal would say, “I look at her and just know.”

A funny statement to most, but those words were almost exactly what my wife had texted me only a few months after we started dating in 2011. I remember where we were and what we were doing when she wrote that. And now my bride was sharing that same memory with our cat, the animal that uses her tongue and paws to bathe herself?

Other times, Krystal would lay next to Cleo on the bed and exclaim, “She’s the love of my life.”

Looking back, I should have predicted this newfound devotion to Cleo.

In February 2014, all three of us moved to South Carolina for my work. My wife had never been here and knew no one. And we had moved from Omaha, Nebraska, where my wife went to high school and had many friends.

Krystal and Cleo also were spending more and more time together.

During the early weeks and months of our move, Krystal was working from home as a freelance writer. All day she would spend with Cleo, rubbing under her arms, lying with her on the couch, sharing afternoon naps.

My relationship with my wife was becoming more strained, but Cleo’s was growing stronger.

They also had more history together.

Krystal adopted Cleo in 2004, when she was a newborn kitty at the humane society in Grand Island, Nebraska. I met Krystal in 2011.

Cleo also had never treated Krystal poorly, and here I was, after only a few months of marriage, all ready moving Krystal across the country.

I needed something to change and quickly, so I did.

I got to know Cleo. I rubbed her belly, whirled around her rope, scratched under her arms. And she got to know me, too, purring on my lap during the Southern winter and spring.

I quickly realized Cleo wasn’t an adversary to me; she was a part of our new family, a vehicle I could use to strengthen my relationship with my wife.

Soon, Krystal was remarking at how much Cleo and I were getting along, and gone was the language about Cleo being “the love of her life.”

For now, it seems I have returned to the top spot in my nascent marriage, but Cleo is still at our side, right where she belongs.

Jenga pieces, Dave Ramsey, and best marital advice I have

My best marital advice, far too practical for some, lay at the top of the table for all to admire.

Some of those in attendance of a recent wedding reception

A prompt at my friend’s wedding reception had asked everyone to share their marital wisdom onto Jenga pieces. Almost all of the advice, aided by free beer and wine and the opportunity to advise anonymously, dealt with laughter, communication and/or sex. Mine focused on a more practical topic: debt.

“Listen to Dave Ramsey,” read one piece. “,” read another. “Get debt-free.”

Considering the weirdness of my advice, I was delighted when my wife and I walked out of the friend’s wedding reception and spotted my Jenga pieces not in the trash but very visible.

I read my pieces again and said something like, “What great advice!”

“Yeah, someone wrote that on all of these pieces,” a great friend said, more perplexed than excited.

She was the one who had neatly placed the pieces in a row to acknowledge their weirdness. She had no idea the author. “That was me!” I said.

A year and half ago, my wife and I had a decent amount of debt. Nothing eye-gauging but enough to make you angry when you thought about it.

We both also agreed with Dave Ramsey’s teachings on debt — don’t have any of it and if you do, get rid of it as quickly as you can.

The details of this, though, would consume hours of discussion for the first year of our marriage. We’d have long talks about the grocery budget thanks to my insistence that we really didn’t need eat anything besides rices and beans. We’d also go back and forth about how much more we could cut our already trimmed entertainment budget.

Our debt drove every financial discussion we had. It also came up during other talks, times we would dream about our future and think about where we wanted to be in 30 years. Never was it pleasant topic to discuss. I can remember one budget meeting we had that left us so inspired we implicitly agreed not to talk to each other for the next three hours.

Good things can come from debt, though. All those discussions about our finances and all of that shared focus on getting rid of our debt has turned out to be so powerful for our marriage.

Through our monthly budget talks and our debt-free dreams, we talked about our priorities and how we eventually wanted to use our money. Through those conversations, week by week, we were becoming a married couple. It was no longer my wife’s money or my money, it was ours, just like the debt and the financial dreams we were hatching.

About a year after we got married, we became debt-free. We celebrated not with a debt-free scream with Dave but with a fancy date night. Every budget meeting we have now also feels like a tiny celebration.

We no longer dread the monthly discussion and soak our opinions into mud. Our principles and financial goals still drive our decisions. But the debt, the burden hanging over our heads, is gone.

That’s why I wrote essentially the same thing on seven Jenga pieces. I wanted my friend and his new bride to eventually feel the same freedom from debt that we finally feel. I know it will change their marriage. Because nothing, no special date night or exotic getaway, will do more to help a couple in the long-term than both of them agreeing on their finances and becoming debt-free.

When tennis worlds join, everyone benefits

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Thomas Mayronne is one of the fastest Gamecock tennis players, and Nick Burnham uses a wheelchair to play. But Friday evening, they talked like equal peers at the Carolina Tennis Center.

As the University of South Carolina men’s tennis practice ended, Mayronne and Burnham gathered at the baseline of a court and discussed strategy.

Mayronne asked if wheelchair doubles teams typically play one player closer to the net and one player at the baseline, similar to many able-bodied teams. No, Burnham said, wheelchair teams usually play both players further back so they can return higher-bouncing balls.

Mayronne, the No. 6 singles player for the Gamecocks, said hitting balls and talking with Burnham was refreshing.

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OWH: Mercy principal’s 43-year education career draws to a close

Through countless long nights and weekends, Mercy High School has been Carolyn Jaworski’s second home.

She grew up down the street from the school.

She went to grade school nearby and, in 1964, graduated from the all-girls Catholic high school near 48th and Center Streets.

She has spent her entire education career — 43 years — at the school as well.

After 25 years as the school’s principal, Jaworski will retire June 30.

Colleagues and former co-workers say Jaworski stuck to the values of the Sisters of Mercy throughout her decades at the school: faith, knowledge and service.

» Faith, by starting every day with a prayer over the intercom and by asking every teacher to begin class the same way.

» Knowledge, by listening to and getting feedback from her staff while leading the school.

» Service, by requiring girls to complete at least 40 hours of volunteering before graduation.

“Her commitment to the spirit of Catherine McAuley (Sisters of Mercy founder), I think, is outstanding,” said Sister Delores Hannon, who has co-led the school with Jaworski the past four years as Mercy’s president.

Jaworski, a sister of longtime Creighton Prep football coach Tom Jaworski, also let more girls learn those values.

In fall 1989, Jaworski’s second year as principal, Mercy started its “negotiated tuition” program in which the school meets with each family and sets individual tuition rates based on the family’s ability to pay.

Catholic schools are very proud of the term “college-prep school,” said Sister Johanna Burnell, who co-led the school as president for about 20 years with Jaworski.

“Becoming a college-prep school often means you eliminate some students who may have had some learning difficulty as younger students,” she said.

Mercy requires only one thing of its incoming students: a desire to go there. Incoming students must write an essay and go through an interview to determine the sincerity of their desire, a process Jaworski instituted.

Other all-female Catholic high schools partly determine admission by students’ previous academic performance.

Jaworski’s values might have stayed the same, colleagues said, but the school has not.

She frequently pushed her teachers to create new courses for the school’s curriculum, to inject new ideas into the classroom.

She encouraged teachers to take their students on field trips and to bring in guest speakers, said Holly McCoy, the school’s dean and athletic director.

Jaworski also urged Mercy teachers to think of different ways to assess the girls’ learning, whether through on-demand writing, presentations or projects, said McCoy, who started teaching at the school in fall 1978.

Jaworski also has helped the school become wireless and launch new Advanced Placement courses and dual-enrollment classes, courses in which students can receive both college and high school credits, Hannon said.

“The school is not the school it was five years ago,” she said.

Students have noticed Jaworski’s passion as well.

Jaworski welcomed Calla Kessler and her classmates to Mercy by giving the students hugs and roses.

“It’s become a really strong, all-girls Catholic high school because of her,” said Calla, who will be a senior this fall.

Jaworski has achieved this success with a talent her colleagues have called “innate” and “God-given”: her ability to understand kids and make the right decisions for their future.

“How envious am I that she has it; I always have been,” said Burnell, the retired Mercy president.

Hannon says it’s Jaworski’s ability to listen to students and suspend judgment that has helped her often make the right decision.

With an irritable student, Hannon said, “You can start that conversation with, ‘Knock that off,’ or you can start that conversation with, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

Because of her retirement notice, Jaworski has received thank-you notes from those students she counseled in her office and in the school hallways.

That’s what she’ll appreciate the most from her years at Mercy, she said: the faces and the names of the students she tried to help, and the students who thought enough of those attempts to thank her years later.

“When you have been blessed to step into somebody’s life,” Jaworski said, “that’s when you raise a toast, good job, good year.”

Good career.

La Monf, late to the match, finally shows

For four sets Thursday evening, we were privileged to see Gael Monfils, the most athletic person to play tennis, play the sport.

Monfils, as he had been in earlier rounds of this year’s US Open, was focused. He took no points off. He saved games against Roger Federer with 137 m.p.h. aces. He talked to himself to pump himself up, not to dismantle his game.

This was the Gael Monfils we had been waiting to see and had previously enjoyed, see Murray v. Monfils, 2014 French Open, sets three and four.

Thursday, for four sets, Monfils of the past, the one who quit playing during matches, was gone. Or so we, or maybe just me, thought.

Then, at the worst possible time, or, for Monfils, right on time, the old Monfils showed up.

It was the game after Monfils had lost two match points. Fourth set. 5-6. 40-40. Monfils serving. Two double faults.  And then, too predictably, came the full arrival of the other side of Monfils, one of the most enigmatic people to play tennis.

He quickly lost the next two games. Federer evened the match at two sets all.

And the predictions for a total collapse were streaming:

Monfils painfully made Thomas and others correct by making odd decision after odd decision.

Monfils, already down 1-2 in the fifth, tried a tweener from the middle of the baseline on a very regular net shot from Federer. During changeovers, he walked to his chair with his head sulking. The Monfils who had talked to himself to excite himself in the third set was gone.

La Monf lost the fifth, 2-6.

Sure, we should have expected this, a Monfils collapse in the fifth against one of the best competitors of all-time. But Thursday felt different. Monfils hadn’t lost a set in this year’s US Open. Days earlier, he had too convincingly beaten Grigor Dimitrov, who made the semifinals at Wimbledon, in straight sets.

The antics of old seemed gone. Monfils, coachless, was a new player, or so we all wanted to believe.

“He was focused. He was muted,” Brad Gilbert said during the ESPN broadcast. “And then when he got to the opportunity, he couldn’t take it.”

In the end, it was Federer, talking on-court to Gilbert after the match, best summed up the match, the tournament and tennis careers: “You’ve just got to give it all you have each point.”

Being proud of John Isner, an overachieving American tennis player

You have to feel for John Isner.

He has one of the best American tennis stories in the last 40 years, a collegiate tennis player for four years who has become one of the best 15 players in the world.

But since Isner’s career has coincided with a historic low in American men’s tennis, the historic low, not his remarkable story, is often the focus at Majors.

Isner at Wimbledon (AP photo)

Isner at Wimbledon. (AP photo)

Take, for instance, what happened last week at Wimbledon.

Isner lost in the third round in five sets to Feliciano Lopez, the No. 24 ranked player in the world. That’s nothing to be ashamed about if you’re an American tennis fan.

Meanwhile, however, no other U.S. singles player advanced past the third round, either, marking the first time that had happened since 1911.

Asked about the stat, Isner understandably replied, “I didn’t know that, and I don’t really care, either,” according to published reports.

From Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times:

So he felt no real burden, no need to try to carry the U.S. torch?

“No, no. Not at all,” Isner said. “You know, whatever.”

It’s hard to blame Isner for responding so tersely; he’s hard variations of the question throughout his career.

Such is the life of the leading American man during one of the biggest lulls for American men’s tennis.

(We won’t rehash details of the lull here. You can find that herehere, and here.)

But Isner is hardly to blame for this dry spell.

He arrived at the University of Georgia a lanky, big server focused on collegiate tennis. (His official freshman year numbers: 6’8″, 198 pounds.)

It wasn’t until Isner’s junior year at Athens that he even considered becoming a professional tennis player.

When Ernest Gulbis, arguably one of the most talented players on tour, was 20 years old, he was already taking sets off Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick.

So, my fellow American tennis lovers, be mad about few American men competing with Nadal and Federer and Djokovic; but don’t be mad at Isner.

Instead, appreciate the overachieving American while he’s still playing.

The Big Four, March 2014

Amidst the Big Four shakeup that was the 2014 Australian Open, we rightfully questioned tennis’ royalty, the Big Four, in both name and future. Consider: the Monday after the Australian Open, the Big Four were ranked Nos. 8, 6, 2 and 1.

A month later, we deflect the hype and measure the Big Four’s more complete starts to 2014.

Roger Federer

Federer has the strongest start to 2014 of the Big Four. (Lesson: Set the bar low.) The GOAT dispensed of Murray in the Australian Open, only losing to Rafael Nadal, who was, unsurprisingly, playing unreal tennis.

And a month later, Federer has already matched his 2013 title haul by winning his sixth Dubai ChampionshipsMoreover, his mind is right and his back is better. All good signs that Federer, whatever version, is back for 2014.

Andy Murray

Hard to share a fair read on Murray so far. He explicitly lowered his expectations before Australia and rightfully so after the back surgery.

One way to read his 2014: He’s had a rough start. Murray didn’t reach the Australian Open finals for only the second time in five years. Last month at Acapulco, he lost in the semis.

Another, more realistic way to view his year so far: He’s had a solid start. He reached the quarters of the AO, pushing a resurgent Federer to four sets. Murray also has been able to stay healthy so far this year. (Knock on wood.)

From ESPN news services:

He played four matches in four days, including three three-setters and some late-night finishes, without his surgically repaired back bothering him.

“I woke up the next morning feeling good for the first time since the surgery,” Murray said Monday.

With Murray in 2014, we, again, recognize the beauty of not expecting much.

Novak Djokovic

Here, we can authoritatively say that Djokovic has had a rough start to 2014. Djokovic, three-time AO champion, a gladiator in five-set battles with Stan Wawrinka and whomever else challenges him Down Under, was upset in the quarters to Our Man Stan. That was unexpected.

We can cut the upset a couple ways. In five-set marathons in which the players are so evenly matched and three points decide the match, a guy is probably going to lose one of the contests at some point. We could say the AO was simply Djokovic’s turn and Wawrinka’s breakthrough. But Djokovic also has been the guy who has owned these matches. In 2012, he beat Nadal in a five-set AO final. What’s going on?

All that said, we’ll take the contrarian viewpoint with Djokovic and remain bullish the rest of the way. With all the questions and doubts swirling around him, he’s too good not to revive the year in a big way.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal might have scared us the most so far this year, which is fitting, because he freaked out the tennis world in 2013. Despite the awkward final in Australia, we give the world’s No. 1 an excellent grade for his 2014 start.

Nadal made the finals of the AO, a Major he has won only one other time. Nadal in Australia wasn’t Nadal cruising on clay in Paris; this was Nadal fighting and dominating on a fast surface. Scary, indeed.

Of course, thanks to tennis’ crazy season, in which year outlooks turn on a week’s worth of results, this could all change in a mere 10 days. In that case, enjoy the tennis.



An Iowan moves South, learns about winter

I spent my first 20 winters in northern Iowa. When I was 10, school was cancelled for days because the temperature was more than 30 below zero – “polar vortex” before meteorologists created sci-fi names for cold weather.

When I moved to Columbia, S.C., last fall, I thought I knew everything about winter. But little did I know that my first winter in the South would teach me something that I had never learned while living in the Midwest, something that would save homeowners and renters like myself hundreds of thousands of dollars.

During the middle of the Deep Freeze, I went for my midday walk. It was still about 37 degrees here and sunny. Not warm, but pleasant enough for a stroll. As I enjoyed the walk, I politely chuckled as I thought about how South Carolinians were so worried about this cold air. And then I saw this by the entrance of an apartment complex:

Polar Vortex hits Cola

Keep your cabinet doors open? Keep thermostat above 60 degrees? Where was I?

I had never heard such warnings during any Missouri, Nebraska or Iowa winter. Sure, it was colder than usual in S.C., but nothing unbearable; the temperature was forecasted to be about 10 degrees, not 30 below.

So I did the only thing that would prove my point: I Googled this foolishness. I read about cold weather in the South and this outlandish “freezing of pipes” warning. And then, as often happens when you think you’re smarter and wiser than most, I learned something even more interesting: I was wrong.

The Weather Channel informed:

Water pipes in houses in southern climates often are more vulnerable to winter cold spells. The pipes are more likely to be located in unprotected areas outside of the building insulation, and homeowners tend to be less aware of freezing problems, which may occur only once or twice a season.

This all made too much sense for even me to continue about, acting as if I was the bearer of all winterly knowledge. I quit the act.

The next day, before leaving home for work, I even sort of played along; I set my thermostat to 55 degrees.

U.S. Open Final: Key points steal Djokovic’s momentum

Momentum jerks and hurls every team and every play in every sport. It dictates plays, shifts halves and forces turnovers.

In tennis, momentum sways championships.

On the courts, big “Mo” aggressively accelerates or severely punishes.

David Goldman photo

David Goldman photo

It is one player against another, both of their minds swerving from excitement to doubt by their strokes and their footwork. Their movement controls their shots, and their thinking forces their movements. A doubt here, and a flubbed volley there. Two more missteps and a clean winner from their opponent, and the game is lost. The player’s serve has been broken, and the set is gone. The match could be slipping away.

In Monday’s U.S. Open final, Novak Djokovic was in control of the match, eyeing at least a third-set tiebreaker. He had already broken the once unbroken Rafael Nadal three times in the young match. Djokovic’s forehand was dragging Nadal across the court, his drop shots were tugging Nadal to the net and his laughable lob volley had nudged Nadal back to the baseline.

Djokovic had fully answered Nadal’s dominating 6-2, first-set performance.

But Djokovic gave Nadal a break point, a chance to seize momentum, and Nadal snatched it with a sound forehand and more aggressive play. The Spaniard took the third set. Djokovic was crushed, defeated.

His posture changed. His head dipped. He had no hop in his step, no wide eyes and eagerness to return Nadal’s serves. He was as shocked as Nadal was excited.

Like that, with two points in the third set, Djokovic lost a chance at a tiebreaker, and he lost momentum.

There were no long-time teammates out there to help him recover, no five-minute substitution to let him clear his thoughts and get back out on the field. That’s why tennis can be the most mental and the most intense of sports. Djokovic had nowhere to go to change his mood; he had to stay on court and endure Nadal feeling his 13th major a set away.

It was momentum — and an unreal performance — that helped Nadal and crushed Djokovic to end another fine U.S. Open.

- Jonathon Braden


Two tennis stars serving, two very different reactions

We know Victoria Azarenka’s Australian story well, but what about the similar struggle of Sam Stosur?

Two of the very best women tennis players. Two pressure situations. And two very different reactions, followed by similar explanations.


In the second round of the Australian Open, ninth-seeded Sam Stosur was serving for the match.

After losing the second set, she rallied and led 5-2 in the third.

The score was 30-15; Stosur was two points away from winning the match.

First serve, out. Second serve, out. Double fault. 30-all.

And China’s Jie Zheng won the next two points, breaking Stosur.

Missed was the Australian’s first chance to serve out the match.

She moseyed to the shade in the back of the court, took off her sunglasses and grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat off her arms. Seconds later, she was walking to the baseline, preparing to return a serve from Zhen, who, at 3-5, had gained a mental edge.

Sam Stosur/The Australian


In the semifinals of the Australian Open, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka was serving for the match. She had cooled off the 25th-seeded American Sloane Stephens and was a point away from her second straight Australian Open final.

Leading 40-15, Azarenka dumped a backhand into the net. At 40-30, she whaled a forehand 15 feet long.

She would blow three more match points — that’s five in all — before Stephens would end the 13-minute tentative contest with a screaming forehand up the line.

Gone was Azarenka’s first chance to serve out the match.

She grabbed her towel, wiped off her arms and racquet handle. She sauntered to her bench to sit in the shade and alone ponder her nerves during the changeover.

But Azarenka quickly had company. Medical staff gathered, and she kept pointing at her chest. She took a deep breath and exhaled. Soon, Azarenka was off her bench, mysteriously walking off the court, leaving Stephens to sit in the shade and sip her sports drink for 10 minutes.

Joe Castro/European Pressphoto Agency


Stosur had no such luxury. She was not injured; she was just nervous, what happens when you serve for matches, especially in front of thousands of people in your home country.

Zheng went onto hold, break and hold to give Stosur a chance to win four points and extend the match. But, after Zheng earned a match point, Stosur double-faulted.

She tried to explain after the match.

“You make an error and you tighten up. Unfortunately, it kept happening point after point. Crazy things pop into your head,” Stosur told reporters. “You start not wanting to miss instead of making the winner.”


Azarenka returned 10 minutes later. She still catapulted a couple forehands long but seemed somewhat more composed, bouncing the ball in play enough times to win the next game.

She was relieved.

“I almost did the choke of the year right now,” she said on-court after the match. “I just felt, you know, a little bit overwhelmed.”

Innocently, an Australian announcer voiced the obvious in reference to her 10-minute “medical timeout” and her on-court chat: “She didn’t really tell us what was wrong with her.”

Later, yes, she tried to clarify: She had a rib injury.


Friday evening, Azarenka won her second straight Australian Open title, beating Li Na in three sets.

“You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day,” Azarenka said after the match. “The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, to do everything I could, and it was left behind me already.”

Friday evening, Sam Stosur probably watched the match on television somewhere, wondering how and if she will overcome the nerves that have overwhelmed her in big matches.

Perhaps she should get some advice from Azarenka.