Thanksgiving: It’s Not Over Until We Decide It Is

I’m still reminiscing about our outstanding Thanksgiving holiday. I hope yours was wonderful too.

Most of you know that Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday of the year. So, with a title inspired by the words of the immortal Bluto Blutarsky, I’m starting a personal campaign to keep Thanksgiving going – to take the best of Thanksgiving and infuse it into my life (and maybe a few others’ lives) throughout the entire year.

Let’s review some of the reasons I love Thanksgiving so much:

  • No Thanksgiving music is played in stores three months before the holiday. 
  • Of all of our holiday trees, the Thanksgiving Tree is my favorite.
  • More attention is paid to cooking on this day than any other day of the year.
  • All of our dishes – smoked turkey, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cheese grits, jalapeño cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pecan pie – turned out great! (Though I did have issues with the cheese grits.)
  • Thanksgiving brings family and friends together better than any other holiday.
  • Napping is encouraged, though shockingly, I did not get a nap on Thanksgiving Day this year!
  • Gifts are not part of the day, taking pressure off of all of us.
  • The meal would not be complete without my favorite dessert – which is pie of any kind. 
  • We are encouraged to be grateful and to share our gratitude – something we all should be doing every day of our lives.

So back to the idea of infusing all that is good about Thanksgiving into as many of our days as possible. There are some Thanksgiving traditions that I want to save for Thanksgiving only. The main tradition that fits into that category is being so full that it hurts, then still finding a way to eat pie for dessert, and then eating a second piece of pie because there are two kinds being served. I can do that once a year, but I need to stop there. 

Who am I kidding? 

But no more than twice, really! 

Three times max. 

I definitely have self-control issues.

But there are other traditions that I need more of in my life. I do a pretty good job of enjoying cooking on a regular basis. And I don’t mean to brag, but I’m already an excellent napper. I’d like more pie in my life, but if I make a whole pie, based on the pre-described self-control issues, I eat a whole pie. So . . . I need solutions for that. 

But some things I really want to change. Having both of my sons home for the weekend was off the charts spectacular. I still get to see Dawson during his breaks from college, and I get to enjoy that for a year or two more. I love that Ryan and Yesi (my son and my daughter-in-law) still manage to come down from Sacramento and spend the Thanksgiving weekend with us. But I need more of that in my life. And as they are working a lot harder than I am these days, I need to go up to Sacramento to see them more. 

We had about twenty guests this year – and I truly wanted to be with each one of them. We don’t have any of the weird uncles or talk-your-ear-off aunts that everyone seeks to avoid. Of course, I could be that person to everybody else. Nah! Who wouldn’t want to hang out with me?! We love these people, and I’m committed to doing a better job of getting the people we love over to our house throughout the year.

And a final Thanksgiving tradition I’d like to incorporate more into my daily life is simply giving thanks. On Thanksgiving, we place a sky-high priority on sharing our gratitude for who and what we have in our lives. It’s such a powerful part of the day, and, as I somewhat regularly express in my posts, feeling and expressing gratitude have an enormously positive impact on our own well-being. 

  • It’s #10 on my 61 Life Lessons post, “Strive to be kind and grateful as many times each day as you can. The positive impacts of both are underrated.”
  • It was all over my Pursuit of Well-Being post, especially the idea of setting aside time each day to reflect on what positive experiences in your day.
  • I have written about Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now being a major influence in my life, and a book I turn to in troubled times. He writes, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” Focusing on gratitude is an outstanding means of creating a good present.

I am going to work to somehow share these gratitudes out loud every day, just like we do on Thanksgiving Day. Jill and I have tried this in the past, but it did not stick. I want to renew this effort. And while this does not have to happen before a meal, it certainly works very well to do just that. Saying grace before a meal is a perfect time to express gratitude not just for the food, but even more, for the challenges, pressures, wonders, beauty, love, and everything else that reminds us how lucky we are to have experienced one more day alive on our planet.

I love Lauren Winner’s words on this: “Saying grace suggests not only the grazie of thanksgiving but also the calm, gracious elegance of living fully and well. You don’t find grace said when people are rushing around, scarfing food, eating over the sink or in the car, polishing off a meal in ten minutes flat. You find grace offered at tables where people sit still, where they’re trying to pay attention. Indeed, doctors will tell you that there are physiological benefits to saying grace before meals.”

So while I am already looking forward to our next Thanksgiving on November 28, 2024, I am going to work on carrying most of what I love about Thanksgiving (maybe not the pies) into my daily life, with particular focus on the expression of gratitude.

I would love to hear the ways that you and your family do this, and as always, I appreciate your comments.

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Notes and Cuts:

The picture at the bottom features Jill and I, flanked by Ryan and Yesi on the left, and Dawson and Kylie on the right. (Kylie and Dawson have been dating since high school!) That picture, along with the picture at the top of with my two tall sons, were both taken on Broad Beach in Malibu near sunset. Late November, and we walk on the beach in short sleeves. It’s not hard to be thankful for weather and beauty like that.

And of course the Thanksgiving Tree. I get spousal permission for three months of holiday trees – Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, and Christmas in December. The Thanksgiving Tree is the simplest and imitates nature the most, and perhaps that’s why I love it the most.

I cut the paragraph below out – as I thought it took away from the main point. Those of you who love to cook will understand – messing up on a dish you’ve made too many times to count is almost unthinkable – and yet it almost happened.

I read a Facebook thread where people were asked how to ruin Thanksgiving in four words. Pretty funny. Some of my favorites were “Who’d you vote for?”, “My test is positive!”, and one that hit a little too close to home this year, “I’m trying something new!” I didn’t mean to try something new this year. I’ve been cooking the same recipes for many years – it’s all on my cooking website – and I love them all. If I add something new, it’s tested beforehand. But this year, in making the cheese grits, which are way better than most of you think they are, I used a brand of grits I had never used before. That was a mistake! Only after I cooked the grits about four times longer than usual did my cheese grits soup (as bad as it sounds!) turn into a passable cheese grits casserole. Phew! In the end, they were fine, but I’ll never use that brand again. It’s Bob’s Red Mill brand or nothing for me in the future!

My Mom vs. Dementia: Sadly, Dementia is Winning

From the time I was 6 until I was 14, we lived in a two-story house on a busy street in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I scored my own (very small) bedroom upstairs. It was directly above the baby grand piano, where my mom would spend hours in the evenings practicing and playing. She started college well after we were born, and her music major required that she perform a senior recital. One of the pieces she played repeatedly as she prepared for her recital was a Schubert piece with a distinctive and melodic bass line. That bass melody often rose up from below and seeped straight into my eardrums as I went to sleep. It never bothered me. In fact, it was soothing and comforting. Whenever I hear that Schubert piece, or sometimes when I just hum it on my own, I am flooded with memories of my mom and my family, and all of the carefree and love-filled days from that time in my life.

Eric Church sings one of my favorite songs, Springsteen, where the chorus has a line that rings very true for me:

Funny how a melody
Sounds like a memory

My life’s soundtrack has so many melodies that sound like memories in my life: Schubert, John Denver, the Eagles, Earth Wind and Fire, Willy Nelson, and the people who wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song are just a few of the melody creators whose work elicits clear memories of specific moments in my life. I don’t understand why our senses trigger memories like this. In fact, I don’t really understand how memory works at all. 

And that’s why I’m writing today’s post. Because my wonderful Mom, the talented pianist, the multi-tasking super-mom who managed four children born within five years, the valedictorian of her high school class at age 18, and the summa cum laude graduate from college at age 37, is now suffering from a case of dementia that is crippling her ability to remember, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Until about five years ago, everything was pretty much fine. We worried a little about Mom. She lived on her own and did not socialize much other than going to church. She would garden but had no exercise routines. Whenever I came home, I would take walks with her and urge her to make that part of her daily routine. She never did. And she worried too much – about projects like arranging her gazillion photos and other projects, none of which really needed to be done. But she was energetic, she looked great (she still looks great!), and she remained the same loving, caring, silly, fun, and talented person she had been for her first 77 years. 

Just four years ago, she was out at our home in Malibu for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful visit, and I did not know it would be her last. While she had a few memory lapses, she was a doting grandmother to her grandsons, she made the gravy for the turkey, and she took walks on the beach with us. Mom got to meet Ryan’s future wife, which, it turns out, was an incredibly special moment because she was unable to make it to last year’s wedding. And Ryan brought sheet music for Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera. In an impromptu, emotional, and powerful performance, Mom sight read the music and played piano while Ryan sang with his beautiful voice. We were all smiling and crying. I just rewatched the video of that performance, and I could not believe it was just four years ago, Once again, it made me smile and cry. That melody will always sound like a priceless memory.

From there, it’s been a rough decline to watch. I remember one night while I was visiting her about three years ago, she was driving us from my sister’s house to her house. It was a drive she had done hundreds of times. After she took two wrong turns, I asked her if she needed help. She responded that she did not remember where she was going or how to get there. 

She began repeating herself more and more. We learned that the worst thing you could say to her was that she had already told us something. It increased her anxiety and sent her into a tailspin. She quit going to her Bible study group, one of the few social groups she participated in, because they kept telling her she was repeating herself. She would forget to eat, and spend days getting nothing done at all. Doctors were slow to diagnose it as dementia or Altzheimer’s, but we knew.

Martha and Pat, my siblings who live in Little Rock, intensely felt the burden of caring for an ailing parent. They fielded dozens of worried phone calls from Mom, taking each one in stride, patiently calming her down and helping her remember whatever she had forgotten. We were all concerned that something terrible would happen to her with no one constantly looking after her. We moved her into a senior living facility with a moderate level of care. She hated leaving her house, but it was the right thing to do. We loved that she was in a place where she could enjoy social interactions. That was a good place for a couple of years, but then the dementia started eating away at her physical abilities, including her ability to walk. 

By 2022, she had lost an incredible amount of strength and balance, could not walk without a walker, and often had to use a wheelchair. She could no longer live independently at all. So, we moved her again, this time into a wonderful facility that has 24-hour care and a very low employee-to-resident ratio. I don’t see her moving again.

When I visited her last week, we decided to take her on a drive through Little Rock. We thought it best to use the wheelchair to get her to the car. When we wheeled it up to her, she asked us if she had ever used a wheelchair or a walker before. Every day is a new day for her.

Mom still has long term memories, though during this last trip, I saw those beginning to fade. Even so, she absolutely loved being with all four of her children. She smiled and laughed. She enjoyed our meals together. She was delighted by the drive and all of Little Rock’s fall-colored trees. She was amazed by my sister-in-law’s art gallery and wanted to buy everything. She felt true joy with every moment of our time together. We did too.

But I know that by the next day, if not the next hour, it was all gone. During each visit, we shared pictures with her of our adventures the previous day, and she had no recollection of those experiences. I know she loved that moment, as she loves her phone calls from her caring and very funny older brother, and as she loves other visits and FaceTime calls from her children. There’s no denying that these fleeting moments of joy exist for her, and there is power and solace in that.

I know I am not alone in this experience. I hear similar stories from so many of my friends with aging parents. One of my friends in our neighborhood just had to leave for several weeks to take care of her dementia-suffering father while her mother recoups from a fall. I recently attended a memorial service for my friend Seth’s mother, whose last years were dementia years. While in Little Rock, I visited my aunt, who is also suffering from extremely advanced dementia. I’m sorry for all of these people, and I’m sorry for all of us who at best, suffer as we watch it destroy our loved ones, and at worst, also feel the overwhelming burden of being full time caretakers. 

Some kind of dementia hits almost 35% of those over age 85. That is a massive number. Peter Attia describes the “four horsemen” that kill so many of us as we age: Cancer, Metabolic (Blood Sugar) Illnesses, Heart Disease, and Neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Of those four, we know the least about dementia. We can’t cure it, and we don’t know enough about how to slow or prevent it. Some people have a gene that makes them more susceptible to it. I have not found out if I have that gene, but I am going to act as if I do. While not enough is known about prevention, there is data to show that we can act in a way that, with or without that gene, may make us less susceptible to these neurodegenerative diseases. 

The preventative routines that I took to heart from Attia’s work are:

  • Physical Activity. Attia calls exercise “the most powerful longevity drug.” Critical exercise includes strength-building, moderate aerobic activity, and strenuous aerobic activity. 
  • Limiting Sugar Intake. We need to make sure our blood sugar levels are as healthy as they can be. I guess that’s why every year, when I get my physical, the first thing my doctor writes is, “Your blood sugar is great!” 
  • Mediterranean Diet – You all know it – whole grains, vegetables, fish and lean protein. 
  • High Quality Sleep. Researchers are piling on the stack of evidence that quality sleep is essential. The bad news: I am a lousy sleeper. I sleep soundly for four to six hours, then it is fitful, if at all, after that. Part of my bad sleep history is so many years in stressful jobs with long hours. Part of it has been believing that I do not need eight hours. I’m working on it.

Though Attia does not show them in his research, I have read of two additional elements of healthy living that I believe are critical:

  • Healthy social interactions. This is present in the Blue Zones research and in many other sources on longevity.
  • Challenging yourself intellectually. This means continuing to learn, create, and solve problems. These can be fixing something around the house, volunteering, hobbies like photography or mahjong, reading to become more of an expert on a topic, and even challenging yourself with the mental challenges presented on the pickleball court or the golf course.

These habits won’t keep us from getting dementia, but they will improve our chances. I’m in for that. 

While we can’t be certain of the future, here’s what I know. We all have today. As Seth said at his mom’s service, “The time is now to do what you want. Don’t wait.” There may have been a highly appropriate expletive between “Don’t” and “wait.” He’s right. Five years ago, my mom was living a great life. Now, I can’t say what she thinks. I wish I knew. I know that I hate the life she is living. Seth’s expletive would fit nicely between “I” and “hate.”

I know that I am not in control. I embrace the fact that I can make lifestyle choices that give me a better chance, and that I can do a much better job of taking care of myself. I am going to try to be a better sleeper. Whatever comes, I am committed to doing my best to cherish and make the most of every day that I have here. And we will see what cards turn up as I head into my last decades.

Our lives contain so many beautiful melodies we have heard throughout our lives: melodies created by our families, our friends, our passions, our loves, and the beauty that we have experienced each and every day. For all of us, may those melodies sound like memories for as many years as possible.

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I highly recommend that each of us read the Peter Attia book, Outlive. I wish I had read it 30 years ago. To that end, I will be giving it to both of my sons for Christmas this year. In this post, I have barely scratched the surface of all that he has to say. You can read my review here.

Glory Days, Rear View Mirrors, and Windshields

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Just sitting back, trying to recapture a little of glory, yeah
Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister,
but boring stories of Glory Days

Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days has always been one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat, it has a great keyboard riff, it’s fun to sing, and it sure seems happy. But it’s actually a sad song about people who are looking backwards more than forwards; it’s a song about people who Springsteen feels sorry for. I imagine it’s hard to write such a sad song and put the lyrics to a happy up-beat melody. He did the same thing with Born in the USA. And as I was watching the Taylor Swift movie (yes – I saw it and loved it – in my mind, she’s right with The Beatles and Elvis in terms of being a musical force and cultural icon), I saw her do the same thing with positive melodies and sick beats that inspire dancing in movie theaters, contrasted against lyrics about heartache, unfairness, and the strength needed to shake off real world problems.

But I digress, like I always do. I thought of Glory Days while I was listening to an amazing podcast my friend Alex recommended to me. It’s Peter Attia’s 155-minute interview with Lance Armstrong. Mr. Attia does nothing if he can’t use a lot of words. My next post will feature some of his 500-page outstanding new book, Outlive. I’m not a Lance Armstrong hater. I know that one of our national pastimes is to tear down our heroes when they falter. We certainly did that with Lance; however, I remain in awe of what he accomplished and I think we all can learn from his mistakes. One of the many things I learned about Lance during the podcast was that he once posted, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror” on social media. With all he’s gone through, it’s a mantra he has to take to heart.

It’s a great line. Lance’s rear view mirror is crowded with extraordinary highs and crushing lows.  All of us have our version of those ups and downs, though fortunately, most of ours are not as extreme or as public. And even though that mirror is so much smaller than the windshield, it’s still easy to focus too much on the glory days – or on our mistakes or other pain from the past. 

If you know me a little bit, you know that I am a relentless optimist. My focus is on the windshield, and I’m doing all I can to create a present and future full of love, friendship, good health, intellectual growth, and enjoyment of the hobbies I love. But I certainly spend my fair share of time looking in the rear view mirror. While I would never describe my past as my “glory days,” I do have so many happy memories from my childhood and my adult years. And, yes, I’m a storyteller. Like my awesome mother-in-law, I love retelling some of my favorite episodes in my life…..over and over again. And I thank those closest to me for sticking around, even when they are hearing a fun story for the 134th time.

But as I have written, there’s no getting away from the pains of the past. I am often reminded of missed opportunities, missteps, and outright failures in my life. And I miss my son Sean every day.  

But to stare at that small mirror too much is a lost opportunity. My friend Chris is my favorite blogger. For decades, he has shared the highs and tragic lows (he recently lost his wife and oldest son in the same crappy year) in his life through his blog while bringing laughter and witty insights about suburban Los Angeles living. He recently co-authored a great book, What the Bears Know, with Steve Searles, a fairly famous outdoorsman known as the “bear-whisperer.” I learned so much about the beauty of the black bears of Mammoth in the book, but my favorite line is not about the bears at all. It’s a reflection on loss. Chris writes, “The only way I can cope is not to let the totality of the twin tragedies reach me all at once, to accept the situation in increments, to get on with my work, and to dote on my three surviving kids, who need me more than ever with their mother gone.” That right there is a healthy mixture of mirrors and windshields.

I’m spending most of this week back in Little Rock, Arkansas, seeing family, checking in on and connecting with my parents, and enjoying Arkansas in the autumn. Anytime I’m with my family, there’s a lot of collective storytelling – the rearview mirror gets a little bigger. And often with my family, objects in the rear view mirror appear a little larger than they were in real life. Stretching the truth for a good story will be a forgivable sin this week. I’ll enjoy all of it. But I l also look forward to looking through our windshields and talking about what the future holds. Two of my sisters-in-law are embarking on bold new business ventures. My 84-year-old dad and I will be planning our trip to Mission Viejo next August, where we will swim in the largest masters swim meet of the year. I expect my Dad to finish near the top of his age group, and I expect that I will be one of the finishers in my age group! It won’t matter where we finish. And I will love looking through the windshield toward whatever the future holds.

As I finish my fourth month of retirement, I am thankful that I have tried to never define myself by my career. The roles that I want to hold close for all my days are my roles as a friend, a mentor, a son, a father, and a husband. I loved all of my public education jobs, and I’m incredibly proud of what I accomplished. But when I look in the rear view mirror, I try not to define myself by anything I may have done that resembles The Boss’s Glory Days. Yes – those reminiscences make me reflect on all that I have enjoyed and learned along the way. They make me smile, laugh, and sometimes cringe. Those days have shaped me, but they don’t define me. 

How I make the most of today matters more than anything.

That’s why my focus is best placed on the windshield. I will be doing my best to spend my days intentionally focusing on the road I am on and the hopefully long and winding road ahead, enjoying the moments I am living, appreciating the power of now, and looking forward to whatever the future brings.

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Artificial Intelligence: Let’s Make Real Life Better than the Movies

I probably watch too many movies. That being said, a lot of movies have predicted terrible or near-terrible things happening to humanity because of Artificial Intelligence: HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the WOPR in WarGames, Skynet in the Terminator movies, and The Matrix in The Matrix. In all of these films, humans invent the very machines that end up trying to destroy them.

And now . . . it’s here. 

I think the official date when the world uttered a Keanu Reeves-esque, “Whoa!” was when ChatGPT was announced back on November 30, 2022. But in reality, AI has been making its way into our lives for decades. Unlike Google and other search engines, which find websites related to your search, ChatGPT is a chatbot that answers your questions or responds to your requests in well-crafted prose, using all of the information that was on the Internet. It’s incredible, really. 

I’ve used ChatGPT for work a few times. I’ve asked it to give me ten arguments I can use for a question I have about an issue, such as favoring or opposing charter schools. Fifteen seconds later, I am reading a well-researched and probably accurate response that would have taken me well over an hour to research and write myself. It’s not a finished product, but it’s a great starting point.

It usually takes me about 10-12 hours to write one of these posts. I asked ChatGPT to write a 1,000-word post on artificial intelligence, using my writing style on Fifteen seconds later, I had a post. I’m not sure it used my style, and unlike me, it kept the post to well under 800 words, but it wasn’t bad at all. I have a link to it at the end of this post, should you want to compare. I fully expect some of my “friends” to tell me to keep using ChatGPT – adding that reading the AI-generated post was way more enjoyable than my 12-hour effort. I have wonderful friends.

Bill Gates, who over the years has morphed into someone even wiser and more intelligent than he was when he dropped out of Harvard to change the world, sees a whole lot of good coming out of OpenAI (Microsoft’s version of ChatGPT) and artificial intelligence in general. In a recent article, he looks forward to AI being a “co-pilot” or a “digital personal assistant” to those who take advantage of its power. He is confident that AI will personalize education to a higher degree than ever before. He does believe that we need to be careful and that regulation is needed, but he is far more excited about the potential benefits than he is about the danger to humanity.

Going back to the big screen, movies also present artificial intelligence models that showcase this benevolent side of AI. The most famous is C3PO in the Star Wars sagas, invented by (spoiler alert) Darth Vader as a child. But my favorite is Jarvis, Tony Stark’s AI unit that plays a major role in the Avenger series. In one of the films, Tony Stark (Ironman) predicted Bill Gates’ terminology with his “Jarvis is my Co-Pilot” bumper sticker. It makes sense. Superheroes’ vision should be way ahead of mere mortals like Bill Gates. C3PO and Jarvis represent the AI we all want – the brilliant and lightning fast co-pilot that can improve our lives.

If I were a new teacher, I would love to use ChatGPT. I would ask my teaching co-pilot to give me five different lesson plans for how to teach the causes of the Civil War, and make sure to give me options for any readings for students who might benefit from a higher or lower reading level. Boom! It’s there. What a great starting point for lesson planning!

The US Department of Education has published its first report on the potential and risks of artificial intelligence. It agrees with Gates that there is potential for amazing good for students and teachers. Personalized tutoring possibilities hold great promise. But the report warns of potential risks to privacy and the danger of unexpected and unintended consequences.

This is no longer a question of whether or not we should use AI. The cat is out of the bag. Some superintendents are estimating that at least 75% of high school students are already using it.  Motivated students (and even adults) can have a personal tutor helping them to learn anything they want. Teachers are worried (with good reason) that students will use AI to do all of their homework. As homework is a highly overrated tool for learning, I’m not too worried about that. But as a teacher, I believe that one of the most important skills that I taught was analytical writing, using research and evaluation of data. Show me a student who can write a well-crafted argument on a historical issue, and I’ll show you a person who has the skills to thrive in this world. Going forward, it will be very difficult for teachers to determine whether students or AI wrote an essay. One solution to that is to have all essays be written in-class, so teachers know that students actually wrote them. I look forward to seeing how teachers and educational leaders address this issue in the coming years.

But beware of letting AI solve our all-too-human work challenges. Back when I was working long days as an educator, one of my least favorite things was receiving an email that was wayyyyyyy too long. I didn’t have time for a long email, and often the tone of the email was harsh, unkind, and hard to get through. If I wanted, I could now copy the email into ChatGPT, ask it to give me a 100-word summary, and tell it to draft a 100-word response. Super time saver, right? But it’s a bad idea. Those privacy statements we all AGREE to without reading the gazillion words allow ChatGPT and other AI to take everything you enter – every bit of information you provide – and make it part of the AI database to be used in future work. There is no privacy. We all need to be extraordinarily careful.

My son Dawson is a computer science major. AI can now write code far faster than he ever could. He’s really smart, actually, so maybe he could keep up, but I actually doubt that any human can. Here’s the thing – it is essential for humans to know what that computer code says, because when something goes wrong, smart human beings have to fix it. There are many who believe that not only will AI be able to program, but that it will eventually adapt and improve the code – and when that happens, humans will have no idea what’s going on. While Dawson thinks that is a far-fetched idea, I still say that it is a potential problem.

AI is too powerful not to use. But . . .  danger lurks. Last week’s 60 Minutes episode began with a segment on Geoffrey Hinton, who is considered by most to be the one of the inventors of artificial intelligence. He is incredibly excited about the breakthroughs that AI will achieve in the areas of medicine, clean energy, and so much more. Yet, he is worried. He believes that AI is already capable of more intelligence, at least in terms of how fast it can learn and the unique strategies it can develop, than human beings, and that the day will come when it becomes self-aware – think HAL and Skynet. 60 Minutes made the comparison to J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, in that Hinton is now warning against the improper and unregulated use of his invention, saying that the risks may far outweigh the benefits.

He’s not alone. I listened to an outstanding podcast from Ezra Klein from the New York Times where he interviewed Demis Hassabis, the 46-year-old chief executive of Google DeepMInd, and the lead on a project called AlphaFold, which is mapping every protein known to humans. The medical possibilities are incredible. It’s a spectacular interview, where both explain the research in terms that even I can understand. I was also fascinated by Hassabis’s path, from gamer, to game inventor, to AI world leader, and the commonality of games in all of it. 

For all of its potential, some of it already realized, Hassabis is also issuing warnings about AI. He warned, “I would advocate not moving fast and breaking things,” which is a direct refute of Mark Zuckerberg’s “Move fast and break things” motto at FaceBook. More ominously, in a recent one-sentence statement with other tech leaders, he warned, “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” 

Yeah, we should definitely try to avoid human extinction. 

All of this makes teaching more important than ever before. We need to develop highly educated citizens who can double check what AI produces. We need human beings who we can rely on for truth and know-how. We need fact-checkers who can counter the false or fake information that AI can and will create in written, photo, and video form. And we need human beings who still pursue learning how to think, learning how to create, and learning how to collaboratively problem-solve. The human side of teaching matters more than ever.

There’s so much that needs to happen. Students need to use AI to learn, not just to complete assignments. Privacy needs to be regulated more than ever before. Our youth who are studying computer science, like my son Dawson, need to stay ahead of AI and be able to truly understand what it is doing. Companies need regulation on how they are using AI. And most of all, we humans need to stay in charge. A co-pilot or digital personal assistant could be helpful to all of us, and the science breakthroughs could make life better for everyone on earth. 

But let’s be careful. None of us want to be in a movie with a tragic ending.

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Here is the post that ChatGPT wrote if you want to see it. 

Image by Geralt on Pixabay 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phone

I’ll say it. I love my iPhone. I have the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s big, yet still fits in my back pocket. It would fit perfectly on a belt-attached phone holder, but my son Ryan told me to stop doing that back when I carried a Palm Pilot. “Dad. A phone is not a fashion accessory.” Fine, Ryan, it’s in my back pocket.

Why do I love my phone? You all know the reasons, but here are my main ones:

  • I love having everything in one place. It’s incredible.
  • I have all the tools I need to record new memories.
  • Anytime I witness inspiration for a future blog post, I can snap a picture or write it down in Evernote. 
  • I can find the answer to almost any question that I am wondering about.
  • I have almost all of the pictures I love, and I can share them anytime.
  • It wakes me up in the morning, keeps and reminds me of my calendar, informs me about world events, and facilitates my communications with my family and friends.
  • And that’s just scratching the surface.

I still marvel at all that my phone can do. And combined with my Apple watch, it’s even better. I can keep track of calories burned, steps walked, laps that I swam, even the stroke that I’m swimming and the time of each lap. And whenever I get a text or something else I have deemed important enough to allow my watch to notify me of, I get an inaudible, unobtrusive, gentle pulse on my wrist. All spectacular technology has the illusion of being almost magical, and that’s how I still feel about the awesome technology in my hand (or back pocket) and on my wrist.

And my friend Jenn is trying to ruin everything.

Let me explain.

After publishing my blog post on Paying Attention, Jenn told me I needed to read a book she had found profoundly impactful, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari. And then she gave me the actual book – with pages that I have to manually flip. Who in the world reads real books anymore? I love reading on the Kindle app. As long as I have my phone in my back pocket, I can pick up the book anytime or anywhere, and I always have my highlights and notes for review. I was nice to her, but inside I was disappointed in her lack of adaptation to the times. 

But actually, it’s a great book, and it hurts me to say this, but it would have felt wrong to read it on my Kindle app. Hari argues that 2007 was a landmark year, primarily because of the invention of the iPhone. My wife Jill had long been asking why they did not add a phone to the Palm Pilot, and Steve Jobs brought her vision to life with an emphasis on function and aesthetic beauty. Sixteen years later, so many of us find the phone a central aspect of our lives.

In the 2017 remake of Jumanji (an underrated movie with a great cast), one of the characters transferred into a video game is despondent about no longer having her phone, and can’t stop talking about it. They meet up with a young man who has been trapped in the game since 1996, who, after watching her repeatedly bemoan the loss of her phone, says, “Does ‘phone’ mean something different in the future?” Yes, it does, Jumanji-1996-guy. Yes, it does.

Hari argues that the centrality of cell phones in our lives has:

  • Dramatically decreased our ability/desire to read books and other in-depth analysis. Most of the world now consumes information in short tweets or slightly longer online news articles. The amount of time we spend reading books for pleasure has plunged since 2007 (after already suffering a decades-long decline after the advent of television), and newspapers are barely surviving. Ryan and I were discussing this recently, and he added, “The changes in the way we consume media that you’re talking about have dried up the demand for long form written analysis. As a result, there are fewer and fewer spaces that actually provide it. Which is a shame, because that type of thoughtful writing—which, not for nothing, is what is happening on this blog—provides more context and nuance than a couple of guys on a hot mic ever could. And that type of context and nuance is beyond important today.”
  • Overly simplified a highly complex world. That would be great if the world were simple, but it is not. Brief and emotionally charged communications, the ones we find on our phones, imply that we don’t need to read in-depth analysis to understand a highly complex world. That implication is incorrect.
  • Increased our exposure to outrage. Without question, what garners the most clicks and likes is any message of outrage. Indignation sells. And when we read enough of it, anger comes more easily to all of us.
  • Decreased our ability to give our sustained attention to matters that deserve it. There are multiple studies that show we are less able to give our attention to something than we were just two decades ago.
  • Filled the slow times in our lives with mindless browsing. When there is a pause in our lives (a line at the grocery store or the DMV, waiting for a meeting to start, etc.), so many of us fill that moment by going to our phones. And when we don’t take time for stillness, for daydreaming, for mind-wandering, or for slowness in our lives, we are missing opportunities to truly enjoy precious moments here on earth. 

I am a big fan of the concept of flow. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, the godfather of flow, describes it as “… the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”  When I am in those states, I am usually swimming, bicycling, playing pickleball, or engaged in other activities uninterrupted by phones or anything else. If we let them, phones will disrupt, even fragment our efforts at achieving states of flow. As Hari writes, “Fragmentation makes you smaller, shallower, and angrier. Flow makes you bigger, deeper, and calmer.” He adds, “Slowness nurtures attention. Speed shatters it.”

As I sat in my chair, engrossed in reading my paperback book, I realized that maybe being off my phone, even for reading, creates a greater sense of calm and peace. Maybe my initial criticism of my friend Jenn was a little unjustified. Maybe she was actually trying to help. I’m at a point in my life now where I am not on call 24/7, and I believe it would be good for me to slow down and not to act like I still need to be tethered to my phone. 

One of my favorite pictures is from 2022. It’s a photo of Tiger Woods hitting another perfect golf shot in front of adoring fans, almost all of whom are enjoying the moment through their phones. But look closely, and you can’t help but notice Mark Radetick, the tall guy who is a picture of stillness as he quietly takes it all in, holding a 24-ounce Michelob Ultra instead of a phone. I want more Mark Radetick moments in my life. 

Similarly, Jill and I were watching a spectacular Independence Day fireworks show, and we were surrounded by people videoing it and watching it through their phones. Jill whispered to me, “Hashtag – It’s happening now.” Hilarious, and sadly true.

So, what to do? I’m not giving up my phone. I still think it’s amazing and I still love all that it can do. But maybe I don’t need to love my phone quite so much. In Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the fascination with the atomic bomb ends up destroying most of the world. I don’t know if our fascination with the phone is destroying us or not. For all of its amazingness and potential, I do know that it’s not making us smarter as a species. It tempts us out of our moments of slowness, pondering, and daydreaming – the moments that so often precede moments of inspiration, innovation, and creativity. And it’s certainly hindering our abilities to truly absorb special moments in our lives.

As I’ve written in many of my posts, I am going to continue my efforts to slow down, be on my phone less, and maybe even read a few more books made out of paper.

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  • If you haven’t read Steve Jobs’ biography, and his drive for perfection when inventing the iPhone, it’s a worthy read.
  • I’ve only touched the surface with Hari’s work. He spends a lot of time expressing concern for the digital surveillance that is happening to all of us, and has some radical ideas for how to address that. To read my full review, click here.
  • I often write as a way to remind myself of the way I want to live. Publishing a piece gives me extra incentive to live out what I write. I must really want to slow down in my life, because I’ve written about this several times, including:
  • I rewatched Dr. Stangelove as I was researching this blog post. It holds up. It’s still hilarious. Peter Sellers and so many other stars and future stars are perfect in their satirical roles. The movie highlights how our fascination with anything can lead to a lack of logical thought and horrible consequences, especially when we have amazing technology and individuals who are highly trained in knowing how to use it.
  • Dr. Strangelove photo from Reelgood.
  • Mark Radetick photo from Inc. Magazine
  • iPhone photo from

Pressure is a Privilege

I always appreciate my friend Mikke for his humor, fantasy football banter, and his sense of adventure. But way more than that, I appreciate him because he is a very wise man who has listened and helped me to be my best on numerous occasions. He now serves as an executive coach, and he has been kind enough to share the daily affirmations and truths that he sends to each of his clients with me. One of them from last week truly struck a chord.

The affirmation was inspired by the recently completed US Open Tennis Championships, home to a large plaque featuring a famous quote from Billie Jean King: “Pressure is a Privilege.” What a statement. I should have heard it before. Billie Jean King wrote a book with that title back in 2008, and the plaque has been at the US Open since 2020. But I had not heard it. Until now.

I love it.

The pressure of fighting for every point, alone on the court in front of 24,000 fans, must be immense. I will never know that kind of athletic pressure, unless my pickleball game takes 32 giant leaps and bounds forward. But what Ms. King is urging these competitors to have is perspective – to recognize that by doing all of the work that it takes to get to this point, and by overcoming all of the obstacles it takes to get to the highest level, these athletes have a privilege that very few in the world get to experience – the chance to compete against the very best. I believe she wants all of us to embrace that same mindset. If we feel a sense of privilege and fortune when we face our own challenges, it frees us to let go of the pressure and just do our absolute best to succeed.

King’s quote applies so well to leaders and to all of us who face pressure during the course of our careers and lives. Let’s be clear – the amount of pressure in my life has diminished by approximately 96.8% since I retired. It feels healthy and good. But for nearly 40 years, I experienced a wide range of pressure and stress. Early in my teaching career, Sunday nights were rough. I acutely felt the pressure of making the week’s lesson plans, believing that if my lessons were not good enough, I might not make it as a teacher. If I hadn’t made it, my life would have been so very different, but the pressure I put on myself made me a better teacher and made a difference for my students. That pressure gave me the opportunity to develop into the teacher I needed to be. Many, many times, I lived through the pressures of making big decisions as a principal and as a superintendent. Sometimes the pressure stemmed from a school crisis, and sometimes it came from people who publicly stated they wanted me to lose my job. I wish I had known Billie Jean King’s quote during those times. I did feel the sentiment, but I did not have her words to express it. 

My mentality during those difficult times was to work with the really smart and talented people around me, and simply make the best decisions we could. If those decisions were not good enough, and I was fired as a result, I believed in myself enough that I knew I would be able to get another job. I felt honored and privileged to be in a position of leadership. After overcoming the initial blows of the crisis, I was always able to work with my team, make a plan, and execute it. We all think we have plans, but a new crisis can challenge everything. Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It sounds odd, but I believe it was a privilege to recover from those punches, then develop and execute new plans and strategies.

But let me be completely honest. In many high pressure situations, my brain quickly realized that the pressure is a privilege mentality was the right way to go. I knew that thinking that way means your brain can fully focus on the actual problem, instead of focusing on how the pressure makes you feel. But all too often, my stomach, at least at first, refused to listen to my brain. And boy did I feel that pressure. Tommy Lasorda said, “When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started thinking of failure.” My stomach would ignore my head, think of failure, feel that pressure, and push the misery of that pressure throughout my body.

I could overcome it, but it took my brain lecturing to my stomach during sleepless nights and sometimes over the course of several days. It took friends and colleagues talking me through issues, reinforcing what my brain already knew. As I gained the wisdom that comes with age and experience, I got better at that. But even in my sixties, I still have to fight it and actively remind myself. Sometimes, I write these posts to remind myself of what I already know. Because even though I know it, writing it down gives me that Mennen Skin Bracer slap in the face that I sometimes need.

Pressure makes us better. It was Kobe Bryant who said, “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” When pressure was highest, Kobe wanted the ball. He wanted the opportunity to rise.

My golf buddies who read this post (yes, a few of them can read) are going to watch me standing over a three-foot putt that I should be able to make. But that short little putt will have pressure on it. If I make it, I may win a whopping $5, $10, or even $20. I can hear them now, “What a privilege this is for you, Mike.” It’s funny how stupid stuff like that can actually feel like pressure. We’ll see if I can channel my inner Billie Jean King and Kobe Bryant on not just that three-foot putt, but on the real challenges that I will face as life goes on.

For all of you who are working to do your best, and for those of you in leadership positions doing the same, I thank you. Thanks for your extraordinary efforts to do your job well. I hope you feel that it is a privilege to do the work you do, especially when the going gets tough.

– Mike

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(Note: I had to trim quite a bit from my original draft to get to this still-too-long published version. If you want to see the trimmings from the cutting floor, and some of my thoughts behind it, click here.)

Ferris Bueller was Right. And He Was Wrong

Helping our Brains to Perceive a Fuller Picture

Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” He’s right of course, which is why I certainly would have joined the Save Ferris campaign. But maybe Ferris was wrong (gasp!) when it comes to safety and the effort to get better at something. In those cases, we should not be looking around. We should focus intently on the details, because our brains need every bit of information they can get.

On a beautiful summer day in Colorado back in 2015, I was on a bike ride with my brother-in-law Mike and my wife Jill. We were enjoying a well-earned downhill ride, returning from a spectacular journey to the Vail pass. I was leading as we were cruising down the bike path, being careful not to go too fast, when I came upon a fork in the path. I took the left path, then looked back over my shoulder to make sure Jill was doing the same. When I turned around and faced forward, there was a beautiful aspen tree about THREE FEET IN FRONT OF ME. I swerved to barely avoid a head-on collision (good call!), but my shoulder slammed into the tree, throwing me into a cartwheel off the bike. Damn. That’s about as bad a wreck as I’ve had. And I’ve had a few. My friend Ben (he is a doctor, but not the medical kind) has diagnosed me with a rare disease: falloffabikealotus. As I collected my senses, and my brother-in-law observed that I was mostly OK, he said, “I so wish I had my Go-Pro camera going, because that was awesome!” Thanks, Mike.

As I rode home, my hand and wrist started to throb. I’ve suffered through enough broken bones to know what that meant. I went to the Urgent Care center where they confirmed the fracture and casted me up. The young and Colorado-cool doctor asked how it happened. As I was retelling the story, he interrupted me and said, “So, you weren’t paying attention.” I said, “No no no! I was! I was just checking on Jill!” He repeated, strongly, “You were not paying attention. Ninety percent of all of the skiing, biking, and other athletic injuries I treat are caused by people not paying attention. You need to start doing that. You were lucky today.”

That memory came back to me this week as Jill and I watched a NOVA special on the brain called Your Brain: Perception Deception. Here are some of the gems from the NOVA show, which I highly recommend:

  • We are only able to take in one percent of our visual field. (One percent! Holy cow!) That’s all of the information our retina and brain are able process together. If you want to test your ability to focus on a task, check out this famous video. (I did poorly the first time I watched it.)
  • Because there is so little information, the brain has to piece it together and predict what is going to happen. 
  • The brain is a predicting machine, doing its best, with that little bit of information, to predict what is going to happen.

“We are only able to take in one percent of our visual field. (One percent! Holy Cow!)”

So if we don’t pay full attention, particularly in times where our safety is at risk, our chances of success are  . . . not good. I think John Wooden said it better when he stated, “You will find that success and attention to details, the smallest details, usually go hand in hand.”

Here’s the thing. If our brain sees situations often enough, it becomes a better predictor. When people practice something enough, and when they repeatedly focus on and pay attention to those details, their brain’s predictive abilities in that field get better and better. In addition, repetition and repeated focus help our brains to eventually process way more than that one percent. My friend Steve has entered hundreds of bicycle races over his life. His brain better predicts cycling situations than mine, and he certainly would have avoided my crash. In addition to being able to focus on far more than I can, he would never have turned around to check on anyone, as (1) it’s not a smart or safe thing to do, and (2) it would slow him down. Perhaps not in that order.

I’m fascinated by athletes who say that they are more successful when “the game slows down” for them. Major League Baseball players have 0.4 seconds to figure out whether or not to swing and then how to swing at a pitch. Formula 1 racers are passing other cars at well over 200 MPH, and their lives are at risk if they even slightly misjudge. Musicians are able to move at breakneck speed through certain pieces. How do they do it? 

When we begin learning a fast moving or complex activity, our brains can’t process information quickly enough to recognize what we are seeing. With practice and repetition, our brains develop pattern recognition. Our brains develop maps that help us quickly, and for some, almost instantly recognize what’s coming at them. When we focus on the important details, we start to understand the patterns, our brain becomes highly proficient at predicting those patterns, and our brain makes us feel like we can actually “see” fast-moving or highly complex scenes.

And with practice, true experts learn which one percent of information they should focus on. Lawyers know what to give their attention to when sifting through thousands of pages of documents. Teachers can cut through all the activity in a classroom and pay attention to the behaviors that allow them to know how to best impact learning. Athletes pay attention to small cues in their opponents’ actions that let them know what is coming and how to counteract it. With enough repetition, thinkers can develop a sense of automaticity, allowing them to easily perform formerly difficult tasks, and leaving their brain able to focus on different tasks and cues.

So part of it is John Wooden’s advice to observe the smallest details. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a coach like him (well, hold on, there’s no one like John Wooden  . . . ), or just a really good coach, to tell you what details to watch. Another part is Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of spending 10,000 hours on something before you become an expert. Whether or not the number is right, the idea is that you can’t “see” patterns unless you’ve paid attention to the details for a long time.

So what are the things I want my brain to better predict? Well for one, I’m going to at least give my brain the full one percent when involved in dangerous activities like driving and cycling. Cell phones do not help in that effort. What else do I want to get better at? Cooking, swimming, golf, guitar, and pickleball, among others. I’m talking about practice. I’m talking about paying attention to the details. I’m talking about enough repetition of doing the right thing, so that my brain can better predict where my paddle should be in pickleball, where my hands should be in the pool, how my golf downswing should feel, and just how much garlic (which is obscenely more than almost every reader here, except maybe my son Ryan) should be put in a dish. 

So, yes, pay attention to the details when you want to get better at something, and do it long enough to let the process seem easier and slower for us, but let’s not forget Ferris’s advice. We still have plenty of time to stop and look around this beautiful and highly interesting world of ours, and we should do just that.

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Autumn Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Pre-Injury Bike Ride Photo near Vail, CO taken by Mike Orgovan. Photo was not taken with a Go-Pro.

And thanks again to Dr. Eric Olson for his expertise and care, and for being willing to teach me as he was caring for me.

Hopes, Dreams, and Prayers for our Teachers

We said goodbye to Dawson last week. He packed his car and drove off to Colorado for the start of his junior year. It seems so early, yet the new school year is starting across the nation. My youngest nephew, who is a lovable and precocious rascal, just began kindergarten this week. I hope his teacher actually finds some time to teach the class, as my nephew has a lot to share with everyone.

What happened to going back to school after Labor Day? Well, I’ll tell you. If California ruled the world, all colleges would be on the quarter system, starting in late September and ending in mid-June. And our K-12 schools would follow suit. Our best weather comes in August and September, and it’s no fun to be in a classroom during the best summer weather.

But contrary to popular belief, we Californians don’t rule the world. (Heck – we barely have a college sports conference any more. Farewell, Pac-12, how I will miss thee.) So most California schools go along with the nation, where AP tests take place in May, college admissions offices expect the first semester to end in December, summer opportunities often start in early June, and school starts in mid-August.

That being said, the new academic year is upon us. Jill will be back teaching again next week, and she’s ready. Parents are ready, too. We were at Disneyland this week (I have gone way too many times this year), and we ran into a couple who shared their secret tradition – they dropped off their two elementary-school-aged children on their first day of school, then, without ever telling the kids, the parents spent a glorious day at Disneyland. So sinister, yet so wonderful. It’s the most hilarious back-to-school thing I’ve seen since the old Staples commercial.

So parents are clearly excited for this time of year. Most students are looking forward to starting again, too – school is one of the few life activities where, in many ways, you start with a clean slate each year – new notebooks, new pencils and pens, new classes, a new teacher (or six, or seven), and new resolutions. It can be a time of great hope. And, for most of the teachers I know, that same fresh start brings a great deal of excitement. But, the new year also brings some nervousness and worry. What challenges will the new group of students bring? What changes will this school year bring? What will they face this year that they have never encountered before?

One of my teacher friends asked for my prayers as he started his school year. This friend is a GREAT teacher who, to the rest of the world, hardly seems to need anyone else’s assistance. He is respected and loved by almost all who know him. But that’s the thing that great teachers know.  The challenges that each new school year brings can be monumental. Teachers are expected to go far beyond the one size fits all teaching that I experienced in high school. Teachers need to seek out multiple ways to help each student succeed, while holding high standards for all. And teachers are expected to impart not just knowledge, but skills that can help a student to learn and succeed. While my best teachers did that, it is an expectation for all now. Simply put, teaching is more complicated than ever. Student needs are more diverse than ever. So yes, my friend is wise to ask for our prayers. Here are some of my prayers, hopes, and dreams for teachers, and all of those who support them, as they start the 2023-24 school year.

  • May you be patient and persistent enough to discover the motivations and gifts of each of your students. 
  • May every day be a great day. Students deserve the best version of you each and every hour of each and every day. May you have the energy and strength to make each day as special as the first day of school for each of your students.
  • May you find balance in your life. May that balance allow you enough hours to be the teacher your students deserve, the family member and friend your loved ones rely on, and the individual who takes care of your own physical and mental health. (The 8:00 to 3:00 school day is a myth – there are hours of planning, grading, collaborating, and worrying that happen before and after those hours, and on weekends, and during school breaks, that are necessary for teachers to be at their best from 8:00 to 3:00 – but teachers also need to put on their own oxygen masks first.) 
  • May you have the wisdom, strength, and resources you need. There are so many  obstacles that can impede students’ learning: difficult home situations, learning disabilities, hunger, a lack of confidence, hopelessness, a history of failure. It takes skill and insight to discern the problem, and then a good bit of resourcefulness to get around those issues and make the learning happen.  
  • May your village be strong. Instructional assistants, special education professionals, counselors, administrators, and so many more share in a teacher’s love and care for students and are vital to our collective educational purpose. To those people–without whom teachers couldn’t do their jobs–this post is for all of you as well.
  • May you and your students feel safe from the outside world. May you never have to live through the scenarios behind the safety drills you work on – including lockdown drills and shelter-in-place drills. And thank you for being as ready as anybody can be to support students in emergencies. May this year be free of the safety incursions that force teachers to be heroes in life-or-death situations, so they can focus on being the day-to-day heroes they already are.
  • May your teaching year be insulated from all of the national debates about education. As I have written before, most of the political discussions about teaching refer to situations I have rarely if ever seen in classrooms. Overwhelmingly, the thousands of teachers I know are concerned only with creating kind and respectful environments and helping their students develop academic and interpersonal skills and habits that will help them to be successful in this world. 
  • And may your teaching year be full of joy and laughter. The best teachers make their classrooms a joyful place for students to be, filled with celebrations, silliness, stories from students, curiosity, and all the things that create smiles, wonder, and light in our classrooms.

May it be a wonderful year for all of our teachers, those who support them, and the students we all serve.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Reflections on Italy (Especially the Tomatoes)

Summer is in full swing, and I love it. Here in Malibu, the beaches are crowded, the roads are crazy, the ocean is warm enough even for my anti-cold-water self, and our hot days reach between 80 and 85 degrees. Yeah . . . it’s pretty nice. So we of course made the most of our perfect weather by taking a trip to Italy – where it was super hot, and where, according to the news, two gazillion people (two gazillion and two with us) from around the world have decided that the summer of 2023 is the best time to visit. 

I’ve spent time in Ireland, England, Germany, and France, but never Italy. And I’ve always wanted to go. It’s the place where two of my passions, food and history, converge spectacularly. So in spite of a record heat wave and a Heathrow airport strike (which eventually canceled our British Airways flight home), we took the plunge. I’m so glad we did.

I am no expert on Roman History, but I know enough to realize that, at least in the Western world, the Roman Empire’s reach and impact has few equals. To see two-thousand-year-old architecture, even when it was just the foundations, was awe inspiring. Walking on the Coliseum floor, looking up into the formerly marble-covered stands, and seeing the reconstructed ramp where wild animals were unleashed on the victims made it clear that the Romans, while inflicting death and destruction, also extracted great wealth from all whom they conquered – and did it all to the cheers of hundreds of thousands. The spectacles of the Coliseum reminded everyone, particularly their own citizens, of the brutal power of the Empire. 

And on a more pleasant note, the fountains and the art that adorn almost every piazza throughout Rome and so many other Italian cities create a civic beauty that we could use more of. The Sistine Chapel is stunning. And we loved walking the steep cobblestone streets of smaller fortress-on-hilltop towns in Umbria like Assisi (of St. Francis fame), Orvieto, and Todi. These towns were way less crowded, yet equally enjoyable with their history and charm.

But even if all the history weren’t there, I would still go to Italy just to eat. One of the summer reading books recommended by my friend Holly is Dirt. It’s about learning the art and business of French cooking. My big takeaway was that French cooking is way too hard and the chefs are way too caught up in the tiniest things. Dude. Lighten up. There’s also a big chip on French cooks’ shoulders about whether  the French or the Italians were the first great cooks. After my summer travels, my money is on Italy. But, no matter who was first, give me simplicity every single time. With each dish and meal, I was overwhelmed by the flavors that emerged from the simplest ingredients and the freshness of Italian food.

It all starts with tomatoes. I love tomatoes. One of life’s great pleasures is biting into a fresh tomato. Most grocery store tomatoes look great, but they are nowhere near fresh. The best tomatoes are recently picked and somehow, love and small gardens make them taste better. During one of my college summers, I worked on a huge farm run by a beautiful family up in Red Bluff, California. One of their main crops was almonds (They pronounced it like salmon without the s. My friend Heather is part of another beautiful family that knows the giant machines that violently shake the trees to get the almonds to fall. She said that the farmers call them almonds on the tree and “ammonds” off of it, because they had to shake the “L” out of them. Hilarious.) Getting back on track – they also grew thousands of tons of tomatoes. I spent hours watching the tomato-picker machine, staffed by 6 or 8 workers, that could harvest a full truck (50,000 pounds) of tomatoes every 30 minutes. Most of the tomatoes that we eat are machine-harvested and don’t get to us until weeks beyond their picking date. As much of a marvel as those machines are, the real marvel is the taste of a fresh tomato.

Jill and I walked through several farmers’ markets (Mercati) in Rome – on a hot day the aromas of the tomatoes and other fresh fruits and vegetables were overwhelmingly wonderful. After eating fresh tomatoes throughout our vacation, I am convinced that the best ones in the world come from either Italy or Arkansas. I can still taste world-class tomatoes I’ve enjoyed at the Pink Tomato Festival in Bradley County, from a fabulous tiny farmstand in Pangburn where you just take some tomatoes and put your money in a coffee can, and from my friend Craig’s mom’s garden. Arkansas can grow them like nobody else, but the Italians win for the amazing things they do with their tomatoes in their kitchens. It seems kind of silly that one of the reasons I loved the food in Italy is that it reminded me of something I already knew from my Arkansas days – simplicity and fresh quality ingredients make all the difference. 

The bruschettas we ate, the insalata mistas we loved, the tomato sauces with different types of tomatoes, along with the fresh basil accompanying almost everything, were all inspiring and immensely enjoyable. Of course, you mix in some fresh pasta or a perfect pizza crust, and you’ve got an unbeatable meal. It’s not easy to be a vegan in Italy, but there are a gazillion vegetarian options. Also, going back to my post on The Table, there is a slow food movement in Italy – a movement devoted to maintaining the traditions of eating local food and taking your time doing it. No matter where you turn, Italy confronts you with a flat out truth – they know how to do food, they know how cooking and enjoying food cultivates civilized beauty and togetherness, and they know how to do all of it with love and personality.

My goal is to bring some of these lessons back to our kitchen in Malibu. In Italy, we never ate a pizza that was not spectacular. My 500-degree-oven-baked pizzas at home are good, but those 800-degree ovens are something I may need to invest in. My favorite non-tomato-based dish from our trip was Cacio e Pepe, a recipe that really features just three ingredients – fresh pasta, freshly grated cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. I have made it twice since we came home, using two different recipes, and it will be something we eat once or twice a month from now on. (The Martha Stewart recipe is my favorite right now.) And I now get what al dente means – I still want my pasta on the well-al-dente side, but I overcook it less now. I always thought that pasta wasn’t ready until it sticks on the wall when you dramatically throw it there. Turns out – that’s overdone. Not al dente. So my graduate school kitchen wall was not the salute to quality cooking that I thought it was. I’m still learning!

And now that we’re back to our pretty perfect summer in Malibu, I’m trying to make it even more perfect. I’ve planted basil, Jill has started her tomatoes, and we are seeking out freshness at local farmers’ markets. Pizzas, cacio e pepe, and bruschettas are making weekly appearances (and disappearances!) at our dinner table, and we are committed to reliving and re-enjoying our Italian adventures for many years to come. Buon appetito

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Lingering on the Last Day

Alternate Title: Pressing that “SEND” Button is Really Hard!

One of the benefits of writing this blog is renewing connections with old friends. In fact, a friend, who is a regular reader, and I have actually become closer because of our interactions regarding my writing. After over forty years of knowing this person, I had no idea that he wrote poetry. I didn’t know because being a poet is certainly not his day job, and most, if not all, of that creative writing is seen only by him. Part of that reason is his humility, and the other part is something I know all too well – publishing anything that invites scrutiny is frightening. 

As a principal, a superintendent, and a blog writer, pressing that “SEND” button on a newsletter that goes to thousands of email inboxes has always made my pulse go up. Is it really ready? How could it be better? Is there a typo somewhere? (Note: I hate publishing something with a typographical error. Hate it. I look and look, but eventually, even after proofreading it for the umpteenth time, I somehow miss an error that is just staring me in the face. My friend (and awesome neighbor) Jack is always quick to point out the errors he finds. Though he is a little too gleeful about it, I try to think of it as just another way for me to bring joy into a friend’s heart. I do take some pleasure when I don’t hear from him, because I know he scoured it and found nothing.) But, more important than the absence of typos is the question of whether the piece of writing is interesting, inspiring, humorous, insightful, or anything else that makes reading it a worthwhile and pleasurable experience. 

So yes – it’s still stressful. After all these years, publishing is still stressful. That being said, it’s easier now. I have more confidence and I am comfortable with what I’ve written. And even when there are errors, I will be OK.

My friend Tommy, the poet, is not there yet. I’ve encouraged him, but he’s not quite ready to share his creativity with the world. I feel beyond fortunate that he shares some of them with me. I always marvel that the meaning he conveys in just a few words is more impactful than what I say in far too many.  Recently, he let me read this one:


My best friend retired today.
He sent me a screenshot
As he sped from the parking lot
Giving his life’s work the finger.
How blessed are they
Who on their Job’s last day
Drag their feet and linger.

I love this sentiment – the blessing of not being entirely ready to close the door on your life’s work. Not everyone can have a job they absolutely love. I feel beyond fortunate that for the last 39 years, I had the privilege of working in a field that inspired me, gave me meaning, challenged me, and pushed me to give all I could give. I understand why Jackson Brown wanted to Stay at the end of a concert – and I certainly wanted to linger at the end of my career.

I always thought that I would be an attorney. Part of that was just wanting to be like my father, who has been practicing law since 1964 – almost 60 years! I am told that when I was three or so, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said that I wanted to be just like my dad. When asked what my father did, I proudly stated, “He’s a lawnmower!” To be fair, lawnmower does sound like lawyer, and being a lawnmower seemed way more understandable than whatever a lawyer was. My dad’s friends got a big kick out of that.

I think I could have been very happy as a lawnmower/lawyer, but I lucked out by trying education first. Many of you know I recently retired. Again. Leaving the stresses of the job was not hard on the last day. In fact, if it weren’t for the stress, which only got worse over time, I would probably still be there. But leaving everything else tied to it – the sense of purpose, the challenges, and the people – did indeed make me want to linger.

As I mentioned earlier, not everyone can luck out and find a job that is also a meaningful and challenging vocation. But almost everyone can find a job where the people they work with infuse beauty, humor, hope, and inspiration into their lives. I know that in every place I’ve worked, I have fallen in love with the people I worked with. My colleagues and I struggled to overcome incredible challenges together. Teachers, principals, and nearly everyone in public education aspire to help all students overcome daunting challenges: a lack of basic needs, incredibly challenging disabilities, difficult home lives, debilitating insecurities, and so much more. Great teachers have always prioritized students and all of their complexities over subjects and all of their details.  

When I first met Dr. Zander, Dawson’s music teacher in high school, she was speaking before a concert. She said, “I love music. I adore it. But way more than that, I love teaching students how to love music and how to create it.” With just those few words, I understood why Dawson loved her class so much, and I knew that she was an extraordinary teacher. That stands in stark contrast to another teacher who once told me, “I teach history, but I consider myself more of a historian than a history teacher.” I’ll take Dr. Zander’s attitude every time. She is working hard and finding joy trying to understand each student, overcoming all the barriers that she can, and in the end, like she did with Dawson, helping her students climb remarkable heights. 

I was proud to do my best for students with my colleagues in San Lorenzo, Lodi, Malibu, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and Placentia/Yorba Linda. Every day, we sought inspiration from one another, developed creative solutions together, shared our successes and failures, and came to work appreciating each other’s passion, humor, professionalism, and talent. 

It is these relationships, on top of all of the purpose and challenges, that made me linger on my last day before retiring, on my last day in all of my jobs, and even on the last day of each school year. So thank you, Tommy, for your beautifully expressed and compressed thoughts. You have given me insight into my own life that I certainly needed. And I hope that one day, you’ll press that “SEND” button yourself.

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Banksy Photo by Zorro4 on Pixabay

The Battle to Preserve the Table in our Lives

Thanks to all of you who added outstanding recommendations to my summer reading blog post. As always, your comments make the post come alive, and I’m grateful. I’ve already read two of the recommendations (On the Road, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid), and I’m working on a third (Dirt). I’ve included the expanded list at the bottom of this post for those of you who read the post before all of the additions.

One of the many funny yet wistful parts of Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid focuses on inventions in the fifties and sixties. TV deserves special mention, as it changed everything. In 1950, virtually no households had a TV. By 1952, over one third had them, and it wasn’t long before a majority of homes were entertained by a box. Staying inside became a lot more popular. And then Bryson describes the equally great invention of the TV Dinner, introduced to America in 1954 – “the best bad food ever produced.” He loved them. I loved the idea of them, but it truly was bad food. In four short years, we lost the focus on being outdoors, the role of cooking was dramatically diminished, and then, as Bryson writes, “Some other innovative genius produced special folding trays that you could eat from while watching television, and that was the last time any child – indeed any male human being – sat at a dining room table voluntarily.”

TV did indeed change everything.

Some of my memories of TV include getting up early to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. I ran downstairs, flipped on some lights, turned the TV on, and waited. Before 6:00 AM, the only thing I saw was a test pattern with a picture of a compass-like something and a Native American person. You too can experience my early Saturday mornings as a kid with this awesome YouTube video. (To get the full experience, make sure your sound is on!) Then, just before 6:00, the Star Spangled Banner would play, followed by the boring farm report featuring weather and commodity prices, then came the cartoons! Good living! Another TV memory – my brother Pat reminded me of a rule our Dad had. He would find all four of his kids staring at the TV, and would ask us what we were watching. If we didn’t know (and sometimes we didn’t), he turned the TV off and sent us outside for the rest of the day. Pretty good rule, actually.

Eating dinner in front of the TV was frowned upon in our house. Possibly because the family dinner at our table was important, but also because we could not be trusted. Well, my brother Bill could not. Once, we were going to watch some show or miniseries on TV as a family, and Mom made the bad decision to serve her famous spaghetti Bolognese. (Here’s the recipe.) Bill, who was probably 7 at the time, decided to act like he was tripping as he came into the TV room, then he actually tripped and literally threw his spaghetti, the red sauce, and the plate against the wall. Mom and Dad were apoplectic. We had to act like it wasn’t funny, but damn, it was really funny. We all think it’s hilarious now, even Mom and Dad. Time heals.

Eating dinner at the table has always been important to me as a dad. I mentioned it as one of my 61 Life Lessons. It’s a time to slow down, have a conversation, connect with each other, and hopefully enjoy some excellent food together. I would say we order in once every two weeks, and go out to dinner about the same. So as a family, we tend to cook dinner and sit down at the table at least six nights a week. I love it, and I admit, I’m a bit of a pain in the ass about it. I do get eye rolls for expecting everyone to be at the table the minute dinner is ready. Come on people – dinner should be eaten when it’s perfectly ready! It makes me lovable. Kind of.

I played golf last week with three guys who share my love of the dinner table. In fact, they take that passion to a whole new level and they are actually making a living out of it. Like Bill Bryson and me, they believe the table is a lost part of our culture. We are in too big of a hurry, and we all have too many distractions. They are a remarkably talented bunch – two of them are sommeliers and all three are high level chefs. They are using their skills to bring back the American dinner table, one high level experience at a time. They fly around the country, hunting, fishing, and gathering in their destination, and using their bounty to figure out their menu. They then set up a beautiful outdoor dining environment, cook everything over an open flame, and serve spectacular wines to go with the meal. They seek to create an environment that develops appreciation for local food and local beauty, while fostering an atmosphere of togetherness, meaningful conversation, and eye to eye contact. It sounds amazing. My friend Cathy would call their dinners a “mountaintop experience.” While the artistic level of presentation in our home may not compare at all to theirs, when we prepare a dinner for our friends, our food is very good, the conversation is outstanding, our wine is significantly less expensive (but still excellent) and I’m guessing our meals cost way less per person than the one my new golfing buddies serve. Still if I ever get an invite to a Kiawe Outdoor event, I am immediately RSVPing with an enthusiastic YES!

Last thought – Now that Jill and I are empty nesters, we do eat some of our meals in front of the TV, and yes, we eat on those god-forsaken TV trays. With just the two of us, the table can seem oversized. We are frequent users of the remote control, and we pause often to talk – sometimes about what we are watching, sometimes about our day, sometimes about whatever comes to mind. I’m not sure what to think of this new development. I’m trying to be flexible and open-minded. But I relish any opportunity to eat outside, dine with friends, and be that rare American who actually wants to sit at the table each night with family and friends.

A toast – To the table!

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My Summer Reading List Recommendations 

Books recommended by readers (Thank you – I look forward to reading them!)

Summer Reading – Having a Blast

I’ve never believed in predestination. I believe that we all have far more than one possible path. My son Dawson always marvels at all of the things that had to happen, just in his parents’ lives, for him to come into existence. It is indeed a marvel. How did an oddball kid from Arkansas end up marrying a math whiz/cheerleader from Venice High School in California? A lot of things had to happen, and a lot of things had to not happen, for Dawson to eventually happen. It could have easily ended up some other way. When Dawson questions one of my parenting decisions, I remind him that he’s lucky just to be here. #dadoftheyear

So what is it that creates the paths we travel? And what is it that changes us or leads us to make our path-altering decisions? While there’s a lot of me that hasn’t changed during the course of my life, I believe I am a much different person today than I was in 1980 as I left Arkansas for California. What made those changes happen?

My friend George recently gave me a beautiful book by David Cook that begins with a quote from Zig Ziglar, “Two things that can change us are the people we meet and the books we read.” I’ve been thinking about that quote for the last couple of weeks, and I have not yet found a reason to disagree.

I have read many books over the years that have opened my mind, taught me new ways of thinking, and pushed me to be a better human being. I seek out these books and I’m grateful for their role in changing me into a different, and hopefully a better, father, husband, friend, leader, and educator. If you’ve read this blog regularly, you know I’m always looking at books for inspiration and self-improvement.

But here’s the thing. It’s summer. And as Sergeant Hulka said to Psycho in the movie Stripes, “Lighten up, Francis.” I don’t always need to be on the self-improvement and life-changing path. There is time in life for smelling roses, for taking the path less traveled, and for not going one million miles an hour. That’s why summer reading lists are a thing, and I’m all in.

Summer is a time when I read mostly just to entertain myself, and I find that it’s time well invested. I just finished reading an older John Grisham book, Playing for Pizza, which in no way changed me, but it sure made my flight from Little Rock to Los Angeles (a direct flight no less!) go a lot faster. Before that, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Demon Copperhead, and as usual with her books, I was totally consumed by both her story and her writing. I frequently pick up Calvin and Hobbes collections, just to laugh and escape. I read cookbooks, seeking interesting stories, ideas, and recipes. 

Summer reading lists highlight books meant to be read barefoot in a lounge chair, sipping a cool beverage, escaping from our normal life, however lovely or challenging it may be. It’s not easy for me, but I know it’s good for me to sometimes channel Baloo from the Jungle Book, looking for the bare necessities and forgetting about my worries and my strife. Maybe Paul Simon was thinking about Baloo when he wrote the lyrics, “Slow down, you move too fast.” Keith Urban knows what I’m talking about, as he sings, “Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life, was all that wasted time?” Almost 40 years ago, Bill Waterson published a comic strip where Hobbes the tiger muses, “You know what I like about summer days? They’re just made for doing things . . . Even if it’s nothing. To which Calvin lazily retorts, “Especially if it’s nothing.” 

There you go.

Summer reading books help me to channel Baloo, Paul, Calvin, and Keith. And I need a distraction like reading to keep me from doing something productive. Otherwise, I’ll start cleaning out a drawer and throwing away stuff that does not spark joy.

And by the way, research is on my side here. A key ingredient of being mentally healthy is having downtime. It’s something missing in the lives of many of our overachieving and over-scheduled children. Calvin had it right. Play is a wonderful thing. (And to avoid any confusion, I’m speaking of the comic strip Calvin. I started off saying I don’t believe in predestination, so clearly, I am not referring to John Calvin.)

Ever since 2010, I have kept an annotated bibliography of books I’ve read. I’ve been surprised to find people who appreciate my book lists and my thoughts on them. I even have a section highlighting books that have changed my life and kept me thinking.

But what I don’t have is a section on summer reading lists – books that may not change you or make you better, but they sure will help you forget about life for a little while, learn a little bit, and journey away from wherever you are. And maybe, just maybe, the escapes provided by these books are some of the butterfly wings that somehow created changes that have led me (and Dawson) to this moment in time. 

I’ve taken books from my bibliography that I think make great summer reading books. Take a look below and see what you think. And I would appreciate your comments on books you highly recommend for summer reading.

Thanks, as always, for reading! And this summer, at least every once in a while, do your best to lighten up.

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My Summer Reading List Recommendations 

Books recommended by readers (Thank you – I look forward to reading them!)

My Life is Better with Less Clutter

I was not born with the “neat and tidy” gene. In fact, everything about me wants to be messy. My mom and dad had to deal with it while I was growing up. My dad tried some rather drastic measures to help me address my shortcomings. One time, after asking me for the 234th time to clean up my room, he took everything in my bedroom (and I mean everything) and threw it outside into the back yard. Everything. It was a ten-foot drop from the back of the house to the back yard. Not everything survived unscathed. And while he made his point, he did not fix the problem.

(Note: If you read this blog regularly, you know that my amazing dad is one of my greatest mentors and best friends. That assessment, and our relationship, remains untarnished – and possibly improved – by my memories, and frequent re-tellings, of the sometimes drastic measures he used growing up).

My freshman roommate, Jon Marley, was so kind to put up with me. His side of the room was always spotless and neat, while my side had dirty clothes, mostly-empty Domino’s Pizza boxes, empty beverage cans, and I don’t know what else piled onto every floor space possible. People would stop and come into our room just to marvel at my side of our Odd Couple room. And through it all, Jon never lost it. I remember him hugging me hard one time after I cleaned it up. He got to enjoy a tidy room for a couple of days before it started to lose its shine all over again. You’d think that his reaction would have encouraged me to change my ways. But neither my Dad’s sometimes extreme measures, nor my roommate’s patient and appreciative ways changed me.

Then, in April of 2018, I met Marie.

I was at a conference listening to a group of architects talk about designing classrooms. They discussed their frustration with seeing what happened to classrooms after they were constructed. After designing a room that allowed teachers to help students learn in a variety of ways, with a naturally lit and spacious environment, they would come back to see these spaces being used differently than designed. They were too often disappointed to see their rooms crammed full of stuff, and often that stuff had little to do with student learning. Sometimes it was a shrine to the teacher’s passions in life. That could work when the passion was clearly related to the subject matter, but often it was about a sports team, a musical group, a hobby, travels, or something else that made the teacher happy but had very little to do with student learning. The architects felt that this cluttered approach actually robbed the classroom of so much of its teaching and learning potential.

The architects wished that teachers would follow Marie Kondo’s advice, where every single addition to the classroom was thoughtfully placed to spark learning. I agree. Everything in the classroom should help teachers teach and help students learn. And I have seen many teachers do just that, though as the architects attested, not all do. But I digress. I had never heard of Marie Kondo before that. Upon asking, I learned that the book they were referring to was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read it cover-to-cover that night.

Here’s the thing – humans collect stuff. I don’t know why. Almost all of us worry about money, and yet we buy more stuff, and we keep it. It’s cluttered, it’s messy, and we end up complaining about all the clutter in our homes. Jerry Seinfeld is with me. In a recent Tonight Show appearance, he joked, “All things on Earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage. Your home is a garbage processing center where you buy new things, bring them into your house, and slowly crappify them over time.” We can be better. 

I knew I could be better. 

Marie Kondo believes that when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your life in order too. It sounds a little hyperbolic, but more and more, I’m becoming a believer.

I have taken two central lessons from reading and re-reading this book. 

  1. Surround yourself only with the things that “spark joy” in your life. They can be beautiful, artistic, functional, and sometimes sentimental. But every item must “spark joy.” If it does not, GET RID OF IT. And be careful buying new stuff. As Sheryl Crow said, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”
  2. You should not need to look for anything, other than the remote and your glasses. In a drawer, in a cabinet, or on a shelf, everything should have its own space. When I open my t-shirt drawer, I can see every shirt. No piles! Things at the bottom of piles never get seen or used. Marie taught me to fold my clothes so that I maximize space and everything is visible. There is no digging for spatulas in the kitchen. Every pot and pan has its own space.

Very early in the morning on the day after I came back from that conference, I went into the walk-in closet in our bedroom while Jill was still sleeping, closed the door, and went to work. I made a huge pile of clothes I had not worn in years, clothes that no longer fit, and even clothes I kind of liked but did not love. Jill woke up and saw the huge piles. She asked what I was doing. Then, as I was excitedly explaining it, she said, “Actually, I don’t want to know, and I’m not doing whatever it is you’re doing.” 

She was not yet a convert.

A week later on a Saturday morning, Jill woke up to see what seemed like half of our kitchen stuff piled up on the dining room table. She gave me a look and said, “Is there anything left?” I said we don’t need 7 spatulas, 13 stirring spoons, or any of these extra pots and pans. She rolled her eyes and let me do my Kondo-ing, and now we can see everything in our kitchen. I’ve never missed those seven spatulas, and the few that we kept are the ones I love.

Five years later, Jill is mostly in. I’ve taken over the laundry, because everything, including t-shirts and kitchen towels, has to be folded just the right way. In her Tom Sawyer-esque way, she has reluctantly given up that task in her life.

It’s not easy or automatic. There are certain drawers that we have to fight to keep organized. And every two months, we give more stuff away. But now, it’s become part of our lives, and I know for a fact that it has helped me to overcome my natural tendency to be an absolute slob. My Dad and my college roommate are probably both wondering why they had to deal with the “before” version of me. Sorry guys. Neither drastic measures nor unending patience worked. I needed to see the light on my own.

One of my mentors, Neil Schmidt, an amazing superintendent, leader, and friend, had a large desk that had nothing on it other than a phone. Someone gave him a little sign that said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then an empty desk  . . .” Now that I know a little more about meditation and the benefits it can bring, having an uncluttered house and an uncluttered mind sounds incredibly healthy. There’s a book I read a while back (my dad recommended it) titled 10% Happier. It’s written by a sports writer who suffered a panic attack on national television. He gives meditation a lot of credit for his more centered and more at peace life now, saying that it’s not a panacea, but it has made him about 10% happier. In the same way, following Marie Kondo’s rules has made our home a quieter and less hectic place. Though I won’t put a number on it, both Jill and I would say that we are definitely happier because of it. After all, life is complicated enough. If we can simplify and appreciate all that we have, that’s pretty darn good.

By the way, I still have plenty of unfixed issues. For example, when it comes to being a “clean as you go” cook, I would rate myself as a 3 out of 10. The good news is, I’m way better than I used to be. I used to be a negative 1,356. And the better news is, Jill is pretty awesome about putting up with it and even making up for my deficiencies. I try to remedy this problem as I start each day – before I leave the house every morning, the dishwasher is empty, everything is put away in its place, and the kitchen is spotless. 

So, while I have a ways to go, I am getting better. Here’s to progress, and to embracing the fewer-than-we-have-now things that spark joy!

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May All Your Favorite Bands Stay Together

“We’re getting the band back together!” That was Jake and Elwood’s dream in The Blues Brothers Movie. Getting the band back together is a worthy dream. During my college years, while driving back and forth between Little Rock and Palo Alto, the Blues Brothers cassette kept me entertained and awake as I sang along with it at the top of my lungs. In fact, one of the crazy things I did as principal of Malibu High School was sing the Blues Brothers’ Everybody Needs Somebody at the Malibu High School Talent Show with senior and eventual Homecoming King Joe Bolter. He was a perfect Elwood (and continues to have a highly successful career in comedy producing/writing), and I was a semi-adequate Jake. What we lacked in talent we made up for in exuberance. And I’m pretty sure the audience was laughing with us.

Whatever people thought of my performance, we had real talent at MHS. Two of my former students formed Dawes, the now highly successful folk rock band. Actually, three of them formed the original band (Simon Dawes), but that band broke up (a theme in this post). The songwriter/guitarist has had a wildly successful independent career, and the other two continue to slay it with Dawes. I have many of their songs on my playlists, and I even try to strum them out on my own guitar from time to time. One of my favorites is “All Your Favorite Bands,” which finds the singer remembering and wishing the best for an old friend, ending each chorus with “And may all your favorite bands stay together.”

That’s what we want: we want our favorite bands to stay together. Whether it’s a band we listen to, or a band we are in, keeping it together is at the core of our desires in life. And these bands don’t have to be musical. They can be bands of brothers and sisters who work or play together, cheer each other on, and carry burdens for each other through challenging times. And while there are exceptions – the Rolling Stones, for example – most bands don’t stand the test of time. And that’s OK. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

I started thinking about this after my friend Billy Mitch sent me a video of musicians around the world singing “The Weight” by The Band, another folk rock band. The Band is yet another group that eventually broke up, but their legacy is long-lasting. While “The Weight” was not a top hit in its time, it has become recognized as one of the most influential rock songs of all time. It’s been interpreted a number of ways, but the final line of the chorus, “You put the load right on me,” speaks of taking on burdens so that others can live more freely. That sentiment has won wars, cemented loves and friendships, and founded religions. Great bands share the load, giving all their members, and maybe even their fans, the freedom to live richer lives. 

This video that Billy Mitch shared (which is TOTALLY worth five minutes of your time) was created by Playing for Change, a non-profit group working to inspire and connect the world through music. As stated on their website, “Great songs can travel everywhere bridging what divides us and inspiring us to see how easily we all get along when the music plays.” The Band didn’t stay together, yet they continue to inspire people on a worldwide basis. And when I watch this video, as opposed to watching the horror that is often the daily news, I am filled with hope and love.

So what are our bands that we want to keep together? And what if, in spite of Blues Brothers-esque efforts, we can’t get our favorite bands back together? Speaking literally, I think the world would have been a better place if The Eagles, The Beatles, Queen, and Pink Floyd could have stayed intact. But going beyond the music, we all have relationships and teams we wish could last, or could have lasted, forever – our loves, our families, our friends, our work colleagues, our religious and volunteer groups, and whatever other bands that have come together in our lives. In a perfect world, those friendships, loves, colleagues, teams, and families would stay together and prevail in their prime for the duration of our lives. But in our non-perfect, but still remarkably beautiful world, it’s best just to appreciate the bands we love while we are or were part of them, and no matter what, to let their lessons, beauty, warmth, purpose, hope, love, and laughter nourish our souls for all the days of our lives. And when we find a new band, we can bring all of those previous experiences to it, allowing us to be the best and most supportive band member we can be.

Thanks to all of my fellow band members who have shaped my life and nurtured my heart and soul over the years. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance to, every once in a while, get our bands back together and celebrate what we had.

And … may all your favorite bands stay together.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Leaning Toward the Sun

There are a lot of things in this world I don’t understand: 

  • Mean people
  • Why dogs don’t live longer
  • Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and all of the other diseases that cut our loved ones’ lives short
  • Why my brother Pat was born with all of the artistic talent, while I was born with none
  • Linear algebra – My son Dawson understands it, and I accept that he has gifts that I do not
  • Why people litter
  • And 456,294,234,567 other things that only ChatGPT knows (well, sometimes it’s wrong, but that won’t matter . . . unless it’s disastrous) and is eager to plagiarize in well-written prose

Understanding something, even a little bit, provides a sense of satisfaction that is hard to describe. I don’t change my oil any more, but I do know how to do it. I know public education pretty darn well. And I know enough about music, swimming, golf, cooking, website development, writing, and a few other things to appreciate those who are truly gifted at it. For me, the search for understanding is about leaning into what you want to be better at and what makes our lives on this planet so wonderful.

Let’s start with the Sun. I am no astronomer, but I love understanding why we have our seasons. I’ve written about this before, but I think we should all know our planet’s relationship to the Sun and why it causes seasons. Thousands of years ago, without the aid of the amazing Hubble or Webb telescopes, or even Copernicus’s and Einstein’s theories, Native American and other cultures around the world understood the significance of the solstices and equinoxes. In fact, I think they understood this science better than most of us do today. Right now, as we are about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Earth’s Northern Hemisphere (which is where most of this blog’s readers live) is leaning more and more into the Sun each day. By the time we get to the summer solstice on June 21, the Northern Hemisphere will be leaning a full 23.4 degrees into the Sun.

That’s the magic number – 23.4 degrees. Earth leans that far off its axis. On December 21, the Northern Hemisphere leans that far away from the Sun, and on June 21, we lean that far towards it. Like the Earth, I’m trying to lean into the Sun as we approach the summer solstice.

Who doesn’t love leaning into the Sun? My dogs certainly love it. They will find a spot where the late morning sun shines through a glass door and just stay there, moving slowly with the Sun as its angle changes. As I’ve said before, I should strive to be more like my dogs. We have had a long, gray, and wet winter in southern California. It’s like I’m in Seattle. It’s like I’m living in a perpetual The Mamas and The Papas song. My friend Chris wrote in a recent post, “In April, California combs out her long, wet hair, and the hillsides turn silky and gold.” (I lean into his writing like the Sun – that is a great line.)

Last weekend was the first sunny and warm one in months. I leaned into it with five hours of pickleball, outdoor walks, and cooking outside. I haven’t played golf in months, but I’m hoping that can be part of this lean as well. 

I don’t like it when I feel like life is happening to me. Sometimes, way more than I would like, it’s unavoidable. But life is more meaningful to me when I am leaning toward something. My days are more worthwhile when I’m fully aware of my desire to carpe that diem, to complete a task, to learn something new or get better at something I love to do, to help another person, to make the most of beautiful weather, to enjoy a fleeting moment, to make the most of a shining sun that I haven’t seen in a while, or anything else that makes me feel like I’m making the most of a day. If we do that on enough days, we start making the most of our lives.

So, you go, Earth! Continue leaning into the Sun on your rotational journey. As for me, I plan to lean just as hard, toward our Sun and toward other endeavors to make the most of each day.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Old and New Little Rock Memories

I went back this week for a short visit to my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m proud of being from Little Rock. It’s very different from my Malibu home of 30 years (and yet there are many similarities), and it’s  full of so many memories that made me who I am. These memories I share with family and friends there will always make it home, even though that period of my life ended over forty years ago.

In the bridge from The Beatles’ Two of Us*, Paul and John sing,

You and I have memories
Longer than the road
That stretches out ahead

Going home always makes me reflect on those memories, while creating a few new ones on the way.

The day before Jill and I arrived, vicious tornadoes slammed Arkansas and many other southern/midwestern states. One of those tornadoes struck very close to home. My sister Martha’s house was significantly damaged by the winds and falling trees, while my brother’s, my mom’s, and my dad’s houses were spared. But my sister feels fortunate, as many of her neighbors were hammered with far worse damage, some losing everything. Driving through her neighborhood reminded me of my own Malibu neighborhood after the devastating 2018 fires. Some houses were destroyed, some were severely damaged, and others were miraculously unharmed. It makes no sense looking at it. I believe those seeking to understand the reason behind the randomness are asking the wrong question. Stuff happens in life. Sometimes, it’s really bad. Most of the time, we won’t ever know why. What’s really important is how we react to the stuff that happens. 

Our family, friends, and neighbors can give us strength in that reaction. And we can do the same for those we love. And our memories of what we have all been through together and how we have supported and been supported by each other make us even stronger.

I remember one time, my brother Pat, my dad, and I were cycling on one of the beautiful forested roads in Arkansas, one of those roads that stretches out ahead forever, and we needed to eat lunch. The only thing open in town was a small mom and pop grocery. They didn’t have any prepared foods. While we were searching the shelves and considering our options, the mom of the store asked us if we wanted a sandwich, and when we said yes, she just opened up some bread, deli meat, and mustard from off the shelf, and made us three sandwiches. She prorated the cost and said that she would use the rest of it herself. That’s the best of Arkansas – neighbors who will do anything for you, whether they know you or not.

I saw that happening in Martha’s neighborhood after the tornado. Neighbors were helping each other with chainsaws and backhoes. In Arkansas, you don’t need to rent those tools. There’s always someone with the right tools. And if you’re not a tool person (my friend Merlin wisely advised me to stay away from the chainsaws – one more injury would just make things that much more difficult), you can bring a cooler full of water or Cokes, or just help with hauling stuff away. I said in my 61 lessons post that family is the main course in life, but having great neighbors is like pie for dessert, or more accurately, pie with ice cream, which everyone knows is the best dessert. 

The South does not have a monopoly on good neighbors. My Malibu neighbors would have fit right in, helping out and doing whatever needed to be done. It was my neighbors in the Malibu Volunteer Fire Brigade who helped to save my house and so many others. And I have so many work colleagues who are also the same way. Crisis sometimes brings out the best in people and shows us what we are truly made of. If we could convince ourselves that we don’t need a crisis to come together and help each other out, maybe our world would be a little less angry.

In thinking about that line from the Beatles, after 61 years, it’s interesting to recognize that my memories may be longer than the road ahead. It does not make the road ahead less interesting or inviting, but it does make reflecting on my wonderful memories somehow seem even more important. After all, it’s our memories and our choices, far more than our possessions and job titles, that make us who we are. 

So here’s to memories old and new from my childhood home in Little Rock, as well as all of the memories I’ve created with my family, my neighbors, my friends, and my colleagues. Those memories contribute to the hopes and dreams, and eventually the realities, of whatever our road ahead is going to bring. 

Let’s see what that road ahead brings today!


To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

*If you’re a Beatles fan, then while you may not recognize the lyric, you’ve heard this song before. It’s from the Let it Be album. I got to know it better while watching the amazing Netflix documentary, Let it Be, which contains several studio sessions as they developed and eventually recorded the song. While the song is written by Paul about his wife Linda, some people thing this section is about the impending end of The Beatles, and all of the memories Paul and John share.

The stunning and beautifully tragic lead photo was taken by my sister Martha. Taken through her tornado-shattered window looking behind her house, you see that the woods that used to be there are practically gone, and so many houses were hit by the tornado that swept through west Little Rock. The other photo features my beautiful mom, my amazing father, and Martha and Pat, my two siblings who still live in Little Rock.

In Appreciation of Succinct Inspiration

Words matter. Or so I’ve been told.

One of the semi-apologetic phrases I often use with friends, work colleagues, and my wife is, “Don’t listen to the words I say. Seek the meaning behind those words.” That sounds like instructions an overly optimistic English teacher might have given the high school me, not knowing the limited depth of my mind. But it’s also a great line to use after saying something that came out all wrong.

Yeah. I’ve been there too often.

I pay more attention to words now. I read a little more carefully, and I listen to song lyrics a little harder. I am searching for beauty in the world, and words are a wonderful medium to reflect that beauty. And being a person with a rather short attention span – (OK – this is a true story – in my office, I have big windows looking out at a wooded area. And all throughout the day, squirrels are playing around out there. Squirrels! I have to really work not to be distracted. Also, I can tell a lot about the people I meet with by how they react when squirrels run by. I am always comforted by fellow distractible meeting attendees.) So where was I? Oh yes …

And being a person with a rather short attention span, one of my quests is the search for succinct beauty. 

I suppose that’s what poetry is. Finding succinct and powerful ways to encapsulate beauty, pain, and other complex concepts. And while I know there is beauty in the longer poems, for the reasons described above, I’m always looking for one-sentence treasures. 

I have always appreciated and found humor in a line of poetry my friend Billy Mitch recited back in high school. We were hanging out by the Arkansas River on a Friday night (that was the thing to do back then), when he stood up and said, “The moon hangs low, like a testicle in the sky.” I reached out this week to Billy Mitch to find out more about how he came up with it. He didn’t remember saying it (though I know he did), but he remembered that Robin Williams used a version of that line in a Shakespearean improvisation back in the 1970’s. Billy Mitch and Robin Williams are two of my favorite poets.

Ann Buxie is Malibu’s Poet Laureate. Back when I was principal at Malibu High School, she was a highly involved parent of one of our many outstanding students, and I still see her every once in a while in our neighborhood. Over dinner last Sunday night, my friend Karen shared a poem that Ann recently wrote:

I might not be all
I was, but I’m becoming 
what I’ve never been

Well . . . that’s pretty darn good. Ms. Buxie has delivered a one-sentence poem that hammers home points I’ve tried to make in several of my (much, much longer) blog posts. If Elaine’s (from Seinfeld) boss, Mr. Peterman, read one of my typical posts, I’m sure he would give me the same comment he gave her, “Well this certainly looks like a lot of words.” I know. I could learn the art of succinct inspiration. (The sound you hear right now is Dad yelling, “I’ve been telling you that your whole life!)

Like all high quality succinct poems, Ms. Buxie’s has so many different meanings. As we get older, we can lament the parts of life that challenge us more than they used to, or we can celebrate new learning that helps us evolve into someone different. We can focus on the hardships we have endured and how they have hardened or weakened us, or we can look at how those same hardships give us wisdom and perspective we would never otherwise have. Her three short lines have me looking at my future in a novel way.

My friend John is 94 years old. What is he doing? He’s on a tear of reading and learning about the history of African civilizations. He’s becoming a more learned person every day, and he’s a different person today than he was just a few years ago. Thanks for the inspiration, John. I want to be like you when I grow up.

So what am I doing each day, each week, and each month that is helping me to become what I’ve never been? And how am I celebrating that change and that growth?  That should be a key question I ask myself each day.

And I should not be lamenting my declining physical abilities, like the fact that I cannot compete with my half-my-age neighbor (Hi, Shane) in pickleball. Yes, he has way more pickleball skills than I do. And yes, my body is older, wider, and slower than his. To quote Toby Keith, “I ain’t as good as I once was. That’s just the cold, hard truth.”

But instead of lingering on that, the smart thing for me to do is simply to focus on becoming what I’ve never been.

I can do that.

And I can celebrate it.

But one day, Shane . . .

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here

And thanks to all of you who read my last post, 61 Life Lessons – A Work in Progress. It has become my 4th most-read post ever.

Photo of the Arkansas River at Murray Park by Jeff Woford

61 Life Lessons – A Work in Progress

I turn 61 years old this week. Hopefully, I am both older and wiser. I recently heard wisdom described as lessons you have learned in your life once you shed the associated emotion. I like that. 

A friend shared an article that Jon Gordon wrote when he turned 52, in which he shared 52 lessons he had learned in his life. I shared it with leaders in my school district and encouraged them to think about their own lists. I then followed my own advice, and that led to this post. Like the Spinal Tap amplifier that has a volume control that goes to eleven, which is clearly louder than ten, 61 lessons is certainly more than 52. And therefore, louder?

I’ve done a good deal of reflecting to come up with this list. I have also looked through my old blog posts to capture the life lessons I have written about. And I already know that this list will change as I keep examining it. Within minutes of putting it out there, I will wonder how I ever left off something super important, and I’ll ask myself why I included such a trivial lesson. That’s OK. Like all writing, you do what you can in the time you have, then press “publish,” though you know you could always make it better.

Again, I appreciate those who share their thoughts on my writing. I’d love your takes on my life lessons and I’d enjoy hearing about your own life lessons. These responses make the conversation so much better.

Without further ado, here is my list, at least as of March 13, 2023.


  1. I’m happiest when I am completely in the present moment.
  2. And I’m even happier when I am in a state of flow.
  3. The only person responsible for my happiness is me.
  4. Having a positive attitude makes your life (and others’) way better.
  5. Cooking food for others makes me genuinely happy.
  6. Worrying is a waste of time and effort. (I know this to be true, and yet I still waste time on it. I’m a work in progress.)
  7. Try not to see problems in life as huge and overwhelming. My friend Pat loves this quote by Anne Lamott:Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” We need to address our problems bird by bird.
  8. Vacations are a great way to feel that we have time affluence. But we should strive to seek that feeling of being time rich in our daily lives as well. Living like The White Rabbit (I’m late! I’m late!) is no way to live.
  9. Laughter is a cornerstone in my life. I try to surround myself with people who bring joy and laughter into my life. And I try to do the same for those I am around.
  10. Strive to be kind and grateful as many times each day as you can. The positive impacts of both are underrated.
  11. Never be mean, and, to the greatest extent possible, stay away from mean people.
  12. Venturing into the unknown keeps us young. I love adventures, though I’m not a thrill seeker. Some of my favorite memories stem from vacations as a kid and as an adult that did not go exactly as planned. That’s why I try not to overplan my vacations, something that not everyone in my two-person household agrees with.
  13. Family is the main course of life. And having great neighbors is like pie for dessert, or better yet, pie with ice cream, which is the best dessert. Great neighbors who are friends you can talk with, play with, and learn from make life far more enjoyable and far more interesting.
  14. One of the beauties of getting older is being less career-driven and more life-driven. It is freeing. Kris Krisofferson wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” The older I get, the more freedom I feel.


  1. You don’t lose weight by exercising more. What you eat is 90% of the battle. And the less processed food we eat, the healthier we’ll be. I know this to be true, and I love good food. It’s just one of many struggles in my very good life.
  2. Aerobic exercise helps us to live longer; strength training helps us to live better.
  3. And by combining both of those, we Don’t Let the Old Man In. Through hard exercise and good nutrition, we can swim against the relentless tide of decay and, even at my age and older, actually grow stronger.
  4. Having a coach makes me work harder and smarter.
  5. Sometimes getting better is just about not giving up. Professional Golfer Tony Finau, after he finally won his first professional tournament said, “A winner is just a loser that kept on trying.” I remember my dad helping me to get through long bike rides by saying, over and over again, “There’s just one more hill.” Even if he wasn’t telling the truth, he helped me persevere. 
  6. Healthy competition makes me better, and I love it. My beliefs about healthy competition, whether it’s pickleball, golf, swimming, cornhole, pingpong, or seeing how many rocks you can throw into that can over there, are that I really like winning, I don’t mind losing, and, most of all, I love playing the game.
  7. COVID sucks. Our era’s global pandemic stole too many lives and turned our world upside down. 
  8. The world’s longest living people prioritize family, belong to a strong and caring community, eat unprocessed food together, and move throughout the day.
  9. Maximize habits that are healthy, caring, and/or productive. And minimize your ones that are not. 


  1. Teachers who focus on memorization are missing the point. Memorization is nice, but it’s not the goal of learning. Understanding blows the doors off of memorization.
  2. Teaching is a spectacular career. I feel very fortunate to have hundreds of students that I still know and keep in touch with. 
  3. Being a lifelong learner (Steven Covey calls it Sharpening the Saw) is what it’s all about. It starts a flame if we can imbed that in mindset of the children we teach. It keeps us happier and makes us better if we make it part of who we are.
  4. We all need heroes. Among my heroes are my mom and dad, my amazing siblings, my wife and sons, my high school principal (Father Tribou), Jackie Robinson, Abraham Lincoln, and  Vin Scully. And now I know that I need to think more about this list, as it is quite incomplete. More later.
  5. I try to keep a sense of wonder about nature. I am awed by all that I learn about Earth, its 23.5 degree axis, its relation to the sun, moon, and planets in our solar system, and our tiny spot in our universe. I have so much to learn, and I’m looking forward to that learning.
  6. The teacher as coach model works far better than the traditional teacher model. I loved teaching Advanced Placement US History, mostly because it transformed me from teacher into a coach. Coached correctly, every student in the class feels that they are working together to meet college-level standards.
  7. My hope for each student is that they have at least one great reason to go to school each day. It could be a teacher or subject they love, a sport they are passionate about, something artistic that gives them meaning, or their daily conversations with the school custodian. One thing can make all the difference. Having more than that is even better.
  8. Our non-metric measurement system makes no sense. Acres, tablespoons, hectares, feet, Fahrenheit, and miles – they are arbitrary and nonsensically related. It’s something I hope we can remedy in my lifetime. The mathematical beauty of the metric system is far more understandable. I will be writing a future blog post on my aspirations for the United States in this regard. We kind of have a non-metric calendar too, which also in my opinion, has all kinds of problems.  But that’s for a later post. 
  9. There is magic that happens in schools. If I only listened to the stories I hear from people who come into my principal’s or superintendent’s office, I might think I was in a school or district with nothing but problems. But when I get out of my office and into the classrooms, I am reminded of the powerful lessons and beautiful moments that occur in our classrooms every single day. I am proud to be an educator.


  1. When we camped as kids, one of our jobs was to leave the campground better than we found it. That’s how I try to treat my short time on Earth.
  2. Storytelling is essential in our lives. Great books and movies are wonderful stories, and, like visiting old friends throughout our lives, they are worth reading and watching again and again.
  3. I love a great museum, and I never need to spend more than one hour on any museum visit.
  4. I love lifelong sports, like swimming, golf, and pickleball, and my desire to get better at each of them, even at age 61, is one more reason to enjoy each and every day.
  5. I am an omnivore, but based on what I’ve learned about health and the planet, I am trending in a plant-based direction. And I don’t care what my son Ryan says; eggplant parmesan is an outstanding dish!
  6. Jill’s grandfather Charles Richards was right. When 5:00 PM arrived, he would often say to his bride, “Ah, Velma. This is what all of civilization has been working its way toward – the cocktail hour.”
  7. Writing these blog posts has become an important part of who I am. Joan Didion wrote, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” However imperfect I am as a writer, I love that it makes me both introspective and reflective. My thanks to my friends Dawnalyn, Jen, and Heather, as well as my son Ryan and my wife Jill for their constant insights, edits, encouragement, and friendship. I would not be the writer I am without you.


  1. We parents need to strive to find that perfect balance between adequately protecting our children and overdoing it by being a helicopter parent, or worse, a snowplow parent.
  2. Family dinners should be mandatory in family households. The ritual and the togetherness provide a rock of stability and solace for families.
  3. At a certain point in our children’s lives, the natural consequences for their poor decisions are far worse than any consequences we can assign. That’s when we move from the parental authority mode to the parental mentor mode. I have loved making that transition.
  4. Never let your kids beat you in any game, and celebrate when they finally do it. After that . . . it’s on.
  5. One of the hardest moments in our life was dropping our youngest child off at college. Jill and I are extremely happy in our empty nest, and we miss our kids terribly. To me, that means I’ve been lucky in marriage and child raising.
  6. Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite holiday. It’s the only day truly focused on family, with the added layer of celebrating family through cooking and food. What’s not to love?
  7. Albus Dumbledore said, “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Ability can open doors, but good choices and hard work are what can lead to success. Parenting is about making and modeling good choices for your children, and guiding your children to do the same in their lives.


  1. Do the best you can to save at least 10% of your salary, and when you get a raise, use part of that to increase your savings. It’s easier to save when you never felt like you had the money in the first place. Read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kyosaki, and make your children read it when they become teenagers.
  2. Don’t be afraid to change jobs. I’ve applied for many new jobs. Those applications have been both unsuccessful and successful, eventually leading to a career spanning seven jobs in five different school districts. I have absolutely no regrets.
  3. I am at my best when I spend one hour a week prioritizing my activities for the week, and 10 minutes each morning prioritizing my activities for the day. Steven Covey’s Big Rocks lesson is timeless.
  4. For those of us who are actually working to make the world a better place, and in doing so suffer the slings and arrows of critics, Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena speech can give us strength.
  5. Marie Kondo has shown me the light. Without going overboard, we should all make the effort to minimize the “stuff” we have, keeping only what we truly love, and making our homes and offices more simple and organized in the process. Then we need to do our best to not undo what we’ve done.
  6. The Lego Movie was spot on. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. I’m lucky to have been a part of so many wonderful teams in my career. One of the best things about going back to work as a superintendent has been getting to know and work with a new team of educational leaders who inspire me and make me better each and every day.
  7. I don’t think that a career has to give you purpose in life, but my goodness, I feel so fortunate that my career has given me four decades of a purpose-driven life.
  8.  Do everything you can to avoid credit card debt. Suffer through not having stuff you want (and sometimes need), pay off your balances, and live within your means.
  9. Dance like nobody’s watching, and email like it will be on the front page of the LA Times the next day.
  10. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” For all of its problems, past and present, I feel extremely fortunate to be an American.


  1. A good marriage gives a person the strength to deal with just about anything.
  2. My mom’s unconditional love helped me to believe in myself, even back in middle school when I had very little going for me. I would not be who I am without that love. Thanks, Mom.
  3. Love is the greatest risk of all, and the pain associated with having a loved one be ripped out of your life is unimaginable. But . . . We can survive the unimaginable. In fact, if we let ourselves, we can thrive.
  4. Knowing we are not alone in our battles makes those battles more manageable.
  5. Jean Valjean had it right: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!

– Mike

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here

Honoring our Presidents (and America) at Costco

I celebrated Presidents Day through a number of non-work activities, including a trip to my local Costco. On a day where we celebrate famous (and infamous) American leadership through the years, the most patriotic thing to do (aside from buying an on-sale mattress) may be going to Costco. I am a Costco fan. I’m not a Costco fanatic, but I respect those who are. My friend Amy says she likes a trip to Costco more than a day at Disneyland. Fighting words to some (my wife Jill included), but I like it.

I considered this week’s trip a win. I’ve called Costco “The $300 Store” for years – though it’s probably the $400 store now with inflation – but I got out this time for “just” $236. And nothing I bought was an impulse buy. Well, I did buy something unplanned – refrigerated tomato soup for $12 (call me crazy!) – but that’s it!

Here’s the thing. I am a highly informed grocery shopper. I actually enjoy grocery shopping. I look forward to reading the grocery mailers that come to my mailbox each Thursday.  I know the brands I like. I know the prices I expect. I know the layout of the stores where I shop. And I know what to stock up on when there is a great deal. With that in mind, here are the things I purchase at Costco that make the $60 membership worth it for me:

  • Tires. I know. Not a grocery item. But they are a great deal, and they only sell high quality brands.
  • Rental Cars. Another non-grocery item. I get all of my rental cars through Costco. Again, spectacular deals and easy shopping.
  • Appliances. (I will get to groceries, I promise!) Over the years, when I’ve needed a new washer/dryer/dishwasher/fridge, I’ve gone to Costco. The prices are great, they do a beautiful job of delivery and installation, and the return policy is unbeatable.
  • Rao’s Tomato Sauce. I have recipes, but I can’t make it much better without a lot of work.
  • Pesto Sauce. This one I do prefer making from scratch (it’s a little less salty), but the stuff they sell at Costco is awesome.
  • Frozen Atlantic Salmon. It makes a mid-week meal so easy, and again, it’s good stuff.
  • Frozen Spinach-Mozzarella Ravioli. Another long time mid-week staple in our house.
  • Other small items: Cholula, olive oil, chili garlic sauce, nuts, Halloween candy, eggs ($6 for two dozen in this shopping trip – half the price I would’ve paid at a regular grocery store!), Cheerios (plain), wine, and meats for the bbq.

Costco is a great deal, as long as you don’t get tempted by the items that sparkle and shine. That being said, there have been blips of weaknesses. Jill remembers a time when she and then 10-year-old Ryan went on a Costco run. They pushed the cart into the store and within five minutes, had a giant stuffed dog (at least she did not buy the Costco bear) and a cashmere sweater in the cart, well before they even got close to anything on the list. While I’m on a mission when I go to Costco, Jill is more of a browser on a fascinating exploratory journey. Journeying through Costco is dangerous and potentially expensive. (In Jill’s defense, that sweater was her favorite sweater for over a decade, and the dog was a 15-year favorite of Ryan, Dawson, and our last dog, Penny.)

There’s also the huge rotisserie chicken that is still just $4.99. “You’d think a chicken’s life would be worth more than that,” quipped Ryan one time. It is, Ryan. It’s worth much more, and they make you walk through the whole store to get it. That’s why you have to be strong. Stay focused. If you’re not, then you walk in for the chicken, and exit with a dog and a sweater.

Costco is passionate about its leading items. The chicken is one of those, and the $1.50 hot dog and soft drink combo is another. That price has not change since Costco started in 1985. Prices have increased 280% since then, so it would make sense if today’s price was a still-bargain $4.20. Dude! But not at Costco. Year after year, the price remains $1.50. In fact, when the current CEO was reported to be considering a price increase, the founder of the company reportedly said, “If you raise the price of the effing hot dog, I will kill you.” I’m sure he meant that in a loving and non-violent way, but you can see an unwavering commitment to core values there.

When I’m walking into a Costco, I’m always struck by the people coming out of the store with two huge TVs, and grocery carts overflowing with excitement and goodness. It seems like every cart looks like the Holderness family video (pretty darn funny, and sadly accurate.) I get a bit of ‘purchase envy,’ as I know my cart will be nowhere near as exciting as that one. (See non-exciting list above.) And my mind tells me that kind of cart, resembling Santa’s overflowing bag, is what most people are walking out with. But it turns out the average Costco purchase is just nine items and roughly $114. So, on my most recent trip, I actually doubled the purchases of the average shopper. Maybe I am more normal than it seems. At least in that regard.

Costco stores are big (90 houses like mine would fit into a typical Costco), clean, well-stocked, well-organized, and staffed by employees who tend to keep working there for years. Trader Joe’s (another store I know and love) employees seem a little more relaxed, but both score high on the employee retention scale.

And what does all of this fascination with Costco say about America? We like getting a good deal. We like knowing that we are being treated fairly. We like being in places where employees are treated well. My friend Dawnalyn says that for the person looking beyond the list, every trip seems like spinning the lottery wheel. They have short time deals that are gone once they sell out. So many Americans love playing the lottery and Costco trips can satisfy that craving.  Finally, we buy way too much stuff that we don’t really need.

As for my take on Disneyland vs. Costco, I’m on the fence. The lines are shorter at Costco and I get more for my money. And it is organized like a theme park  . . . But if you haven’t seen Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) or Radiator Springs in Cars Land, you are missing out. And, since I know Jill reads this, it is super clear to me . . . Disneyland is way better! (But the hot dogs are WAY more expensive.)

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Fighting Off Colds

Alternate Title: How Evernote Keeps Me Healthy

I caught a cold last week. A cold! It’s been a while. It’s been over four years since I last had one. I’ve had COVID, of course – just once. But my last non-COVID sickness was in December of 2018. And yes, I keep track.

Normally I wouldn’t have even recorded this one. It was very mild with no fever. I did not miss work, though I did wear a mask. It did not feel like COVID, but I took four tests just to make sure. I’m not complaining. It was just a mild inconvenience, but it’s been so long since I’ve had anything like it, it’s going into the record!

I don’t get sick very often. Part of it is making sure I get enough rest – at least six hours of sleep at night. And part of it, at least in my head, is not letting down too fast. Most of the times that I get sick, I have quickly transitioned from a very stressful existence into a very laid back one. And going from one extreme to the other is not good for me. My body fights back and says, “We’re going from 120 MPH to 5? You’re going to pay for that!” It’s one of the reasons I like to play hard on weekends and on vacations. Going from 120 in fast-moving traffic to 60 on an open highway is way better than going to 5 or 0. It helps me stay healthy.

I also believe that my attitude towards getting sick matters. Simply put, I fight it. When I feel it coming on, I tell myself that it’s not going to get me. I adopt Jedi mind tricks like the ones Obi Wan Kenobi used, saying to myself, “This is not the cold you are looking for.”

I have shared my thoughts on fighting off colds with my work colleagues. To put it mildly, it’s not something that has been widely embraced. However, they may have taken a bit of pleasure in calling me mentally weak when I did come down with a cold. They were laughing with me. I think?

I asked my newest and 17th-smartest friend, ChatGPT, about what they thought about my theory. After 1.5 seconds, I got these statements:

  • Studies have shown that maintaining a positive outlook and using willpower to regulate behavior and emotions can have positive effects on overall health and well-being, including fighting off illness.
  • Evidence suggests that individuals with a positive outlook and high levels of self-esteem have stronger immune systems, which can help them fight off illness.

That being said, I know all too well that bad things happen to good people. There are no guarantees in this life. I have lost many family members and friends to cancer and illnesses, even when they did everything right and had the best possible attitude, so before you yell it at me . . . I know. Life holds no guarantees. I’m just doing the best I can, and for me, fighting back helps my mindset. And so does keeping track of my colds.

How do I keep track? Evernote. When Evernote came out back in 2008, I was one of the early adopters. For the last fifteen years, I’ve been a bit of an Evernote evangelist. Some might say I’m an obnoxious Evernote evangelist. The tie in the picture above is the Evernote logo. My sister Martha was out visiting a few years ago and she observed, “Mike – it seems like all you ever talk about is Evernote, Big Green Eggs, and It’s kind of interesting, but you need to diversify.” Agree to disagree, Martha – I really don’t see a complaint there. Those are three very compelling topics of conversation!

If you don’t know what Evernote is, it’s a note taking and note keeping app. You can jot down ideas, add pictures, add videos, scan receipts and documents, and more. It has been one of the most important elements of my practically paperless existence. All of my tax files are in it, as well as nice notes that I receive (I don’t save the mean ones!), and so many memories. When there’s a good quote on one of our bike trips, my friends know that it’s going into Evernote. And the best part is, I can find a memory I’m looking for pretty easily. When I want to locate a picture or a story or something quickly, I type in a few descriptive words, and people say, “How did you find that picture so quickly?” I remain a big, big, big fan.

So I have a note that lists every time I’ve succumbed to a cold since 2008. And because keeping track of my colds has been so helpful to me, I decided to do the same for Jill and Dawson. So whenever they would get a cold that kept them away from work or school, I would put their newest illness into Evernote and helpfully let them know how long it had been since they were last ill. I might have mentioned to both of them a few times (maybe more than a few times) that they were catching colds way more often than I was, and I might have used those opportunities to offer advice on diet, sunshine, exercise, and attitude. Let’s just say that, once again, it was not received with the good wishes that were intended. In fact, both of them eventually told me, rather emphatically, to JUST STOP IT. So I did. I still have the old Evernote files with their colds, but I won’t even look at them any more. Probably.

In the meantime, why did I get this cold? None of us caught a cold or the flu for so long during the pandemic for a variety of reasons – first and foremost is that we abandoned all things social. But we also practiced such good hygiene – washing and/or sanitizing our hands constantly, covering our coughs, keeping our distance. I am all in for our resocializations since the pandemic. We are social beings, and we thrive on being around others. So, I’m grateful for all of my human interactions and I plan on keeping them, but I’m going to go back to the hand washing/sanitizing-way-more-often-than-usual thing.  I’m not going to channel the 7-year-old me and fight or fake all directives to wash hands and brush teeth. Sorry, Mom and Dad, you were right about that, too. When I’m sick but not sick enough to miss work, I’m wearing a mask when I’m around others. And I’m wearing a mask to protect me on airline flights. All my choices, and I’m very good with them.

And, just for the record, when it comes to real colds/flus that totally knock me out, it’s been well over four years, and still counting. I’m staying positive.

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California Rains, Games, and Acceptance

(Alternate Title: Everything Important in Life is Explained by Tetris)

So much rain in California! It’s wonderful for our drought-ridden state, but it’s cramping my style. Here’s the thing about our sunny west coast state. If I plan an outdoor activity – hiking, cycling, golf, pickleball, fill in the blank here – I can pretty much count on being able to do it. The weather is hardly ever bad enough to stop me, whether it’s April, August, November or even January. Pretty awesome, right? But after a very rainy month, the rain has prevented me from playing outside too many times, and I’m working on getting that expectation out of my head. When I keep my expectations in check, I find myself less disappointed.

With all of the rain, the number of games being played in our home is a little out of control right now. Between the dozens of games of Settlers of Catan and Mahjong, Jill has never been happier. I remember explaining Settlers of Catan to my oldest son, Ryan. I explained that players compete by gathering key supplies – lumber, ore, wool, grain, and brick. Ryan asked, “And then they use those to battle?” No, Ryan. They use it to settle. If they get enough supplies they can grow their settlements into cities. Ryan asked, “And then they battle?” No, Ryan. There is no battling. You just settle. I’ll bet that there have been over 60 hours of settling in our house since Christmas.

The last time that Jill spent this much time playing games was way back when Ryan was 15 and Dawson was three. Ryan had his Nintendo 64 gaming console, and he showed us how to play Tetris on it. The epic Tetris battles went on for about three years. For those of you who don’t know Tetris, it’s the classic video game where different shapes drop down from the top of the screen – squares, bars, L-shaped bars, Z-shaped bars – and you try to spin and move them so that they align to make solid blocks with no empty spaces at the bottom of the puzzle. If you make them fit perfectly, you get big points and whole lines disappear from the screen, making it easier to place new pieces, which drop at an ever-increasing speed. Jill was the champion of our household, and held every high score record possible. I think the only reason that Jill quit playing is that somehow, a “glitch” happened, and all of Jill’s records vanished. She still blames me, hence the quotes. It may have been my fault – maybe – but I did give Jill her life back. You’re welcome, Jill!

Tetris came back into my life recently, this time without the competition. I’ve been listening to a podcast called Secular Buddhism. I wanted to learn more after reading the Breakfast with Buddha book that I mentioned a few posts ago. One of the concepts of Buddhism is to let go of all expectations. “It’s the hope that kills you,” is a theme of soccer fans in Ted Lasso. We experience sadness, disappointment, and pain when our expectations do not match with reality, and we would suffer less if we would let go of those expectations. This is where Tetris comes in. Let’s say that you really need a long bar, or a square, to do well in the game you are playing. You hope for the shape you need, then one of the dreaded Z-figures drops down from the top of the screen. If you spend your time lamenting your bad luck, angry at the game for being rigged, or being even moderately disappointed with the round you are playing, you are hurting your chances of success. The moral: don’t expect good or bad outcomes, just see what the game deals you, accept it with as little emotion as possible, and do your best to succeed with what you have. And if that piece messes up your whole game, you put it behind you, forget about it, and move on.

Make no mistake, having no expectations is not the same as settling – take that, Catan! You still try to do great things, but you know that it may work and it may not. Two great people exemplify this attitude. Steven Hawking did so much amazing work for years after his illness was diagnosed early in his life. He said, “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.” Another example came into my life with Ryan’s maternal great-grandfather, Elmer Geisler, who is one of the finest persons I have ever met. He was relentlessly positive and sought to get the most out of each day, even towards the end of his long and beautiful life. I would ask him how he was doing, and he would answer, “Great! But at my age, I’m not buying any green bananas.” No expectations. Thank you, Elmer. You remain one of my all-time heroes. 

Speaking to our high school seniors (and their parents) who have applied to colleges and have started the wait, I know that it’s a time of great hopes and expectations. I remember it for myself and my sons, and I’ve heard from thousands of students. I know it’s hard to believe that where you end up going to college is just another Tetris piece falling into your life. But that’s exactly what you need to believe.

How hard you’ve worked can’t help but create some level of expectation. So many young people have dedicated their young lives to excellence, hoping their efforts will make all the difference to top-tier universities. To put it in Tetris terms, they’ve put all the pieces in place, and just need the vertical bar to drop down.

But even with all that, the email you will receive from admissions departments may give you a vertical bar or a Z-figure. We don’t control the game. We can only control our efforts. As my son Ryan often says, “Process over results.” But when things go his way, even though he may have been a little lucky, he’s the first to say, “Results over process.” Not a bad attitude, actually.

I wrote about this four years ago: Where you go to college has very little to do with the success you will experience in your life. How hard you have worked and learned matters tremendously, and how much you take advantage of the learning opportunities of the university you attend, at this point we’ll call it the University of Tetris, is what will truly shape your future.

The point is that whether we’re applying to college, looking to advance in our careers, or trying to be the best parents we can be, doing everything as well as we can is all we can do. I know all too well that most challenges we face in life are infinitely more important than a game of Tetris, but the lesson remains the same. We will be happier if we make our best efforts to reach for the sun, while maintaining no expectations that we will actually get there. I’m not there yet, but I like that way of thinking.

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2023 in One Word

I hope your new year is going well so far. One of the joys of publishing semi-regular posts on this blog is that it provides a way for me to reconnect with friends from my past. I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and since graduating from high school, I have lived and made lifelong friends in so many California communities: the San Francisco Bay Area, Lodi, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, and now in Orange County. Through this blog, I have found a way to re-connect with all of these friends from different phases of my life.

You may remember that when I was sixteen, my dad got me a job working in a hardware store in Sacramento. I drove 2,000 miles by myself (once again, since some of you questioned me last time, this is 100% true) to Sacramento, and moved in with the Welker family, who were long-time friends of my parents. Laura Welker was one of the children in that family, and almost forty-five years later, she somehow found my blog site and reached out through the comments. I was able to talk with Laura and her mom Carol a couple of months ago, and I loved our reminiscences. A few days ago, Laura let me know that her mom passed away peacefully last weekend. I am grateful that the always kind and caring Carol Welker took me in back in 1978, making me feel like part of the family, and I feel fortunate that my writing helped us to re-connect before her passing.

In my first post of 2023, let me give a special thank you to all of you from all phases of my life with whom I’ve reconnected or stayed connected as a result of this blog. We are who we are because of the relationships we’ve made throughout our lives, whether those bonds are incredibly long and close, or just a momentary breeze from a butterfly’s wings. I’m grateful and better for all of it.

Speaking of aspiring to be better, I love making New Year’s Resolutions. While I don’t do everything I want to do, I find that making goals helps me make progress. Last year about this time, I wrote about my resolutions using Steven Covey’s Seven Habits as my guide. As I started thinking about my resolutions for this year, I began reading about a new trend – the one-word resolution – for the new year. If simplicity is a good thing, it does not get much easier than a one-word resolution. That word could provide focus, direction, or help with decision-making, and ultimately be a guide for your thinking throughout the year. I was with a group of close friends recently and I introduced this concept. I gave them a list initially suggested by an article in The Washington Post, but augmented with words from similar articles, plus other terms that Jill and I thought of. We all went around the table and shared two or three we were each considering for 2023, adding new words to the list in the process.  It was an interesting and insightful conversation, and yes, I have included the list at the bottom of this post for your review too. (Side note – I bet many of you are thinking: never accept an invitation to hang out with Mike – Handouts? Word lists? Come on, man! Get a life!)

If you were wondering, the two words that I have chosen are creativity and self-discipline. When I am at my best, I weave a lot of creativity into my life. That can come from cooking, writing, music, reading, and just from taking the time to think and reflect. While I started the year strong in those areas, this year has reminded me that finding the right balance between work and home takes thought, commitment, and dedication. Hence my second word.

The busier I am, the more self-discipline I need to get my priorities accomplished. I read an article from Forbes magazine by Brent Gleeson. He wrote one of the best-titled books I’ve seen in a while, Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life. He begins this particular article with a quote from Plato: “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” My recently retired friend Ben blocks out his day in increments of 15 minutes. It allows him to be creative, fulfill a gazillion volunteer responsibilities, and get a whole lot done. That’s too much structure for me, but I admire the heck out of it. If I’m going to be more creative, I know I need to find my own way of being more self-disciplined.

So, creativity and self-discipline are my two words. I’m not creative enough to find a new term that combines them, and I’m not self-disciplined enough to choose just one. Clearly, I have work to do.

If you have more words to add to the list, let me know! And thank you for reading this post, while giving me the opportunity to stay connected. Let’s have a great 2023!


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2023 Image by Rosy Ziegler at Pixabay

Reflections on Perfections of 2022

Perfection is fleeting, but I do believe that it exists. Or at least moments of near-perfection, as even Mary Poppins wasn’t perfect. I try to relish it whenever it appears, and I enjoy replaying the moments in my mind. I hope that in this year that is about to end, you have enjoyed a few of these moments, and that maybe, like me, you can take this holiday time to enjoy reflecting on near-perfect stories from your life in 2022.

I’m fortunate in how many times I have experienced it this year. I recently wrote about my son Ryan’s wedding to Yesi. The entire weekend of family, fun, and love on full display was absolutely a near-perfect moment in my life. On our visit to see Dawson in college in Golden, Colorado, we arrived in a beautiful snowstorm and woke up to a magical wintery town. Not all near-perfect moments involve travel or special occasions. More everyday life examples would include a perfect family dinner, where the food was spectacular, and the love, conversation, and laughter at the table were even better. I’ve shared perfect walks on the beach with Jill, where a super-low tide creates a wide wet-sand beach that magnificently reflects the larger-than-it-should-be setting sun. I could go on.

I don’t seek out these near-perfect experiences, nor do I expect them, but I love it when they happen. And these moments should be highlighted and appreciated for all that they are, because we all experience the full range of successes, failures, and everything in between. We all have beautiful moments with loved ones, and not-so-beautiful ones. We experience the birth of our children, proud and wondrous moments with them, and, at least for me, moments I wish I could forget. I have started books I couldn’t finish, finished books that I enjoyed parts of, and then I’ve devoured books where, when I finish them, I say, “I don’t think that book could have been more perfect.” (As a want-to-be-writer, I can say with great certainty that writers never believe their work is perfect. In fact, it’s far from it. It always needs more work.) I do my best to enjoy whatever activity I am immersed in, but when I realize that I am in the midst of a near-perfect moment, I find myself particularly grateful. Some very recent moments include:

  • On Christmas morning, Jill and I had a quiet morning before Dawson and his girlfriend Kylie woke up. We called and chatted with our parents, had a nice breakfast, and enjoyed a long walk with our crazy dogs who helped the moment by actually being quite calm. Then, after the kids woke up at 11:00 (my apologies for sharing that with those of you whose young children forced you to wake before the sunrise), we had a beautiful and relaxed morning of gift opening and togetherness.
  • Heeding the recommendation of my wise friends Brooks and Sheri, I have read Breakfast with Buddha two times in the last week. It is a peaceful and thought-provoking work of fiction, and it came into my life at a time when I needed it. It’s kind of a Travels with Charley meets The Power of Now type of work, and if you’re open to that, I highly recommend it. I don’t think author Roland Merullo would agree with my premise of perfection being something we experience through the outside world, but he might not argue too much.
  • This will seem mundane to many, but I experienced that fleeting sense of near-perfection while rewatching the Ted Lasso series. The 5th episode of season two, Rainbow, may be a perfect television episode. I thought that about Seinfeld’s The Merv Griffin Show episode, too. The Rainbow episode is about the pursuit of love and happiness from a variety of perspectives, full of typical Ted Lasso humor, puns, and insight, all bound together by a soundtrack that includes psychedelic She’s a Rainbow song by the Rolling Stones. It cleverly and touchingly combines The Rolling Stones, rom-com quotes, 247 F-bombs, and a self-confidence clinic, all while reminding us all that to live life to our fullest potential, we need to remember what brings us joy in our lives.
  • Did I already mention that the kids in our house woke up after 11:00 on Christmas Day? I did? Sorry once again to those of you who woke up six hours earlier than that.

I hope this post finds you able to recall recent events where you experienced practically perfect moments. I hope this holiday season provides you time to reflect on these fleeting moments, especially the little ones that are so easy to forget. I find that it’s yet another way to practice gratitude, which is a not-so-secret and scientifically proven happiness-enhancing gift you can give yourself again and again.

Let’s all have a happy and healthy 2023, and enjoy the special moments as they come.


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Assorted Thanksgiving Thoughts – Trees, Burritos, Drumsticks, and More

Kudos to all of the school districts who now have no school during the week of Thanksgiving. If the worst travel day of the year is the day before Thanksgiving, then let’s give people options. Once again – progressive schools are leading the way. Take the whole week, and let families leave when they want for the place where the feast will be served. As I’ve said before, the noble and non-consumerist goals of Thanksgiving are to reflect on our bounties, practice gratitude, and share time and delicious food with those we love. Why not have a week devoted just to that, while also making things a tiny bit better for those who have to travel on the Wednesday before the holiday.

To get into the holiday spirit, first comes the tree. I don’t know why we are one of the few households to have a Thanksgiving Tree. Come on people! Join the cool kids and get the most out of your artificial tree! I do think that it’s my favorite tree, but who am I kidding?! I love our Halloween Tree and Christmas Tree too!

We made our Thanksgiving trip to the grocery store fairly early on Saturday morning. We are shopping for just twelve this year – in years past, it has been double that number. Jill and I each took a cart and away we went. I love the Thanksgiving Day grocery run. I keep a permanent list on my Cozi app. The list just taunts me all year long, just waiting for me to use it. Opening that app and checking the list against what we already have means that Thanksgiving has officially started.

I’ve tried Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Vons (Vons is Southern California-speak for Safeway). This year it’s a Vons Thanksgiving. They had 95% of what we needed –not bad! The only thing I still need to shop for is turkey thighs. If I could, I would have a Thanksgiving feast where the only meat we serve is turkey thighs. Nothing else comes close. Drumsticks are fun (and by far my favorite food at Disneyland – almost single-handedly worth the is-it-really-this-expensive-and-is-it-worth-it entrance cost). But thigh meat is always juicy, and it’s really hard to overcook – it’s the king-daddy. I will find them. Oh yes. They will be mine.

For those of us who cook, we know that Thanksgiving is a two-day meal prep, between the roasted turkey and the smoked turkey, along with all of the other fixins (in the Matthews house, this includes roasted brussels sprouts, spicy cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, cheese grits, and so many pies.) So, one of the huge questions is what else to cook that week on days that are not called Thanksgiving. I know that the night before Thanksgiving is a big pizza delivery night, but it’s not the biggest. It’s #3. Whaaaaat? Another urban myth destroyed. #1 -Halloween, #2 – Super Bowl Sunday. At any rate, there will be no pizza for us this week. I’ll be making two meals in the days before Thanksgiving: Split Pea Soup with Irish Soda Bread then a Spinach Lasagna. Both are easy meals with excellent leftover potential.

Another big question is when to serve the Thanksgiving meal itself. I’m not here to argue against anyone – you do you when it comes to serving time. But here’s why I love serving Thanksgiving at 2:00 PM:

  • Fewer decisions about lunch – just don’t eat it. Eat a good breakfast and be hungry.
  • Just enough time for cooking and preparations.
  • There’s lots of time for daylight after-meal activities – football watching, napping, walking around the neighborhood, cornhole, board games.
  • You don’t have to wait for the next day to have leftovers. Ryan could makes his famous Thanksgiving Burrito that evening. Yep, he takes everything that was served and arranges it on the biggest tortilla that that they sell. For those not wanting something so . . . massive . . . have an extra piece of pie, or an open-faced turkey sandwich. Once it’s been two hours since you uttered with difficulty, “I’ll never eat again,” you’re fine to go back and get a second (or third) helping of your choice.

Here’s an admission: serving the meal right at 2:00 is a challenge, so my promise is always that the meal will be served somewhere between 1:59 and 2:01. Things happen! I need a little flexibility!

And another admission: I was 30 minutes late last year. I know – shameful. But in my defense, I had challenges. The power had been out for two days. We kept the fridge running with our generator, but our double oven was out of commission. I had to cook the entire meal on our gas stove, our gas bbq, and the Big Green Egg smoker. In the end, it was an abject failure of timing, but the food was really good! Also – the power came back on five minutes after dinner was served. Once again, Murphy was an optimist.

This year, I’m thrilled to have Dawson home for Thanksgiving – he arrives on Wednesday. (Colorado School of Mines has not evolved when it comes to giving their students the week off.) Unfortunately, Ryan and his new bride Yesi will not be making it down. Even though I’m saving money by not having to buy the extra-large tortillas, I’m a little sad not to have both boys at home. The silver lining? When Ryan and Yesi do make it down, we will have a Friendsgiving celebration that will allow me repeat this all over again! Usually when our neighborhood does a Friendsgiving, it’s on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. Saturday is usually the day you are finishing up your leftovers, so even for a Thanksgiving nut like me, it is almost too much Thanksgiving. But December or January could be perfect. I’ll be ready.

Finally, here are a few other ideas as you prepare for Thanksgiving:

  • My Thanksgiving schedule with links to my recipes.
  • Ina Garten’s thoughts from this month’s Bon Appetit magazine on making Thanksgiving a little easier. I’ll read about anything Ina Garten advises – she is the champion of elegant simplicity. As King Louie, with excellent vocal support from Baloo, sang to Mowgli in The Jungle Book, “I want to be like you.”
  • If you’d like to donate to those who need our help during this Thanksgiving holiday, I have two charities that I recommend highly.
    • Lot 318 is a homegrown charity in Placentia, CA that does a beautiful job of building safe and cohesive community and provides a big Thanksgiving dinner for two neighborhoods.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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