Getting motivated

Today, I enjoyed something of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I heard a load of highly-regarded people speak about their experiences -- live, in person, standing less than 50 yards in front of me. I can now say I’ve seen two former first ladies in person, and I got to cross an entry off my yet-to-be-written-but-stored-in-my-head Bucket List.

Several colleagues and I acquired tickets to a leadership and business seminar in Kansas City. The speakers: Rudy Giuliani, Robert Schuller, Laura Bush, Joe Montana, Colin Powell, Bill Cosby and many more.

The excitement was dampened, however, when some of us started doing a little research about the event and found a handful of poor reviews from USA Today and various message boards. The reviewers maintained the seminar is loaded with sales pitches to attend additional seminars and purchase software. They said the seminar is filled with political and religious overtones. They said there’s no guarantee that all the advertised speakers would actually appear.

So we went into the day with the lowest expectations. Fully prepared to leave at lunch time if we weren’t getting what we hoped, wanted or needed.

* * *
Instead of the alarm I set last night, I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a rolling thunder outside. Shortly after 5, we were driving toward Kansas City, watching a spectacular lightning show in front of us as dawn broke.

(Strangely, with the getting up extra early and heading to a work assignment during a solid thunderstorm, I was reminded of the morning a couple summers ago that I spent with the FBI as they raided the homes of suspected drug dealers. That morning we also were in the midst of a rocking storm with spectacular lightning. But there were no power outages today. Don‘t ask me how the whole FBI experience relates to today. ...)

At the arena shortly after 7 a.m., we settled into our seats. A square stage, lined with floral arrangements on every side, stood on the middle of the floor. Giant video boards hanging in every corner flashed “Get motivated!” And motivational music blared from the speakers -- Van Halen’s “Right Now,” Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride,” among many others.

Certainly we were in for some kind of experience. And it didn’t help our expectations when the program began with a man jumping to the stage, amid a shower of sparks, and gave a dramatic rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It was way over-the-top. Eyes rolled. Other speakers stepped to the stage among shooting flames or windfalls of confetti or balloons.

But as the parade of speakers got underway, we were pleasantly surprised. Sure, the morning sessions carried some strong patriotic themes that segued into religious themes during the afternoon. But they weren't so in-your-face distracting that they clouded the speakers' messages.

In fact, it was the kind of experience where I wished I had my audio recorder to capture some of speakers’ words of wisdom. Except the seminar’s organizers frown upon that because they're trying to make money … I also wished I had my camera with me to snap some photos as proof “I was there!” All I had was the lousy camera on my Blackberry. I’ve GOT to start carrying my camera with me everywhere.

* * *
I could write a super long post about all of the words of wisdom and enlightening experiences each speaker relayed. But I'll stick to sharing the things that stick with me tonight …

Howard Putnam, CEO of Southwest Airlines, started the day. (Let me say I have great admiration and respect for Southwest Airlines. I got to hear the company's media coordinator speak several weeks ago in a much different setting -- very cool.) He told the story of his entrance into the airline industry and unlikely rise to the top of Southwest. Turns out he's a native of the region and even gave a shout out to The 'Ville. During his presentation, he emphasized the importance of balance in your life -- family, church, career, community and personal. Turbulence is certain, he said. Misery is optional.

Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor." He talked about our movement into the information revolution. Years ago we relied on newspapers or televisions to get our news, and we usually didn‘t receive it until hours after the news broke. Today, he noted, we know within moments when a tsunami strikes Japan or a tornado hits Joplin. Fascinating, I say. He says: Get plugged in. Embrace it. Or you'll be lost. He went on to illustrate the ways he used new technology to help lower New York City’s crime rate and improve the city overall. ... He also offered his four keys to being successful (all four of which I practice regularly, thank you very much. But then again I make my living by writing, so I'd be lost if I didn't do these things. The "successful" part of the equation is still being determined...):
1. Read. So your mind may grow. As a kid, he said, he was brainwashed by pinstripes. The first book he ever read was a children’s biography about Babe Ruth. From there, he moved on to books about Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. His love of the Yankees is well-known. 
2. Listen. And talk to other people.
3. Write things down. When you think of a great idea, write it down. You may forget it, and never get it back. 
4. Think. Take at least five minutes every day to get off the merry-go-round and think.
Laura Bush, former first lady. ... The whole time she was talking, I couldn’t help but be struck by her southern charm and beauty. She also was quite funny, delivering several one liners and amusing comments about her presidential husband and their life in the White House. ... She emphasized the importance of living in the moment, talking briefly about the excitement of their 2000 presidential campaign and then the confusion of the election. “That’s how George became a brush-clearing Zen master of Texas,” she said. ... She told of launching a book festival on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Mall in Washington, D.C., with 30,000 people there to discuss and share their favorite books. … On Sept. 11, she was off to Capitol Hill when a Secret Serviceman told her a plane hit the World Trade Center, and she ended up watching the news coverage in Ted Kennedy’s office. ... She recalled leaving the White House after Barack Obama was inaugurated. The couple was content and satisfied, and George repeated something to Laura that he said often during his presidency, “We’re the Big Ship America. We may lean to the left or to the right, but we stay the course.”

As sort of a commercial break between speakers, a couple of performers by the name of Quick Change took the stage. I had never heard of them … But I won’t forget them now. The moral of their performance, the emcee told us afterward: Nothing’s impossible.  

Gen. Colin Powell, "World-Famous Soldier Statesman. Gen. Powell talked about the importance of making yourself an essential part of your organization. Convey a sense of purpose and have passion, he said. Be strong and treat everyone as a human-being. To illustrate the latter point, he told a story about a parking attendant directing cars into a lot. After the attendant gave one driver a prime parking space, the driver asked the attendant why he received the better spot. The attendant said, “Because you were the only one to roll down your window and ask how my day was going.”

Admittedly, my mind was wandering a little bit at this point. The morning's remaining speakers weren't as awe-inspiring as their predecessors. ... We heard Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc., talk about the success some entrepreneurs have had taking every day materials and improving them to make big bucks -- bottled water, Starbucks coffee, denim jeans. Be aware, he said. ... We heard Bob Harrison, a top sales training expert, talk about his success as a car salesman.

* * *

At 1 p.m., it was time for lunch. Finally.

To make a long story short: We had an hour to spare for lunch. Our group took time making a decision on where to eat. We joined the throngs exiting the arena and descending on the downtown district. We got into a line that stretched past the door of a bar and grill. A half hour passed before we were seated. Nearly another hour passed before we received our food. And when we finished eating, two hours had passed since the time our lunch break started. We missed Robert Schuller and Joe Montana, two speakers I really wanted to see … Worst of all, my colleague Mitzi and I learned later that the rest of our group didn’t care to attend the afternoon sessions. Mitzi and I could have stayed in the arena, purchased food from the concession stands and been just fine.


* * *
Back at the arena ...
John Walsh, host and creator of “America’s Most Wanted.” He told the gripping story of the search to find his kidnapped son. Not the cheeriest of motivational stories, but the experience kindled his decision to launch “America’s Most Wanted” and become a victim rights activist.

And then ...

The great Bill Cosby, "America's Favorite Comedian."

It had been a lifetime goal of mine to see Bill Cosby live. (Viewing a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman was a close second on my entertainment bucket list. I guess that’s first now). … No, I didn’t get to see him perform a full-hour comedy set. But at this point, that doesn’t matter. The guy is so full of wisdom, I’d listen to him talk about anything.

Cosby received an immediate standing ovation when he appeared on the floor. My smile must have been as wide as my shoulders as I applauded and watched him, wearing one of his sweat suits, walk to the stage. Like the other speakers, Cosby spoke about 30 minutes. But his lecture might have been the most relatable of any speaker, and it was probably the one I soaked up most.

Cosby’s message was pretty simple. Invest in something. Work hard for what you want out of life, and you’ll succeed. Don’t procrastinate.

And oh, there were some good comedic bits along the way. He riffed for several minutes on people who start smoking “to be cool” but then make excuses for not quitting, even thought they know the habit is bad for their health. “Stop presenting yourself on a reality show,” Cosby continued. “Stay off 'Judge Judy.' ”

Perhaps the most entertaining part of Cosby’s lecture, though it was by accident, started when an audience member interrupted Cosby by yelling “Go Army!” Clearly annoyed by the person’s lack of respect, Cosby shook his head and rolled his eyes at the person. As Cosby proceeded, he called out the man a couple times -- best of all when he was making a point that a person sometimes has to do things he or she doesn’t want to do in order to reach the end goal. Cosby was illustrating the point by resting on his hands and knees, pretending to scrub the floor, and he called out, “Go Army.”

He concluded by saying “Education, education, education. ... The revolution starts in that house with that child.”

When Cosby left the stage it was going on 5 o’clock -- the time the program was supposed to be over.

Oh, but there was a bonus speaker, the emcee bellowed. It was Gen. Stanley McCrystal. Who would have been an excellent speaker, I’m sure. … But we were anxious and tired, and saw no advantages to sitting in that arena any longer.

Most of the crowd was thinking along the same lines. As the emcee continued his schpeal, a flood of people followed us to the gates, and we overheard one woman walking behind us say, “Bill Cosby just told us to take control of our lives and our time, so that’s what we’re doing.”

And there you have it.


Memorial Day weekend

Random Memorial Day weekend thoughts …

Summer has officially begun. We celebrated by basking in beautiful weather all weekend, and sleeping in for the first time in ages. After the school year Kates and I just completed, it feels as though we're catching up on years worth of sleep.

Kates and I are looking forward to actually having a summer this year. Because last year's summer was marred by moving, Phoebe's hospital stay, and then the school year started.

Phoebe has watched "Toy Story 3" almost non-stop since last weekend … It seems like every time I turn around that dang monkey is screeching.

We settled into the house a little more this weekend.

Outside, in the process of building a platform for our new outdoor storage box, I discovered and unearthed a handful of concrete blocks buried under the grass. And I dug out dozens of bricks from beneath our deck that I can incorporate into the landscape. ... I told Kates last weekend, regarding my never-ending work to develop the perfect yard, it's officially on.

Inside, we have yet to organize our living room shelves. Or hang many things on the walls. ... But I made a lot of headway in the basement, painting the storage closet and clearing some major space in the future home of my baseball museum.

Phoebe spent most of the weekend in her swimsuit. We pulled out her pool for the first time Sunday afternoon. She played in it today, too. And blew lots of bubbles.

In so many ways, Phoebe seemed to grow up overnight this weekend. Her maturity and understanding of the world around her never ceases to amaze us. ... For awhile now, she's been pinning a "Why?" on almost every statement Kates or I make to her. But this weekend, Phoebe started responding to the answers to the whys with an "Oh," a pause, an approving nod and then, "I see."

Phoebe also resumed sleeping in her big bed last night. She had slept in her play tent every night since Joel presented it to her Easter weekend as a birthday present. ... This morning she appeared at Kates' bed side, as usual, to make it known that she was awake. But today, she greeted Kates by saying, "Mommy, I slept in my big bed all night!"

It's been fun. But now it's time for me to get to bed. I start work at 5 a.m. tomorrow.

Before I sign off, I give you this video I stumbled upon: A conversations with Bert, and Andy Samberg. Funny.


A Day Made of Glass

Soaking up the beginning of our Memorial Day relaxation time and catching up on some email, reading and web hits ...

I got a hold of this video after a conversation with some coworkers.

Freaking awesome.


No Bulls

With the Celtics -- dang! -- and Lakers looking weak, and the Heat unable to play consistently well, and Derrick Rose coming into his own, I really thought the Bulls were going to win it all this year. ... Especially after they creamed the Heat in Game 1.

I'm officially tuned out for the rest of the NBA season.

Good reads ...
a Joe Posnanski: The Real MVP
a Jason Kidd continues to amaze at age 38
a Phil Jackson exits the stage
a Phil Jackson’s legendary career ends in a sweep



One minute last night I was settling in and musing about my tough TV choices -- Game 3 of the Bulls-Heat series or the Cubs-Red Sox game on Sunday Night Baseball.

The next I was scrolling through my social media feeds and struck by the chatter of the deadly tornado that had just wiped out a swath of Joplin. I turned on the Weather Channel and could hardly turn away. ... In those first moments, my thoughts also turned to my brother and his family who live not far from Joplin. Just then he tweeted this.

I was in awe and disbelief. The images and stories coming from Joplin were unbelievable. 

Home with Phoebe today -- she has strep throat again, which is a whole other story -- I spent much of the morning watching the news coverage, clicking through photos popping up online and keeping tabs on the relief efforts our own community is organizing.

The numbers are staggering.
116 dead.
More than 1,150 people injured.
The deadliest tornado since 1947.
It stretched three quarters of a mile wide.
More than 2,000 structures were damaged.
Debris was thrown 20,000 feet into the sky.

Then there's this chilling and horrific video that's making the rounds today depicting people taking cover inside a gas station. ... Here's another one of the storm forming.

* * *
Now for the journalism-critique portion of this post ...

Since I'd been watching the coverage of the local ABC affiliate, and was fairly impressed, I decided to stick with ABC News for the national broadcast tonight.

But I was immediately struck by their over-the-top title for the broadcast: "Direct hit: An American tragedy in Joplin." ... Seriously? It's a terrible situation for sure. But an American tragedy? No. ... 9/11, JFK's assassination -- those are American tragedies. ... The rest of the broadcast seemed thrown together, as if the reporters themselves were so overwhelmed with the devastation that they didn't know where to start. ABC also included video footage and photos that had been circulated and widely viewed on the Internet all day.

Then I watched the NBC Nightly News and was promptly reminded why NBC owns the top network broadcast, and why I thoroughly appreciate that team's journalistic work every single night. The NBC broadcast was far more engaging and heartfelt, hitting the meat of the big story along with fresh bits mixed in. They had numbers, some amazing photography, gripping interviews -- and a chat with the Gov.

ABC capped its broadcast with a piece about the Joplin high school commencement ceremony that played out just before the tornado struck. The story had loads of potential, but it was only a round-up of the broader story laced with some of the inspirational commencement season tidbits. ... NBC instead went to the destroyed high school and included interviews with the principal and freshly-minted graduates, which made for a far more compelling story. 

(5.30.2011 -- Updated to include good reads and more thoughts from the week)

As this week has continued, the severe storm warnings and weather alerts ... just ... keep ... coming. We've been anxiously watching the television and radar updates at night. Another tornado hit Sedalia Wednesday, and the video of this truck being blown apart is the latest to wow us ...

Our university has reached out to the university and colleagues in Joplin. We also have partnerships with that university. My heart broke for one woman as I watched Brian Williams interview her about losing her husband in the storm -- it turns out she was one of our graduate students.

Scanning the list of deceased, and seeing their ages, is saddening.

Stories from the Joplin tornado ...
a Joplin survivors spin tales of dread, loss after tornado
a Storm’s toll shows on the faces of Joplin’s residents
a In TV Crew’s Hunt for Twisters, More Than They Bargained For
a In Storm’s Aftermath, One Family Salvages What It Can
a Joplin storm contained a rare multivortex tornado
a Joplin begins sorting through the big tasks ahead
a Tornadoes dip, dash over an anxious region
a Tornado couldn’t rip away the goodness
a Joplin Faces Sad Task of Clearing the Rubble
a When Everything Is Gone, Including a Sense of Direction
a Once-Stately Trees Tell a Tale of Destruction in Joplin

The Photos ... These are amazing.
a St. Louis Post-Dispatch
a The New York Times: Holding Out Hope in Missouri
a The New York Times: Panoramas of Joplin Before and After the Tornado
a Shocking before and after images reveal how giant tornado ripped apart Joplin's city landmarks
a The New York Times: Aerial Photographs of Joplin Before and After the Tornado
a Los Angeles Times: Satellite images of Joplin, Mo., before and after the tornado

More good reads ...
a Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster ... Looks like we're a lot safer now than we were near Chi-Town.
a Researchers see a pattern in rise of deadly tornadoes
a Storm season on deadly path; Obama to visit Joplin
a The Facts (and Fiction) of Tornadoes



Sigh. I'm really missing the Brewers this summer ...

And they're starting to get hot, too.

Rapture Day

So much for the world ending yesterday ...

I was in sweet slumber until about 10 a.m. and woke up to the adorableness that is Phoebe at my bedside, shouting "Daddy, wake up!" while she flipped the covers off of me and tugged at my leg. The sun was shining, too.

I spent the bulk of what was a gorgeous Saturday in The 'Ville working in our yard. Mowing, trimming and really starting to set the stage for what I hope will soon be a yard full of colorful gardens. I told Kates when I finally came inside Saturday night, "Working in the yard this weekend, I feel like it's officially on."

I stayed outside to clean up some brush and watched as the sky turn ominous in the west. ... Sure enough, we were hit with a good thunderstorm, and a tornado warning about an hour later.

But nothing materialized. And the world didn't end.

If there was any punishment to be issued, Kates and I got it overnight -- in the form of Phoebe refusing to go to bed and then waking up nearly every hour of the night. I woke up with a headache, and Kates was concerned enough about Phoebe that she convinced me we needed to take her to visit a doctor ...

So we scrapped our church plans and instead packed the car for a day in St. Joe. Kates and I had hoped to do some shopping this weekend anyway.

The doctor confirmed our suspicions that Phoebe had attracted another case of strep throat. Third time in the last four months! ... Not to mention she was coming off yet another ear infection. The girl has spent far too much time on antibiotics and prescription medicine this last year. Don't get us started on the lack of cleanliness at her preschool.

Oh, but the shopping was good. ... From our family time with Toy Story 3 Friday night to today's road trip, the gorgeous weather throughout -- it's been a wonderful weekend.

Even better, the world didn't end.


Toy stories

So we just watched “Toy Story 3.”

Phoebe received it on DVD as a birthday gift from Grandma and Grandpa S., along with a copy of the original “Toy Story” from Uncle Orrin and Aunt Kelli. Add those to the copy of “Toy Story 2” she got for Christmas and our trilogy is now complete. … It beats the heck out of our 10-year-old taped-off-the-TV low-quality VHS tapes that Phoebe was watching repeatedly last summer. 

We put off watching “Toy Story 3” for weeks in part because we wanted to be sure to watch it on a night when we could enjoy it as a family and devote our full attention to it. We also put it off in part because Kates and I had heard all the talk about what an emotional roller coaster the film is and how no one’s lived through it without reaching for the Kleenex box.

For the most part, it held up. The ending was a heart warmer and Kates was wiping the tears from her eyes, while Phoebe stood at the edge of our coffee table -- eyes glued to the TV, jaw agape and sucking in every second, trying to make sense of it all.

Although, it was quite a bit more intense than we anticipated. … The bulk of the storyline centers on the toys’ latest adventure at a daycare, where the kids treat them harshly and their toy counterparts take pleasure in watching their destruction by day and locking them up in cells by night. There’s a lot of prison metaphors, dark scenery and a whole lot of dramatic music to get your heart going.

In fact, there were moments that Kates and I wondered why we thought it was a good idea to watch it with Phoebe. The film hits hardest as Woody and the gang brace to be consumed by a trash incinerator …

But back to the happy ending. The film introduces us to a little girl, Bonnie, who has a wild imagination … And, well, leave it to me to start drawing the parallels from the film and Bonnie and the toys to Phoebe.

When the credits started rolling, Phoebe looked at us and said in her little voice, “I wanna watch it again.” We responded with “Maybe tomorrow …” and then she was off to her room to begin getting ready for bed. I listened with pride and joy as Kates helped Phoebe in the bathroom. Phoebe practiced her counting -- one of her new favorite pasttimes is counting to 30 -- and asked her favorite question of the week, “Mommy, know what time it is?”

“It’s 9:32,” Kates says.
“What comes after that?”
“What comes after that?”
“What comes after that?””

… Seriously. Phoebe would go all night if we let her.

Pretty soon, Kates was reading Phoebe her bedtime stories. And as I looked around Phoebe’s room and looked at the faces of all of her favorite toys -- Lowly, Lammy, her baby dolls -- I was seeing them alive with a contentment for the way Phoebe loves them. Dang “Toy Story” messing with my mind.

I left the room, and Kates finished off the bedtime ritual, tucking Phoebe into her tent -- the tent Uncle Joel and Aunt Stephanie gave her for her birthday; she’s slept in it every night since.

Kates joined me in the living room. … And a minute layer, a wimpering Phoebe came down the hallway. “I didn’t give Daddy a hug and a kiss,” she said.

My heart melting, I rose from the couch, gave her a bear hug and lifted her up to my shoulders. I carried her back to her room and lowered her to the floor. She crawled back into her tent, grabbing Lowly and Lammy along the way, and let me cover her with one of her blankets.

“Uh oh, where’s Lowly?” Phoebe said. She had lost him in her sea of blankets and pillows.

We found him by her feet. I picked him up, handed him to her and began tucking her in once more. “Hold them tight,” I said.

“Ok, I will,” Phoebe said.

Cool like that

My good friend Laura is seeing Death Cab for Cutie in Chicago tonight.

You can be sure about what I'm thinking. ... So in an amusing way this exchange that she shared with me this morning was somewhat comforting ... 

So, I said, Death Cab in the meeting this morning and Sharkey was the only one who had ever heard the name.
So I asked about Grammy Award Winners Arcade Fire.
Still nothing.
You and I, my friend, are cool.
Yes, we are cool.


The Worst Pitching Performance Ever

I haven't been a very good baseball fan this season. I can count on one hand the number of baseball games I've watched so far.

I've not watched one game in its entirety. My job is demanding, and I've been consumed with settling into our house.

But tonight we got Phoebe to bed at a decent time, leaving us with some extra TV time that didn't involve Mickey Mouse, Giselle, Dora, Woody's Roundup Gang or the Little Einsteins.

I turned on the TV and found the Royals-Indians game. The Royals were already down 3-0, but it was only the fourth inning.

I picked a bad night to watch the Royals.

Within minutes the Royals were trailing 17-1 and Vin Mazzaro had turned in the worst pitching performance ever.


Give a little

So last weekend I posted about my new favorite music songs and videos of the season ...

Add this one from Hanson to the collection ...

(For the record, Hanson is a great band that deserves more credit for their talents than for the '90s classic, "Mmmbop." My ipod houses more than a dozen of their songs, and if I ever got a good opportunity -- I'd totally see them live.)


Paul Simon, Rayna singing "Duncan"

Paul Simon rocks. And this video totally had me tearing up.

Can you imagine what this woman must have been thinking?!

And in the related videos, check out this oh, so sweet version of "Here Comes the Sun," which may forever more be known to me as "Phoebe's Song."

Justin Verlander Doesn’t Bother Telling Parents Difference Between No-Hitter And Perfect Game

A good one from The Onion ...

Several times throughout the conversation, an exasperated Verlander attempted to explain that just because a ball is hit to the second baseman doesn’t mean an actual hit is recorded — an explanation his father rejected out of hand, insisting that it “sure looked like a hit to [him].” In addition, Verlander’s mother asked her son if the one walk he allowed was indicative of a larger problem he wasn’t telling his parents about.


For the love of music

In the midst of my business this weekend, I caught some of my beloved VH1 Top 20 Countdown for the first time in ages.

And I found a lot to like.  

Bruno Mars: "The Lazy Song." ... The choreography evokes something from an OK Go video. I love it, and I couldn't take my eyes away. I mean how many videos feature people wearing monkey masks -- and putting their hands in their pants?

Adele: "Rolling in the Deep." ... Powerful song. Powerful video. I was captivated by the set, the shadows, the floor filled with glasses half full ...

Sara Bareilles: "Uncharted." ... A video featuring Sara's best pals, aka some of my favorite artists -- aka Ben Folds, Ingrid Michaelson, Adam Gardner and Ryan Miller, Tegan and Sara, Ryan Tedder -- not to mention Josh Groban, Vanessa Carlton, Jennifer Nettles, Adam Levine and that lip-syncing kid. I was hooked in seconds.

Bonus video: Colbie Caillat performing an acoustic of "I Do," arguably my favorite song on the radio right now, for our beloved WTMX.

Movies and Mother's Day

We played it calm and relaxing this weekend to celebrate Mother's Day. We stayed up late and slept late. We played in the yard, and grilled out burger and brats.

And we caught up on some movies, which are filling our DVR for the rare nights we have nothing else to occupy us.

Friday night, we watched "Valentine's Day." ... Aside from the fact the film is stacked with star power -- seriously, look at this cast listing -- it's like a Valentine's Day version of "Love Actually." Only it's not nearly as compelling or charming, the web of connected people is wider, and it doesn't take place in England.

Saturday night, we watched "The Hangover." You know, that movie that made gazillions in theaters last summer and was billed as the funniest film in the history of cinema?

Two words: So overrated.

We should have known better. I had the same That was a waste of time feelings after seeing "Old School" and "Wedding Crashers." I'm no prude, but seriously, how was that sooo funny? And am I the only one that remembers the very similar "Very Bad Things?"



So I had a weird dream last night ...

I was in a journalism class being taught by Mr. Brown. It was in my college journalism hall, there were about 30 people in it and the only person I recognized was my supervisor and mentor sitting next to me. And up at the chalkboard was Mr. Brown teaching the foundations of newspaper reporting, old-school. His legendary aura in the room was clear.

Soon the bell sounded, signalling the class was over and the crowd began filtering from the room. As we entered the hallway, the environment was suddenly that of a high school hallway. Crowded with students moving between classes. Suddenly the president of my university appeared around a corner and approached Mr. Brown, who was now standing in the doorway and watching the flow of students in front of him. As I looked back, I saw Dr. J greet Mr. Brown with a pat on the back, as if to say "You did well" in life.

Just then I heard my full name, but nothing else, called over the school's intercom. I knew it meant I should report to the office for something, but I shrugged it off because the message didn't provide any details. Unfortunately, sometimes, that's my nature. I tend not to react to things unless I have some certain details to go on.

I arrived in a barely full classroom. It was a math class. I entered from the front of the room and passed the teacher, who was standing in front of her desk, on my way to a seat near the back of the classroom. She returned a test to me. In the dream it was implied that I took the test recently, and I had a sense before she handed it to me that I hadn't done well. ... Weirder yet, the teacher handed the results of the test back to me written on one of Phoebe's stackable toy bowls. And I couldn't read the teacher's Sharpie scribbles on the bowl.

Once I was seated, the teacher called out my name as if she wanted me to come to the front of the mostly empty class. I didn't respond and kept trying to make out the writing on the bowl. Now, another woman was standing at the front of the room, and it was implied she was someone I was supposed to leave with.

Again, the teacher called my name. Again I didn't respond. Eventually, the teacher passed my desk and said something like put your gloves on, it's time to go ... As I looked down to a pair of suede gloves lying atop my backpack on the floor ...

Kates called my name, "Mark"

"What!" I snarled as my eyes jerked awake and I sat up to see Kates.

Wish I knew where that dream was heading.


The doghouse

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: One of the biggest highlights of every weekday is taking Phoebe to preschool.

I don't say that because just getting her ready to go to school each morning tends to be an emotional roller coaster, and you might think that by the end of it I’m glad to be getting a break from the drama of toddlerhood.

Actually, once I get her into the car and buckled, and I begin our morning drive, we have some of the sweetest, most valuable father-daughter time of the day.

Today I was driving her to preschool when she spotted a doghouse.

“Daddy, I just saw a doghouse!”

"Oh yeah? Was there a doggy in the doghouse?"

"Uh, no, I don know where da doggie is. He’s not there wight now, but I fink hill be back waiter."

"Oh, ok."


"Yes, Phoebe?"

"I fink Woody needs a doghouse."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah he needs a doghouse so he not go outside because it's cold out dere and it's berry wainy and he not get wet ..." She said this, as she always does when she's giving an explanation or telling one of her infamous stories, in one breath.

"Well, then we'll have to build a doghouse for Woody tonight," I said.

A few minutes later, we'd arrived at Phoebe's school, and I led her inside. As I sent her off to play and started to close the door, she looked back at me and said with a smile, "Bye, Daddy! I'll see you tonight and we build my doghouse for Woody."
The whole exchange brought back a lasting childhood memory of a time when my brother and I wanted doghouses for our new Pound Puppies. My parents, who never ceased to come up with creative ways to keep us occupied and letting our imaginations flow, retrieved a couple cardboard boxes. They helped my brother and I decorate them, and in one afternoon we had doghouses for our pound puppies. ... I have no idea where those doghouses ended up and I'm not even sure they lasted more than a couple days. But the experience meant enough that I still have that memory.

And so it was on. Before Phoebe and Kates arrived home tonight, I had a cardboard box picked out. I laid out Phoebe's crayons and markers, and we went to it shortly after they walked in the door.

And the finished product ...


May 1, 2011

(5.09.2011 -- I've updated this post to include
some of the good reads I've found
since the news of Bin Laden's death
broke last week)

We just finished watching our late night television shows. And ate them up. The Daily Show tonight was a classic.

After all, how crazy -- and unbelievable -- have these 24 hours been?!

Up until about 9:51 p.m. yesterday, it had been another Sunday. We went to church and said goodbye to Kates' parents in the morning. Lunch. Kates took a nap. I played with Phoebe. Paid bills. Did laundry. Dinner ...

I was frustrated that it was past 9 by the time I could indulge in Sunday Night Baseball. At around 9:30, I told Kates I was ready for bed but instead got comfortable on the couch and fired up my laptop.

Good thing we didn't go to bed.

A news alert popped on my screen.

U.S. has the body of Osama bin Laden, sources say

I gasped and shared the headline with Kates. In moments, more alerts started popping up. I immediately reached for the TV remote and turned to CNN. Kates reached for her phone and dialed her parents, who had returned to The Farm and wouldn't have known. ...

Twitter and Facebook. Absolutely. Lit. Up. ... My friend Sarah in Chicago posted to her Facebook, simply, "Wow." Those of us watching a computer, smartphone or television knew exactly what she was talking about. Many, many more tweets and status updates like hers quickly followed.

My favorite tweet of the night as the world waited for President Obama to adress the nation:

At this rate U.S. President Obama
may come on and just say
"Check Twitter."

A couple others from some of my journalism colleagues ...

Ooh. Just got goosebumps hearing the U-S-A chants
bleeding over the NYM-PHI game on . Imagine if the game
was being played in NY?

This is amazing, but newspapers
everywhere are on deadline.
You can bet A sections
all over America are on hold.

As the updates continued to flow and we started seeing images of people gathering in city streets, cheering and chanting U-S-A in front of the White House -- and getting reports of people shooting fireworks in celebration -- it was apparent very quickly that the night would be one none of us will forget. Years from now we'll be asking the question, "Where were you when ... "

As the social media chatter continued, another thing struck me: How far our communication has come in the 10 years since 9/11. ... Think about it: On that day most of us were crowded around television sets to get the latest information from newscasts. There were no iPhones or smartphones to help you get breaking news mobily. And there was no Facebook or Twitter to share the news when you got it. The communication was primarily one-way. And here we were now, a mere 10 years later, learning --and sharing -- the latest details about the developing story via our vast internet networks long before the television media interuptted our regularly scheduled programming. Mind-blowing.

Good reads regarding the use of social media ...
a Sohaib Athar’s Tweets from the attack on Osama bin Laden
a Paste has a great post with some of the best Tweets of the night.
a So how did you hear about Bin Laden’s death?
a Twitter breaks record as news of bin Laden’s death spreads
a Turning to Social Networks for News... 3,440 per second from 10:45 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Eastern time!
aFirst bin Laden reports came in tweets, as media scrambled for confirmation
a Martin Luther King, Jr. misquoted after Osama bin Laden killed... I found this amusing because I saw several status updates and tweets with this quote. I'm not a fan of the practice.
aObama’s TV Audience Was His Largest
a How 4 people & their social network turned an unwitting witness to bin Laden’s death into a citizen journalist
I had another thought, now having firsthand knowledge of the speech-writing process and the thought that goes into finding just the right words. "Can you imagine the conversations that were going on in that room, crossing out words and rewriting phrases?" I told a communication colleague this morning.

Eventually we turned over to NBC's coverage. And when President Obama himself delivered the news, I got chills. To hear him say the words out loud ...
"Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children ... "

As the news settled, I got back to my Sunday Night Baseball. The Mets and Phillies were now tied at 1-1 in the 12th inning. At 11:30 p.m. I went to bed.

More thoughts ...

Here's a good read from a Christian perspective.

On releasing the photos ...
As a media relations professional with a journalism background, I understand both sides of the debate and the philosphy that the Bin Laden photos represent "the very definition of news." But I respect and commend President Obama for taking a firm stance, saying “We don’t trot this stuff out as trophies — that’s not who we are.’’
a The Boston Globe published an interesting editorial pushing for the release of the photos.
a Eugene Robinson also had an interesting view in favor of releasing the photos.
a And Now, the Search for the bin Laden Death Photo

How it all went down ...
I find it -- the years of intelligence gathering that started with finding Bin Laden's courier, and the stealth descent on the compound -- absolutely fascinating. The New York Times has an excellent graphic and timeline. Also ...
a Bin Laden discovered ‘hiding in plain sight’
a Detective Work on Courier Led to Breakthrough on Bin Laden
a Behind the Hunt for Bin Laden
a In Long Pursuit of Bin Laden, the ’07 Raid, and Frustration
a Death of Osama bin Laden: Phone call pointed U.S. to compound — and to ‘the pacer’
a CIA spied on bin Laden from safe house
a The Force of the Deed

The infamous Situation Room photo ...
I started following the White House Flickr feed shortly after President Obama was elected ... Fascinating.
a White House photo viewed as often as it is parodied
a Breaking down the Situation Room -- A fascinating tour of the room, and the photo, from the Washington Post.

Other good reads ...
a Newspaper front pages capture elation, relief that Osama bin Laden was killeda The Most Wanted Face of Terrorism
a After Killing of Bin Laden, Official Reaction Pours In
a Bin Laden’s death: a moment of unity
a 13 Strangest Ways People Found Out Bin Laden Died
a The Long-Awaited News
a Osama bin Laden changed us in ways minute, monumental
a Bin Laden’s Secret Life in a Diminished World
a Adm. William McRaven: The terrorist hunter on whose shoulders Osama bin Laden raid rested

Stories related to 9/11 ...
a Resilient New York takes grim satisfaction in bin Laden’s death
a The Interrupted Reading: The Kids with George W. Bush on 9/11
aConstructing a Story, With 2,982 Names


Mr. Brown

When my good friend Laura sent an email to me Friday morning that said, simply, "Call me," I had a feeling the news wasn't good.

I immediately dialed her number and she answered. "It's a sad day in the newsroom," she said, her voice breaking.

"Why is it a sad day?" I asked, knowing the answer that was coming. She shared with me a couple weeks ago that Mr. Brown, the publisher and president of the newspaper where I spent seven wonderful years before moving to The 'Ville last year, had been diagnosed with cancer. Just a few days ago, in an update, she told me the cancer was progressing fast.

"Mr. Brown passed away this morning," she said. My heart sunk.

Quite simply there was no other publisher like him, and it was an absolute privilege to know him and work for his company.

Nowadays a lot of publishers and newspaper heads are known for hiding in their corner offices - if they set foot in the building at all - and communicating with their ground floor employees through insincere company-wide emails. Prior to arriving at the News, I worked at smaller community newspapers where that was the case. But that wasn't Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown -- even in his 80s, at an age when a publisher's heirs usually are well in control -- was notorious for strolling through the newsroom at least once, sometimes two or three times, each day, checking in with the staff and passing along story ideas. It was not rare to see him in the morning hours as the next day's stories were just starting to be written, or late at night as the copy editors were putting the next day's edition to bed. He knew every reporter's name, he knew their beats and he was always quick to say hello.

Mr. Brown was such a mainstay in that newsroom, I can't imagine what it will be like without him. When our executive editor retired a couple years ago, he told a story about going to dinner with another editor on his first night in town 15 years earlier. The new executive editor made a comment about Mr. Brown's age and suggested that he couldn't be publisher for much longer. The other editor, who was a veteran of the paper himself, told our executive editor, "Mark my words. Mr. Brown will be signing your retirement papers." ... And he did.

Any compliment on a story coming from Mr. Brown was the highest compliment you could receive. "You had a marvelous piece on page one today," he would say in his low, gravely voice. ... One in particular that will stick with me was a story I wrote about a homicide. It was one of those mentally draining stories on which I'd done a lot of researching and reporting. And a compliment from Mr. Brown the next morning made it all worth it. But the funny part was Mr. Brown -- the kindest of men who never wished ill on anyone -- even added some quip like, "We need to have more shootings on our front page."

The memories and his impact will live with me for a long time. I'll never forget how he was always quick to compliment Kates and remind me how lucky I was to be with her when we saw him at city or company gatherings. I'll cherish the Christmas cards he and his wife sent us, and the embroidered blanket they sent us when Phoebe was born.

I will especially cherish the personal letter he wrote to me after I left the newspaper last year, in which he wished me good fortune and expressed confidence that I would make "a significant contribution to the advancement" of my college. He also thanked me for the Christmas card our family sent him that year, and wrote that he put it on his bulletin board so he could say "good morning" to our family when he arrived at work each day.

Now I say good morning to him at my new place of work. When I moved into my new office at the university, one of the first things to go on my bulletin board was a button of Mr. Brown that the newspaper handed out a few years ago to commemorate his birthday.

And no recollection of Mr. Brown is complete without mentioning the sayings he was known for around the newsroom. He had many. He often ended conversations with "Have an interesting day," or "Be of good cheer."

One of my favorites has always been that he called our newspaper the city's "most interesting daily newspaper." ... The joke was in that it was the only newspaper in town.

By mid afternoon Friday, as more people learned of his death, so many of my friends and former colleagues from the News began expressing their thoughts and condolences in Facebook status updates and tweets. ... The sentiments appeared almost like a viral campaign among our little circle of friends with the way all of us began "liking" and commenting on each other's postings. 

Throughout the weekend, I've been reading the newspaper's coverage on the death of our community icon and all of the tributes that have followed. This one from a publisher in Massachusetts, I think, says it all ...

"He was the kind of man who never failed
to make an impression on anyone he met.
He dedicated his whole life to journalism,
and you couldn't ask for a better boss. He was generous,
trustworthy, loyal, charitable and open, a person
who could be acutely perceptive and charming,
all in the same sitting."