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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and it has been quite a ride.

We buried my uncle yesterday, on a sunny day with bitterly cold high winds. The service was nice and tasteful, the minister telling stories about Jimmy gathered from family and friends. The thing that really touched me was a letter he had written a couple of years ago to the family of the person who donated the kidney for his transplant. He wrote very earnestly about how grateful he was that someone who had died had given him a chance to live. He talked about himself, his family, his hobbies, and what he was doing with his life. It was very moving.

The graveside service was the shortest one ever, given the cold howling winds. The minister very intelligently gave a quick prayer and sent everyone to the warmth of their cars.

I spent last weekend in class, studying logic modeling and program evaluation. How do you know if what you are doing is working? How do you design a program, thinking through all the goals, inputs, and activities that make success likely? My brain hurt on Sunday night but I found the class interesting and practical.

Funerals are good reminders of the fleetness of life, how every moment is really a gift. My uncle gained two years from his transplant. Those two years gave him an opportunity to heal some rifts that needed to be healed. It was not enough to take care of everything. It really gives you pause to think about not wanting to leave things undone. You never know when your time is coming.

Presidential politics hits my state next week. As an old political science major I am fascinated by the process and the machinations of the candidates. Observing and studying elections has long been something of a hobby for me. In one sense they are like sports, candidates competing, adjusting, maneuvering, and trying to win. In another sense it is serious business, choosing a future leader of this country. When I go into the voting booth I try to cast off the political scientist hat and make the best choice I can make. Sometimes I make good choices. Other times? Not so much.

Negative campaigning is a huge turn off for me. I can look up for myself the bad points of the other guy/girl. Tell me what YOU want to do. I saw an exit poll asking the question….do you vote for personal qualities or the stands on the issues? My answer has to be a little of both, especially when choosing a president.

Two big events this weekend….the Super Bowl and Aubree’s birthday. Not necessarily in that order!

So how is YOUR week going?


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Passing 

Thanks to all for your thoughts and prayers regarding my uncle Jimmy. I am saddened to note that he passed away yesterday morning.

I remember Jimmy in his 20's getting married and settling down in his job. When my family moved to a larger home during my 4th grade year he bought our old house. I had written, "this was Brian's room" on the wall inside the closet, just above the door and out of sight. When we visited I would sneak inside the room and see if it was still there. It was.

My brothers and I had an unfortunate habit of dumping food we didn't want to eat down the air conditioning vent when my mother wasn't looking. A couple of years after we moved out uncle Jimmy came over to visit and said, "I had the vents cleaned and you wouldn't believe all the stuff they found in there." Ahem.

Around the holidays Jimmy came back from his long stay in Texas. He was recuperating from his transplant and being monitored. He was finally healthy enough to travel and come home. My brothers, mom, and I met him at a local restaurant. We talked and laughed, Jimmy as always very interested in our lives, families, and jobs. We talked sports and politics. He was obviously weak but he was thoroughly enjoying himself. It is a nice memory to have.

I was struck by my last visit to him in the hospital. As he lay sleeping, ventilator tube hooked up, without his customary glasses, he reminded me of his father, my grandfather. I had never really noticed the similarity before but it was there.

I am saddened to lose this soft spoken, kind hearted man from our lives. But I do know he has endured much in the past couple of years. Now he is at peace.

You will rarely meet a nicer guy, a more decent and humane person.

Rest in peace Jimmy. You will be missed.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Father and Daughter 

Aubree turns thirteen shortly and she is dead in the middle of that part little girl/part teenager phase, leaning toward the teenager part more all the time. With that comes all of the growing pains that go with becoming a young woman. Navigating the parenting shoals in these choppy waters is a new task for me. Sure, I can do it with other people's kids at work, but when it is your own it is different.

My daughter is a unique girl, talented in many ways. I have never had to motivate her to work at school. She has always been self-motivated, takes pride in her school work, and wants to be a good student. She makes a big impression on the adults at school, with many of them pulling me aside and telling me what a great kid she is.

She is a great kid. She's also a smart one.

But now comes the time in her life when dad's word isn't treated like it comes down from the mountaintop written on tablets. Other influences are at work....friends, pop culture, and of course the dreaded interest in the other gender. She wants to stretch her boundaries. I want to keep them nice and firm. She always wants her way. I don't always want her to have it. She loves to be spoiled. I enjoy spoiling her but have to resist sometimes, knowing it is not in her best interest. She wants freedom beyond her years. I say no!

Recently she has been in hot water with me due to the discovery of a MySpace page that she had promised not to put up. Yes, I know that it seems like every middle school kid out there has one of these pages. I dealt with many middle school fights caused by something that was said on MySpace. I don't think she's old enough. I also did not appreciate the picture she put up on her page. It was nothing terrible, but a twelve year old girl should not be posing like this for the world to see. I also very much was upset that she disobeyed a very clear rule that she was not to do this. Her computer no longer has internet access until such time as I feel confident she will use it responsibly. If she wants to do something online she must use my computer in the dining room and do so under supervision.

I had not said anything else to her after that night. I made my point, dished out the consequence, had the conversation. She obviously has been thinking about it. She asked to use my computer this evening and wrote on her own blog for the first time in quite awhile.

Read it here.

Like all parents out there I want my kids to do the right thing. She still has some time to go before she will have the freedom she once enjoyed. But the fact that she is thinking through what her actions mean demonstrates a sliver of maturity and values.

I love this girl so much. This father wants his daughter to be able to live out her dreams.

I think we'll get there, but I'm sure some potholes lie ahead.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and these three day weekends always throw me off.

I’ve been reading about “stimulus packages” designed to jump-start the economy. The government wants to put money in people’s pockets, have them spend it, and keep the economy rolling. Great idea. Of course, if they want to make sure it is effective they will mail those $800 checks to middle school girls around the country. I can guarantee you that my daughter could spend every dime and never make it out of the Aeropostale store.

I of course would do my part to grow the Barnes & Noble stock price.

I was saddened by the death of Heath Ledger, a young guy I viewed as a very talented actor. I know he had several acclaimed roles, but I loved him in “A Knight’s Tale”. The tagline for this movie reads, “from peasant to knight; one man can change his stars”. He can also go the other way. Very sad.

Have you ever been told to have a blessed day and cursed at in the same sentence? Now I have.

Agree with him or not, vote for him or not, Barrack Obama is the most compelling political speaker I have seen in a long time.

Aubree’s birthday just happens to fall on Super Bowl Sunday this year. She said, “oh great, I have to compete with football on my birthday.” I told her we could have her party at halftime, but she’d have to hurry up blowing out those candles!

Ok, you talked me into it. I guess I’ll have to read John Grisham’s new book!

So how is YOUR week going?


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Monday, January 21, 2008

Dreams and Actions 

Its been all over the television, the grainy black and white footage of Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice echoing across the mall in Washington, D.C. “I have a dream today”, his voice thunders, calling forth a generation to put an end to the odious practices of denying many Americans their basic civil rights. We’ve all heard it so many times and it is important that we did. The smallest children in school know that Martin had a dream. But as this article points out, there is much more to the man than just a dream.

King was not just a dreamer. He was a man of action, a man of deeds as well as words. His dream was a beautiful one, still relevant today, in some ways a rather simple dream. All of us should learn to live together, respecting our differences while acknowledging the commonality of man. He argued that our history was not our destiny, that a path chosen can be changed by people of good will.

He saw a wrong and he sought to make it right.

He did so without much of the name-calling and personal attacks that colors our dialogue today. He did not shrink from shining a spotlight on things that many preferred to keep in darkness, but he did so in a way that shamed those who would rather keep their dark shades on. He called on what Lincoln referred to as the “better angels of our nature”, challenging people to confront the truth and not hide behind the comfortable façade of tradition. He did so as an imperfect messenger, something he would admit. Change is not led here by angels or perfect people. It is led by flawed men and women.

That he did so from a moral perspective that spurned calls for hate. The anger he had was a righteous anger, the kind that could be channeled into change. One of my favorite King quotes is below, a summary of his philosophy of making change.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

He saw a wrong and he sought to make it right.

A dear friend of mine sent this story to me and wondered if I would write about it. What better day than today? The Pink Vigilantes of northern India see something wrong in their society. Men abuse their wives without consequence. Rape goes unpunished. Corruption is rampant. These women, living in dire poverty, came together to do something about it. As one they are ignored. As two they are easy to dismiss. But as hundreds they are becoming a potent force, doing as King did, shining a bright light into places where darkness has always had reign over. An injustice spawns a movement which is changing their corner of the world.

They dream of a better world, but they are not just dreaming.

They see a wrong. They seek to make it right.

As should we all.

Happy MLK day!


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and it doesn’t seem like. The week is draaaggging along.

Thanks to all of you who responded to the previous post. My uncle is doing better, is off the respirator, and his prognosis is much improved. The doctors think they have isolated the infection and he is getting stronger.

Is it already time to get ready for Special Olympics? Patrick brought home the permission slip yesterday.

Our gym at school which sustained significant fire damage in October is finally ready to be used! We will have a pep rally on Friday and “rededicate” our gym. It will be nice to finally play some HOME basketball games.

Speaking of games, my Dallas Cowboys lost in the playoffs. They missed out on the chance to get whacked by New England in the Super Bowl!

There is a chance of snow tonight. Sunny and warm a week ago and now cold with a chance of snow. Can anyone say…….its time for spring!

It is mindless violence and adventure I know. But I did kinda enjoy watching “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”. With the writer’s strike going on, there isn’t a lot of original programming to watch these days.

Memo to studio executives: Give the writers their money! I want my “24” back! Jack Bauer can’t be stopped by terrorist cabals, but the absence of writers leaves him out in the cold.

I guess there are always old reruns of “Cheers” and “M.A.S.H.”. I’ve only seen them a dozen times.

So how is YOUR week going?


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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Man From UNCLE 

Many of us have a favorite uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin, etc. Right at the top of the list would be my uncle Jimmy, my mom’s younger brother. A soft-spoken genial man, a sports fanatic, a hard-working guy, and a genuinely nice human being, I always liked being in the presence of my uncle.

Jimmy is slight in build, has curly hair, and wears thick glasses. He has a college degree in accounting, volunteered to serve in Vietnam, and eventually settled into a career in the brick manufacturing business. I say this so you can picture him in the story I am about to tell.

Many years ago I was a Webelo Scout, planning to go on my first ever camp out. This was to be a father-son event, although some had fathers that lived far away, were not in the picture, or were unavailable. My dad had an overseas business trip planned that could not be cancelled. So my uncle Jimmy stepped up and volunteered to go in his stead.

Poor Uncle Jimmy!

We didn’t have real tents for this campout. After all, it was early summer and the weather was balmy. What we had were large sheets of thick plastic and some wooden poles. Our scout leader determined that we could make our tents from these materials and some tent stakes. We built our tent, staked it securely, shook it a few times, and all looked fine. We were camped on the shore of a local lake, a slight breeze coming off the water. Our scout leader took us off on a “snipe hunt.” No snipes were found, but some of us could swear we saw one in the woods.

After it got dark the first light rain drops began to fall. No problem, intoned our intrepid leader. After all, the tents were made of plastic and we had a sheet of plastic on the ground. We would just retire to our tents and let it rain. The rain began to pick up in intensity. No problem.

The wind began to howl. Big problem. We tried to hold our tent down, each of us grabbing a section and hanging on for dear life. As the thunder rolled and the winds howled, a gust took the tent out of our hands. The last we saw of it was over the lake somewhere.

We made a made dash for my uncle’s little economy car. We piled in soaked and wet, four boys and Jimmy. His curly hair was matted on his head and every time he wiped his glasses off more water clouded them up. We slept sitting up in the car that night, our camping trip turning out slightly different than we thought!

My uncle Jimmy took it all in stride, telling me that the next time we went camping it would be in a REAL tent. This trip became the stuff of family legend, often re-told at holidays and birthdays. Brian, Jimmy, and the camping trip from hell.

Tonight my uncle Jimmy is in trouble of a different kind.

Some time back he received a kidney transplant. He recovered nicely and the transplant appears to have taken. But he suddenly became gravely ill and was rushed to the hospital yesterday. Tonight he is in ICU in serious condition. Some type of infection as yet unknown has made his situation very critical. They theorize it might be an opportunistic infection, made possible from a low immune system due to anti-rejection drugs and steroids. We don’t know much yet, but we do know Jimmy is in a fight for his life.

Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.


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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Midweek Meanderings 

Its midweek and all is well!

I took note of this story which reported high school students in Texas being suspended for refusing to cut their hair. School dress codes are a controversial and evolving issue. My district has no policy regarding the length of student hair. For this I am glad because it would be something of a pain to enforce and I don’t see the point. Make me king and I would have a very simple dress code, clear to everyone, and easy to enforce. The big question is….does the student’s dress or appearance cause security issues (i.e., being able to hide contraband in incredibly baggy pants), so unseemly as to detract from the mission of educating young people (very low cut blouses, purple hair spiked five different directions) or promoting undesirable messages (beer t-shirts or marijuana leafs on jeans). Beyond that, I am all for letting kids be kids and wear whatever they wish. But they may as well get used to the adult world in which many of us have a dress code of some sort.

We are seeing more kids using “ice”, a drug which has been spreading across the country and is quite popular with some teens. I’m hearing stories of dramatic weight losses, kids going without eating or sleeping for days. It seems as though this will become more of a challenge for us over time.

I’ve been tutoring my niece in Algebra II, an effort which has been quite challenging for me. It is difficult to tutor when you haven’t had the material for thirty years and you are probably just one step ahead of the person you are trying to tutor. But we are persevering and I think she will be ok.

It was campy and stretched your credulity, but I really enjoyed National Treasure II. Patrick and I loved the first one. The sequel isn’t quite as good (when are they ever?), but we still enjoyed it. Wouldn’t it be interesting if presidents really did have a “book of secrets” that they passed down the line?

Is it time to do taxes already? It is when you anticipate getting a refund!

The cut-up limbs were removed by the city from my front yard yesterday. Yay! The ice storm clean up still has a long way to go.

So how is YOUR week going?


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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Unity? 

I watched a certain political candidate give a victory speech in Iowa, a speech which focused on unifying the country. He appealed to the idea that there are no red states, no blue ones, only American states and the people, and that a political leader should seek to unify the people behind common interests and a higher purpose. This kind of rhetoric is appealing to me because I believe much is lost in the political squabbles of the day when there are so many problems facing the country. The ability to promote unity is something I value in a leader, especially a president during this day and time.

Then I reflected on my own efforts to promote collaboration and cooperation in my own work environment, with about the same number of professional employees as there are U.S. senators. It is quite challenging to get everyone moving the same direction, even on matters that should unite us all. My own leadership has been challenged and tested this year. I’m not even talking about the handful of people who will never be positive or agree about anything. Asking for consensus, getting everyone working toward a common goal, agreeing to compromise and set aside our differences….these are challenging in the best of environments. It is challenging for me.

My school faces challenges and most of us realize that solving problems will be more effective if we are able to work together toward a common purpose. I encourage debate, especially when such debate is focused on principles and ideas and not on personalities or grudges. I don’t expect unanimity, but I would like us to find broad consensus on some of the problems that we face. I hold monthly meetings in which we examine the most difficult issues, the ones that don’t get talked about enough. I try to engage the staff in productive dialogue and to hammer out some solutions we can agree on. It can be frustrating, but I have learned that “top-down” edicts are often enforced unenthusiastically or even ignored. I want real change, real solutions, real problem solving. That type of change comes from involvement, from participation, and yes, from leadership.

Now I multiply my issues times a zillion and see what our next president will face. It won’t be easy. I'm still learning lessons about leadership every day.

Who can bring us together to debate the issues of the day in an honest, open way? Who can promote the kind of civic dialogue that makes us stronger as a people? Who can provide leadership without only catering to “red” or “blue”, elephants or donkeys? I don’t know for sure who that person is yet or even if such a person is out there. A president is not a dictator, not a maestro of “liberals” or a conductor of “conservatives”. I am looking for problem solving leadership, the kind that makes us examine our own beliefs. I look for someone who I can respect whether I agree with them on everything or not. I’m looking for someone who is passionate, yet not so blinded by their own beliefs that they cannot acknowledge honest differences of opinion.

I think there is a “leadership gap” out there. I think that people are looking for an honest, principled leader who will respect the notion that he/she leads a great and diverse nation. Are you out there?


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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and it is time to go back to work. The kids and I return to school tomorrow. I think I’m ready. There is only so much hanging around the house a guy wants to do.

I’m typing this while viewing it on my big Christmas present, a spiffy 22’ monitor that Terri gifted me. I LOVE this monitor!

Of course it is only fair that she will probably read this on her big Christmas present, a spiffy new Dell Inspiron laptop.

It is also time for my doctoral classes to resume. In a couple of weeks I’ll begin “Program Evaluation” followed up by “Organizational Theory”. Sound like fun?

I read with interest about the release of Sarah Jane Moore. She attempted to assassinate President Ford in 1975 and is being released from prison at age 77. I remember this event, thinking how bizarre it was that a middle aged bookkeeper would attempt to kill the president of the United States.

I had forgotten the story of Oliver Sipple, the man who lunged at Moore, deflecting her aim, and saving the life of the president. His reward? Being outed as a gay man to his family and employer and being shunned by his mother. He died a tragic and lonely death in 1989. Very sad.

I’ll be watching the Oklahoma-West Virginia Fiesta Bowl game tonight. Hopefully it will go better than last year’s game!

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year and is ready for the challenges ahead. You know there will be some.

I wonder how many documents/checks I will mess up before I instinctively write “2008” on everything.

So how is YOUR week going?


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