Stop Yelling at the Fruit!

“Enough with the fruit already!” That’s what my friend Peter yelled at me while we were golfing last week. I had just bitten into my 2nd apple of the round as I was walking down the 12th hole fairway at the beautiful Soule Park Golf Course. I looked at him with his Diet Coke in hand, and I knew he was kidding. But maybe not? He did sound really angry at that apple! But I also realized that I’m a bit of a weirdo for eating fruit as my golf snack. I’m pretty new to the fruit-eating world, and I hope it remains a key part of my nutritional life from this point forward. This week’s post, part five of five on the Blue Zones research on living longer, is all about food. The three nutritional Blue Zones lessons are Plant Slant, Hara Hachi Bu (The 80% Full Rule), and Drink Red Wine in Moderation.

I wrote earlier about my appreciation for the Noom diet. It’s not for everybody, but it helped me so much with the first two Blue Zones rules. Noom pushes fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables are nothing but good for us. Fruit packs a few more calories, but it’s super healthy and nothing but good. Noom calls these “green foods,” and urges users to make green foods the centerpiece of their meals and snacks. Noom also steers us away from more dense food, as well as those that are processed. That’s why I started eating apples, grapes, strawberries, and bananas every day. The Blue Zones societies in Costa Rica, Sardinia, and Okinawa have very little access to processed foods or meats. The Adventists eat no meat at all. Over the past year, I’d say that Jill and I have eaten vegetarian meals about half of the time. We eat seafood a couple nights during the week, and I’ll eat chicken or beef once a week. It’s so different from how I grew up. When I told my friend Ben about the awesome Lentil Loaf with onion gravy I had made, he asked me to surrender my Arkansas Native card. Nope. I want to keep that card and have a plant slant. After all, I do still think fried okra still counts as a green food. Quite certain in fact.

The other aspect of Noom that I appreciate is the calorie counting side. Like Weight Watchers, Noom wants you to record everything you eat on the app. Here’s what I learned. To put it scientifically, I used to eat a crap-ton of food. I would say I was choking down 2800 to 3200 calories a day, and wondering why I was exercising so much but still not losing weight. I love food – healthy food, junk food, comfort food, and desserts. I was technically overweight (205-210 on my 6’2” frame), but my height helped hide it. Then my knee doctor said, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt if you lost 15-20 pounds.” Ouch. She called me fat. The Okinawans have their Hara Hachi Bu, which translates to, eat until you are 80% full. My rule had been, eat until you are 105% full and a little uncomfortable, then add a helping of something and/or dessert to complete the meal.

Turns out that’s NOT good for you. Weird right? There are all kinds of tricks to help avoid this – use smaller plates, drink water before and during your meal, make vegetables cover the majority of the plate – but for me most of all, it’s not going back for seconds. So now, I’m consuming 2200 calories a day on average, I’ve gone down a size in my pants and shirts, and I’m fluctuating between 185 and 190. It feels good. And for the first time in decades, my New Years’ resolution was to maintain my weight, not to lose it.

The final Blue Zones rule is to drink red wine in moderation. They cite research on lower rates of heart disease, and cite several Blue Zones societies that do this. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy red wine. I am in pursuit of $15 bottles that are nice to drink with dinner. I belong to two wine clubs and it’s nice to occasionally open a special bottle to celebrate something or someone. The key to understanding this rule is that (1) it’s all about moderation, as Blue Zones does advise that going beyond moderation will be dangerous to your health, and (2) it’s optional. Of the nine rules I’ve reviewed, this is the one I’m not pushing hard at all. I know many people whose personal beliefs steer them away from alcohol, and I know too many people who have had their lives almost destroyed by drinking. Not to mention, it’s a lot of dense and sugary calories. A few people very close to me have recently committed to not drinking. I have loved watching them turn their lives around, look and feel healthier, and develop a new appreciation for all that this world has to offer. To go back to the last post, they belong to their AA group and it provides incredible support. So I am not pushing this recommendation, and if you are questioning whether your use of alcohol is hurting your life, listen very carefully to your inner compass.

So that’s it. The end of a five-part series. I’m not sure where I’m headed next, but I’m ready to continue this journey. I’ve enjoyed the process and I appreciate all of your feedback along the way.

Final tip: Chilled Envy Apples – they are the best. I think I’ll bite into one right now. Take that, Peter!

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

My new thinner self with my super-fit friend Brooks after doing pretty darn well in a cornhole tournament

Post #1: Is Retirement the Life for Me? (Blue Zones Rule: Move Naturally Throughout the Day)

Post #2: Is Retirement the Life for Me? (Part 2) (Blue Zones Rule: Know Your Sense of Purpose)

Post #3: In Search of Downshifting, or How to Be More Like My Dogs (Blue Zones Rule: Downshift)

Post #4: Family, Friends, and Community (Blue Zones Rules: Loved Ones First, Right Tribe, and Belong)

Post #5: Stop Yelling at the Fruit! (Blue Zones Rules Plant Slant, Hara Hachi Bu (The 80% Full Rule), and Drink Red Wine in Moderation)

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Family, Friends, Community

Thanks to all of you who read my last post on my son Sean. I keep track of how many people open each of my weekly posts, and the readership about Sean crushed everything else I’ve ever written. Your comments and emails were powerful and comforting. As good as it felt to write about it, it was also exhausting. I still feel like I’m in a bit of a vulnerability hangover, but I have no regrets. I’m honored it meant something to so many of you. And, please, you never have to ask if you can share any of my posts. It’s not a diary. IT’S A BLOG! It’s meant to be out there for anyone to read. I would write these posts even if they had a readership of ten. But it’s even better when my efforts matter to others. Please share away.

So once again, thank you!

It’s interesting. If you look at the comments on Facebook and on the blog site, we are developing a bit of a community here. A growing number of you are commenting on my thoughts, and on each other’s too. I love it. And, with a few exceptions, this is a kind group.

So let’s use that segue to get back to my series of posts on living longer – and the next three Blue Zones traits that I want to review are “Loved Ones First,” “Right Tribe,” and “Belong.” All of these are about the people we surround ourselves with, our families, and our communities. I’m grouping them together, mostly because I think if I stretched out this theme too much longer, people might start sticking needles in their eyes. (I have one more next week – on what we should eat and drink to live longer, then I’m done!) But they’re also harmonious because they relate to our social lives, and that has a direct correlation to how well and long we will live.

Loved ones first. It’s about prioritizing family, whatever that means to you.

  • Buettner looks at Okinawans, who exemplify multi-generational families being together regularly. We now have a tradition where Jill’s parents come over on Monday night for games and dinner, and stay over until Tuesday morning. Even though they, in my awesome mother-in-law’s words, “put the fun in dysfunctional,” they just add to our craziness, and it’s wonderful.
  • For me, it’s about eating dinner together as often as possible. I am a pain in the you-know-what on that one. Let’s sit down and eat together. Bring your friends if you want, but WE ARE GOING TO EAT TOGETHER AND WE’RE GOING TO LIKE IT! (I feel like I yelled that. Sorry.) I did not have to yell about it last night, when I had both of my sons home for dinner for the first time since Thanksgiving. We sat at the table for two hours and it was heaven. Pictures next week.
  • I love Buettner’s push to live in a small house. We raised our family in a 1,580 square foot house, not small, but certainly not as big as many, where we NEVER GET AWAY FROM EACH OTHER! (Did I yell that too?).  And looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
  • Most of my immediate family lives too far away, but we talk often. It’s not perfect, but we are close, and we make the most of it.

Right Tribe. This is not just about having a tribe, but about having a tribe that supports us in healthy living. Buettner cites Moais (small groups of 5-8 people) that Okinawans create for themselves, and how they exercise, socialize, and support each other regularly. I am member of many groups that matter to me. I have my crazy golfing buddies in Ojai (speaking of dysfunctional!), my early morning swim friends, and the incredible couples and families that live in our little neighborhood. I have my high school friends with whom I’m still close. I have my friendships that I have maintained from all the places that I’ve worked. I feel very fortunate to be a member, maybe not a valued member, but still a member of all of these tribes. Maybe I should be nervous that they let me in. Groucho Marx quipped that he would not want to be, “part of any club that would accept me as one of its members.” But I’m going to ignore that, because I appreciate all of these tribes that I’m in. They make my life better, and I hope to live longer as a result.

Belong.  Buettner finds that those who belong to organizations like churches and temples and community groups tend to live longer for a variety of reasons. Why you may ask?  Because there’s the social aspect of it, and the positive expectations/codes of behavior that develop among members of groups like these. There’s also the built-in safety net where members care for each other, both every day and in times of need. And of course there are regular gatherings that get us out of whatever we are doing so we can slow down and focus on this group that we belong to. I have been a member of a variety of churches from several different faiths, and of a variety of informal and formal community organizations. Sometimes I felt all that Buettner describes, and sometimes I did not. I’m a free agent at this time, and I’m OK with that. We will see what the future brings.

The bottom line is that the research shows that the world’s longest living societies are populated by people who are connected with others who love and care for them, and that we do better when we are not islands unto ourselves. Every student from my high school tribe remembers that line, as we all had to memorize John Donne’s poetic meditation:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

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Image by Gioele Fazzeri from Pixabay


Gravity feels a little more forceful today. Back in my high school physics class, Father Fred taught us that gravity pulls us down at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. Today feels like a double-digit day. It’s harder to do just about everything. You see, today would have been my son Sean’s 29th birthday.


Many of you reading don’t know this side of me. Answering the “tell me about your kids” question is always a quandary. How deep do I want to go into this answer? It’s easy to talk about Ryan and Dawson. They are wonderful, interesting, funny, and inspiring. I consider them to be my closest friends, and I love them fiercely. But I don’t have two children. I have three.

Sean Michael Matthews was just four years old when he died in a drowning accident on July 31, 1997. This year will be the 25th anniversary of that miserable day. I won’t go into the details, but just know that the feeling of guilt remains, and the heartache is a million times worse.

Many of you reading this knew and loved Sean. Many of you wrapped your arms around Sean’s mom Kelley, Sean’s brother Ryan, and me after his death, helping us all more than you know. It seemed like half of Malibu attended Sean’s memorial service, held in Malibu’s Bluff’s Park – and I barely remember it. Gravity was in triple digits in those days. The pain was searing and truly relentless. All I know is that the love and support helped. I did not read all of the sympathy cards until months after they arrived. And even then, I could only do it for a few minutes at a time. But they were wonderful, and they provided comfort. Thank you. Those acts of kindness made a lasting impact on me. Of all the human attributes I appreciate, kindness ranks at the very top. It’s something I try to include throughout my day, because I know how much it helped me.

Months after Sean died, Kelley convinced me to join her in attending a support group for grieving parents called Compassionate Friends. I knew that it would not be helpful, because no one else could possibly have experienced anything that rivaled our heartache. But I went anyway, bad attitude and all. It was quite the welcoming group, and as I listened, I realized that I was incredibly wrong. Terrible things happen to people all too often. Heartbreak and anguish are everywhere. You just have to take a moment to listen and notice. The mantra at Compassionate Friends is, “You are not alone.” They helped me to get out of the comparison business. All of this suffering is real, and there’s no benefit or reality to trying to figure out whose pain is worse. I have known a few people whose loved ones died after leading long and full lives, enabling them to be much more accepting of their deaths.  But far more common are those who die before they are supposed to, leaving their loved ones to live with the torment of missing them. I’m sorry for all of us. But we are not alone. Others have prevailed, and found strength and purpose in their lives despite their losses, and for whatever reason, knowing that helps me.

The heartache will never be gone. If someone asks me how often it impacts me, 25 years later, I will smile and say, “It’s only every day.” But it is worse some days. Like today.

I remember speaking with a father who had lost his son in a senseless shooting at least 20 years before our conversation. I asked him what the pain felt like so many years later. He said that it was still there every day, “but it is softer most of the time.” A few years ago, Kelley posted a picture of a sculpture on Facebook that took my breath away. The hole in our grieving hearts never fills, and we will never be whole again.

Love is the greatest risk of all. There are no guarantees beyond today. While I was Superintendent in Manhattan Beach, one of our most beloved teachers at Manhattan Beach Middle School was one of the people tragically killed at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas. Her name was Sandy Casey, and she taught some of our most impacted students. She had a saying: “Today is a good day for a good day.” In the wake of our loss, we remembered those words, and if you look around, you can see that saying written in cursive on doors throughout the school district. Sandy continues to teach us to find ways to make the most of each day. I love it. As Brad Paisley sings, “Bring on tomorrow, I’ve got today.”

In those first few years after Sean’s death, I wondered about how the rest of my life would be. Would it ever feel normal again? Well, the answer is no. I miss his laughter, his spirit, his loving nature . . . I just miss him so much. But what still is surprising to me is that the answer is also that I am continually amazed at how beautiful and wonderful life is. In spite of everything. I am beyond grateful for the love, humor, meaning, and beauty in my life. And in spite of gravity pulling me down with more force today, I’ll do my best to remember that it’s still a good day for a good day.

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The sculpture above is called Melancolie and is created by Albert György. It can be found in Geneva in a small park on the promenade along the shore of Lake Geneva. Read more about the piece and artist here –>…/

In Search of Downshifting, or How to Be More Like My Dogs

My first two posts in this series on living a long and healthy life focused on moving naturally throughout the day and holding a strong sense of purpose. This week and for Part 3 of this series, I am focusing on downshifting. The Blue Zones research suggests that people in the longest living societies find serenity on a daily basis. The Nicoyans of Costa Rica, like people in many societies where the weather is extremely hot, rest each afternoon. The Seventh Day Adventists in Southern California’s Inland Empire create a “sanctuary in time,” halting activities from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. The lesson is that this downshifting, resting, and stepping back from the craziness of life helps us to live longer and better.

There’s more and more science about the restorative and regenerative powers of sleep and rest. Most of the world’s best athletes are outstanding downshifters, making extraordinary time for recovery, especially when they need to be at their best. Researchers say that rest tamps down inflammation that impact all of us, and getting enough of it promotes the health and longevity of our muscles, joints, and even our brains.

My dogs are amazing downshifters. I mean, they spend 80% to 98% of their day in a fully downshifted mode. We adopted our two Scottish Terriers (Duffy and Maggie Mae) almost two years ago (raise your hand if you too have a COVID dog/cat/something), and they have been a great presence in our life. They look like toppled over Monopoly dog pieces when they are downshifting, which I still find hilarious. And they need that energy to gobble up their food faster than contestants at a hot dog eating contest, so they can lose their minds with a barking bonanza whenever the mail carrier or Amazon person approaches our door, or to give futile chase to the squirrel that torments them daily in the backyard. If downshifting is the key to a longer life, they are going to live to be 30,000 years old.

I’m not even close to being as good as my dogs at this downshifting stuff. My idea of a fun vacation is to wake up early, do tons of new and exciting things, wear myself out, and do it all again the very next day. The only reason I’m not a total zero is because I love a 20-minute nap. If I can sneak in a short power nap, I am way better in the afternoon, and I might even stay awake past 9:00 at night. Crazy! But 24 hours of downtime? Sleeping more than six hours? Meditating or just being?  While I’m not giving up, it has not happened for me yet.

My job as a teacher, principal, and superintendent took as many hours as I would give it. Ask any teacher or administrator – no matter how many hours you work in a week, it’s not enough to do everything that needs to be done. To stay somewhat healthy, you have to make a conscious decision to stop working at some point and pivot to the equally important job of taking care of you.

But downshifting is critical. Most of the time, my version of downshifting was just not doing work. When I came home at night – it might be 6:00, 7:00 or 10:00, I tried to be off email for the rest of the evening. There were emergency exceptions, but I worked to be present at home and not to have my head back at work for those few hours, or minutes, before going to bed. And on the weekends, I always tried to make Saturday a non-working day. By Sunday afternoon, I had to get ready for the week, but my goal was to enjoy a good 24-36 hours without working.

But, I wonder if I was actually downshifting in that time. Unlike my dogs, I spend most of my non-working time being active – cooking, golfing, doing something with the family, cleaning or organizing the house, exercising, and maybe watching a movie or sports event on TV. Do those count as downshifting? Are those activities fighting inflammation and making me healthier?  

Robbie Shell from the Wall Street Journal wrote an article that hit home when he said, “One of the major joys of retirement has been the luxury of spending more time on those things I look forward to doing, with no deadlines to rein me in, no obligations that require me to make those hard choices about how to spend each day.” I’m not sure if this counts as downshifting, but it is an improvement.

One area where I may have made a little progress is my purposeful effort not to rush from one activity to the next. Athletes sit on the bench between quarters. My dogs sleep for about four hours between their activities. Over the last few months, I have learned to take a moment, relax, and actually get ready for whatever is next. I wish I would have done that more at work. Too often, I went from meeting to meeting to meeting, never pausing to think about next steps, to recover from a challenging conversation, or to just step away from the mania. I thought I could do all of that when the day was over. But now, I am allowing myself more transition time instead of rushing like a transitioning triathlete between the swimming and biking segments.  And I can honestly say it definitely makes life a lot more sane.

I’m also working to follow Shell’s advice and give myself permission to take more time while I’m engaged in what I will call a downshifting activity. Again, I’m not sure if this meets the Blue Zones definition of downshifting, but would be progress for me. My friend Karen made a spectacular dinner for us a few weeks ago, and told us she had spent the entire day cooking and she had loved every minute of it! That has to count as downshifting, right? If I have the time, I want to give myself the luxury of not rushing to cook dinner. After a wonderful night at a restaurant with friends recently, my friend Kevin lamented that he wished we would have ordered dessert and coffee. He didn’t really want dessert (I always want dessert), but he enjoyed the conversation so much that he wished he had used that excuse to prolong and luxuriate in the experience. That has to be a downshifting mentality too. Right? For now, I am declaring it to be so.  

Ultimately, I seek to be more like Duffy and Maggie Mae in my mastery of downshifting, but I have a long way to go. Wish me luck.


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We adopted Duffy and Maggie Mae on Mother’s Day in 2020.


Fast Company: Why Pro Athletes Sleep 12 Hours a Day

Shell, Robbie. “Taking My Time is One of the Pleasures of Retirement.” Wall Street Journal. April 17, 2022.

Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones: Nine Lessons for living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. National Geographic Society. Washington, DC. (2008).

Other Notes: Sections I Cut Out to make this post just a little too long instead of way too long.

Is Retirement the Life for Me? (Part 2)

First of all, thank to all of you who read and commented on my last post via Facebook, Twitter, and the Blog Site. I love the conversation and I appreciate the wisdom even more. This is Post #2 of Evaluating my Quasi-Retired Life using Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones research. As a reminder, the nine Blue Zones recommendations for a longer, healthier, and happier life are:

  1. Move naturally throughout the day
  2. Know your sense of purpose
  3. Downshift every day to relieve stress
  4. 80% Rule: stop eating when you are 80% full
  5. Plant Slant: Make beans, whole grains, veggies, and fruit the center of your diet
  6. Red Wine in Moderation: Enjoy wine and alcohol moderately with friends and/or food
  7. Belong: Be part of a faith-based community or organization
  8. Loved Ones First: Have close friends and strong family connections
  9. Right Tribe: Cultivate close friends and strong social networks

Just a little recap on #1 – Move Naturally, which I addressed in my last post. My friend Ben reminded me that part of moving can be pushing yourself to extremes. Ben retired the same time I did, and has just put out a new podcast series called Fear of Retirement.  In the second episode, Ben goes into his version of movement, which is super intense and maybe not for everyone. He reminds me that it’s always good to have BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). I agree with this – so, while I’m getting more steps in by walking and golfing, I’m also working on some BHAGs. For me, one of them is swimming in my sixties as fast as I swam in high school – or maybe just fast enough to beat a former student who is challenging me to a 50-yard sprint. (Whenever you’re ready, Brad.) For Ben, it was benching over 300 pounds (mission accomplished). It’s a great listen, and I bring it up just because there are so many ways to move, and we can all find our way to meet this goal. And not to brag about being semi-famous, but Ben gave me a shoutout in the 2nd episode. While not mentioning my name, he referred to me as a “psycho.” Thanks, Ben. I love you too.

Let’s move on to Blue Zone recommendation #2 – Know Your Sense of Purpose. After identifying the six longest living societies in the world and describing how they live their lives, Buettner writes that two of these societies, Okinawans and Costa Rica’s Nicoyans, have cultures in which individuals know “why I wake up in the morning” (Okinawans call it ikigai and Nicoyans refer to their plan de vida.) Let’s face it, we need to have some sense of purpose that we look forward to when we start each day. I love that, because one of my many annoying habits over the course of my life is that on top of being a poor sleeper (side note, this has not gotten better since leaving work), when I wake up in the morning, I am AWAKE and I am ready to go. There is no grogginess, and I am ready to carpe that diem.

As I think back, purpose was easy to come by in my life before this retirement phase. I was fortunate during my 30 years of raising children in our home and my 38-year career in education to have a life that was filled with a massive sense of purpose. Between all that it involved in parenting beginning in 1990, and providing our youth with a high-quality education starting back in 1984, I jumped out of bed every morning knowing that I was making a difference. Yes, every day held its challenges and triumphs, interspersed with many great moments, but I always knew that what I was doing was important, and potentially life-changing.

But, there is a danger in that too. I have watched people retire and come back looking ten years younger and smiling bigger than ever. They have cultivated more reasons for getting out of bed than just work. They have hobbies, passions, friendships, and many other reasons to look forward to each day. On the other hand, I have seen people whose whole sense of purpose was linked to their job. They might have been outstanding at work, but they did not fare well in retirement. So my strong advice is to find a sense of purpose outside of your professional world.

Dan Buettner writes that purpose can come when you can find flow on most days of your life. I love the research on flow. I wrote about it in a post back in April of 2020. If you have moments throughout your day where you experience flow, when you are so immersed in whatever you are doing that time ceases to have meaning, that alone is worth waking up for. Some of my best flow-producing activities are problem-solving, teaching, swimming, golf, playing music, and yes, even my morning ritual of making the kitchen look perfect for the day. It’s amazing how many times this concept keeps popping up into my life. Flow does make life worth living, and according to the research, it gives us improved odds for living longer and better.

And before I go any further, this is not a “check all of the boxes” list. That’s crazy and unrealistic. This is a “there are so many different reasons people have for waking up with purpose, what’s yours?” list.

Other reasons for waking up each day include knowing that you are making a difference. My friend and blogger mentor Chris Erskine is finding purpose being a grandfather. Learning something new provides outstanding, interesting, and brain-building motivation for life. And as my friend Pam wrote in the comments of my last blog post, it’s never too late to learn how to live better. Engaging in new and complex activities requires immersion and can also lead to flow. Even gratitude for what you have provides more purpose than any of us actually realize. (Note – this paragraph could have been dramatically expanded, but most of my blogs are too long already, so just know there’s a lot that could be delved into for each the bolded topics.)

As my friend Dawnalyn pointed out after reading my last blog, a lot of this comes back to Stillman’s research on how to survive…. or even thrive during the quarantine phase of the pandemic.

This is a good time for me to ponder this critical question of having a strong sense of purpose in retirement, as I am taking a pause from all of this retirement bliss and working for two months helping out a local school district. More on that in a future post, but for now, I am asking myself whether immersing in more flow-inducing activities and the increased opportunities for thinking, writing, and learning are sufficient to replace the overwhelming sense of purpose I had while working in public education. So far, the answer is strongly affirmative, but there are many ballots still to count, and I’m not making any projections yet.

My next blog post will be on flow’s less purposeful yet equally important counterpart – downshifting.

Thanks for reading!


Note: The picture at the top of the post is of the mighty Kings River in Central California at sunrise. Between getting up early and loving to cook, one of my jobs at a four-day river floating/camping/game-playing trip that we took every year with 100 of our closest friends was to wake up each morning to cook breakfast for everybody. I always took a pause at the river before I headed up to the outdoor kitchen to make the coffee and start working through frying 40 pounds of bacon. As I said, waking up has always been easy for me, and witnessing beauty like this makes it even better.

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Is Retirement the Life for Me?

If you started singing the theme song from Green Acres when you saw that title, you may (1) way too impacted by afternoon tv in the 1970s, and (2) also be considering this question.

August 31 was my last official day at work in my job as a school superintendent. For almost eight months, I have had no official job. Like I wrote a while back, the last time I had this kind of free time was back when I dropped out of college to be a street musician. But even then, I “had to” go to work in the evenings to make enough money to eat and pay rent. (Also, as the picture above proves, my street musician life provided me with critical skills for my teaching and high school principal jobs – like performing for Sixties Week.) Still, it was a lot of free time, and it was an outstanding period in my life. Now, for just the second time in my life, I have that kind of free time again.

I am devoting this blog post to reflecting on and evaluating my level of happiness with my newly-found free time in this new phase of my life.

A big motivator behind my decision to retire was to do what was best for a long and healthy life with my friends and loved ones. While I loved my job as a school superintendent, it could be crazy at times. A big part of my job was to get yelled at. That yelling could come from angry residents, dissatisfied union leaders, or any number of constituents. And though it was not constant, it was increasing in frequency. Public schools are bearing the brunt of the same anger that is plaguing (and harming) national politics. When I encountered that yelling, my job was to imitate Kevin Bacon in Animal House, responding with the equivalent of “Thank you sir, may I have another,” and to do so with a smile. I did that quite well for a long time, but it took its toll.

But there were other reasons. I commuted 41 miles each way for eleven years. My work week, including commute time, ranged from 65 to 80 hours a week. I was away from home at least two evenings every week, and often up to four. (High school principals are out even more!) My weight had gone up a little, and for the first time in my life, my doctor had some concerns about what the stress was doing to me. And, eleven years is a long time to be in one job. I was also a successful high school principal for eleven years, and at the end of both of those tenures, I just felt it was time to go, even though I loved the job.

All of that being said, I loved my job as superintendent. I worked with a fantastic board, and benefitted from their wisdom, care for students and employees, and humor. My colleagues were an amazing team of leaders with whom I was proud to work side by side. I was inspired by the employees and students that I served, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the vast majority of parents and community leaders. In spite of being ready to leave, it was hard to leave all of those positives.

So, it’s time for me to reflect on how it’s going, and whether or not it feels right and whether what I’m doing now is going to help me achieve my goals of happiness and a long life with friends and loved ones.

The bottom line: Not working has been awesome. I am busy, Jill is happy with the changes she’s seen, and I know I’m healthier. My newly-found free time, just like it did back in my street musician days, truly helps me to center myself and find balance.

My only concern is that I do miss the human interaction. When I worked, I was rarely by myself. As I often said about my job, I made a living running or being in meetings. I was always talking with people, and most of the time, I loved it. Now, there is down time and quiet time. There’s a lot of good in that, and yet, I am still thinking about how to achieve that balance of the right amount of human interaction.

In order to further investigate whether this new lifestyle of mine is going to help me live longer, I will break it down using the Blue Zones research of Dan Buettner. Blue Zones looks at the lifestyles of communities where people live longer, healthier, and happier lives than other areas of the world. Based on their research, Buettner makes nine recommendations for all of us to strive for in our lives:

  1. Move naturally throughout the day
  2. Know your sense of purpose
  3. Downshift every day to relieve stress
  4. 80% Rule: stop eating when you are 80% full
  5. Plant Slant: Make beans, whole grains, veggies, and fruit the center of your diet
  6. Red Wine in Moderation: Enjoy wine and alcohol moderately with friends and/or food
  7. Belong: Be part of a faith-based community or organization
  8. Loved Ones First: Have close friends and strong family connections
  9. Right Tribe: Cultivate close friends and strong social networks

It’s good stuff, right? Very commonsensical, and not at all extreme or crazy. Over the next few months, I’ll break this down into two or three blog posts that discuss how I’m doing in each of those areas, and how it compared to when I was working full time. For this post, I’ll just hit the first one – move naturally throughout the day.

Blue Zones Lesson #1: Move Naturally Throughout the Day: GIANT CHANGE! And all of it good. I’m driving (and sitting) way less. I’m walking a golf course twice a week. I’m walking in my own neighborhood. I’m moving around the house. Whenever I’m home at lunch while Jill is working, I’m busy in the kitchen making her lunch. My steps per day on weekdays have gone from 4,000 to a range of 9,000 to 20,000. When you meet for a living, you sit and sit and sit. It’s a killer. Between walking around the house, swimming several times a week, playing golf, and Pelotoning/biking, I’m moving so much more than I have in a long, long time, and it feels right. So I’m 1/1 in the Blue Zones research so far.

For those of you who say you hate me when I discuss how good this has been, one of the questions I am asking myself is whether I could have done a better job of this while I was working. I’ll address that in these future posts. There’s more to come, and I look forward to this process.

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Hawaii – Go for the Beauty, Stay for the Games

Jill and I returned home today from our Hawaiian vacation. I’m a big fan of our 50th state. If I feel far away from reality when I’m 26 miles across the sea on Catalina Island, imagine how distant I feel in Hawaii! Really distant is the answer. Even in quasi-retirement, being home means routines and responsibilities. Those all seem to melt away on a great vacation. As my friend Will says, there’s just nothing to do, and all day to do it.

Neither Jill nor I are fans of doing nothing while we are on vacation. Jill seeks out more relaxing activities, while I prefer day trips and seeing/doing what I think needs to be seen and done, but we both agree that vacation is a perfect time for games. I used to think I loved games until I met Jill. Jill’s vibrant passion for games makes my enjoyment look my old mid-size Honda Ridgeline next to Jill’s new massive Dodge Ram 1500. Disirregardless, I have long loved passing time while playing games.

My family used to vacation in Lake Ouachita (If you don’t remember, it’s pronounced Wa-shə-taw – and any day I get to use a schwa is a good day!), which is about an hour’s drive south of Little Rock, Arkansas. Our strategy was to get down to the lake on Friday afternoon, load up the ski boat, and head out to lay claim to one of the lake’s many islands. We would set up camp with a few other families and friends, and spend the weekend just hanging out. The main activity on the lake was water skiing early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the water was as glassy as possible. There was also inner tubing behind the boat, and three meals a day. But other than that, there was a lot of down time filled with hot humid air and lake water that was not much cooler. So, what to do?

While there were always some board games, my favorite game had no board and was always played with Kent and Kirt Hyde. We would be sitting in lawn chairs, and in a slow voice, I would say, “Mr. Hyde, I’m pretty sure I can take this little rock right here, make a perfect throw, and hit the top of that tree stump.” For the next hour or three, there would be a lot of talk about the previous throw, then a lot more talk about how each of us was going to outdo the last throw. It was a less-skilled and more trash-talking version of the old Larry Bird – Michael Jordan “Nothing But Net” commercials. And it would last for hours.

Skiing on Glass Circa 1980

When time doesn’t matter, games are a wonderful way to pass it. Great games involve varying degrees of skill, strategy, competition, and the opportunity for enjoyable conversation. I think games are far more enjoyable when you don’t hate losing. For me, I love to win, but though I won’t say I like losing, I love playing a lot more than I dislike losing. (Side note: For all of you who dislike losing more than you like playing – you’re not that fun to play with.) Over the last 25 years, I’ve played ping pong for hours with both of my sons in our back yard. Playing, talking, laughing, and always getting better. Even though my son Ryan now beats me in 19 out of 20 games in ping pong, I still love playing with him. It’s my own fault he’s so damn good. For years, because his backhand was weak and I wanted to win, I hit him nothing but backhands. Now, his backhand slam is vicious. And he still holds a lot of anger about all of those backhands I fed him, which I can always feel as the ball whizzes past me as he wins yet another point. And still, I love to play the game with him.

When time doesn’t matter, games are a wonderful way to pass it. Great games involve varying degrees of skill, strategy, competition, and the opportunity for enjoyable conversation.

During this time in Hawaii, I played a lot of golf on a beautiful course. I don’t believe there is a better game for scenery, strategy, conversation, competition, and skill than golf. I’ve played a good amount of cornhole as well. Cornhole was not around when I was a kid, but I’m sure it was inspired by experiences like my early rock-throwing contests with Kent and Kirk. It’s a spectacular game that, unlike golf, any yahoo can play. To add to the mix, Jill and I played more than a few hands of cribbage – I’m now ahead by just one game in our lifelong tally of wins. It’s closer than I would like. We met another couple in Hawaii that loves games, and while playing table shuffleboard, we learned we all love Rummikub. So we bought a set and played that for two nights. We suggested a third night and they gave us a wide-eyed but polite hard no. I know. We can be a bit much when it comes to game-playing. We met four other people who were playing “Crud” on a pool table – they taught us how to play, and now we are fans of Crud. Lots of moving around and laughing in that one. Suffice it to say, game playing was a HUGE part of this amazing vacation.

As I mentioned, game playing creates one of my favorite settings for conversations. It’s way better than my least favorite form of conversation – the cocktail party/visit in the parlor conversation. Maybe I don’t like those types of conversations just because I’m not that good at it. In those settings, the only thing we have to talk about is what we are talking about. But if I’m cooking, or the person I’m talking with is cooking, or if we are enjoying a meal, or if we are playing a game together, or walking or hiking together, or just DOING SOMETHING BESIDES TALKING, there are boundless conversational options, and I am all in and I can’t get enough of it.

I know when we get back home, the games won’t be as constant, but they will still be a fantastic part of our lives. So to celebrate games and all the ways they enrich our lives, I think I’ll go outside and throw a few rocks or cornhole bags. Just for practice.

Have a great rest of the week,


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First time Dawson beat me – Now I have to play right handed just to stay close. (Back then, I knew something he did not know . . .)
I sank this putt. Honestly! No really!

Movies I Watch Again and Again

We watched the Oscars on Sunday night. With my newfound time, I actually had the opportunity to watch most of the nominated movies this year. I loved CODA, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it win. Don’t Look Up was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while, but I thought that it was too political, even for the Oscars. Belfast was beautiful and was the type of movie I thought the Oscar people would love. And Summer of Soul was one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks to my friend Bill for recommending it to me – as he said, it’s a movie that fills up your heart. And in the interest of staying positive, I will just say that there were many things to celebrate in this year’s Oscars show.

Back to the movies. When I was little, my parents brought me to the movies several times a year. We all still laugh about scenes with Inspector Clouseau (“Does your dog bite?”), anything from Mel Brooks (“What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?”), and so many others. It has been an important part of parenting for me too. Watching movies with my sons was always a highlight. There’s not much better than laughing together, and I love that my children had heroes we could root for. It’s still a huge part of their lives, and I know that will continue as long as they live.

I think you can tell a lot about a person from the movies they love. There are several films that I watch over and over again. I can’t even count how many times I have seen each of the movies listed below – probably between 10 and 40 times. They are old friends. If I just watch any of them for even 20 minutes, that’s OK. I know I’ll see them again, so it’s easy to walk away.

You might see my list and think that there’s not much to me. An old friend who knows me very well used to joke (kind of) that I was “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Maybe my friend is right, but these movies are special, and I embrace whatever they say about me.

I love stories. In most cases, when times are tough, or when things don’t go the way they are supposed to, there’s always the silver lining that it will create a great story. One of my favorite things about Abraham Lincoln is that he used stories to make a point or just to lighten a tense situation. It was charming and made him a great campaigner. For those closest to him, Abe’s stories annoyed the hell out of them. I have read that there was no small amount of eye-rolling when he would say, “That reminds of the man who . . .”. As we say in my family, keep on telling a story or making a joke until everyone is tired of it, then really start to hammer it home. If it’s good enough for Abe, it’s good enough for me.

Here are four movies that tell stories that speak to me so well that I watch them again and again and again:

  • Princess Bride: I love everything about this movie. From Peter Falk narrating it, to Fred Savage hating it, then liking it, to every single character in it. In our family, we just have to say certain phrases, and we know the thought we are trying to convey. “My name is Inigo Montoya,” “That is the sound of ultimate suffering,” “Booooooo!,” “Have fun storming the castle!” and “Inconceivable!” I could keep on going. It’s a perfect movie that turns storytelling into an art form. And I never tire of it.
  • Big FishIt’s a father-son tale, where the son is pretty much estranged from his father, because of all of the crazy stories that his dad makes up and retells again and again. He longs for a closer relationship with his father, but his father’s incessant stories keep him from doing that. Or do they? I don’t take many quotes from this one, but it’s a storytelling classic about storytelling.
  • A Knight’s Tale: Heath Ledger at his best, and how do you not like a movie that includes Chaucer. It’s a quote-fest of a movie about friendship, dreams, and good versus evil. And the mix of contemporary music (Queen, David Bowie) with medieval pageantry makes it nothing short of breathtaking.
  • Star Wars IV, V, and VI: Has there ever been a better storytelling movie series? I remember seeing Episode IV: A New Hope in the theater with friends, and when it was over, paraphrasing Vin Scully, we could not believe what we just saw. IV, V, and VI were so good that they make all of the others highly enjoyable. Yoda’s wisdom (“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”), Luke’s whining, Obi-Wan’s coolness, Darth Vader’s conflicted evil (“I am your father”), Droids, and Wookies. “Let the Wookie win” is good advice in a number of situations.

Though I love stories well told, comedies are my favorite genre of movie. I believe that each of the films below represent comedic genius. Here are some of my favorites, and yes, I have watched them dozens of times:

  • The Jerk: I owned Steve Martin’s comedy album in high school and played it until the grooves wore out. I lived for the Wild and Crazy Guys appearing on SNL on Saturday nights. Like Navin R. Johnson, I took a picture of my name the first time it appeared in a phone book, and I said, “Good things are going to start happening to me now.” I actually could have expanded this to any movie featuring Steve Martin, but I’ll stick to my rules.
  • Office Space: Damn, this movie is funny. It’s so dry, but it’s perfect. How many situations was I in as a teacher or principal when I had to do a stupid “TPS Report.” And I knew as a superintendent, I wasn’t happy when I created that requirement for others. Beating the daylights out of a glitchy office machine is something so many of us dreamed of. Bad bosses, heartless consultants, and outstanding slogans like, “Ask yourself, is it good for the company?” I love it all.
  • Wayne’s World: Another quote fest. I even have Tia Carrere’s “Why you want to break my heart” song on some of my playlists. Rob Lowe almost steals the movie, and Wayne and Garth are suburban heroes. I’ll party on with those guys many more times in my life.
  • Zoolander: Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, with a cameo from David Bowie, are perfect. The gasoline fight with Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” playing in the background is about as good as it gets. I’ll admit that I’m not really, really, really, ridiculously good looking, but I can live vicariously through this movie.
  • This is Spinal Tap: My friend Carolyn sent me a text about the greatness of Spinal Tap, and my first thought was to make this whole blog post about life lessons to be learned from Spinal Tap. I still might do that in the future, but for now, the movie that invented the Mockumentary genre is my favorite movie of all time. Some call it the greatest comedy of all time. And this movie does indeed go to eleven. I think that in my next life, I’ll forsake my college education and meaningful careers, and I’ll be a rock and roller. I don’t need to be famous, but the life is something I believe I would love. This is Spinal Tap did nothing to dissuade that dream.

While comedies are wonderful, I do have one go-to movie that I will watch when I’m down. I don’t get sad very often, but life kicks you in the teeth sometimes, and I am not immune from the pain. For me, one of the best things I can do when I go to this place is to bathe myself in it. I don’t look for movies to cheer me up. On the contrary, I look for a film that reminds us of how crappy life can sometimes be, while showing that there are glimmers of hope that make it worth living:

Tender Mercies: When I want to accept and embrace that sadness and suffering, I watch Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall is my favorite actor of all time, and this is Duvall at his best. He plays a washed-up country western songwriter. If there’s anybody who embraces sadness more than a country western songwriter, I’m sad for them. Yet even with all of the heartbreak, the movie ends with messages of redemption and hope.

So those are my all-time-watched-a-gazillion-times-already-and-I’ll-keep-on-watching favorites. I’d love to hear from you about what movies never get old for you.

Thanks for reading.

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The College Kid Comes Home

Alternate Title: Parents and Tasmanian Devils Can Peacefully Coexist

Our youngest son, Dawson, came home from college this weekend. It’s Spring Break, and he is in town for 10 days. Jill, Duffy and Maggie Mae (our Scottish Terriers), and I are thrilled to have him home. My good friend Chris Erskine wrote about his son, who is the same age as Dawson, coming home from college in his post this week, and he said it perfectly. (Actually, Chris Erskine is not my good friend, but he is a true writer, and his writing makes me feel like we are friends. He shares enough about the good, bad, joyous, and painful elements of his life to let me in, like a good friend would. Have I ever met him? Well, no. Not yet.) But anyway, my good friend Chris wrote about his son this week, “Yeah, three months since he’s been home. Too long. Forever. For 18 years, I saw him every morning, every night. The house wasn’t a home without him. He took his first steps in this place, said his first words, spilled his first juice box all over my shirt.” Exactly.

That pretty much describes Dawson, except he took his first steps during a faculty meeting at Malibu High School. (Please don’t tell his mom. She thinks she was there for his first steps!) He lived in our house – the same house – for his entire life, until this fall. I still can’t get over the one-house-for-18-years thing. Unlike Dawson, I lived in at least six different houses in five different cities before I left for college. None of that moving actually mattered in my very happy childhood, but it must be interesting to live in just one house and have just one bedroom for the first 18 years of your life. And even though empty nesting is going well, our house is more of a home when he’s here.

Our older son, Ryan, is 31. He’s been out of the house for 13 years, and even though I talk to him several times each and every week, I still miss his presence in our home and look forward to the next time I see him.  

That being said, after a week of having one of them home again, I do have to admit that their return, and the quick transformation of the bedroom from a neat, pristine guest bedroom into, well, not that, and finding dirty glasses, dirty plates, and leftover food in unexpected places, is a reminder of what it was like to have a Tasmanian Devil (or two) in the house, and it won’t be totally awful to have the house back to ourselves again. I look back at this paragraph and I don’t like at all that I sound like my Dad talking about me when I was their age.

I know my parents felt the same way when we were kids. Tuesday’s Wordle answer, “SLOSH,” reminded me of a Tasmanian Devil moment when the four of us kids, probably aged 4, 6, 7, and 8 were upstairs taking baths, “safely” out of the way while my parents were hosting a lovely dinner party. Compared to the four of us, Ryan and Dawson are very tame Tasmanian Devils. I’m not sure how it all got started, but we ended up having an epic water fight in the upstairs bathroom, featuring a lot of splashing and water sloshing over the edges of the bath. We would have gotten away with it, too, except for the fact that said sloshed water magically made its way through the floor down to an opening in the ceiling holding the beautiful crystal chandelier suspended above the dining room table. It started as a drip, drip, drip that raised diners’ eyebrows and soon turned into a steady stream of water pouring down onto the dinner table, prompting the guests to run for safety, and my mom to frantically scramble to save the food. My dad did not help with the food saving, as he was too busy running up the stairs to address the problem directly. And boy was he mad. He stopped us mid-slosh, making sure that we all knew how angry he was. If one’s vocal volume was the main factor for a parent of the year award, my dad would have won in a landslide in that moment!

So the Tasmanian Devil thing is something my kids come by honestly.

One of my theories about parenting is that with each child, parents have somewhere between 14 and 16 years to impart lessons in their parental role. That happens by setting and enforcing the rules, developing good habits, exploring children’s interests and passions, instilling a code of morality, building self-esteem and self-discipline (those two can be at odds with each other), and doing all of the things that make parenting unbelievably difficult, yet incredibly meaningful. But somewhere in that 14 to 16 age range, these young adults reach a point where the natural consequences of their mistakes or bad decisions are far more impactful than any consequences a parent can impose. For me, that has not meant that my parental role is over, but it has meant a shift. It has moved me into a mentor/friend role, and optimally I will stay there for the rest of my life.

Somewhere in that 14 to 16 age range, these young adults reach a point where the natural consequences of their mistakes or bad decisions are far more impactful than any consequences a parent can impose. For me, that has not meant that my parental role is over, but it has meant a shift. It has moved me into a mentor/friend role, and optimally I will stay there for the rest of my life.

Mark Twain wrote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. There should be a get-even quote for parents that goes something like, “When my child child was 14, their incompetence as a human being made me think I was a complete failure as a parent. But by the time they were 21, I was amazed at how much my parenting lessons had sunk in over the last seven years.”

To me, those seven years are a huge transition time. They are challenging years because each child and parent is figuring out how to navigate to this new role in the relationship. The transition time from parent to mentor/friend can be painful, but having experienced it, I know there’s nothing better. I do miss the 18 years where we lived together 24-7. At the same time, empty nesting is not bad at all. Pretty darn good, actually. And during times like this week, when one of my boys is back in the house like old times, I’ll drink it all in, accept the anthill of bad with the mountain of good, and remind myself how truly fortunate I am, and how much I have to look forward to.

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Beware the Ides of March (Minus Two)

March 15 is the Ides of March. The phrase ‘Beware the Ides of March’ is yet another Shakespeare quote still in our lives, made famous as a fortune teller’s warning to Julius Caesar about his impending death. I’ve been in a hilarious email exchange this week with about 20 high school classmates, reminiscing about our days in Latin class. Our teacher was a larger-than-life man who had very strict rules for all assigned work, a low tolerance for annoying noises mysteriously coming from the class, a strong slap to the face (or the occasional double-whammy if it was deserved) for those of us who made his life difficult, and, especially for a Catholic priest, an odd fascination with Julius Caesar. He even made us bow our heads for a moment of silence on the Ides of March, the day of Caesar’s death. I was not the best-behaved student in that class (I may or may not have been slapped a few times), but I emerged with stories that still matter. Over forty years later, my friends and I still share stories of antics from that class and how we all bonded from the experience.

But lately, the Ides of March has been nothing compared to March 13 (the Ides Minus Two), which happens to be my birthday. Let’s review my last three birthdays, shall we? At least Caesar was warned something bad was coming.

March 13, 2020. As the clock struck midnight and I turned 58 years old, my leadership team and I were meeting in my office. COVID was all everyone was talking about, there was news of cases in our community, and fear was high among our parents and employees. I am a big fan of keeping schools open, and the state was making it clear that our district would lose money if we decided to close, but there was just too much unknown. Around 1 AM, we decided to close the schools and move to remote learning. When I met with the management team later that morning, they asked me how long I thought we would be closed. Being the great future teller that I am, I boldly predicted two weeks. They still laugh at me for that one, and for every other prediction they asked me to make. They should have stopped asking me, but they took great pleasure in watching me try yet again. My birthday that year was a tough day that required tough decisions, and like all decisions I made over the next 15 months, I pleased some people with it.

March 13, 2021. My team and I were trying to work miracles in order to safely get our students back to in-person school. By this time, we had already brought back our most impacted students with disabilities, high school athletics (just training, not practicing), elementary school students, and middle school students in grade 6. But we still had to figure out how to safely move students from class to class in grades 7-12 while abiding by all health department rules. It seemed like the health department had completely forgotten how high schools work. I’m pretty sure they all went to high school, but we were constantly saying to DPH, “People! That is not how high schools work!” We were working beyond our physical (and emotional) limits, and we just kept going. I withstood the slings and arrows from those who “knew” we were moving too slow or too fast, and I was bolstered by all of the people who took the time to say thank you. Never underestimate the power of gratitude in how it energizes those who need it. Those were days when almost every minute at home was spent on email or the phone, and there was simply no time to celebrate a birthday. I look back and I am so proud of what our team accomplished, but as far as birthdays go, well, I was proud of what all of us in the district accomplished.

This will irk some people, but here’s a pet peeve. If your birthday falls on a work day, GO TO WORK! You went to school when you were a kid on your birthday. Go to work as an adult. Sorry. Where was I?

March 13, 2022. A warning I should have considered was that Daylight Savings Time started on my birthday this year. I love Daylight Savings Time, and I really don’t mind losing an hour, as it turns me from a ridiculously early riser to just an early riser. But most reasonable people loathe losing that hour. They get angry and cranky about it. And this year, because it was on my birthday, it was therefore my fault. You’re welcome, people. Back to my birthday. Finally, this was the year to celebrate. I was turning 60, and as you know, I’m not working! This was the year when I got the birthday I deserved.

We had invited a few people from the neighborhood invited to join us for a back yard bbq, where I planned to cook way more food than the attendees could possibly eat in three dinners. It was fun planning it, but then, the Ides Minus Two struck. As the week leading up to my birthday started, Jill and I learned that we had both been exposed to COVID by a friend who is highly responsible but who still tested positive. What the hell? COVID is practically gone! The rules are minimal, and I still abide by all of them. I have always abided by the rules (well, not in Latin class), and I still was living my life according to DPH guidelines, but NOW, when no one has it, I might get it? So we followed the rules and quarantined. Admittedly, in spite of Jill’s best efforts, I did so with a bit of an attitude. At first, we had no symptoms, then both Jill and I started a slight fever and a sore throat. The next day, we both tested positive and it was game-on from there. We both had extremely sore throats that made it difficult to sleep. My symptoms went away after a few days, while Jill’s got considerably worse before they finally went away.

This was the first sickness I had experienced in over four years. I keep track of my colds/flus in Evernote. I used to keep track of Jill’s too. I thought I was being very helpful when I would say, “You know, this is your third cold this year. Maybe you should work on some healthier habits.” Surprisingly, she did not think it was as helpful, and in an effort to keep our marriage happy and healthy, I have stopped the public service announcements I was giving her. But I still keep track, and it has been over four years for me!

Suffice it to say, the BBQ has been postponed indefinitely. The highlights of my birthday were phone calls with friends and family (my brother Bill said, “From a little baby turkey to an old crusty gobbler, you have been a great big brother!” Sweet, right?), Facebook good wishes (my first time for that – it’s quite nice!), some outstanding email messages, and my neighborhood friends walking up the street and safely singing happy birthday from the middle of the street. At first it felt like they were singing, “Happy F’ing Birthday to You.” Then, I gave myself a well-deserved mental slap (a lesson learned from my Latin days), and truly appreciated it. It was a wonderful neighborhood moment, and I was grateful, but I still would rather have been with them in the back yard, eating food, playing backyard games, and doing what you should do on birthdays.

I spent time on March 13 doing what I recommended in last week’s blog – writing down what I’m grateful for. It’s a long, long list. Truth be told, I think birthday celebrations are overrated. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to solve big problems with bright and caring people over my past few birthdays, and I’ll take the bad with the good. Usually, the bad just turns into yet another life story to share. I think we get in trouble when we think that life owes us anything. Maya Angelou said, “Living well is an art that can be developed: a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings and assurance that the world owes you nothing, and that every gift is exactly that, a gift.”

But as I said. Beware the Ides of March, minus two.


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The Pursuit of Well-Being

I’m a big fan of pursuing happiness. Aristotle even said that doing so was the meaning of life, so I’m in decent company. I know that there are a million ways to define happiness, and that you don’t have to be smiling-laughing-giddy in order to be happy. That’s why many people are moving from the idea of pursuing happiness to the idea of pursuing well-being.

What is mind-boggling to me is that even though most of us reading this live in one of the wealthiest nations the world has ever known, our level of well-being in the United States is not increasing. Depression and other mental health challenges are more prevalent than ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because last week I had the good fortune of being part of a three-hour lecture and Q&A Discussion with Dr. Shashank Joshi, a professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Education at Stanford. Professor Joshi was a parent at Palo Alto High School when several students died by suicide there. He was very involved with school officials and mental health providers as they worked side by side to address this crisis, in hopes of saving as many young lives as possible. Many districts have followed their lead. Take my friend Ellen for example – when asked why she was a member of her district’s social and emotional wellness committee, she said, “If we can just help to save one life, all of our efforts are worth it.”  Ellen is exactly right. Professor Joshi has dedicated much of his professional life to helping students and adults by improving their well-being. But he was devastated by the recent death by suicide of Katie Meyer, a Stanford student who had been an incredibly positive leader on the Stanford campus. There is still a great amount of work to be done.

Depression is a real problem in this country and around the world, and it’s becoming more prevalent.

  • 20% of young people suffer clinical depression before adulthood.
  • According to a Boston University study, nearly 28% of Americans experienced depression at the beginning of the pandemic, and by late 2021, this figure had increased to nearly 33%.
  • Depression rates have been increasing over the last ten years.

So what can we do?

There is a relatively new field of study called positive psychology. It seeks to use research-based techniques to increase personal well-being. A book that Professor Joshi recommended was written by one of the founders of positive psychology, Martin E. P. Seligman, titled Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. I enjoyed reading this his book, though it uses a little more medical terminology than my liberal arts brain can comprehend (I skim through those parts).

Seligman provides techniques that are much more than just good ideas – they are research-based practices that all of us can use to improve our well-being.

  • Perform acts of kindness for others.
  • Towards the end of the day, set aside ten minutes and write down three things that went well today and why they went well.
  • Slow down. (This is a hard one for me). Our society often rewards speed, but mental health is enhanced by going slow, as it allows us to better focus, ignore distractions, plan, and avoid impulsivity.

Want to get motivated? Some of you may know of Questlove, who is one of the founders of The Roots, the band that works with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. He’s a supremely talented musician and an overall amazing person. Professor Joshi recommended a 10-minute video where Questlove reviews what a typical day for him looks like. While he is incredibly productive, the amount of time he spends pondering, being still, and just thinking is mind-boggling to me. When you add the amount of time he spends on disciplined learning, it’s truly inspirational. And, oh yeah, he does a lot of actual work on top of that. It will make you reconsider how you spend your time. I know it’s doing that for me.

Professor Joshi also shared a study from UC Berkeley, which was conducted as depression rates were rising during the pandemic. This is what the findings suggest that all of us should do every day. For me – this is good healthy living that should extend far beyond the pandemic.

Image created by Brooke Anderson

A huge part of Seligman’s book is devoted to changing our schools and the military. He is passionate in his belief that children, as well as soldiers, need to learn how to maintain and improve their own well-being. While schools have been slow to universally adapt these ideas, the military has made a concerted effort to provide this life-improving information to its leaders and soldiers.  Seligman details many ways that the military is working to improve soldiers’ lives and to promote post-traumatic growth. He has example after example of ways in which the military is actively seeking to implement his own research and the research of others. 

Unfortunately, the level of implementation at the schools has been less successful. This TED Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris should persuade anyone that this is critical work. Dr. Burke Harris is convinced, based on her own research and that of others, that schools can screen students and provide support for students who are most likely to experience mental health issues in the future. By providing that support, schools can improve those students’ chances for healthy living, better academic success, and a more productive life with a greater sense of well-being.

I’m sure that both Seligman and Harris are disappointed with the lack of progress in schools. This is one of the areas where I left my job feeling like I was not as successful in instituting the change that I had once hoped to create. My former district led efforts towards mindfulness as well as overall social and emotional well-being, and we did screen our students to better understand whether that could be contemplating death by suicide. Just like the data mentioned earlier indicates, it was a higher number than you would think. The vast majority of parents were grateful for our alerts to them if there was a concern. In spite of those efforts, I do not believe we achieved anywhere close to a strong level of implementation before I left. I think there are many causes – not enough training, lack of belief by some that it really matters, strong beliefs that academics are the sole purpose of schools, and lately, some opposition by parents to schools making this shift that thwarted our progress. There is much work still to be done.

If you ask almost all parents what they want for their children, they will say that they want them to lead happy and meaningful lives. We as parents need to do our best to lead by example. For me, that means striving to do better for myself and for others, and talking with my children about these efforts. I hope we can get to a day when this type of self-care is also taught in our schools.  Let’s ensure that students have a better chance of leaving campus each day with the tools they need to maximize their own well-being. This is relatively new learning for me over the last ten years, and I agree with many military members who have gone through this training: my only regret is that I wish I had learned this earlier. It would have made me a better educator and a better friend.

I hope you find something in all of these resources that pushes you to examine and develop new habits to enhance your own well-being, and to support those we love in that same pursuit.

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Photo by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Thoughts on Ukraine – The World is Changing Right Before Our Eyes

I didn’t think I’d see it in my lifetime. Russia has invaded Ukraine, and as of the time of this writing, there is a fierce battle waging for the survival of this new and yet not new nation.

I have to admit, I did not know much about Ukraine before last week. I knew it was a rich agricultural area, and that it had been part of the Soviet Union, but not much more. I still don’t know as much as I should, but here is what I would talk to students about if this event came up while I was teaching.

  • Like many nations in the flat unprotected lands between Europe and Russia, Ukraine has been occupied/ruled by a variety of nations over the centuries.
  • After the Russian Revolution, there was a fierce Civil War in Ukraine, a war that saw pro Soviet forces emerge and subsequently join as one of the Soviets of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet rule, millions were killed in purges, Nazi genocide, and by the effects of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
  • After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine became its own nation in 1991.
  • It has not been an easy 30+ years for a new country, as Russian has not been cooperative, and the path to political and economic freedom is never easy.

From what I am reading, Putin thought the time was right to attempt this conquest. Maybe he looked at Operation Desert Storm and saw how well the US forces did against an overwhelmed adversary. Maybe he believed, like leaders often do, that an easy military victory would boost his popularity. Maybe he felt he had to do this, as Ukraine had been leaning towards alliances with NATO and the west. Maybe he felt that that supporting pro-Russian Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were a good enough reason to invade the rest of the country. And maybe he believed, like Soviet leaders of the past, that Russia’s military strength made this a no-lose gambit.

I wrote before that I never thought I’d see it. Let me explain. We have not really seen this since the advent of nuclear weapons. Only the USSR’s failed attempt to conquer Afghanistan comes close. The premises for other wars in my lifetime have been interventions in civil wars, attempts to halt genocides, or campaigns to prevent terrorism. But they were not intended to be conquests. The fear was always that if such an attempt started, that the USSR/Russia, USA, and now many other countries would face the threat of nuclear war. And such a strategy, as we learned from the WOPR in War Games, is “… a strange game. The only way to win is not to play.”

And yet here we are. And though Putin has raised the specter of using nuclear weapons, most do not think that is going to happen. The threat of nuclear war may no longer be the deterrent we thought it would always be to this type of military effort. I do think this threat remains the primary reason that NATO or independent major nations are not sending military troops.  But many nations are sending military weaponry. And there are other major developments that will change our world for years to come.

  • Germany is devoting more of its funds to military efforts. If this is going to be the new normal, they are going to start devoting more towards protecting themselves. While this could be helpful to the safety of a united Europe, Germany’s military history is not forgotten, and it does make many nervous. Also, the new European Union is, for the first time, financing military equipment to be used in a country under attack.
  • Switzerland is not taking a neutral stance. I use “Swiss” as a synonym for neutrality. I told my students to “not be Swiss” in their writing, and to take a clear stand in every essay they wrote. Looks like that phrase won’t work anymore.
  • The longest lines in the Ukrainian cities are the lines to sign up to be a volunteer for the military. While I love the patriotism and the desire to fight for a cause, the parent in me shudders at the thought of our children signing up for something where they will immediately be thrown into an incredibly dangerous and lethal situation. My thoughts and prayers to go all of the Ukrainians risking their lives against this attack.
  • The leadership lessons are incredible here. I don’t know what the results are going to be, but President Zelenskyy is not afraid, and he has inspired many. When it looked like this could very well be a 24-hour battle that Putin hoped for, the US offered to evacuate him to safety. His response: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” In a subsequent video, he stated, “I am here [in Kyiv]. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this.” First lady Olena Zelenska, President Zelenskyy’s wife, has also expressed strength, courage, and resolve: “I will not have panic and tears. I will be calm and confident. My children are looking at me. I will be next to them. And next to my husband. And with you.”  Powerful stuff.
  • And don’t underestimate the role of freedom here. Ukrainian citizens are not required to fight, and they are lining up to do so. Russian soldiers, who are mostly drafted, are reportedly unmotivated and demoralized by how difficult this effort has been. Freedom is worth fighting for, and perhaps dying for.

I hate all of it. It’s very difficult for me to look at this with any lens other than that of a parent, and it terrifies me. But if I do go beyond that, we are living in the midst of a world changing event. I hope that history teachers around the world are pausing from their planned curriculum and devoting huge amounts of time to what this all means. To explain all of this, students can learn from the parallels to and the impact of the Russian Revolution, World War I and World War II, NATO, the end of the Soviet Union, the impact of sanctions on not just Russia, but our own economy, and so much more. Furthermore, this is an opportunity to develop students thinking around responsible citizenship, patriotism, loyalty, right and wrong. I might play Green Day’s 21 Guns and have students look at this war from the perspective of drafted Russian soldiers and volunteer Ukrainian citizens. I might discuss lessons I learned from Admiral James Stockdale, who was a POW in Vietnam for eight years, when I took powerful philosophy class he taught examining the concept of what is a just war?. This is a sad but remarkable teaching opportunity that teachers should pounce on.

I am hoping against all odds that this remarkably courageous Ukrainian effort is successful, and that Putin has to go home with his tail between his legs. But I’m not sure that’s in his DNA. I will say that Americans praising the efforts of Putin seems to be contrary to everything we believe in. This is brutal, unprovoked aggression that is destroying lives and families, and almost all of the world is trying to figure out how they can help turn it back. I am rooting for democracy, for freedom, and for self-determination, and all of us should be inspired by those fighting for what is just and good.

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Here are some resources that might be helpful to learn more:

On President Zelenzskyy

A 13-Century Timeline of Ukraine

Teaching and parenting resources for Ukraine

A great piece from London on the miserable history of Russian and Ukraine

Ukraininan Flag Photo from Wikipedia

Paying it Forward

The best gift any teacher can receive is words of appreciation from their students, from the parents of their students, or from a site administrator. I remember being a principal and walking into the room of one of a truly wonderful teacher. This teacher was loved by his students and by the community. Like most great teachers do quite often, he found himself questioning the effectiveness of his teaching, as one of his lessons had not gone the way he had planned.

First of all – that happens – even to the greatest. Kobe Bryant had off nights. Wayne Gretzky didn’t always get a hat trick. Yo Yo Ma might even miss a note on his cello every once in a while. None of us are perfect. But the point of this story is that this great teacher, as he was telling me about his self-criticism, all of the sudden had an ah-ha moment, his eyes brightened, and he ran back to his desk. He brought back a neatly folded half sheet of paper with a little hand written note I had given him a few years back, praising him for taking risks as a teacher. I was just shocked that that little note was still helpful to him, two or three years after I had written it.

“If you want a look into what I was like in those early years of my education career, and how Nicole is striving to help all teachers out there, take a listen. Here is the podcast.

Telling someone that are doing a great job or that they are appreciated is far more powerful than you can possibly imagine. And my self-critical takeaway was that I did not do that nearly enough.

I taught full-time for five years at San Lorenzo High School, a wonderful school across the Bay from San Francisco. I have written before about my love of teams (Teams Post, February, 2020), and how I feel fortunate to have worked with great teams of students and educators at San Lorenzo (and many other places!). Nicole Lusiani was one of my students from the first-ever AP US History class at San Lorenzo. She graduated in 1990, the year I left San Lorenzo to start my administrative career. She finished her degree and went on to teach history in Room B10 at San Lorenzo, the very room that I taught in for five years. She taught for a long time there, then went on in search of finding ways to support teachers.

That’s what she is doing now. She has started a podcast called Copy Room Conversations. The intent is to provide inspiration and support to teachers. Nicole is honest about her struggles with teaching, her struggles with perfectionism, and how overwhelming it is to always have that never-ending list of what teachers could be doing for their students. Her honesty, humility, humor, passion for all things teaching, and appreciation for all those who have helped her along the way make these podcasts truly powerful.

I was honored to be the subject of Nicole Lusiani’s latest podcast, part of her season devoted to “Paying it Forward.” I loved our time in the interview, remembering moments I had forgotten, and reflecting on memories I cherish. When I listened to the podcast, I was so proud of what she is doing, and very pleased with what she produced.  So if you want a look into what I was like in those early years of my education career, and how Nicole is striving to help all teachers out there, take a listen. Here is the podcast.

And if you want to continue to be inspired by this amazing educator, follow Nicole’s Copy Room Conversations, and I know you’ll enjoy the journey.

And going back to the story that I opened with, take a moment this week to reflect on and thank a teacher or a mentor who made a difference in your life. Public education jobs, teaching, support staff, and leadership, are always challenging, but the last two years have been just insanely challenging. Your thank you will go a long way, you honor the work that Nicole Lusiani is doing, and the gratitude you experience will lift your spirits.


Mike Matthews

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The SLZHS AP US History Class of 1988-89

Lemons, Limes, Love, and Loss

We lost our lime tree this month. It was a beautiful and bountiful tree in our front yard that was part of our lives for about 10 years. As a boy from Arkansas, having citrus trees in our yard is still a wonder that I NEVER take for granted. We have lemon trees, a tangerine tree, an orange tree, and until this month, an awesome lime tree. Just the ability to walk into my yard and pull a perfect lemon off the tree for my blackened salmon recipe makes me smile every time. Losing our lime tree (Jill called it “Limey”) has me reflecting on all of the joys our citrus trees have given us over the years.

Joy #1

First – there’s the obvious. Citrus makes food and drink way better. Having limes meant that a Moscow Mule was always a possibility. Limes make everything better – a glass of water, a Mexican-style beer, or anything with vodka.

We still have our lemon tree, and I use those lemons in so many different recipes. Here are some of my favorites:

You can even use it to make buttermilk for a recipe when regular milk is all you have – a squeezed lemon or lime in a cup of milk curdles and thickens the liquid so that it can substitute for buttermilk. And all of that goodness is right in our yard. I love it.

Joy #2

I have written many times that one of the greatest things about living where I live is that I have so many neighbors who are truly wonderful friends. Some of them would even admit that I am their friend, as long as they don’t have to say it in public. Two of my dearest friends, Pat and John, live right next door. Pat and John are spectacular people, fellow educators, and they were among the hundreds of people in Malibu who lost their homes in the Woolsey Fire of 2018. Pat and John have a fantastic lemon tree in their side yard. Its branches hang over into our yard, and over the years, with their permission, I have taken hundreds of lemons from their tree. The rinds on them on less thick than the lemons from our tree, which is one more piece of evidence that, like everything Pat and John do, they do with a little more class than I do.

When Pat and John’s house was burning, the fire department had not yet made it to our neighborhood. Volunteers were fighting their way to the houses that were burning on my street. I believe those volunteers were aided by the lemon tree between our houses. We heard that as the fire spread to the side of Pat and John’s house that is less than 15 feet from our home, that beautiful lemon tree got in the way of the flames, delaying the fire from spreading to our home. Because of that delay, volunteers, led by a former student and good friend to whom I am eternally grateful, made it to our home and minimized the damage. I look forward to Pat and John’s home being rebuilt, so we can enjoy those lemons together. I think they will agree that they taste even better now.

Joy #3

I always found a way to be home when Dawson had his first day of school, and I loved taking him to campus. I would take a picture of Jill and Dawson, as it was the first day for both of them. After we planted Limey, it was the perfect backdrop for this annual photo. Over time, the tree grew, Jill stayed beautiful, and Dawson got taller and taller. But he never got taller than Limey. Meanwhile, I get shorter and shorter, but that’s a different (and probably not very interesting at all) blog post. By the way, Dawson was NOT a fan of me still taking him to school when he was in high school. He would say, “Dad, no parents do this.” I would agree, and walk with him onto campus anyhow. I still knew so many employees there from my time as principal, so as awkward as it was for him, it was awesome for me!

Our citrus trees truly enrich our lives. I am reminded of The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. For me, it’s a children’s book that’s all about the goodness in giving, true parental love, and the power of nature in our lives. When I read it to my children, they would always ask me what was wrong, because it was hard to get out the words at the end of the book. Of course I wasn’t crying! I just always happened to get choked up at the same time when I read that book. The refrain in that book that still gets me – “And the tree was happy.” Damn – it’s happening again.

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Sing It With Me! Don’t Let the Old Man In

I was talking to my friend Kevin last week. Kevin and I have ventured through our public education careers with similar jobs as teachers, high school principals, and finally as superintendents. He has been a mentor and a friend for over 30 years, and I truly appreciate our bond and understanding of one another. Kevin has been asking me about my experiences in this new retirement phase, and he has recently decided to retire from his superintendent position. Last week, we were talking about what not working 60 to 70 hours a week is like. He said, “Don’t let the old man in, right?” I got what he was saying, but did not know the context. Now that I know, it’s worth sharing.

In a golf pairing I wish I could have joined, country music star Toby Keith was playing with multiple-Academy Award-winning actor/director Clint Eastwood. Keith marveled at Eastwood’s persistence, as Eastwood had just filmed yet another movie, The Mule, at the age of 88. Eighty-eight! He asked Eastwood how he does it, and Eastwood remarked, “I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in.” That inspired Keith to write and sing Don’t Let the Old Man In, a song which is featured in The Mule.

Can’t leave it up to him
He’s knocking on my door

I’ve written before about my appreciation for Younger Next Year, which encourages all of us over a certain age (it starts at 40!) to push ourselves hard physically to keep our bodies from aging so quickly. Chris Crowley, the author, is not talking about our graying hair or our wrinkles, which is good because I have both! He’s talking about taking care of ourselves and fighting off the old man as long as possible. Through hard exercise and good nutrition, we can swim against the relentless tide of decay and “change decay back into growth.”

Get up and go outside,
Don’t let the old man in.

Having children has helped me to stay young. Without question, my sons have kept me on my toes for the last 31 years. I have listened hard to learn their interests, joys, and fears, read the books and watched the movies they wanted to read and see, competed with them in the games they want to play (side note: my children have beaten me at many games, but I never once let them win. They knew they earned it when they won), and ate the food they wanted to eat. I did not see an In-n-Out 4×4 or a gazillion milk shakes on the Younger Next Year or Noom nutrition list, but sometimes you just have to say, “What the heck?”

When Ryan was 16 and I was 44, we celebrated all of those fours by each eating an In-n-Out 4×4!

And just because I’m an empty nester, don’t think that my children are still not a huge part of my life. My older son told me many years ago, “Dad, you act a lot younger than you are. I like it, but it’s different.” My sons will be keeping me young for a long time and I’m grateful.

Ask yourself how old you would be,
If you didn’t know the day you were born

In the meantime, I’m focusing on learning and improving. I’ve already sat down and learned how to play and sing this song.  I’m loving writing, helping out at home, and I’m doing my best to keep up with the craziness in public education. My wife joked (kind of) about how nice it is to have so much help at the house – and that she loves this new role in my life. I’m taking that as a compliment, and I’m staying on it.  It’s all part of the never-ending effort to live life fully and stay young.

Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sunset with wine
Don’t let the old man in

And I know that all of this can be sideswiped by something awful, and that life holds no guarantees. But I plan to enjoy the journey as much as possible, and to see what life brings. I’m loving today, and looking forward to tomorrow.

So thanks to Toby Keith and Clint Eastwood for their artistry and inspiration, and thanks to my friend Kevin for sharing this song with me – Kevin is young at heart and I know his wife and family will keep him that way for years and years. May you all do the same.


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  • The background for this article came from a Billboard Magazine article by Cathy Applefeld Olson and the photo by Eric Charbonneau. You can find the article here.
  • If you want to hear and see the music video for the song, with a whole lot of Clint Eastwood, check it out here.

Lend Me Your Ear and I’ll Sing You a Song . . .

The great thing about Los Angeles is that it has everything you could ever want in terms of culture, sports, food, entertainment, and beauty. The lousy thing about LA is that if you have to go anywhere during rush hour or on the weekend, traffic can be b-r-u-t-a-l. That’s especially true if you live where I live, which is on the far northwestern edge of LA County. Going to the Hollywood Bowl to watch a concert is an unforgettable experience, but I usually have to spend the first part of the event calming down from the 2-hour plus drive that it took to get there. Same for Dodger games or Laker games. So, with a few rare exceptions, my ventures away from home have mostly gone in the opposite direction from LA.

But here’s the thing. I don’t have to go to these places during rush hour or on a weekend any more. This week, I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit that’s been on display all around the country. I was able to get to Hollywood in less than an hour, had my pick of parking places, and was in line early for my 11:00 entry time, all without having to use any of the calming techniques I usually use after driving through traffic hell. I met my fellow retired superintendent and friend Pat there, and we had a blast experiencing the exhibit with all of the other patrons who also had to show proof of vaccination to get in. I love the vaccinated-only entry. After experiencing the exhibit we had a burger and a beer at the Stout Gastropub (spectacular burgers with safe, open-air, vaccinated-only seating), and then I was home by 2:30. Crazy!

One hour in a museum seems like the perfect length of time for me. My attention span wanes after that, and I’m ready for something different and more active – like a burger and a beer. But maybe I should think about it differently. I spent six hours in a Honda dealership recently, waiting for a super fun electrical problem to get analyzed. But I had my laptop, got a lot of writing and thinking done, had lunch at a nice Jamaican restaurant close by, and actually had a productive and interesting day. If it takes more than an hour to fully experience the exhibits in a museum, I can take a break, write, think, walk, then engage in part two. As long as I don’t get caught in the 3:30 to 7:00 rush hour, I’ll be fine.

Maybe I will do this enough to actually be able to say I know Los Angeles. I have lived in cities before where I was able to take advantage of all they had to offer. I took a semester-long break (Stanford called that “stopping out”) from my year-abroad college experience in West Berlin, made enough money as a street musician to live, and was able to frequently visit the museums and other spots in both West Berlin (modern and wonderful) and on the other side of the wall in East Berlin (gray and depressing, but historically fascinating). I had no money at all (a byproduct of my talent level), and I came back to the US about 25 pounds below my high school weight, and that was in spite of not cutting my hair for a year. My mom cried when she saw how I looked. Near starvation aside, I was as alive and free as I have ever been in my life. I don’t want all of that freedom, but feeling some of it again is a welcome addition to my life.

I also lived in San Francisco for a short time, and their spectacular public transportation system let one go anywhere anytime, and I took advantage of it regularly. As a bonus, San Francisco is compact enough to be able to walk to many destinations. I was teaching full time (including summer school) while I lived in San Francisco, so I did not have all the time and freedom I had in Berlin, but because everything worked so well, I could take advantage of what The City had to offer. I know there are issues in San Francisco right now. BART (their subway) rider satisfaction is lower than ever, and the homelessness is more present than ever. But I would live in San Francisco again in a heartbeat. It is magical. What is not magical is increased homelessness everywhere. We have 25% of the nation’s homelessness here in California, and it is quickly turning into one of the nation’s biggest challenges. Any solution is both costly and unpopular, and will take extraordinary leadership and courage.

In the words of my old masters swimming coach, Steve, “End of the rant, and back to the workout.” When we were exhausted from the swimming set we just finished, we welcomed all of those mini-rants, giving us a breather before he inflicted yet another painful set on us. Back to LA!

Los Angeles is not a walking city, and I have given up on public transportation ever being viable here. I hope that I live long enough to see the day when self-driving cars rule the streets, merging and cooperating like bees (The Bee Movie with Jerry Seinfeld showed how traffic should work with advanced, fully focused, and non-enraged beings in charge). We are too selfish and we make traffic worse by hurrying and not letting people in, or by cutting people off so we can get there faster. We are painfully slow because too many of us are trying to go faster.

I don’t think our species’ focus will ever be as purposeful and team-oriented as bees, so bring on the self-driving cars. But until then, I’ll be using my increased freedom to drive myself to experience really cool stuff when everyone else is off the road. I’m on it.


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On New Year’s Resolutions

What do I want said about me when I die? That was a question posed to me in Michael Hyatt’s Living Forward book. He encourages readers to write their own eulogy, then live their life so that they live up to those words. “By writing the eulogy as if it’s being delivered today, you may see some gaps between what people would say and what you would like them to say. That can be unsettling for some people, but news flash: You’re still alive and have the power to change the course of your life!”

I love stuff like that. And I hope that more than half of the people at my funeral say nice things about me! A guy can dream, right?

I know there are plenty of haters out there, but I love New Year’s Resolutions. I spend time thinking about them, and I actually write them down. I’ve done it forever and I have no intention of quitting now.

Probably the biggest change for me this year is two items that are no longer on my resolution list. For the first time in almost 40 years, I have no goals related to a specific job. That is still beyond mind-blowing to me. After four months of not working, I’m still not used to it, but I do like it. A lot. One of my favorite Kenny Chesney songs is The Life. The chorus in the song is about what retirement could look like, and it goes, “I fish, play my guitar, laugh at the bar with my friends, go home to my wife, and pray every night, I can do it all over again.” Substitute golf for fishing (I think they are similar in many ways – social sports performed in beautiful places that are really hard to do well), and you have a pretty idyllic existence. But I’m not ready for “The Life” yet. I have always believed and I still believe that if you are not growing, you are dying.

Also for the first time in decades, losing weight is NOT one of my resolutions. Thanks to a massive reduction in stress in my life, and a new guide to food intake, I have lost enough of the weight that I’ve been holding onto for a long time. At the suggestion of a very good friend, I have been on the Noom diet for two months now. I did not have a ton to lose, but when my knee doctor told me to lose some weight and my knee might feel better (aka – she called me fat), I knew that it was more than getting my BMI below 25. Now my goal is just to eat healthily for the rest of my life, except for a few times. And let’s be clear – there will be some big calorie meals. I believe that you can’t trust a skinny cook. If I’m making good stuff, or if I’m presented with spectacular food, I’m eating it. I don’t need to be skinny, but I need to be light enough to be healthy and to reduce the load on my back and my knees.

Steven Covey called this quest for continuous improvement “sharpening the saw.” He told a story of a person coming upon a logger who is exhausted, as he has been sawing on a big tree for three hours. When the logger hears the suggestion to stop and sharpen the saw, he says, “I don’t have time. I’m too busy sawing.” That’s the problem. If we don’t take time to sharpen the saw, we are wasting time and being highly ineffective. And not to be hyperbolic, but again, if we are not sharpening our own saws, we are dying.

When the logger hears the suggestion to stop and sharpen the saw, he says, “I don’t have time. I’m too busy sawing.”

How am I sharpening my physical saw? Well, as I said, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently sharpening my physical saw with Noom – and I want to continue to do this. A lot of the food choices in Noom echo what I have been reading in the Blue Zones research. Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, echoes the advice, writing, “Eat food. Not a lot. Mostly plants.” I’m working on expanding that into a haiku.

I’ve always been an avid exercise fan, and I continue to follow the advice in Younger Next Year, pushing myself hard when I work out (following up on my last post, I swam 10,000 yards with a group of crazy people on New Year’s Day!), doing my best to avoid the body decay that time wants to impose. And one day, I will learn how to sleep more than six hours a night. Maybe.

How about my social and emotional saw? Now that I don’t have the built-in ease of being social at work (which I do miss), I have to work on this more. Being a better husband, father, sibling, son, and friend is hard work. And while those who love us the most can forgive long lapses in communication, it’s better not to have to ask for that forgiveness.

And while those who love us the most can forgive long lapses in communication, it’s better not to have to ask for that forgiveness.

My mental saw is probably the one I have to work on the most. While I was working, I was always learning. I was learning from teachers, from principals, and from new challenging situations. Every day was something new. Saw sharpening was unavoidable. Now, I have to take initiative. I will do that primarily through my writing. And all the while, I’ll continue to follow the Make Your Bed advice: never give up, and get stuff done every day.

I’m not itching to go back to working 70 hours a week, and these writing projects will give me academic and mental challenge, meaning, and a way to continue pursuing my passion for public education.

And finally, I have to sharpen my spiritual saw. I was raised as a Catholic, but I have also worshipped as a Presbyterian and as a Methodist. I do not attend church at this point in my life, but I still hold dear the lessons I learned from those years of church. I believe all of the world’s religions hold truth and inspiration. I don’t have one of those coexist bumper stickers on my car, but the world would be a better place if we all could coexist. If I have a text that I would call my Bible, it would be The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. Relying on inspiration from all of the world’s major religions, he focuses on finding personal peace from the craziness we often make for ourselves, and freeing ourselves from our own incessant thinking by focusing on the present moment and nothing else. On a more practical spiritual level, I seek to follow Marie Kondo’s advice and continue to simplify and enjoy what I have. And I am seeking to declutter my mind out on the golf course, following the advice in Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, and accept the failures that happen on the course, get over it, and focus on doing well on the next shot. Like a lot of things in golf, it carries over as good life advice.

I hope that we all can give ourselves the luxury of time invested in ourselves this year, as we sharpen our saws and do what we can to not only tread water, but to swim even faster towards our goals this year.


Books that guide my resolutions for this year:

Finding Wonder and Beauty in the Solstice Darkness

Twenty-three and a half degrees. Actually, is 23.4 degrees, but let’s not get too technical. It’s going to change anyway. That’s the tilt of the earth. Paraphrasing the classic Sam Cooke song, “Don’t know much about astronomy,” but I’ll say it – I am geeked-out-over-the-moon-fascinated by the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

Tuesday was the Winter Solstice. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the shortest and darkest day of the year. One of the super cool things about hanging out with me is that on days like the solstice, I ask whoever will (or has to) listen, “And do you know why we have a solstice?” And the even cooler thing about enjoying my company is that whether or not you want to hear it, I will launch into the answer.

I ask whoever will (or has to) listen, “And do you know why we have a solstice?” And the even cooler thing about enjoying my company is that whether or not you want to hear it, I will launch into the answer.

It’s all about the tilt of the earth. Let’s review, shall we?

  • The earth is tilted at 23.4 degrees.
  • The tilt was caused by an ancient collision with a planet-sized body, that may have also resulted in the creation of the moon. (Did you feel your mind explode a little there?)
  • Right now, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are tilted as far away as we will get from the sun, which means the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and we get far less heat from the sun.
  • There was no sunset on Antarctica on Tuesday night, and there was no light shining on Santa’s home. See 1-minute video of the sun doing a 24-hour circle dance above Antarctica here. (I did not find a video on the darkness of the North Pole – seems like it would be, well, dark.)
  • Our 23.4-degree axis points directly at Polaris, which is the Northern Hemisphere’s North Star.

I bet right now most of you still reading are saying, I wish I could hang out with Mike and hear that description four times a year, with every solstice or equinox. You are not alone. If you work on it, you can learn to roll your eyes as well as my family or co-workers do.

So on this special day, inspired by the day’s brevity and the longest night, I tried to make the most of it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 4:30 AM: (still dark) emptied the dishwasher and did my daily make the kitchen spotless ritual. After stretching, I left for swimming at 5:15.
  • 5:55 AM: (still dark) Jumped into the outdoor pool (quite warm – almost 80 degrees), and swam 3,000 yards with other Masters Swimming crazy people. Took a hot shower afterwards, outside in the cold and wind. The swimming felt great, the shower hurt.
  • 6:57 AM: Sunrise.
  • 9:00 AM: Shopped for ingredients for soups for dinners this week, as there’s nothing like soup when it’s darker and colder, This week I’m making Tomato Bread Soup, Split Pea Soup, and Won Ton Soup. Combine that with some brown Irish Soda Bread, and you are thriving in the darkness!
  • 11:00 AM: Made a lunch of Won Ton Soup that will soon make its way to
  • 1:00 PM: Epic Nap
  • 4:30 PM: Sunset walk on the beach with Jill. Singing to myself the rest of that Sam Cooke song, “And I do know that I love you. And I know that if you love me too, what a wonderful world this would be.”
  • 4:51 PM: Sunset in Malibu – As you can see from the picture above, it was windy and cold, but pretty spectacular!
  • 5:30 PM: Impromptu drinks with friends at the beach, hearing the sounds of a nearby solstice wedding as the shortest day’s light faded.
  • 6:00 PM: Darkness falls, and we get to see Venus, Jupiter, and, following the 23.4-degree tilt of our planet, we see Polaris, heading home knowing where to find pretty true north.

That’s a pretty good day!

These dark days bring opportunities for reflection and celebration. We have enjoyed Hanukkah celebrations with friends, masked or virtual birthday celebrations with two family members, and we look forward to Christmas celebrations, all virtual this year, with family. Our current plan for New Year’s Eve is to test ourselves for COVID (damn you, Omicron!) then join a few similarly tested, double-vaccinated, and boostered friends for an outdoor New Year’s Eve gathering. And against my wishes, this group will tilt a glass at midnight Pacific time, though I would much prefer celebrating when the ball drops in Times Square, or even Nova Scotia. But to bed after that, as I have a 6,000-yard date with my crazy masters swimming friends at 10:00 AM on New Year’s Day!

As we celebrate in the darkness, I wish all of you the happiest (and safest) of holidays in this wonderful world, and I look forward to sharing thoughts with all of you in the lengthening days of 2022.


Photo by NASA/Space Place

The Search for Blame

It has been a week since we learned about the horrific Oxford High School shooting. A good friend of mine is an Oxford alumna, and she is DEVASTATED. It hurts all of us, but for those invested in the community, it rips to the core. As Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said, “This wound will never go away.” The nation is mourning those who died, wishing a healthy recovery for those injured, and embracing the students and citizens of Oxford. There is justified anger at the teenager who brought the gun to school and ended four lives, and at his parents, who bought him the gun and refused to take their son home when asked to by the school.

I have been reading several articles criticizing the high school’s counselors and administrators for failing to stop this heinous crime. First of all, I don’t know any of them, but I know that they are all experiencing an extraordinary amount of pain as they dig deep to see what else they could have done to keep this from happening. It’s very easy to look from afar or look back in time and say something else could have been done. But predicting teenage behavior is never simple, and even when you are highly concerned, it can be next to impossible to take action that is guaranteed to prevent a shooting.

Let me acknowledge that I only know what I have read in articles about the shooting. Based on that, a lot of things went right. Teachers were observant enough to notice two separate and concerning behaviors: one seeing the student using his phone to search for ammunition while in class, and another noticing the student drawing disturbing images. In both instances, teachers quickly notified counselors and administrators about their concerns. Counselors immediately removed the student from class and spoke with him. And both times, the parents were contacted. What I do not know is how much apprehension counselors and administrators had about this student based on his behavior prior to those two incidents. Had there been prior episodes that were disturbing?  A calm student explaining that the drawings were for a video game he was designing could have been very convincing. If there were no prior disciplinary or other concerning incidents, it would have been difficult for school leaders to take steps beyond what they actually did. A counselor could very well have gone through all of the steps involved in risk and threat assessment and still found that there was no clinical reason to suspect that the student would act violently. And from what I have read, that is what happened.

And remember, not only are administrators and counselors working to protect the safety of all students, they are also working to help the troubled student through a difficult time. Each student is precious in a school environment, and school leaders work to help students through the crises they have. Until the student actually makes a threat or does something to hurt someone else, our focus is on intervening with the student.

But if we believe there is a threat, and if the local police department works well with the schools, bringing in law enforcement can be a very helpful step. Police have extensive training in threat assessment and can work with administrators to reinforce and supplement what can be done in schools. The police can also search a student’s home if they feel the situation warrants that action. But even if they take all of those steps, there are still no guarantees that a shooting can be prevented. As a principal and superintendent, I have always appreciated my working relationships with police departments. Ever since 1999 at Columbine High School, police officers have received extensive training on how to prevent and react to school shooting threats. I am convinced that because of that training, many incidents have been thwarted, and the ones that have occurred are less dreadful than they could have been because of police involvement.

Several critics have written that the school should have searched the student’s backpack. Maybe they should have. But administrators can’t just search a backpack because they want to. There needs to be some degree of reasonable suspicion. In California, that level of reasonable suspicion is not as high as the probable cause requirement of the police, but the administrators would still have had to determine if they had defensible reasonable suspicion. The threat assessment would have been a critical component of that determination, and, because it did not determine that the student was an immediate threat to himself or others, it would not have been helpful in justifying the search. It’s easy to say the school should have searched the backpack, but it could have been a difficult action to take.

Every experienced high school site administrator has dealt with students exhibiting disturbing behavior. When that occurs, the student becomes the #1 issue on the campus, and everything else takes a back seat. Administrators drop almost everything else, work with teachers, counselors, and parents to investigate, then make the best decisions they can, within the confines of the law.

For those who think that the administrators should have sent the student home, that is also questionable. In California, we cannot just send students home when we are concerned. We have to be able to show how the student’s actions justify a suspension or expulsion. Asking the parents to take their child home was a reasonable step, and their refusal, along with providing the gun to the shooter, is a key reason the parents have been arrested as well. If the concern was high enough, but a suspendable offense did not occur, the administrators could have considered keeping the student in the office for the rest of the day. Maybe that would have helped. Maybe.

I am certain that the third-party investigator hired by the district will find that more could have been done. Schools around the nation will learn from what happened in Oxford, and the administrators and counselors involved will never let this event go. But before we level blame against the school staff, I hope we all remember what a difficult job they have, and that there are restrictions on what the actions they can legally take.

Schools are underfunded, and that makes this task even more challenging. In most places, the student to teacher, student to counselor, and student to administrator ratios are not even close to what they should be. But what all of us have done in schools around the nation, in spite of our jobs often being made much harder because of that lack of funding, is the very best job that we can do.

I give my heartfelt condolences to the victims of the shooting and to the entire Oxford High School community, and I thank all of school employees around the nation who do their best to care for each student and create a safe learning place for all students.

Our Favorite Holiday is Here

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The Thanksgiving Tree is up in our home, both of my sons are coming home, and we are ready to celebrate! I hope you are too. First – a bit of gratitude for all of you. I want to thank those of you who read my posts and are actually interested in them, and give a special thanks to those who comment or give a “like” via Facebook or on the WordPress Blogsite (The blogsite makes that a little tricky, so I get way more comments/likes on Facebook). I have truly enjoyed the writing process, posting every two weeks over the last 4 months, and it means so much more when people read it and tell me they enjoy it. So, on this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for you.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it’s not even close. It’s about family, fall, and food. I am pretty good at ignoring all of the commercial attempts to let the next holiday overshadow this one, and I allow myself to enjoy every minute of what this holiday brings.

We are celebrating Thanksgiving on Friday this year! What? Have I lost my mind? That was gone a long time ago, but hear me out. My son Ryan’s talented and beautiful fiancé works with the Sacramento Food Bank as their lead (and only) attorney. Between her work with immigration and all that the organization does, she is busy! On Thanksgiving morning, they have their annual 5K run fundraiser, and it is critical that she be there to help make that event happen. So instead of us missing out on her presence, we are waiting until Friday, so we can all be together. As a bonus, my sister-in-law and her family will be able to attend as well. And if you haven’t yet found a way to lend a hand to those in need on this Thanksgiving, why not make a donation to the Sacramento Food Bank? Any donation will go a long way.

Although we have a few loved ones who can’t attend this year (Mom, Bessie, Pat, and John – you will be missed terribly!), we will have between 16 and 20 at the table. We serve the meal somewhere between 1:59 and 2:01 in the afternoon, and no, I have no issues when it comes to a meal being served on time and everyone being ready at that time. As long as they are on time, no one gets hurt. It looks like it will be 75 degrees and sunny, so we will be eating outdoors.

I start cooking on Thursday! I’ll be brining the turkeys, making the spicy cranberry sauce, preparing the cheese grits, making the cornbread for the dressing, and baking the pumpkin (Jill does the pumpkin pies) and chocolate pecan pies. For all of my Thanksgiving recipes, go to my’s Thanksgiving Page.

I hope that each of you has a special Thanksgiving holiday (Thursday, Friday, or both!) that gives you the time and space to reflect on all that you are grateful for, and that you are able to make the most of the time with your family and loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Crazy Costs of College, and a Great Weekend at Colorado School of Mines

He’s a little taller, and his sense of humor has gotten even better. Of course, that’s coming from me, a dad who feels threatened that both of his sons will be taller than he, and a humorist of whom my friend Merlin says, “Mike, you know not everyone gets your sense of humor.” Disirregardless*, it’s true – he is taller and funnier. And we were thrilled to get to see him at Family and Friends Weekend at the Colorado School of Mines.

On the 34-degree morning we left Golden, Colorado to head back to Malibu, the friendly, talkative, cowboy-hat-wearing-self-described-gypsy-souled clerk at the front desk of the Golden Hotel said, “Pretty nice morning, actually. The cold stuff will hit us soon.” It was clearly time for us to leave. We have loved our time in Golden, and like we do when we go on all trips, we discussed what it would be like to live here. The answer – really nice! That being said, we were happy to leave 34 degrees and come home to 70 degrees.

Golden’s one-street downtown is perfect. The old brick buildings make it feel like a mining town, and other than Starbucks, it’s all local owners in the small shops on both sides of the street. The trail that goes up Clear Creek is one of the most beautiful five-mile walks on the planet. And the weather – if you like four real seasons – is fantastic. We have it rough on the coast in southern California. The monotony of seventy or eighty-degree weather can be mind-numbing! Sure, we have the occasional apocalyptic wind, fires, earthquakes, and mud-slide-causing rain. But our weather, except for the apocalypses, is so predictable. Do we want spring, summer, fall, and winter, or do we want to be able to wear shorts 90% of the time? It makes for a great conversation on every trip Jill and I take, and we always decide to stay right where we are.

Jill and I walking up Clear Creek in Golden

We continue to fall more and more in love with the Colorado School of Mines. The school, which is a little more than 6,000 undergraduate engineers and entrepreneurs, is everything a great college should be. Mines students work hard. The school wants every student to have a scientific background that will hold up in the real world, and it shows. Job recruiters are all over this campus, seeking out students who are truly ready to start contributing immediately.  

The party scene, something that defines many colleges, is not a thing here. It’s a far cry from the Delta House of Faber College so perfectly portrayed in Animal House. If you’ve ever spent time in small towns in the Rockies or the Pacific Northwest, you know that beer drinking is less likely to be a prequel to barfing in the bushes; it’s a just way to chill after spending your day doing some really cool activities like rock climbing, bike riding, hiking, coding, or building something awesome. All of these chill towns have their own microbreweries too. Golden has that, plus that former microbrewery turned behemoth – Coors. It’s not work hard play hard at Mines – it’s a work hard, kick back for a few hours, then get back to business place.

It makes me reflect on all that is being written now about the questionable future of college. When I grew up, college was considered the no questions asked key element to any young person’s future. But since 1980, when I started college, inflation has increased prices by over 200%, and post-high school costs have increased by over 500%. College debt is crushing students and their families, and high-paying jobs for a bachelor’s degree are not as prevalent as they used to be. To attend a UC school to earn a teaching credential will costs close to $200K for the five years, and that’s if you can get all of the classes you need to graduate. If you surrendered 1/3 of your after-tax teacher’s salary (which isn’t that high to begin with) to pay off that debt, it would take a teacher over ten years to pay off that debt in full. And that’s with no interest.

The costs for college are out of hand, and we are at a tipping point. Prospective families and their parents are weighing options, and I hope that fewer and fewer students will leave college with a mountain of debt that is almost impossible to repay. Online universities, which offer programs and degrees at a fraction of the cost of in person campuses, are becoming highly popular. The experience with COVID is only making online programs better. And just ask any kid, you can learn anything on your own on YouTube. At the very least, now there are viable alternatives to paying $120,000 to $350,000 for a bachelor’s degree, and whoever is paying for it needs to examine whether or not the cost is worth it.

While online and local options may be less expensive alternatives, there are also other factors to consider. When we were helping Dawson with the college application process, we encouraged him to apply to schools where the level of teaching was regarded as very good. Most college professors are not hired to teach, but there are wonderful professors out there. Dawson was blessed to have mostly outstanding teachers in high school, and he feels the same way about Mines so far.

I also know that, however difficult it is to do, going away to college can be a wonderful, life-altering experience. Separating students from their parents forces them to learn not just academically, but socially as well. And at Mines, there is a good amount of fun for the students, even though the work load is epic.

The Mines sports teams are really good! We went to the football game, where over 4,000 highly encouraging fans watched the #9 nationally-ranked Division II Mines Orediggers win yet another game. I loved that the vibe felt more like a great high school game than a big business Division I college game. We lucked out when we used our general admission tickets to randomly sit down next to the offensive coordinator’s wife, Abby, who is the epicenter of all things Orediggers. I think every person in the stadium came up to hug her at some point during the game. Because she knows everyone, she of course knew my niece’s husband, who used to coach here, and she made us feel beyond welcome.

But the most enjoyable part of the atmosphere had to be seeing the school’s two awesome mascots, Miner the Oredigger and Blaster the Burro, in person. After every touchdown (Mines won 63-0), students would run out with Blaster, who would trot from the end zone to the 50-yard line and back. Two students took turns following Blaster with a shit shovel, picking up after Blaster. I’m telling you, they were busy after all nine touchdowns! Sometime too busy. Blaster is one well-fed Burro with no digestion issues. I saw Miner the Oredigger in the stands, but shouldn’t he have been helping those hard-working students with their shovels? The fans cheered the shit-shoveling student heroes for their efforts, even when the game had to be held up because they had so many different piles to address. You can’t beat that for entertainment! And we enjoyed the flannel-shirt-and-hard-hat-wearing Mines Marching Band. Imagine an irreverent Stanford band that performs John Phillips Sousa pieces in a flag formation and you have a good picture of what the Mines band stands for.

Our son is happy – he’s in a spectacular place, he has made good friends, he is confident that his degree will lead to a job that he will love, and he’s keeping up with the demanding classes in his schedule. Yes, the costs are high, but we believe this is an investment that he is making the most of. We loved every minute we had with him, and we’ll see him soon when he comes home for Thanksgiving.

Have a good day, y’all,


* As I wrote back in my blog post on 9/20/21, “I know “disirregardless” is not a word, but it’s a word we use in our family as a way of criticizing those who choose the word irregardless, instead of the proper regardless. If you read my blogs, you know that I’m a bit of a grammar snob. Sorry – not sorry. Of course, the English language adapts to misuse, and now if you look in the dictionary under irregardless, you will find that it means the same thing as regardless. As Miriam-Webster states, “Remember that a definition is not an endorsement of a word’s use.” Whatever, Miriam-Webster. If you won’t criticize the misuse, we will, disirregardless of your unwillingness to take a stand!”

Halloween, Closed Drawers, and Empty Nests

Halloween is a big deal in our neighborhood. Our area is one of the few places in Malibu where streets are lined with houses arranged on traditional blocks, on a semi-traditional street grid.  Malibu is dotted with large houses and properties spaced far apart, many of which are second homes that are dark at Halloween, making it very difficult to trick or treat – so we are a destination neighborhood on Halloween. I hate to brag, but as a kid, I was a very accomplished trick or treater, so I know the key to a successful trick or treating night is quantity. Hitting as many houses as possible makes for excellent trading opportunities later, and a good deal of variety as well. I’ve talked before about the people in my neighborhood, so it will be no surprise that with our smaller and mostly festive homes filled with friendly and generous people who are home every night, you can expect to get a lot of treats from a lot of houses. Every year, we greet between 300 and 600 trick or treaters – this year was more in the 400 area, so I’ll be bringing a few bags back to Costco. I’m not a guy-who-buys-a-big-screen-TV-at-Costco-just-before-the-Super-Bowl-and-returns-it-the-next-week guy, but I do love their return policy.

For me, the holiday season officially begins in October, as Halloween approaches. Each year, when October 1 rolls around, I strike up a friendly conversation with Jill, who knows exactly what I’m after. As the conversation meanders, she is well aware that I will eventually ask, “So. When do you think I can put up the Halloween Tree?” Jill will sigh, and say something like, “I need two weeks.” I run as fast as I can to mark October 15 on the calendar, and, once again, I have something to look forward to in my life.

A side note. I know that when my dad sees that this blog is about our Halloween Tree, he will cringe in shame. Nothing brings him less joy than me mentioning or showing pictures of the Halloween Tree. He claims that it’s an embarrassment to our family. I of course disagree. There’s nothing quite like getting out the artificial holiday tree and beginning three months of celebration. First, it’s the Halloween Tree, then the Thanksgiving Tree, and finally the Christmas Tree. It’s a beautiful thing. And once we start trimming the tree with skeletons and pumpkins, Jill gets into it. She is usually the lucky one chosen to put the traditional witch on top of the tree. We put some pumpkins underneath too, and the holidays are off and running. With all of the use I get from our tree – three holidays a year for so many years – I think I’m now actually making money off of that tree! I’m not great with the whole money and profit thing, but it makes sense to me.

Trick or treaters love the tree when they come to the door, and contrary to my dad’s thinking, I never hear any parents pulling their kids away and whispering, “Let’s get away from these crazy Halloween Tree people!” Anyway, it was once again a fantastic Halloween, and next week, the Halloween Tree will magically transform into a Thanksgiving Tree.

The big difference this year, of course, is that for the first time ever in this home, none of our children were part of the festivities. Putting up the tree was a stark reminder of the empty nesters’ reality we are living. Ryan was 11 when we moved into this home, and Dawson was born while living here. These walls have seen 18 Halloweens with our children dressing up, trading candy, and entertaining friends. On Halloween night, we usually open our home to friends and our children’s friends. Jill makes a huge batch of her award-winning veggie chili (Jilly’s Chili recipe can be found on, I make cornbread, and we offer hot dogs, hot links, bottles of water, and a few other libations. Sadly, that did not happen this year, but it will hopefully return in ’22.  What that means is, with the exception of 400 kids coming to our door, Halloween was q-u-i-e-t this year. And neither Jill, nor I, liked the lack of decibels.

I wrote my most popular blog post ever, Taking My Youngest to College, about 10 weeks ago. The minute we came back into our empty nest, Jill immersed herself into teaching, and I started figuring out what is next in my life. Things are certainly different. We see Dawson’s empty bedroom every day and unlike when he lived here, the drawers to his dressers are all closed. Dawson has six large drawers in his dresser, and until 10 weeks ago, at least five of them were open with something hanging over the edge at all times. I would dramatically close at least one of them when I woke him up, glare at him with a stern look, and he would tell me how much more efficient it was with the drawers always open. Exhibit 254 in my ineffective dad case. Now the drawers are always closed. Success does not always feel the way you think it will.

Putting up the Halloween Tree was a closed drawer moment. I love that our home is festive and fun, but it would be 10 million times better if Dawson (and Ryan) were here. I’ve written before that, even after 12 years, our home still seems emptier with Ryan gone, and now, with both of them out, the house feels like there is a lot of space in it. Because Jill is a more sensitive and deeper person than I, she felt it more than I did as we kicked off the holidays. But there are lights at the end of this new tunnel, and they’re not just the orange lights of our Halloween Tree. We go to see Dawson in Colorado for parents’ weekend next weekend! And Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday, is on the horizon, and all of us – Dawson, Ryan, and Ryan’s fiancé Yesenia – will be together for that holiday. In the meantime, we are just living and actually enjoying our new life.

Empty nesting is just fine. And I don’t mean fine like my friend Jen means it. When she says “It’s fine,” you know you’ve screwed up. I mean that in spite of missing Dawson, we are doing well. It’s definitely a simpler existence. Our house is WAY cleaner and the drawers are all closed. Marie Kondo’s shadow looms large in our house, as we (mostly I) seek even more simplicity and organization. It’s a little sickness I have, but more about that in some other blog post. I feel beyond lucky to be nesting with a fun and positive wife and life partner, and we are living well and laughing a lot in our new existence.

That being said, I can’t wait for the band to get back together again.

Critical Race Theory – A Superintendent and History Teacher’s Perspective

Critical Race Theory. It’s something I had never heard of until September of last year. And then, I began getting very angry emails and people started coming to board meetings to demand that we stop teaching it. The questions were very much like ones featured in the first-ever school board meeting parody on Saturday Night Live, where a concerned citizen stands up and says, “Hi. I’m so mad I’m literally shaking right now. Forget COVID. The real threat is Critical Race Theory being taught in our schools. My question is, what is it? And why am I mad about it?” 

First of all, those of you who read my blog know that I love their use of the word “literally.” But secondly, it’s a perfect parody, because I’m a former history teacher and school district superintendent, and until I started receiving these emails and listening to these public comments, I too had no idea what Critical Race Theory (CRT) was.

In many board meetings around the nation, mostly in more affluent school districts, this scenario has repeated itself. In speaking with many other superintendents and board members from around the country, not a single one of us, prior to all of this, ever had even a single conversation about CRT, much less about whether or not we should be teaching CRT. So why are we all being yelled at about something we are not doing and until last fall, knew nothing about?

Two trends that have occurred in the last two years help us to understand. First, the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 galvanized anti-racism forces around the country. In addition, Asian and Pacific Islander hate incidents increased around the nation, in response to both overt and tacit commentary from national leaders condoning anti-Asian actions, making those anti-racism forces even more comprehensive. In my former district, students, former students, and adults in our community were looking for ways to make our schools better for all students – looking for ways to make schools as free from racism and discrimination as possible.

I have great faith in our youth. I have observed and interacted with thousands of students, and I have watched my own children and how they get along with their peers. I truly believe we have never seen a more open-minded generation of young adults. More than ever, they are fully accepting of persons of all races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, and more. I think that a big reason for this is that their desire for a discrimination-free America, though renewed, is not new. Brown vs. Board of Education, Title IX, and Special Education laws have been major forces in improving equality in American education. And it’s important to remember that when those changes started having an impact on equality of opportunity in America, then, like now, there was serious backlash. This has never been about everyone being equal – this is about everyone having true equality of opportunity for an excellent education. Our efforts have continued. When I first started teaching in the mid-1980s, we were talking about how to embrace all cultures through multicultural education. And we’ve come a long way since then.

But in spite of that progress, there are still acts of hate that continue to occur in our schools and in our communities. There are racial slurs, anti-Semitic comments, hateful graffiti, and more. I don’t know of any educational leaders who, when confronted by incidents of hate, will accept or ignore those incidents and just say, “Kids will be kids.” That’s why districts like Manhattan Beach and others took an even harder look at what they can proactively do to make schools as hate-free as possible. In Manhattan Beach, this movement kicked into high gear in 2015 when someone firebombed the front door of one of the few black families living in the city. The community rallied around the Clinton family, gathering together for a powerful candlelight vigil to support them. Malissia Clinton’s powerful TED talk on how she was raised, the firebombing, and the aftermath should tell you all you need to know about why this work needs to continue. You can call the firebombing an isolated incident perpetrated by an outlier, but when you start hearing about the common experiences of so many people of color – our students, co-workers, colleagues, and friends – it’s different. I can’t tell you how much it hurt when, at a Board meeting while I was superintendent, I heard from some of our recent graduates about widespread discrimination they experienced while they were in MBUSD. We can and should build better and more inclusive schools.

Enter Christopher Rufo. Wikipedia describes Rufo as an “American Conservative Activist.” He appeared on the Tucker Carlson show in September of 2020 and made the case that Critical Race Theory was an existential threat against our nation. He gave evidence of government trainings on racial sensitivity that were aimed at understanding concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism, and he called on the President of the United States to immediately take action against this threat. Three days later, at the President’s request, Rufo flew to New York to meet on the topic. The President quickly issued memos and even an executive order banning the use of Critical Race Theory in our government. That’s precisely when the emails started, and the board meeting chaos began shortly after.

I’ve received messages stating that by addressing the issues of racism in our community, we are (1) calling our entire community racist, (2) pushing for a Marxist agenda, (3) shaming white students, and (4) being anti-American. All four of those accusations are blatantly false. This is what is happening in districts around the nation, and now states are getting involved. At least seven states have already passed laws making it illegal to teach Critical Race Theory, and 13 more have bills in process. Here’s the problem – I’m a history teacher, and I still have no idea what it means to “not teach critical race theory.”

The least effective history teachers see history as memorizing names, dates, places, and facts. But highly effective history teachers teach students to view the past from different perspectives, to analyze events in terms of who benefited or who suffered from the decisions and actions, and to draw conclusions about why events happened and how they shaped who we are as a nation today. These new laws make teachers question whether or not they can do that. In one Texas school district, teachers were told that if they were going to teach controversial issues, like racism or even the Holocaust, they should present multiple perspectives. A district administrator said, “If you have a book on the Holocaust, [make sure] that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.” The district has since then apologized, but come on people! This is what bad laws do.

Like the Holocaust, there are plenty of events in American history which do not, in my opinion, deserve a different perspective. But they do deserve serious inquiry and investigation to see how they occurred, the impact they had, and what we can learn from them. Here’s just a few of them.

  • Slavery
  • The Japanese Internment
  • The My Lai Massacre
  • The rise, resurgences, and continued existence of the KKK
  • The Sand Creek Massacre
  • The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
  • The racist restrictions on immigration in the 1920s
  • The racist Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision and all the Jim Crow laws that were commonplace throughout the South well into the 2nd half of the 20th century.

It’s OK to teach, and not in the least bit anti-American to say, that America has made tragic mistakes in our past. And it is untruthful to teach students that racism no longer exists in our country or in our community. Our students know better. Our students want to learn from multiple perspectives and read from a diverse group of writers, not just white and male perspectives. We should all know that even though our nation is one of the greatest nations ever for providing equality of opportunity, that opportunity is not as universal as we might think.

And by the way, what is Critical Race Theory? I have researched it, because I wanted to understand, and here is what I gather. CRT is an academic premise postulating that, in examining laws in our country, it is helpful to use the lens of racism to better understand how those laws came to be, as well as what impact they had.  To me, it’s similar to techniques of my history teachers in college, who asked us to examine historical events using an economic lens, a political power lens (by far the most common), a social lens, or a technological lens. Adding the lens of racism might also be helpful. And who makes the decision on what the right answer is? The student. The grade is not based on what a student’s conclusion is, rather it is based on how well a student defends their position.

CRT is not an existential threat against the United States. And it certainly is not something infiltrating our schools. But our schools are not and should not be ignoring incidents of racism and discrimination that are continuing to happen. No one will argue that discrimination is far less of a problem in our schools now than it was a century ago. But to say it no longer exists is putting your head in the sand. Teachers and school boards enter their positions to make life for their students, all students, better. Many of them are taking steps to do just that. Without lowering rigorous standards for achievement, educators are learning how to better address these issues in their classrooms.

Finally, to those who think that the anti-racism efforts are going too far, I urge you to follow the advice of Steven Covey, and seek first to understand, then be understood. Schools are trying to help our students to think for themselves, and a curriculum that reflects diversity and diverse ideas is essential to that effort. We educators are not aiming to make any student feel shame about who they are. In fact, wasn’t it just a few years ago that many were criticizing schools’ efforts to build students’ self-esteem? We want all students to emerge from our schools prepared for their future, confident about themselves, and caring about all others. And in spite of all of our progress, we have miles to go before we sleep.

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An Ode to Masters Swimming and the Science of Improvement

I remember my first day of swim practice, way back when I was six years old. It was at the Little Rock Boys’ Club and Coach Brooks led the workouts. It was my first experience in a locker room, where I quickly learned that even though I was small enough to do it, you don’t change clothes inside the locker. You just put your stuff in there. That was a good learning moment right there. And I was mostly able to ignore the laughter.

Coach Brooks was a motivator. He did not believe in much rest between laps. He kept one of those fat pencils behind his ear, and if you hung too long on the edge of the pool, he would use that pencil to remind your hand it was supposed to be pulling through the water. I later switched to Coach Miller at a different facility. Mom or Dad would drive me to practice (thanks Mom and Dad!), sometimes very early in the morning, and I improved enough to start placing in a variety of meets. Eventually, I was swimming four hours a day as a ten-year-old, and doing very well.

I remember getting ready for a big meet down in Dallas when I was 11 years old, and I expected to be among the best in my events. My youngest brother Bill chose the week of that meet to annoy me, as only he can. (Yes, I meant to use the present tense.) When we Matthews tell jokes, our strategy is to keep hammering on a funny line until everyone is sick of it, and only then do we really start to lay it on. I’m pretty good at that, but Bill is a Jedi Master. Anyway, I may have tried to convince him to stop tormenting me by hitting him in the head. For those wondering, Bill and his hard head were fine, but I broke my hand! I had to drop out of the meet, and after six weeks in a cast, I quit swimming. I got back into the pool competitively in high school, but I never worked very hard. I could go pretty fast for 50 yards, but after that, I was pretty much exhausted. Sometimes I wonder if I could do it over again, should I have gotten back in the pool after my cast came off and continued that intense focus on swimming. As I was taught by the owl with the Tootsie Pop, the world may never know, and my swim career peaked at the ripe old age of eleven!

Forty years later, I started swimming with a coach again, when I joined my first masters swim group in 2013. They practiced at Loyola Marymount near the LAX airport. Masters swimmers are some of the most positive people I’ve ever been around. Also, a little crazy. We jump into the water early – workouts start at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. We all love our coaches who are there to entertain us, motivate us, and of course make us suffer. There’s way more camaraderie and conversation in swimming than most people would expect. We swimmers joke and laugh, and then push ourselves to keep up with, or edge out, the swimmers in our lane or the ones adjacent. It’s not a competition, but it’s totally a competition. Unfortunately, the LMU workouts closed down with COVID in March of 2020, and still have not restarted. I miss coaches Bonnie and Clay. I miss my lane mates Wayne, Kat, Brian, Bob, Nader, Shauna, and so many others from our workouts, even Jim and Karl.

I’m swimming at a new place now, with Coach Nancy at the helm. On my first day with Coach Nancy, she said, “Your swim techniques tell me you might have been a decent swimmer back in the ‘70s.” Ouch. Just because she’s right doesn’t mean she had to say it. Or did she?

I turn 60 next year, and as anyone who does age group competitions knows, aging into a multiple of 5 means that you move up in age groups. When I do future meets, I’ll swim against people aged 60-64. You’d think I might do pretty well in that age group, except, there are some really fast sexagenarians out there! (At least we’ll all be called sexagenarians.) So … if I want to be faster and more competitive, and if I now have a little more time to work on that, how do I go about it? And by the way, swimming isn’t the only thing I want to improve on – I want to be a better golfer, guitarist, writer, and chef. But let’s focus on swimming, shall we?

When I was taking Dawson out to Colorado, we listened to several podcasts. One that put Dawson to sleep was the Freakonomics podcast on how to get better at anything. It was all based on the research by Anders Ericsson. He’s devoted a good part of his life to this topic, and I read his 2016 book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

What has Ericsson found?

  • Be motivated and have a specific goal. My goal is to be as fast in the 100 freestyle as I was back in high school. I was close to that four years ago, but my recent times have sadly been headed in the wrong direction. It’s almost like I’m getting older or something. Weird.
  • Make yourself uncomfortable. I’m very comfortable swimming with I techniques I learned back with Mr. Brooks and Mr. Miller in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, Coach Nancy is on my ass – telling me to swim with the “new” techniques that have been developed over the last 50 years. Swimming records are being broken all the time because experts have learned what works. And while it still does not feel right to me, I believe in the process and I’m sticking with it. I’m paying money to get this kind of treatment – and I love it.
  • Be persistent. This is the 10,000-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell gleaned from Ericsson. Bottom line, you have to put the time in and that time cannot be used just to go through the motions. You need to push yourself hard, really hard, and stay at it. As my friend Will says, “You have to suffer now so you won’t suffer later.”
  • Seek feedback from experts. I do best when an expert is reminding me for the thousandth time to keep my fingers close together, as well as to employ all of the other effective techniques that I’ve been told to do but have not yet internalized.

I’m determined to use these approaches to set the bar high, and I know I cannot do it alone – I need the support (and the competition) from my fellow swimmers, as well as the guidance, hard feedback, and encouragement that my coaches will provide. I’m grateful for all of the coaches I’ve had through the years – the ones who cared enough to push me, to overtly identify my shortcomings and to be on my ass about them, and to advise me on how to overcome them. I’m building on what they gave me, and I know I am better for it.

An aside – our most effective classroom teachers embody Ericsson’s ideal and take the role of an effective coach by going far beyond the role of a giver of information.  Sadly, Ericsson believes that most teachers and doctors stop improving after just a few years in their profession, mostly because they stop seeking and using outside expertise to constantly improve.

To all of you who have read this far (and I thank you for that!), I urge you to use Ericsson’s research and commit to improving on something you’re passionate about. It is never too late.

Life is better lived when we are living to get better.

PS – During COVID, after the LMU program closed, I swam for about a year with a great group of Masters swimmers in a lousy pool in Manhattan Beach. I did not swim under coach Steve Hyde’s tutelage long, but I loved all of my time doing it. Steve has coached for about 100 years all over the South Bay. His philosophical and humorous style, including his morning rants, has charmed and pushed thousands of swimmers over the years. He would greet me with, “Are we feeling ferocious today?” Then after some kind of rant or philosophical opining, he would nonchalantly state, “Well, we are all here, so we might as well do 20 100s on the 1:30.” And then, with a little smile before the pain, off we went. Coach Steve is fighting to overcome a stroke he had last month, and my thoughts and prayers, as well as my deepest thanks, go to him and his family.

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