My Life is Better with Less Clutter

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

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

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

Then, in April of 2018, I met Marie.

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

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

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

I knew I could be better. 

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

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

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

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

She was not yet a convert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May All Your Favorite Bands Stay Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And … may all your favorite bands stay together.

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

Leaning Toward the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old and New Little Rock Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see what that road ahead brings today!


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

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

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

In Appreciation of Succinct Inspiration

Words matter. Or so I’ve been told.

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

Yeah. I’ve been there too often.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can do that.

And I can celebrate it.

But one day, Shane . . .

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

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

Photo of the Arkansas River at Murray Park by Jeff Woford

61 Life Lessons – A Work in Progress

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

– Mike

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Honoring our Presidents (and America) at Costco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fighting Off Colds

Alternate Title: How Evernote Keeps Me Healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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California Rains, Games, and Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2023 in One Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2023 Image by Rosy Ziegler at Pixabay

Reflections on Perfections of 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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

Veterans Day 2022

One of the simple pleasures in my life is putting up the United States flag in front of our house on federal holidays. I love taking out the flag and placing it in the staff holder near our front door, then admiring it throughout the day. I appreciate placing it in front of our home on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and other special occasions. 

I remember the weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001. Neighborhoods were full of American flags. Back then we had a common source of pain, and we looked to each other for community and common ground. Together we sought, to paraphrase a famous American document, to support our common defense, to promote our general welfare, and to appreciate the blessings of liberty. I wish there were more of that these days.

Veterans Day is an opportunity for that togetherness. I am close to people from all over the political spectrum, and we all are appreciative, grateful, and honored by the service of veterans that we know and don’t know. And I was part of a ceremony yesterday that did a wonderful job of bringing us together.

I have been a proud employee of my new district (Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District) for almost five months now, and I have been repeatedly impressed by the excellence that I see in all of our schools. It is a wonderful place. I experienced another example of that excellence yesterday. I was fortunate to be a part of the annual Veterans Day ceremony at El Dorado High School, one of the four high schools in PYLUSD. I did not know what to expect, but I felt privileged to have the opportunity to honor our veterans alongside students, staff, and community members.

The school was decked out with small American flags lining the street. Walking onto  campus, I saw students and staff standing together with active service men and women, first responders, and veterans from the community who had been invited to attend. It was heartwarming to see the conversations taking place within and between these groups. Chairs had been arranged in front of a Fallen Heroes Memorial that was built ten years ago by EDHS graduate Andrew Binnings as an Eagle Scout project. And behind all of that was a huge American flag hanging on one of the building walls. It was patriotic and stirring.

Mr. Joey Davis, the principal of the school and a former history teacher, welcomed everyone and gave background on the history of Veterans Day. Lucy Murillo, El Dorado’s ASB president, then welcomed everyone and eloquently stated, “The men and women who serve our country, at home and abroad, are heroes. These selfless and valiant soldiers make our country and the world a better place.” Nicely done, Lucy.

Next to speak was Marine Corps Colonel James Lively. In his dress uniform, Colonel Lively said he was grateful to be part of our high school and our community. I was so proud when he said, “It’s quite clear to me that the culture, the patriotism, and the respect for this nation and our veterans is alive and well here on this campus.” Instead of asking the veterans in attendance to stand, he asked the veterans to stay seated while the audience rose to give them a vigorous round of cheering and applause. He then extolled the values common to all veterans: selflessness, grit, determination, strength, boldness, discipline, initiative, adaptability, honor, courage, and commitment. It’s hard to argue with any of that. And he was deeply appreciative of the common purpose of all veterans: the purpose of service.

Then he announced that he would start a roll call. He asked the veterans in attendance to sound off when their name was called. Then he said that for those veterans who were unable to respond when their name was called, we would play Taps. You see, one of the reasons that the memorial was built on campus was to honor three El Dorado High School Golden Hawks who graduated, enlisted in the military, and died in the line of duty. Each one of these former students was represented by family members in attendance.

Colonel Lively read the names. We heard, “Here, Sir!” or “Sir, Here Sir!” from the men and women whose names were called. Then Colonel Lively announced, “Harrell.” No response. “William Harrell.” Still no response. “Staff Sergeant William Harrell.” All too silent. Then an El Dorado student, wearing all black, stepped forward and flawlessly performed Taps on his trumpet. A boy scout escorted the family member to a military picture of the fallen graduate at the memorial, and together they placed flowers at the memorial.

My goodness. It was powerful and deeply emotional. You could hear the family members trying to hold back their tears, and they were mostly successful. 

That same cadence, silence, and walk of honor followed the reading of the names of Sergeant Jason Weaver and Corporal Claudio Petiño IV. Along with everyone in the crowd, I felt the stinging pain of loss that those families experienced. When I spoke with family members after the ceremony, they acknowledged the pain, and they were incredibly grateful that their children were so powerfully honored and remembered.

As Colonel Lively concluded his remarks, he challenged all of us: “When you see a veteran, say thank you. Not just today, but any day. Go out of your way to offer a handshake, nod, smile, or a simple word of gratitude.”

I know that many of you who are readers are veterans. So to Jack, Uncle Billy, Ben, Michelle, Steve, Dan, Greg, Steven, and all the others, please accept my thanks and gratitude. If I missed you, I apologize. Please let me know and I will add your name to this list.

My thanks to all at El Dorado High School who created the memorial and who work to make this event happen each year. I appreciate the power of schools to bring communities together, and this was yet another example of that. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to once again fly our flags together, to bring our community together, and to remind all of us of the meaning of Veterans Day. 

Have a meaningful day, everyone.

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Pickleball Fever

I write a lot about my efforts to avoid getting older as I get older, and I remain steadfastly committed to that effort. I’m staying active, working to get stronger, eating better than I have in the past (though I could be much better), and continuing to act young by playing and enjoying life to the fullest extent. I think it’s working. I know it’s making my life better. And as I’ve written several times, I’m all in.

But there are a lot of aspects of my life that are shaking me by the shoulders and saying, “Dude. Wake up. You’re getting old! Stop the madness!” Here are some of those signs:

  • I now have more gray hair than either my mom or my dad.
  • Every morning when I wake up, between 13 and 15 parts of my body hurt and make me walk like a creaky Tin Man until I stretch and move enough to work out the kinks in most of them.
  • After a few poor decision-making occasions each year, to quote Hank Williams, Jr., the hangovers hurt more than they used to.
  • I make old man noises when I sit down. I’m not to the point where I groan when I’m clicking the remote or reaching for a drink, but that could be next.

And the newest sign that I’m getting old? I am playing pickleball.

I know I’m not the first to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway:

Pickleball Is Awesome!

If I were channeling Dani Rosas, the ebullient striker on Ted Lasso’s soccer team, I might say, “Pickleball is life.” Maybe that’s a bit much, but it’s highly enjoyable. And, being sixty years old, I fit right in with the older adults/grandparents who started this pickleball craze happening in America.

A quote I saw recently: “Never underestimate an old man with a pickleball paddle.” Damn right.

So, for those of you who don’t yet know, here is my CliffsNotes version of pickleball. It’s played on a small court, about one-fourth the size of a tennis court, and you have a net that’s a little lower than a standard tennis net. You can play singles, but doubles is far more common and enjoyable. There are rules that keep people from volleying too close to the net, making almost every shot gettable. And you play with a Wiffle-like ball, so it’s not nearly as fast as tennis. If you’ve played any ping pong, tennis, racquetball or any similar sport, the transition is super easy.  Most of all, as a guy with one bad knee who loves competition and getting a workout while playing a game, it’s almost perfect.

We play almost every weekend with our friends Jenn and David, who should almost be disqualified because they are way too young to play pickleball. Though we sometimes mix the teams, usually it’s Jill and me against them. Lately, every game has been close, but they have been winning more than we do. But who’s counting!?! It doesn’t bother me at all, except that I am counting, and I totally hate it. We played for two and a half hours last Sunday – one thousand calories burned, according to my Apple watch. In spite of not winning as much as I’d like to, I did enjoy the moments when one of them would curse me, usually with a two-word curse that ended in “you,” after I hit a shot between their legs or dinked a shot they could not get to. Those complimentary curses made me smile and made not winning a little more acceptable.

The four of us love playing, and Jenn and David are advising me to quit my new day job so we can play more. Not going to happen, but I appreciate their advice. The four of us were going to dinner last Sunday (after 250 minutes of pickleball that morning) when Jenn said, “Let’s blow off dinner and go play some more pickleball.” (I’m not going to tell her this, but I think she may have a problem!) We all thought about it, and decided that dinner was the better call.

So why is pickleball so great?

  • Jill and I can play doubles on the same team and not hate each other afterwards. I love that.
  • You can play at any age. At our neighborhood court, we have players in their teens and in their eighties. Ross, one of our oldest players and also the #6-rated table tennis player in the world in his age group, is a stud.
  • The injuries that keep me from running or playing tennis don’t hurt as much in pickleball. Pickleball somehow momentarily and magically cures the aches and pains that age brings along.
  • The games are short. You play to 11 and must win by 2. Catch your breath, drink some water, and go again.
  • The more you know, the more strategic the game becomes. You make constant decisions about when to hit it hard, when to dink it, and what risks to take. Jill always says that her brain is tired from playing pickleball.
  • We are all loving getting better at the game. I remember when Dawson started breaking 100 in golf, and would regularly hit several really great shots during a round. On our way home one day, Dawson said, “Dad? Golf’s more fun when you don’t suck.” It was so funny, and yet so true about almost every aspect of life. And it’s certainly true about pickleball.
  • Finally, even though pickleball first became popular with older adults, the young whippersnappers out there have learned from their elders and realized that it’s an awesome game that everyone should play. Even Lebron James is in, as he just bought a professional pickleball team. Pickleball is happening! Who’s the obsessed one now!?!?!

So, I will take your accusation that playing pickleball makes me old (I know, you didn’t say it, I did), and throw it right back at you and say that I’m adding pickleball to my list of tactics in my quixotic yet very real quest to stay young. As I said in an earlier post, “Don’t Let the Old Man In.” I wonder if Clint Eastwood plays pickleball. If so, bring it on, Clint. Maybe I do feel lucky.

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For the Beautifully Better, and Overcoming the Worse

We had a wedding last weekend. It was perfect. Well, it was as perfect as life these days would allow it to be.

Let’s start off with the challenges. First of all, and damn you COVID-19 for still existing, finding a venue for this wedding was stupid crazy hard. Ryan and Yesi scoured Sacramento for options, and they were forced to delay their nuptials far longer than they would have liked. They had a wonderful attitude, but it wasn’t easy. Then, early this summer, they secured a venue, and they were off and running. Invitations went out, family members started making plans, and it was on!

Then came the hard stuff. None of Ryan’s maternal or paternal grandparents were able to attend the wedding. Also missing was Ryan’s brother Sean, who died in 1997. He leaves a hole in our hearts that was torn a little wider on this wedding weekend.

It gets worse. About six weeks before the wedding, Yesenia’s father unexpectedly passed away. No bride should lose her father so close to the wedding. Brutal.

And then, just to pile on, Yesenia’s mother came down with COVID-19 the day before the wedding. The event was outdoors and we were hoping she would feel good enough to mask up and attend in some isolated way, but unfortunately it was not to be.

So many people, all so very important in our lives, could not attend. Each of them received shoutouts at the wedding for influence they have had in Ryan’s and Yesenia’s lives. But I so wish they could have been there with us. They would have loved every minute of it.

That’s the hard stuff, but damn, it was a lot. I’m writing this the week after the wedding, and putting it down into words is emotional for me.

It’s too much.

And yet, as I have written before, in the face of such pain and hardship, beauty can prevail. And that’s exactly what happened.

Weddings are all about bonding two people together, but they also serve as an outstanding reason to gather friends and family together. Ryan’s brother Dawson came in from Colorado, and his girlfriend Kylie flew in from Boston. My siblings and their families, Jill’s parents, Kelley’s siblings and their families, and so many of Ryan’s friends from Malibu, UCLA, and Sacramento were able to share in the day. During our Friday night on the town in Sacramento (which, by the way, is a GREAT and vibrant city full of fun things to do), and at the wedding reception, Ryan told me how much he loved looking around the room and everywhere he turned, he was seeing another person from another phase of his life. It was wonderful, special, and exactly what a wedding gathering should be.

One of the biggest wishes that parents have for their children is that their lives are filled with love and friendship. Having close friends and a life partner whom you love makes the journey wonderful in the best of times, but even more important in the most challenging times. But here’s the thing. Try though we may, we parents have little to no control over whether our children find love and friendship, and we certainly have very little control over their choices in love and friendship.

That’s why a wedding can be so special for parents.

It’s special because we celebrated not only with our new daughter-in-law, but also with her family. It’s special because, whether Yesi wanted it or not, she gained four new parents. And while we can’t speak for her, we are all thrilled. (I think she’s just fine with us, even though I know I present challenges.) It’s special because it reminded us that Ryan, even without his parents being able to control it or even guide it, chose incredibly wisely with his friends and with his new bride.  It’s special because Yesi, and this was made exceedingly clear as I heard from her friends and siblings, chose incredibly wisely with her friends and with her groom. It’s special because this day was such a long time coming. It’s special because Ryan and Yesi were able to overcome so much to make this beautiful day happen. And most of all, it’s special because Ryan and Yesi are loving, funny, and playful together, reveling in the good times, and supporting each other when life presents challenges. I love that they Bumbled into each other and made this wedding happen.

Did I cry at the wedding, you ask? Only during certain parts, starting from the moment Yesenia appeared. As we all rose, we saw her holding her father’s sombrero in her hands, walking with it down the aisle in her beautiful gown, and eventually placing it on the chair in the front row where he should have been proudly watching his daughter’s wedding. She was strong, and we were all overwhelmed by the power of the moment. So yes, I cried then. And I continued crying as she joined Ryan in front of all of us. Ryan’s Uncle Steve was the officiant, and he was perfect, eliciting all kinds of laughter and emotion with his well-chosen words, allowing me to laugh and cry at the same time. So, no, I didn’t cry, except throughout the entire event. I was able to reel it back a few minutes after the wedding was over. But that was it. Except for during some parts of the reception. But hardly at all besides that.

We celebrated until early the next morning. Our last day together was quiet but still lovely, spending time with family and saying our goodbyes. And now we are back to our normal lives while Ryan and Yesi honeymoon away.   Thanks to Ryan and Yesenia for making us all better and more complete by these wedding memories and stories that can never be taken away.

It was as perfect as it could be.

I’ll continue to worry for my children, hoping that their lives continue to be filled with love and friendship. But right now, life is pretty wonderful, and I am thrilled.

As Ryan always says to me when we review any of my concerns regarding his life, “See Dad? There was never a need to worry. It all worked out.”  

Yes, it did, Ryan.  And I am so happy for both of you.

I will end by sharing an Apache Wedding Blessing that is one of my favorites:

Now you will feel no rain,

For each of you will be shelter to the other.

Now you will feel no cold,

For each of you will be warmth to each other.

Now there is no more loneliness for you,

For each of you will be comfort to the other.

Though you are two bodies,

There is but one life before you.

Go now to your dwelling place,

To enter into the days of your togetherness.

And, may the days of your life

Be good and long upon the earth.

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Opening Day of School!

My apologies for the three-week span between posts. I should have expected it. My new job takes a lot of my time. First things first: I love it. I love the people I have met, and I’m inspired by all that my new district does so well. It’s a spectacular place.

I’m lucky for many reasons, but one of them is that I have taken jobs, from teaching to being a superintendent, in six different districts in my career, and I have always been surrounded by wonderful students and caring, talented people who love what they do. My new district is not one bit different.

From time to time, I will take what I have shared with my community and make that the focus of my blog post. I wrote the email below to all employees after the first three days of school. During those days, I visited all 34 schools in the Placentia – Yorba Linda Unified School District. That’s a lot of schools! After digesting those visits over the Labor Day weekend, I sent this email to all employees.


The first day of school.  It’s an annual tradition that stands alone.  Opening Day in Major League Baseball comes close, but I can’t think of much else that does.  It’s a day when we look forward to renewing friendships, meeting new people, learning something new, doing as well or better than the previous year, improving our habits, and taking one more step to whatever is next.  For students, there are thirteen first days of school between kindergarten and high school graduation – and all of them should be special.

And for all of us who work in PYLUSD, we get to experience a whole lot more.  Last Wednesday was my 55th first day of school!  And though it feels far different to experience the first day as a student and as an employee, it still brings that same excitement.  In baseball, the fans, players, managers, groundskeepers, and all of the other employees have vastly different experiences, but they all look forward to that special first day and all that the season might bring.  Fifty-five years in, I still get excited, and I know that here in PYLUSD, I am surrounded by good people feeling that same sense of positive anticipation.

I was lucky enough to visit all 34 of our schools during the first three days of our school year. Thanks to the efforts of all of us, our campuses and our employees were ready for our students as they walked into our quads, hallways, cafeterias, and, of course, our classrooms.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  • Our campuses are clean, well-manicured, and welcoming places for our students and our community.  I have worked all over this state, and I have never seen anyone do this better than we do.
  • We were ready as we served more breakfasts to more students than ever before.
  • In a time when staffing challenges are everywhere, we had highly talented employees transporting, greeting, teaching, and supporting our students on every campus.
  • In talking to many of our employees, my favorite comment was, “I was born to do this work.”  That sense of pride and passion was evident on every campus in our district.
  • Teaching and learning were in full swing on day one.
  • Like almost every first day, the temperature outside was way too high!  We used the shade well, and all of us appreciated our air conditioning.  And when a few classroom AC systems glitched, our Maintenance and Facilities staff rushed to address it as quickly as possible.  It was very impressive.
  • All of our new students, including our K and TK students, were seamlessly integrated into our schools, and as we enter this week, they are now fully included in the PYLUSD family.
  • The schedules at our secondary schools worked extremely well.  Most people do not sufficiently appreciate the challenge of scheduling nearly 8,000 high school students and over 4,000 middle school students into 6 or 7 periods during the day.  We did a spectacular job, and for the small number of students who sought changes, we jumped on it immediately.

And in all of this, there were smiles, there was warmth, there was hope, there was pride, and there was a strong sense of positivity in every student and employee I encountered.

For all of this, I say, “THANK YOU!”  Thanks for everything it took to be ready for the first day of school.  Thanks for loving and welcoming each and every student with such positivity and warmth.  Thanks for inspiring our students to new heights and for supporting them whenever they need it.  And thanks to each of you for being the heart and soul of PYLUSD.


I am so proud to work alongside every employee here, as we remember the excitement, the hope, and all of the possibility that comes with the first day of school.  Let’s all have a great week two!

Then yesterday, we sent out a my welcome back video to all families and all employees. I’m lucky to have a team of leaders, teachers, staff, and students who all contributed to the creation of this video. You can see that video here.

To all of you who are working in schools or have kids attending them, I hope the start of your year has been outstanding! Thanks to all of you who have made our schools better and better over the years, and I’m looking forward to another great year

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Reflections on Dominating 5th Grade Math Speed Drills

I love it when people comment on my blog posts. I was inspired to write this post when my friend Rose Ann commented on my last post, recalling how the two of us were always highly competitive in the elementary school spelling bees and math speed drills. I look back and wonder what I took away from those kinds of contests and drills. I certainly learned that memorization was essential to learning. I learned that speed was highly valued. I learned that I was really good at math and pretty good at spelling. (Does anybody really need to know how to spell chrysanthemum?) And I learned that either it’s right and you stay standing, or it’s wrong and you shuffle back to your seat.

Unless you have a career as a Jeopardy contestant, life is not about speed or single chances. And in the half century since I was in elementary school, there has been some change in our classrooms.

We need to keep that change going in the right direction.

There are different perspectives on what is really learned in those types of exercises. Brian Regan (see below) has been one of my favorite comedians for years. His take on spelling bees is hilarious and sad. It’s worth four minutes of your time to click here and listen. My favorite part – the kid who is asked to spell CAT and says, “Cat. K-A-T. Cat. I’m outta here.” Get the humiliation over with. There’s a place for those who wish to compete in spelling bees, geography bees, and contests that reward memorization and quick thinking. But if you are looking for the best kind of classroom learning, the kind of learning that helps you lead a successful life, it’s about struggling, failing, getting feedback, struggling more, and eventually figuring it out.

Brian Regan Doing His Thing

Miley Cyrus put this perfectly in her song, The Climb

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb

Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler, two highly regarded Stanford professors (that’s Jo Boaler in the center in the picture above!), have been researching and advocating for the climb for years. Angela Duckworth discussed the same idea in her very popular work, Grit. Hard work matters. Practice matters. (Sorry, Allen Iverson and Ted Lasso.) If you struggle to get better, you actually learn more in the process.

We parents and teachers should never emphasize speed. We should be telling students and children that with effort, they can become better at math, better at reading, and better at whatever they put their minds and their efforts to. This is Dweck’s concept of growth mindset. Our intelligence and ability are not fixed. We can get better. We can get more intelligent and more skilled.

I’ve known so many outstanding high school coaches who beautifully embrace growth mindset. When players did not run a play correctly, or when they were trying to learn a new technique to make them faster or stronger, these coaches would correct the student-athlete (sometimes gently, sometimes bluntly), then have them run the play or use the technique again. And again. And again. That’s how learning happens best. You try to do something that is not at all easy to do, get feedback, get better, get feedback, and so on until you reach your maximum potential. It is beautiful to watch.

But often those same coaches, when working with students in the classroom, will teach something, give a test on it, and then move on to the next topic whether the student learned it or not. They would never accept such failure as a coach.

Real learning does not involve students recalling something from memory, which can lead to spelling something wrong then taking the walk of shame back to their desk. Real learning endeavors to teach a challenging and useful skill or concept, then to find ways to help each student, encouraging them to work and struggle along the way, until they get closer and closer to mastery. If students can learn those concepts, they can figure things out on their own later.

I’m a pretty darn good memorizer. I know that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 degrees Celsius. (I will write a blog post one day about our refusal to adopt the metric system – we make things so much harder for ourselves by rebelling against the beauty and simplicity of the metric system – but I digress.) One day, Jill was cooking and yelled out as her hand got hurt by escaping steam from a pot. Dawson and I both expressed our sympathy, then Dawson commented that it must have really hurt, as steam is hotter than boiling water. I didn’t know that fact, so naturally, I challenged my son on his statement. “So how hot is steam?” I asked. He said, “I don’t know, but it’s hotter than boiling water.” I asked how he knew that and he said, “It just makes sense. The water reaches 100 degrees Celsius, and the only reason it would change into steam would be that it has more heat than the boiling water.” I asked where he read that, and he said, “Nowhere. It just makes sense.” Being an amazing and trusting father, I immediately looked it up. And what-da-ya-know – he was right.

Memorization is nice, but it’s not the goal of learning. Understanding blows the doors off of memorization.

When students don’t get the concept at first, we need to stay with it, give them second chances, encourage their grit, and support their struggle. When a piece of writing is not what it should be, we need to teach students to grapple with the editing process and develop a never-ending desire for improvement.

It’s not about speed. It’s about embracing the challenge. Jo Boaler writes, “I work with a lot of mathematicians, and one thing I notice about them is that they are not particularly fast with numbers; in fact, some of them are rather slow. This is not a bad thing; they are slow because they think deeply and carefully about mathematics.”

So let’s embrace the climb. Let’s not give outstanding comedians like Brian Regan the fodder for jokes about bad teaching. Let’s believe that all students can get smarter. And let’s all join our students in the lifelong struggle to get better.


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Grit, by Angela Duckworth

Mindset: A New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers, by Jo Boaler

Want to Understand LA? Vin Scully is a Really Good Start.

As a kid who grew up in Arkansas, I never even imagined living in Los Angeles. LA was glitzy, red carpet, rich and famous, Hollywood Stars, Beverly Hillbillies. I moved here in 1993. And as a lifelong public school educator, I was never going to be one of those celebrities. The rich and famous lifestyle, the TMZ glitz – it’s just not who I am.

But if you think that’s what LA is all about, you’re missing the boat.

The true icons of LA, the most beloved and revered, are some of the most cerebral, kind, humble, and society-improving people the world has ever known.

I started thinking about that last week, when Vin Scully died at the age of 94. The outpouring of love and tributes after his death was overwhelming. Through his humble story-telling style, his longevity (he announced 67 baseball seasons), and by staying true to what he loved, he became a close friend to so many, either through a transistor radio, a car radio, and/or a tv broadcast. And it was never about him. He was a front-row ticket to every Dodger game, a conductor for the magic of baseball, and a friend with whom you could pass the time like no other. He made the great moments even better (After Kirk Gibson hit his game winning home run – “In a year of the improbable, the impossible has happened”), and the mundane moments enjoyable (talking about the life of Socrates in the middle of a no-meaning game that wasn’t even close). He was humble, brilliant, and he loved the Dodgers, as well as LA. He made life better for millions of people seeking a connection to baseball, a connection to the community, or just a story well-told.

He was also a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. As President Obama honored Vin, he said, “Most play-by-play announcers partner with an analyst in the booth to chat about the action. Vin worked alone and talked just with us.” President Obama added, “When he heard about this honor, he asked with characteristic humility, ‘Are you sure? I’m just an old baseball announcer,'” Obama said. “And we had to inform him that, to Americans of all ages, ‘You are an old friend.’”

Vin Scully was the essence of LA and stands among the greatest of us. And as I found, there are other Los Angeles-based Presidential Medal of Freedom winners who are true heroes and legends of our community.

John Wooden was the Ted Lasso of his day. Wait. Scratch that. John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, was the greatest coach of all time. President Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to him in 2003, and just like Vin Scully, there was nothing about him that wanted attention or glory. John Wooden wanted his athletes to become humble, successful, and hard-working young men, who could be counted on to take the extra step to do what was right. Yet, his teams won like no other. (10 National Championships, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories, four perfect 30-0 seasons, 88 consecutive victories, and 20 PAC-10 championships.)

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is brilliant and touching. It is simple, yet overwhelming. That’s why it’s perfect that Coach Lasso has it hanging in his office. It’s hard to argue with a modern-day 25 commandments. The central quote on his Pyramid is, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” He lived by that saying every day and imparted it to all who would listen. Like Vin Scully, John Wooden epitomizes LA. He was humble, cerebral, dedicated to others, and constantly worked to make the world a better place. Winning was the icing on the cake.

Jackie Robinson was another Presidential Medal of Freedom winner. President Reagan honored him in 1984. Enduring the slings and arrows of so many who were not ready for integration into America’s pastime, Jackie Robinson broke countless barriers. He thrived at UCLA and he showed millions of people how wrong they were about segregation and inclusion. He was strong, resilient, highly intelligent, a wonderful team member, humble, and a talent like no other. Jackie Robinson is also LA.

And we cannot forget about Kareem Abdul Jabbar who was awarded the Presidential Medal in 2016 by Barack Obama.  And although I did not mean for this post to become a UCLA love-fest, let’s call it like it is. Go Bruins! No one has scored more points in the NBA than Kareem. Few have had college careers like him. He is an intellectual, a man of deep faith, and somehow found a way to humility in spite of his greatness. Kareem spoke at my nephew’s graduation ceremony at LMU in LA. I included the points of his speech below, but just know it reflects on humility, happiness, and the simplicity of living well and making a difference. And as a fellow blogger – (with the exception of talent and grace, and height, and, well, lots of other stuff, my blogging colleague Kareem and I are basically the same person) – I have great respect for his writing, his efforts to celebrate what is good, and his kind yet blunt push when something is wrong. Kareem is LA too.

So, while this post started as a tribute to Vin Scully, when I saw the list of others from LA who have been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it evolved into something broader. The qualities of these four remarkable people have engendered almost a universal respect and reverence. The outpouring that we all witnessed after Vin Scully’s death has been a perfect example of that respect. All four earned that very rare form of admiration not through the glitz and red carpet that typifies LA for so many, but through the values of kindness, humility, selflessness, a commitment to continuous improvement, and a desire to improve the lives of others. I love living in a community where these are the values most celebrated and most loved.

I’m always looking for inspiration to help me lead my life better. As you can see, that inspiration is all around me. As Randy Newman sang, “I love LA!”

Thanks for reading, and keep let’s all keep reaching for improvement.


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Notes on the photos:

  • The picture of Vin Scully is from a speaking event where I was fortunate to meet him before the event. He was kind and gracious to all of us, and we all felt so lucky to be there. Word has it that’s how he was with all of his fans throughout his long career.
  • My mom, Sue Scully, is an outstanding photographer. She took the picture of Kareem as he walked by us in the procession at the LMU graduation ceremony. Very cool moment.
  • The picture of John Wooden with Josephine Bruin was taken in the late 1980s, when my amazing wife was the person behind the mask. (I’m not sure I’m supposed to reveal that information, so let’s keep it between us.)

My notes from Kareem’s LMU Commencement Address

  1. You are not the future. Make the most of the present.  
  2. Thank the people who have helped you get to where you are today. 
  3. Have regrets. Take reasonable risks for things that are worthwhile
  4. Play more. Don’t forget – Plan one thing every day that you look forward to. Don’t just work for the weekend.
  5. When choosing romance, compassion is more important than passion.
  6. Curiosity is critical for your success. Most people never change their opinions after age 21. We should always be learning.
  7. Use your power for good.
  8. Put peanut butter on everything!
  9. Be patient. Arthur Schopenhauer, “Talent hits the target no one else can hit. Genius hits the target no one else can see.” Patience allows for genius.
  10. Stop watching any show that includes any member of the Jersey Shore cast.
  11. Everything doesn’t have to be fixed right now.
  12. Be prepared for what’s next. Life is a series of graduations and transitions, all of which will redefine you.

See the speech here.

Also – I had this paragraph in there in an earlier draft, but took it out when I realized Ashe did not stay in LA. I’m always looking to shorten my posts, but I’m kind of sorry I did not include it.

What about Arthur Ashe? (1993- Bill Clinton) Recruited by UCLA when no one else was interested, he became a citizen of the world.  He wanted to become the Jackie Robinson of tennis. I don’t know if there will ever be another Jackie Robinson, but Ashe crushed it. While winning around the globe, he made the world aware of the injustices of Apartheid, and fought for humanity for those infected with AIDS. And he did all of it in a quiet, cerebral, and remarkably fierce way. I watched the Ashe documentary now showing on HBO. It’s like Ashe – understated, non-flashy, and spectacular. Arthur Ashe is LA.

Pursuing Happiness: The Art of Vacationing

I suffered just enough.

A while back, as I prepared for our every-other-year bike trip, I wrote that I had begun my cycling training a little too late. Last week, our group of friends took our 6th trip together, biking through the hills of the Paso Robles wine country and the central California coast. We biked about forty miles a day, and I was able to complete all the rides, suffering only mildly, and enjoying all of it.

I love these trips. To me, they are a perfect use of vacation time. The days are active – we wake up fairly early, and we are on our bikes (AIS – A** In Seat) by 8:30am. On the rides, I experience exploration, physical exertion, companionship, beauty, the outdoors, exhilaration, and in the end, a sense of accomplishment. We try to finish before lunch, so the rest of the day can be spent doing anything – eating, napping, exploring, wine tasting, or just taking in a new area. I exercised four hours a day and gained weight on the trip. Again, perfect. I thought I was doing well to add a few extra pounds, but my very strong friend Mark crushed me, gaining a full ten pounds. He’s definitely an over-achiever.

I try to make the most of each and every vacation day. I have found that these days help me in my long work weeks throughout the year. I feel like the time away is truly a gift. My sentiments are best explained by a relatively new concept called time affluence. I first learned about it from Dr. Laurie Santos, the professor who teaches the most popular course at Yale. Her course is all about the science of the pursuit of happiness – it’s called Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life. (See notes at the end.)

Santos pushes the idea that one way we are happier is when we believe that we have plenty of time. The great thing is, we can all choose to feel time affluent. One way of feeling time affluent is to make the most of your vacation. Using research from Dr. Santos’ course and my own experience, here are some thoughts I have about using these trips as a means of maximizing time affluence.

Take all of your vacation time: I take every day of vacation time every year, and I advise everyone I work with to do the same. Clarification: I did not say take all of your sick leave. Over the years, I have been fortunate to earn one sick day for every month of work, and to work in an industry that allows me to take my sick days with me as I moved from one school district to another. As of today, I have 361 sick days. I’ll be fortunate to have them if I’m sick, but to me, a good rule of thumb is, if you are healthy, GO TO WORK ON THE DAYS YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THERE! But vacation – that’s something different. Use it all.

Once Vacation Starts, End the Stress of Preparing for it: When I was young, my parents, all four kids, and our dogs would squeeze/pile into our Volkswagen Squareback or wood-paneled station wagon after what was always a very stressful last hour of final preparations. During that last hour, Dad would be yelling about us not being ready, and we would all be wondering why he was yelling at all of us, when clearly one of our other siblings was to blame. It was probably Bill’s fault, because he was the youngest. Then, after all of the craziness and yelling were done, and once the car doors were shut, my dad would take a deep breath, then loudly yet pleasantly announce, “Vacation has started. NO MORE ARGUING AND NOBODY CAN GET ANGRY!” At that moment, he would turn on the radio or put in an 8-track tape, and we were off driving on some new adventure, leaving behind all the stress of the moments before.

Pursue Active Leisure Time: Engage in your favorite hobbies, enjoy meals with friends, try something new and adventurous, exercise – do fun stuff. Active leisure allows my mind to get into the state of flow that I’ve written about before, where I am fully engaged in whatever I am doing, and not letting any other worries creep into my head.

Pursue Idle Leisure Time: One of my favorite hours spent on this vacation was observing over one hundred elephant seals sunning themselves on the beach. Those guys know what idle leisure time is all about. There’s a time for swimming gracefully, and there’s a time for lugging their 2-ton bodies up on the beach and doing . . .  nothing. I’m not a great nothing-doer, but I’m an outstanding napper. Gifted, in fact. One of the great failures of our nation is our refusal to adopt the siesta as a way of living. I’m not much of a sit around and talk for hours guy, but playing cribbage, cooking, and eating long meals – and napping . . . I’m all in for that. Downtime is good for the soul, and the science of happiness confirms that.

And through all of it, consciously take the time to reflect and feel grateful for the time that allows for the lack of stress, the active leisure, and the idle leisure. That gratitude is what makes us feel so time affluent.

So, do your best to be flexible, to get along, to take alone time when you need it, and to make the vacation special for everyone on the trip. It’s going to be great. Enjoy every moment.

All of us can make choices that can allow for time affluence, not only on vacations, but in our daily lives as well. I’ll write about that later.

Thanks for making time to read this post. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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Anyone can take Dr. Santos’ course. If you want a good article advertising itself as a cheat sheet to the course, check out this article by Adam Sternbergh.

To actually take the course online for free, you can take it through Corsera by clicking here.

Yogi Berra Would Not Have Liked Malibu Summers

No one goes to Malibu, my home since 1993, in the summer. It’s way too crowded. OK – that’s a stolen line. The famous Yankee catcher/American philosopher Yogi Berra said that about a restaurant in New York. He was a quote machine. But truly, there is no worse time to be in Malibu than the summer.

People hear about Malibu, and they think about a playground for the rich where the stars play. That’s not the life I lead. My friends are contractors, teachers, professors, jewelry makers, difference makers, doctors, midwives, photographers, and yes, a few people in the movie business. Yet, none of us are part of the Malibu “scene,” whatever that is. But we are into the natural beauty of our gorgeous beach town, and we all feel fortunate to live in a beautiful place with friends who are so close they are practically family.

The beaches are the thing in Malibu. Maybe. Actually, I could write a whole separate post that starts with “The mountains are the thing in Malibu.” But let’s focus on the beaches, which are used in so many ways. I took a bike ride up and down the coast last Sunday. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful rides. But the ride is along Pacific Coast Highway and, in the summer, you have to get on the road before 7 AM and be done by 10 AM, because the road gets busy around 9 AM, and the later the day goes, the less I trust driver attentiveness.

While the 7 AM start was the right goal, I made the poor decision to stay out way past my preferred 10 PM bedtime on Saturday night (I blame my aforementioned friends), and yada, yada, yada, I did not get on the road until 9 in the morning. It was warm, sunny (the picture above is a 7 AM picture from a different ride – still very foggy), and way too late. My three-hour journey gave me plenty of stories to tell that should explain why Malibu is such an amazing place, and why no one should come here in the summer.

I left my home, rode past the cars of people who drove for miles to park here and start their bike rides, and turned right onto Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Almost immediately, I was passed by a 5-minute convoy of Ford Mustangs – all years, all colors, and most of them with mufflers that were not fully functional. Shocking. And needless to say, very loud. Shelbies, Cobras, ‘65 convertibles, you name it. That’s a thing on PCH – these rallies or convoys of Mustangs, Ferraris, modified Honda Civics, Harleys, and more. I will say, the convoys are super fun to see. However, it doesn’t feel super safe to be riding in a noise factory surrounded by drivers who are staring lustily at each other’s prized possessions. Like I said, I started too late.

In case you were worried, those in the ocean are safe from the car traffic. And as I rode up the coast, I could see that the surf was up, and the surfers were out in droves. In sections of the coast where the surf is not as big, I saw people fishing, both above and below the water. While slowly ascending one of two main climbs on the ride, I rode past a parked truck and saw a guy getting his spear gun from the back of the truck. It was pointed right at me as he gently pulled it from the truck bed, and I said a silent prayer that I would not be his first catch – a prayer that was thankfully answered. You have to be hearty to take advantage of the ocean. Growing up swimming in the warm lakes of Arkansas and learning to scuba in the very warm Gulf of Mexico, I am a full-fledged cold-water wimp. Anything below 65 degrees just hurts. The Malibu ocean-lovers are out there all year long, with water temps that range from 55 to 70. But when my friend David (one of those I blame for my late start on Sunday) occasionally knocks on my door to give me two lobsters that he caught free-diving that morning, I am most grateful for those heartier than I.

You don’t have to be in the water to enjoy Malibu’s beaches. Low tide walks on the beach are spectacular, and there were a lot of walkers out there on Sunday. I remember seeing the wide beaches of Malibu for the first time when I was applying for the principalship of Malibu High School in 1993. They were stunning then, and I still marvel at them today.

Looking for dolphin, diving pelicans, and the occasional whales makes every trip to the beach something special. Although it’s not whale season, the dolphins and big-mouthed birds were out and putting on their show.

All of this stuff happens every day – you just see more of it as the day goes on. Maybe that late start isn’t all bad.

Even though nobody comes here in the summer, the not too foggy days between Labor and Memorial Days can bring 200,000 to 500,000 visitors to Malibu’s beaches, and over the course of a good-weather summer, our beaches receive almost 100 million visitors. Like I said, it’s way too crowded, and nobody comes here. Except … everybody comes here. And why wouldn’t they? Malibu’s beaches are state and county parks and the lifeguards are our awesome park rangers. I am a huge fan of our local, state, and national park system (thanks Teddy Roosevelt!), and the beach parks of Malibu are just one more thing that makes this nation the great place that it is.

My request for those of you who venture here – enjoy a truly beautiful place, throw your trash away, don’t make illegal U-turns on PCH (channeling my last post, that’s how people DIE), and please watch out for cyclists who start their day a little later than they should have.

Thanks for reading!


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Note: The wide beach picture was taken a long time ago, when Dawson was very little. It features our Jill, Dawson, me, and Penny, our Pekingese. I thought the picture nicely portrays walking on the wide beaches. It’s also a picture I featured in a blog post I wrote after Penny’s death. I have two friends who lost their beloved dogs this week, and I was reminded of the sadness of losing those dogs we love, and all the beauty of the years with them.

Leaving the Cave

I find myself relating to the dad in The Croods movie, a cave man named Grug. Like me, he loves telling stories and like my family, his family puts up with listening to them. But all of his tales warn of children who left the safety of the cave, or did not listen to their father, and they all end with some version of, “… and then they DIED.” Nicolas Cage is the voice of Grug, and I hope you can hear his voice pausing for effect, then shouting, “… and then they DIED!”

I respect Grug. Who wants their children to leave the safety of the Cave?

Well, I can think of a few people. Let’s start with my parents. They practically shoved me out.

I was raised in a home full of love, but that does not mean my parents didn’t expect me to handle myself safely and confidently when they weren’t around. When I was ten, my parents starting shipping me off to Ozark Boys Camp, a 4-week-long camp in the mountains south of Little Rock. 28 days and nights away from home at the tender age of ten! WTH! But … I loved it. Every cabin was a Major League Baseball team. My first year we were the Cubs. We competed in everything against the other teams – basketball, baseball, archery, rifles, swimming, and more. We played together as we hiked, did crafts, and even water skied. Every Sunday, there was an afternoon church service that everyone attended, except for the twenty or so Catholics. They would load all of us onto a flatbed truck and transport us to the afternoon mass service in Hot Springs. I’m not making this up. By the time it was done, I had a bunch of new friends, and we had all figured out how to survive in a new place with new people and without our families there to tell us what to do or how to do it. The time flew by, I returned dirty, safe, and smiling, and it all showed me once again, that maybe my parents are a lot smarter than I thought they were.  They were wise to push me out of the cave, first for small moments, and then for more.

Probably the craziest parenting thing my parents ever did occurred just after I turned sixteen. First, an old man rant: Why in the world don’t kids today want to get their driver’s licenses the minute they turn sixteen? The key to true freedom, or so it seemed when I was that age, was driving and having the ability to leave the cave at sixty miles per hour. Maybe faster. Both of my boys waited until they were well into their 18th year of life before getting their licenses. As a cave-loving dad, I loved their lack of urgency to be free, but I still don’t understand it.

Anyway, about a month after I started driving (which happened ON my 16th birthday), we were eating dinner at the table together when my Dad said, “Mike – I found a summer job for you.” I asked where, and he told me that it was at a hardware store in Sacramento, California. I asked how I was going to get there, and he just said, “You have a driver’s license.” So, I drove two thousand miles, BY MYSELF, from Little Rock to Sacramento, when I was barely sixteen years old. And then I DIED! Actually (and you clever readers know this), I didn’t. I lived with my parents friends (shoutout to at least two Welkers who hosted me and now follow this blog!), earned a little money, and figured out how to manage it. I had a great time, I was too in the moment to be worried, and it was all fine. And I have stories.

You would think I would learn from that, and not be prone to worry like a screaming, maniacal, and over-protective Nicolas Cage/Grug. But I do worry. And even though my boys are 19 and 31, my inner Grug still rages.

My children are better at leaving the cave than I am at letting them go. They love taking trips with friends, sometimes to places that are regarded by some as unsafe. They take on challenging jobs with consequences. They dive into love and relationships. They choose careers I can’t help them with.  All of their choices have risks. And to this day, I am fearful that my kids might get hurt in any of those situations. But without those risks, where are the stories? Where is the learning of life lessons? How do we grow? And without taking those risks, there is so much unfulfilled curiosity.

Grug tells a story of curiosity with an ending that surprises no one. “Tonight, we’ll hear the story of Crispy Bear. A long time ago, this little bear was alive. She was alive, because she listened to her father, so she was happy. But Crispy had one terrible problem. She was filled with (pause for effect) … curiosity! (Everyone then gasps in horror.) Yes! And one day, she saw something new … and DIED!”

Even I know that’s a bit much. I love my children’s curiosity and lack of fear. I’m lucky that my boys can’t wait to tell me their stories from outside the cave, about what went well and what failed miserably, just like I still do with my parents.

Our children’s world seems more unsafe than the world I grew up in, but it’s still a world they have to live in on their own. There’s an Eric Church song where he laments about missing his father’s protection that was always in his home growing up. The chorus ends with, “’Cause I’ve learned that the monsters ain’t the ones beneath the bed.” Parents can’t always be there to step between our children and take on those monsters.

There are monsters out in the real world, love, jobs, finances, and other real world stuff, and the best we parents can do is hope that through our lessons in the cave, and by allowing our children to leave the cave well before we are ready, they will be ready to successfully navigate everything that comes their way. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Be safe out there, everyone.


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Why Isn’t Independence Day Always on a Monday?

I hope you all had a nice Independence Day weekend. If I were making the rules, Independence Day would always be the first Monday in July. Actually, I would change the entire calendar. The way our current 7-days-a-week, 365.25-days-a-year calendar is set up, holidays with dates just don’t make sense for working people. Memorial Day and Labor Day got it right, being the last and first Mondays in May and September. But the other holidays need to get with the program. I actually have a new calendar suggestion, but I don’t think America is ready to hear it. Another post for another day.

In any case, Independence, Memorial, and Labor Days are the three holidays where we are all pretty much obligated to cook outdoors or attend an event where the food is grilled, barbecued, or smoked. It’s not a law, but it’s one of those unwritten cultural requirements that is pretty universally accepted. I’m all in by the way. I don’t need much of an excuse to cook outdoors, and I fully accept my responsibility as an American to do so on these three holidays . . . and on at least 97 other days each and every year. In California, cooking outdoors 100 days a year is an achievable and noble goal. Again, I’m all in.

Those of you who love cooking outdoors understand. Ian Knauer from The Wall Street Journal writes that he can’t write about smoking food “without sounding like a romance novelist.” Damn, that’s good. When I see a real writer create true art with their words, I get a little jealous. But I do love it.

I do enjoy preparing food on my gas grill and my Big Green Egg. For those of you not familiar with the BGE, it looks like, well, a Big Green Egg. It uses Japanese Ceramic Komodo technology, and it truly is a world class smoker. I could write an entire ode to my Big Green Egg, but that’s not what this blog post is about.

My brother-in-law Will recently got a Big Green Egg for his birthday. His wife Libbie, who is already a rock star in my eyes, gave it to him, and she obviously just went up even higher in the best possible partner competition. Will and I have been talking regularly about his new addiction, and I look forward to our next chat. I already have the same conversations with my son Ryan, another Big Green Egger.

My friend Mark just got a Traeger Smoker Grill. When Mark and I play 18 holes together, we will manage to talk about smoking meat on every hole of our 4+ hour walk. No matter what golf score I get that day, that conversation always makes the day a huge success.

My friend Chris is the best meat smoker I know. He has an old-fashioned offset smoker that requires a great deal of attention throughout the process. I like my Big Green Egg far more than what he has, but honestly, his food comes out absolutely perfect each and every time. He’s an artist who has perfected the art. Nice equipment can make cooking easier, but the true key is having a chef who is a bit fanatical about the process and even more crazy about the result.

While I know plenty of Eggheads (Big Green Egg fanatics) who look down on all other smokers and grills, that’s not me. I remain open minded and enthusiastic about all of the different equipment people use in their outdoor cooking endeavors. I am a better cook because I embrace all differences, and when I see something new, I can’t wait to learn how it might make me better. Anthony Bourdain said it best: “Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”

As a host of many backyard barbecue events, and a fortunate attendee of many others, I have developed my own personal rules for attending barbecues. I use the word rules on purpose. They are more than just guidelines. If you break one of them, you are in danger of being that guy. And a good operating goal in life is, never be that guy. I consulted my friends Chris, Mark, and Ben, as well as my son Ryan, on this list, and they all made it better. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Bring something to the BBQ. Drinks are always appreciated. Appetizers are good. If you’re in a pinch, a roll of foil is always appreciated by a true barbecue person.
  • Don’t offer advice unless asked. If you see something that you think is being done totally wrong, either ignore it, go away, or tell the chef how great he or she is doing. And, who knows, you might just learn something. Think to yourself, would I tell The Godfather how to do his job? No. No, you wouldn’t.
  • Never ever, ever, ever touch the smoker, the grill, or the tools unless asked to do so. Know that if you bring your own meat to the BBQ (not a great idea), it will be cooked by that event’s superintendent of the grill. Don’t offer to flip anything. And if you are even thinking about lifting the lid to take a peek, remember what my friend Chris learned in Memphis, “If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’.”
  • Offer to be a taster for the esteemed bbqer. Being there to taste a small cut is definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time, and it’s both a compliment and a recognition of the griller’s artistry.
  • Offer to help as a gopher. Be eager to clean up, carry items to and from the kitchen, or serve tables. Don’t hover, but be ready.
  • And if you’re hanging out by the grill, don’t crowd the godfather or godmother of the grill. Would you crowd a surgeon? There’s important work going on here folks! Give the chef some room!

Those are my rules. Any other suggestions out there?

Labor Day is coming all too soon, so my advice is to try to grab as many outdoor cooking days and nights as you can until then. We have 57 days of possibility. Try to make them count!


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Serving up a Tomahawk Steak!

Failing at Retirement – Parts One and Two

I have loved not working.

Transitioning from a 60 to 80-hour work week to a 0-hour work week was easier than I ever imagined. I have rested, lost weight and become healthier overall, organized my life, increased my time spent on hobbies I love, and avoided being such a pain that my wife wanted me to return to work. I did not miss work at all.

But I still said yes when a former superintendent colleague asked if I could come support her district for a two-month stint running Human Resources and COVID compliance. My financial advisor has been saying that it wouldn’t hurt me to work every once in a while. While she does not call me lazy, she does point out that I’m still in my earning years, and that every bit helps. Fine, Sonya. I’ll do some short-term stints.

So, I took an 8-week job working for this new district, and  . . . I loved it!

I enjoyed meeting new people and becoming better acquainted with colleagues with whom I had only worked from afar. It is a smaller district, and smaller districts are places where there are fewer leaders, and those leaders have to wear a lot of hats. Effectively, all of the leaders have to specialize in, well, everything. And one of the things that I did not know I was missing was the socialization that jobs naturally create. I loved saying good morning to the good-natured and hard-working people in the office, having occasional side conversations, and walking onto a campus just to feel the energy it emanates. Great schools produce spectacular vibes. I think most of us can feel it (or feel its absence) when we walk around a site.

So actually, maybe I miss work a little bit.

My thanks to the outstanding leaders of El Segundo Unified; I am grateful to the teachers, the classified staff, and the administrators for welcoming me and once again proving to me that our nation’s schools do so much good with so few resources.  But I did drive more. I played less golf. I worked out a little less. Thus ended Failing Retirement – Part One.

What to do when you enjoy so much about retirement, and yet you still get energized from meaningful work in a profession you love?

When you fail once, I see no other choice but to fail again.

Some of my former teachers, were they to read this, would nod their heads and say, “Same old Matthews.”

But in Failing Retirement – Part Two, I am not taking an eight-week job assignment. This time, I have signed on for one full year, serving as the Superintendent of Schools in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. One year is still short-term, right?!? Everyone is clear that I’m there for twelve months, and then I am out after they hire a long-term superintendent for their community. I look forward to a whole series of new challenges, while getting to know and serve the employees and community members who are working together to serve the 24,000 students in this new district.

The past year has been fantastic. I’ve learned that my wife is not totally horrified by the idea of having me around the house almost all of the time. Total win! I’ve learned that I don’t hate not working, and in fact, my life is pretty darn interesting without it. Another win!  I’ve learned to be much healthier, and I am way better off for it. I have also enjoyed developing my love of writing, sharing stories, and reflecting on them on my blog site. And our first year of empty nesting has been (don’t tell Ryan and Dawson) nothing short of awesome.  Win – win- win!

The number one question for me, beginning on Tuesday, is how do I stay healthier, stay in touch with my hobbies, and keep writing, all while totally immersing myself in a new and fascinating job that will take as much time as I can give it?

I know that, just as many people were intrigued when the wise old owl was asked how many licks in a Tootsie Pop, the suspense is killing most of you. I’ll keep you posted.

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Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Why do I write these blog posts?

There are many reasons. I do love telling stories. One of my beliefs as a parent is that stories create memories. By telling and retelling stories to our children, they become their memories that will shape them or make them smile throughout their lives. My stories become their stories. My awesome mother-in-law and I often begin our stories with, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before . . .,” and then proceed to march on and tell the story even if our eye-rolling listener has heard it 136 times. I’m OK with that strategy. In fact, I embrace it.

I have stories. I think we all do. And the more risks you take in life, the more stories you have. Being an optimist, I think that all stories can lead to a happy ending. Even the saddest ones. That’s why I keep taking risks, and putting myself out there in the world. That’s why I push myself. That’s why I try to find ways to say yes to new opportunities. After sixty years on this planet, my story closet (I like that term!) is overflowing.

And since those closest to me have heard my stories perhaps a few too many times, it’s nice to find a medium for a wider audience to bear the brunt of my storytelling. I am grateful for those who read, and appreciative of those who comment. I have found the comments to be insightful, humorous, reflective, kind, and remarkably positive. Those are the qualities of my target audience.

I also appreciate the process of writing a weekly post. Sometimes the topic comes to me easily. Sometimes, like this week, I struggle. And the writing itself is quite enjoyable as well. If I’ve thought about it enough, the first draft just flows. I can usually write it in less than two hours. But the most difficult part is the revisions.

It’s never good enough to publish.


It’s too long. It’s not witty enough. It’s too mundane. The writing is ordinary. I’m not fishing for support here. I’m telling you, it’s just what goes through my head every single time. And it might contain a stupid mistake. I hate that too. And yet I still press “Publish.”

I’m grateful for my three long-time friends who still find time to read my drafts, offer suggestions, kindly point out my errors, and most importantly, reflect on what I’ve written and push me in different directions. It’s an incredibly caring act of friendship, and I never take it for granted. My thanks to them for our enduring friendship and for continuing to make me better.

And in the end, after sweating through the revisions – a process that takes far longer than writing that first draft – I press that publish button and put it out there to those on my mailing list and on social media. Twitter does not work well for me, but I’m OK with that. Twitter may be the meanest place on the planet. I always thought that the bus I took to Central Junior High School in 7th grade was the meanest place, but Twitter blows the wheels off that bus.  I know there’s a lot of positive, and I’m grateful to those working to make it a positive place. But it’s too mean for me.

My talented and very funny sister-in-law Tracee is a spectacular artist (that’s her painting of downtown Little Rock above) who excels in using social media to market her creations. We have a text group where we share our successes and failures on the daily Wordle (I love Wordle), and then the comments start. The photo below, taken on April 26, represents perhaps my greatest life accomplishment – guessing the Wordle in one try.

Tracee is the star of those comments on our Worldle text chain, and every day she wins the most comments or most hearts award. We’ve all had to mute the alerts on our phone, as it can be a lot.  With my phone muted, I can appreciate the comments a lot more. Anyway, Tracee is one of my role models for effective marketing and social media, and she is trying to make me better. I recently read a book she recommended, Hook Point: How to Stand Out in a 3-Second World.

Some stats that show how challenging it is to catch someone’s attention enough to actually open one of my blog posts:

  • The average American sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day.
  • There are 60,000,000,000 messages sent out on digital platforms each day.
  • We have just 3 seconds to grab someone’s attention enough, to give a clever hook point, so readers will click, open the post, and start to read it. The quality of the post itself determines whether they will actually finish it.

After reading the book, I have determined that not only was I lousy at hook points before reading the book, there is no quick fix, and I’m still pretty bad at it. I could do the old man lament, and long for the older simpler days when only the newspapers and the TV clamored for our attention. But in spite of all of its flaws, and in spite of the 60 billion messages a day (I saw somewhere that if you take out the Kardashians and cat videos, it’s only 40 billion – still a lot) I love the Internet and all of its possibilities. I have to adapt.

I would continue to write for a smaller audience, but I’m grateful for the hundreds of faithful readers that I have. I view the struggle of creating a quality piece of writing as jobs one, two, and three, but I will work on evolving and striving to do a better job of catching people’s interest, because I would love to expand the readership. I will aspire to be more like Tracee, I will continue to learn, and I’ll put myself out there.

Even if I fail, it’s just going to create more stories.

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