Monday, December 12, 2011

10 Things I Believe to Be True

The following blog post comes as a result of watching a TED talk given by a young gal who uses an exercise called "10 Things I believe to be True" to inspire the poet in her students.  For me it is surprising hard, but each truth could be used as a starting point to a great poem or for me, a blog post.

  1. One of these days my heart will stop and play its final beat.
  2. I believe my kids will become adults and lose their innocence faster than I wish.
  3. Life is full of paradoxes.
  4. My children will be my greatest legacy.
  5. Love makes you do weird things.
  6. Positivity remains the single most important factor for a happy existence, yet one of the most difficult.
  7. Men and women are different in ways that can compliment each other and at the same time cause stress.   Finding the balance is every married couples challenge. 
  8. It's better to trust and be let down every once in a while, then to not trust and be miserable all the time (Abe Lincoln)
  9. My biggest fear is succeeding in areas of my life that do not matter.
  10. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life.  

 As we are nearing the end of 2011, I plan to take these truths, use them as a reflection as I come up with goals for 2012.  Might be a good starting point. 

I'll share my goal writing process in a future post.   I promise to have it up before the new year begins.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    A letter from Africa

    A decade ago I sponsored a young lad in Africa.  About three times a year I hear from this now young adult in the form of a written letter.  Want to feel good?  I suggest sponsoring a child.  For the small amount I donate I receive in exchange letters gushing with gratitude.

    For fun I thought I'd  share with you a portion of his letter.  (His name has been changed for protection reasons)

    ....  Much regards to Jacob, I am happy to hear that Jacob will be going to school soon and for your daughter I wish her all the best  as she is still going to school.  Tell your wife that our family is praying for her.

    Pass my family greetings to Jacob, Winona, and Autumn.  We all love you very much and are always in our daily prayers.

    Then he sent a poem he had written

    When I woke up in the morning lying on my bed, I was asking my self what is the secret to success in life?  I found the answers in my room.

    The fan said be cool.
    The roof said aim high
    The window said see the world
    The clock said every moment in very special.
    The mirror said reflect before you act.
    The calendar said be up-to-date.
    The door said push hard for your goals.

    And not to forget the carpet said kneel down and pray.
    Carry a smile that never hates.
    Carry a smile that never fades.
    Carry a smile that never hurts.
    Have a purposeful day in the Lord.
    God bless us to be a blessing into others.

    Thank you all for being a blessing to my life.

    Your Friend,

    One small gift a month, and in return I get letters like these.  Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Stupidity and Butterflies

    One thing I miss about being a teenager is being stupid.   When I was younger I never experienced stress.  Now it seems as though the older I get, the more I over-think things, and the more I experience stress.  I feel the tension of trying to do great work, providing for my family, and leading a life of character.   I am not overwhelmed, but for a week I've had a knot in my stomach.  This persistent knot is new to me.  Normally when I get the butterflies it will last for just a few minutes, but this is unusual.  I want it to go away.

    Last week I made a quick announcement in front of 400 people regarding the dates, location, and theme of a conference I am helping out on.  I'm really excited about this conference.  But for whatever reason about 20 minutes before I was to go on stage to make the announcement, I freaked out.  This is where I wish I was stupid again.  Because during my freakfest not only did I imagine me fumbling over my words, but that my short little announcement (that I had thoroughly prepared for) wouldn't go over well.   In my mind I imagined the worst case scenario, and then I hit the "repeat" button.  

    This is where being stupid would have come in handy.

    If I was stupid, I wouldn't have thought about failure, I would have gone ahead spoke in front of a large group and done my thing.

    Maybe stupidity is why Mark Zuckerberg succeeded with Facebook, maybe stupidity is the reason why Lindberg succeeded flying across the Atlantic.  Think about Lindberg, do you think it was smart to fly the Spirit of St. Louis over the Atlantic when nobody else had done it before?  That's about as dumb as you can get.  To Zuckerberg, Lindberg and countless other successful endeavors, logic was thrown out the door and only possibilities remained.

    You and I with our big brains over-think failure and create sound evidence in our minds to shove our dreams to the side. 

    All of us have that self-doubting voice in our head, all of us get butterflies when we're about to attempt to do something out of our comfort zone.   We want that knot in our stomach to go away, we want the butterflies to stop floating.  No matter what I write, I'm not ever going to make those things go away for you or me. 

    But here is the tough thing - you have a choice.  You can untie the knot and you can kill the butterflies in your stomach by ending your dream, which will finally give you relief.  Or you can you climb the knot, ride those butterflies, and keep your dream alive.

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Your daughter

    The following is from the ALL PRO DAD'S blog from today.  Made me think of my little girl... so for those of you with daughters check this out:
    The Journal of Family Psychology noted that 41% of fathers who have sons spent more time with them, compared to 16% for dads of daughters.  It may seem more natural for dads to spend more time with sons because of common interests, but that doesn’t make it right. Girls need every bit as much of their dad’s attention as boys do. If you have a daughter, talk to your wife about different ways you can enter her world – even if you don’t always understand – and spend time with her doing the things she likes to do.   Here are the top 10 things to do with your daughter on a date.

    10 Things to do on a Date with Your Daughter

    1. Dress up for the occasion.  Dressing nicely will let her know you take this date seriously.  Definitely lose the gym shorts and shoes without socks.
    2. Make sure she's happy with her outfit.  If you daughter doesn't "feel" pretty, she won't have a good time with you.  If you can afford it, offer to take her shopping beforehand to pick out an outfit she really likes.
    3. Buy her flowers before you go.  If you want to get really creative, have a single white rose in the middle of a dozen red roses and talk about how much she really does stand out.
    4. Hold open doors.  Show her what a gentleman looks like and what she needs to expect from her future dates.
    5. Take her to an upscale restaurant.  Save up and take her somewhere really nice.  This is not an Arby's kind of night.
    6. Give her a meaningful gift of some kind.  It doesn't have to be expensive, just something she will keep and every time she looks at it, think of you.
    7. Have the conversation revolve around encouraging her.  This is not a time for you to lecture, but to listen and encourage.  Share with her all the things you love and appreciate about her.
    8. Share with her some of the first dates you had with her mother.  She'll get a big kick about hearing how you had the best leisure suit at your high school back in the day.
    9. Talk about what your next daddy/daughter date should be as your heading home or on to your next activity,
    10. Leave a thank you card on her pillow the next day.  Write how much you appreciated getting to spend time with her.
     Dads... might be an idea to try over the next couple of weeks. 

      Thursday, September 8, 2011

      High Wire Act

      In 1974 a man named Philippe Petit wanted to walk on a high wire 1,350 feet in the air between the World Trade Center Towers.  This illegal remarkable feat would take years of preparation, exuberant expenses, and a willingness to accept potential high risk collapse.   At best, failure would mean wasted time and effort, at worst, failure would mean death and heartache.

      For Philippe, there was no choice.  Despite the danger, despite the high cost of failure, the Twin Towers called for him.  This was why he was born.  Every fiber in his being begged for him to walk on a wire.  He was going to risk everything.

      After years of wire walking training, years of planning, and several lucky breaks, the moment finally came for Philippe to live out his dream.  He approached the wire, and with one foot anchored on the wire, and with one foot anchored to the building, Philippe had a decision to make,

      "Do I shift my weight from the building and onto the wire?  This is something that probably is the end of my life if I step on that wire.  But something that I could not resist, and I did not make any attempt to resist, called me onto that cable.  And death is very close."

      He performed for nearly an hour.  Lying down on the cable, kneeling on the cable, and dancing. 

      Want to know the whole story.  Watch the movie: Man on Wire.


      Friday, August 5, 2011

      Guide for Surviving Jordan, Minnesota

      Growing up in Jordan, then moving away for a short time only to come back and raise a family, I've come to appreciate the quaint and calming parts of a old town that's just on the outskirts of the twin cities metro area, but yet has all of the aspects of small town Minnesotan near the countryside and the river bluffs.  

      Summers are glorious in Jordan and if you are a baseball fan there is simply nothing better than a ball game at the historic Jordan baseball park, A.K.A. the "mini-met".  With the warm glow of the sun setting beyond left field, the sounds of sand creek, and the smell of popcorn from the concession stand and you might find yourself losing yourself in the moment.  The fresh popcorn smell brings me back to my childhood and going to the game with good ol' dad.  Now my kids come to the game with me.  As I watch the from the top of the small hill on third base side the ball park, the kids laugh and smile as they go up and down.  Rolling down the third base hill has almost become a rite of passage for Jordan youth.

      Even though I grew up Catholic in Jordan, I've attended several services at the Lutheran and Baptist Churches.  One thing is very noticeable in each church.  The people.  You're greeted with a welcoming smile.  They are glad you're there.   If you like good food, you are sure to find it at any of the churches in Jordan.  Be it a fish fry, pancake breakfast, or spaghetti dinner, these food fundraisers are a great way to connect with others, fill your belly, and give you the satisfaction of helping someone out.

      If you truly want to survive living in Jordan, join the Lions.  They are by far the most fun service group in town.  They take care of each other and especially the community.  When I was recruited by a lion the pitch was, "Join the Lions, we drink beer and give away a bunch of money."  Say no more!  I'm in!  The men in the group are selfless.  They are good people.   Want to survive living in a small town, surround yourself with individuals like this.

      For me one of the most therapeutic activities in Jordan is simply going on a walk.  I live in the old part of town which offers many neat walking routes.   You can do the downtown/water street loop, the lagoon park/millpond/waterfalls loop, or for a little more adventure you hike can the bluffs of sand creek or along the Minnesota river.  I'd tell you my favorite walking location, but then I'd have to break your ankles.

      In the last several years it seems like some of the residents have become more and more engaged and more and more enraged with proposed projects or initiatives happening in or around Jordan.  The 282/21 construction project, 2009 school district referendum vote, and the new crematorium come to mind.  Jordan seems to be divided more than ever. 

      In order to survive here and get along with your neighbors, here are five tips on what NOT to do.
      1) Complain about the city council, school board, your neighbors, or anything else regarding the town. 
      2) Write nasty letters to the editor in the paper, or write negative comments in the online version of the paper.  Its always tempting to reply to some who you feel is off base, but consider this - no matter how eloquent you write, chances are you won't change their point of view.  Knowing this would you spend the time and energy on an message board responding to an anonymous person?  All you do is upset your neighbor.  Your efforts would be better spent writing a thoughtful letter to a loved one.  Someone who appreciates you.
      3) Attend a high school athletic event wearing red and white.  Those are Belle Plaine's school colors.  Not.  Cool.  Maroon and gold is the way to go, baby!
      4) Turn in your water/sewer bill late.  Those late fees are killer!
      5) Choose McDonald's over Clancys.  That's a rookie mistake.  Clancy's has the best burgers and my favorite pizza, Audrey's Supreme!  I do have to admit, the McDonald's play place is a lifesaver come winter when the playgrounds are covered in snow.

      Final Jordan Survival Tip: Be generous.
      I think it is human nature to be generous to others.  If we are generous to others, then maybe down the road when we're in trouble the favor will be returned.  As soon as you stop giving, you stop receiving and you lose out.  The goal is to have a Win-Win scenario for everybody.

      Be good to your neighbor, you'll need them further down the road.

      Monday, July 25, 2011

      10 Unconvential Money Tips

      When my marriage and family were brand new we made some mistakes.  One of the bigger mistakes had to do with our finances and the purchase of our home.  We bought a charming historic house with the original woodwork, a newly remodeled bathroom, and everything in sound condition.  We purchased the house seven years ago where real estate seemed to be the best investment for your dollar.  Need to pay off your soaring credit card balance?  Roll it into your mortgage!  Want a new car?  Take out a 2nd mortgage!  Doesn't matter, home values are only going UP! UP! UP! Then the housing market crashed.  And I cried.

      We bought our house with the intention of staying in it for many years.  So we extended and bought a house out of our price range.  When the credit cards were becoming too large, we rolled them into the mortgage.   Two huge mistakes we learned: don't buy a house with a monthly payment of more than 25% of your take home pay and don't roll your credit cards into your mortgage.

      One year into home ownership we discovered two huge problems.  Carpenter ants and bats.  Both were very expensive to remove and bats are almost impossible to get rid of forever.  Then the roof started leaking, and the newly remodeled bathroom needed $4000 worth of repairs.  Apparently the previous owner did all the work himself, and was a lousy carpenter/plumber/electrician.

      Throw in two kids in daycare and trying to start a new business that wasn't bringing in money and you've got a recipe for financial disaster.   Despite the financial struggles we never once missed a mortgage payment.  Here are some unconventional tips we used to save money.
      1. Canceled cable.... saved us over $40 month and my wife and I learned what it was like to actually talk to each other rather than turn into zombies after the kids went to sleep.
      2. Trimmed our food budget to the bare minimum.  Lots of peanut butter sandwiches (which I love).  With the use of coupons and the purchase of generic products we only spent $200/month for our family.  We did learn one thing about generic products... most are great, but nothing beats KRAFT macaroni and cheese.  Never buy generic Mac n Cheese!  We also found out that Target brand has great prices on diapers, formula, and other baby stuff.
      3. Prioritized bills.  We always paid the mortgage first.  If we didn't have enough cash for the bills on the bottom of the list, we didn't pay them.  Some months we didn't pay the phone bill, trash, or the natural gas bill.  The late fees were minimal for these and the service after a couple months never stopped.
      4. Picked up a bunch of hours working as a part time bartender/waiter at the local golf course.  I discovered that one of the best part time jobs is working as a bartender for events and weddings.  Some weddings you can earn over $50/hour.  Which is twice as much as I make at the school district.  Plus weddings are awfully fun to work.
      5. Stopped going out to eat, and didn't go on any vacations.  This was very hard for us.  One summer we had to make the tough phone call to family members that we weren't able to go on the family reunion in Colorado. 
      6. Took advantage of daycare reimbursements through my employer so that my daycare costs were taken out of my paycheck before taxes, saving us hundreds.  We did the same with what's called a "Flex Account" for purchases like eye-glasses and dental work, things not covered by health insurance.
      7. Autumn and I stopped buying clothes for ourselves, and cut back on buying clothes for the kids.  We started shopping at Goodwill for items such as shoes, jackets, and necessary winter clothing.  Nobody would ever notice.  We were fortunate, the kids did get a bunch of new clothes from grandma and grandpa.
      8. Canceled the cell phone.  I know.  Huge.  10 years ago people surprisingly survived without cell phones.
      9. Then, a minor entertainment savings was showing up 10 minutes late to the local high school varsity games.  I found that right after tip-off, they close the admission tables and you can get into the games for free.  Didn't save me much, but I didn't fret about having the $5 to get into the game.
      10. Made homemade gifts for occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and weddings.  My wife and mother-in-law bought me a wine making kit for my birthday.  My parents have a huge raspberry patch and people donate their used wine bottles to me.  I can make a bottle of wine for less than a dollar a bottle.  So when it comes time for Christmas, anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, New Year's Eve and other occasions, I give away my wine.  I've continued this and it has literally saved me hundreds of dollars.  Plus my wife makes play-doh, slime, bubbles, and other fun kid friendly gifts so that we don't spend a lot on our nieces, nephews, and our kids' friends for birthdays and Christmas.  Plus these gifts have a lot more meaning behind them than a gift card.  
      I'm proud to say we survived our financial hardship without any handouts.  We just rolled up our sleeves and went to work.  Now that we are back on stable financial ground we appreciate the freedom that comes with money in the bank.  We have not reached all of our fiscal goals, but we will never ever again be broke.  

        Monday, July 11, 2011

        Marriage Woes for Baby Boomers

        In Sunday's StarTribune newspaper there was a front page story regarding an increasing number of baby boomers who are divorcing.  In fact 25% of divorces today are from those who have been married for 20 years or more.  The baby boom generation has already brought the highest divorce rate the nation has ever known, now they are showing us again how not to have a good marriage.

        Interestingly, the fastest growing segment of the population that are now cohabiting, rather than getting married, are those in their 50's.   Shacking it up - it's no longer just for those in their 20s.  

        What's going on here?!

        The article went on to say that once the children leave the house or the youngest is about to graduate from high school, the children were no longer a reason for the couple to stay together.

        My immediate reaction to the story was this:  Start going on more dates people!  Go do something you both enjoy together and love on each other.  And I'm gonna say it - after the date is over, make sure you end up wrapped up in between the sheets together, naked!  Got it?  Good. 

        Yes children are important, but let's not forget about your spouse. 

        I referenced before on this blog that I'm not a marriage expert.  And I do realize that you baby boomers are old enough to have powdered by butt, - BUT, I do love my wife more than ever and we've got a good thing going.  I think we're doing some things right, so hopefully my advice carries some weight.

        Here are four reasons why author Bryan Davis thinks marriage is awesome.

        1. Marriage done right makes you less selfish

        It's not the institution of marriage that is failing.  It's us.  We, overall as a culture, are just more selfish.  It's all about us.  I have needs and if they're not met, I'm outta here.  Rather, marriage done right isn't as much about what we feel as how we can meet the needs of our spouse.  It's sacrificing ourselves to be others-centered, starting with our spouse.  In a nutshell, the most vibrant marriages are also the least selfish.  And this trait is acquired over a lifetime.  The more selfless you become, the more you will love your spouse.  And selfless, others-centered folks have a healthy spillover effect on their surrounding culture.

        2. Marriage done right makes you healthier

        Every single serious study ever done on marriage and singleness clearly shows that married folks live longer, healthier lives.  Most recently, The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that compared with married people, people who are widowed are 40 percent more likely to die, people who are divorced or separated are 27 percent more likely to die, and people who have never married were 58 percent more likely to die.  The main reason?  We were designed to be in a flourishing, monogamous relationship with a spouse.  When we deny this, the very way we are made, our minds, bodies and souls suffer.

        3. Marriage done right is what's best for your kids

        Similar to the overwhelming conclusion of marital studies on the impact of health, virtually all research shows that the two-parent home is what is best for children.  Recently, The Future of Children, a journal published jointly by the non-partisan Brookings Institution and Princeton University, found that children from two-parent families are better off emotionally, socially and economically.  Contrast that with the fact that the average prison inmate came from a single parent home according to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated.  Your kids need a healthy relationship modeled – your marriage.

        4. Marriage done right is God's best for your life story

        There is the gift of singleness, no doubt, but for the vast majority of us, marriage is God's best.  According to Genesis 2, marriage is the first and most important institution God created – preceding governments, churches and schools.  God designed us and knows what's best for us.  He doesn't want us alone.  He wants us "one flesh" with another human being.  As our Creator, let's not doubt His goodness to us.  Marry well.  Live well.

        Thursday, July 7, 2011

        The List

        Years ago, while still attending Jordan High School, (Go Hubmen!) the school brought in a former NFL back-up quarterback to speak to us.  I looked forward to it only because it meant a break from the classroom.  

        This guy told me something that changed how I approached life.  I mean this advice really gave me focus.  Something I didn't have.  It was simply advice and easy to do and I'd like to share it with you.

        He told the class to think of all the things you want to accomplish in life and write it on paper.  Then place your list by your bedroom door so you see it everyday.

        The speaker told us that this uncomplicated plan had worked for him and would work for us too.  Here he was, a successful athlete giving us his secret to life!  I decided that I would do the same thing.

        I went home that afternoon and constructed this list (please remember I was in high school at the time):
        1. Hit a home run.
        2. Dunk a basketball
        3. Score a touchdown in a varsity game
        4. Never do drugs
        5. Don't drink alcohol in high school
        6. Go to college and graduate
        7. Other stuff that doesn't need to be mentioned here!
        I completed the list and taped it to my bedroom door where I would see it everyday.  I eventually crossed off all except numbers 2 and 3.  I actually dunked a volleyball the summer going into my senior year, and during homecoming was tackled on the 10 yard line on my way to the endzone.  That tackle also tore my ACL ending my football career.  If that tackle doesn't injure me, I'm pretty sure everything on my list gets crossed off.

        Here is my list today...
        1. Start my own business that allows me to live each day how I want.
        2. Marry a beautiful wife and have a family.  Done.
        3. Make the day I marry my wife the day I love her the least. (so far so good)
        4. Become a community education director.  Done.
        5. Become debt free.
        6. Go to Italy, Egypt, and Alaska.
        7. Become a great Dad that spends qualitative and quantitative time with his kids.
        8. Write a book.
        9. Run a marathon.  Done
        10. Tip a waitress $100 on Thanksgiving day.
        11. Go skydiving.
        12. Continually grow in my relationship with Christ.
        I share this with you, because I think by publicly sharing it gives me some accountability to cross off items.  I have a feeling it will work.  Feel free to share with me your list at:  Want me to help you cross things off?  Let me know, I'd love to help!

        Thursday, June 30, 2011

        A Closed Mind?

        I work with a great group of people.  It's a big reason why I enjoy my job.  I can honestly say that if it weren't for them, I'd most likely be actively looking for a new position. 

        One particular co-worker is so hard working and dedicated that I can't help but appreciate everything she does.  In return, I'd like to help her out with some of her goals.

        So I asked her one day, "What is one thing that you've always wanted to accomplish, but haven't?"  Her response was, "I've always wanted to travel.  To get on an airplane and go somewhere." Later she told me that not only had she never been on an airplane, but she's never left the state of Minnesota.  When I asked what were the barriers for her to go somewhere she said money and nobody to go with.  Her husband loves his farm and prefers to stay close to home.  Two big barriers. 

        Right away in my mind I was contemplating solutions to her obstacles.  "I bet her daughter would go with her, and I bet if she set aside just two dollars a day, at the end of the year she could pay for herself to go on a nice trip.  If she saved two bucks for two years, she could pay for herself and someone else".
        A simple, fairly easy plan I thought.  I became excited for her that I had to share my ideas.   So I did.  And I think she liked my plan and became excited!  This was going to be a great experience! 

        Unfortunately I've uncovered what I think is her biggest obstacle.  Her mind.  Later in the week, she was filled with hesitation and was coming up with different plans on how to better use her money.  "What if something needs to be fixed, our house needs some repairs.  I think the money would be better used for something else."

        Right then, I knew she wasn't going to get on an airplane.  Ever.

        I think for years she has told herself over and over again that she would always like to travel but she'll never be able to.  She has told herself this for so long that it has become her truth.

        I've become frustrated with the situation.  The solution seems easy to me.  How do I convince her that she can accomplish a life long dream?  I get frustrated because I don't think I can change her mind.  Maybe I'm a frustrated too because I have areas in my life that I could accomplish, but choose to believe I can't. 

        So I have questions for "Just Getting Warmed Up" readers:
        What do I do now?
        Should I do anything else for my co-worker or just drop it?

        I leave you with some quotes that relate to accomplishment.
        • If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place − Nora Roberts
        • Where hope grows, miracles blossom − Elna Rae
        • Hope never abandons you, you abandon it − George Weinberg
        • Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance Bruce Barton
        • A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing − George Bernard Shaw

        Wednesday, June 8, 2011

        Five Years

        Five years ago my son was just born, my wife worked a part-time position at the church, and I was a youth programs coordinator for Shakopee Community ed.  With a growing family and expenses, I focused my efforts on getting my community ed. director's license so that I could find a job that paid the bills and one I would enjoy.

        The Shakopee Community ed. position gave me my first break.  Before landing the Shakopee job I had applied for many recreation and community ed. positions and was called to do a few interviews, only to be told, "We hired someone with more experience."

        The phrase, "We hired someone with more experience." was something that I was hearing again now that I was applying for community ed. director positions.  Not only was I applying for director positions, I was looking for coordinator positions in other districts that paid substantially more than I was making.

        I applied, and interviewed for at least two dozen positions five years ago and wasn't offered anything.  Each failed interview I learned something.  I learned likely interview questions, learned to make sure I knew where the interview was (I was 20 minute late for one), and to research on each agency I applied for.  The turning point came when I was asked to apply for a coordinator's job in a nearby district.  The position was identical to mine in Shakopee, only it paid $15,000 more.  Undoubtedly I felt I was the best candidate with the most experience.   I still didn't get the job.   I failed again.  I was crushed and bitter.  I knew I needed to raise the bar on how I presented myself during the interview.  So I vowed to research more on the jobs I was applying for and spend more time on my delivery.   If this didn't work, it would be a serious blow to my confidence and ego.

        A few months after the failed interview, a community ed. director's position opened up that was very intriguing.  I applied and was asked to come in for an interview.   I had a week to prepare.  Here is what I did.

        Day 1. Bought a brand new suit, shirt, tie and shoes.  I now looked sharp.
        Day 2. Drove to the city the job was located in with my family, stopped at the Dairy Queen and asked the locals about community ed - and what they thought about the community ed. program.  Then I drove to the library to pick up the community ed. catalog to learn more about the community ed. department.
        Day 3. Wrote potential interview questions and wrote my answers.
        Day 4. Called the person who's job I was replacing and asked questions about the district, the position, potential obstacles and some positives about the community ed. department.
        Day 5.  My wife conducted a mock interview with me.
        Day 6.  Spent several hours rehearsing answers with my wife and tweaking answers to fit what I wanted to say.

        So I walked into the interview, gave everyone a firm handshake and a smile.  And nailed the interview.  Fortunately, they asked questions I prepared for.  And because I had practiced extensively, I didn't fumble over my words and wasn't as nervous.  Practice had given me confidence.

        Two days later they offered me the position.

        Today I finally have my community ed. director position in a great school district.   I love this job, but I want to challenge myself and in the next five years hope to have new position closer to home or a position in a larger school district.

        Five years from now, my son will be 10 and in fourth grade.  Five years from now... if history shows any consistency a lot will happen in your life.   The next five years may bring new jobs, new learning opportunities, and challenges.  Looking back at the last five years, and looking in the future and where I want to be five years from now, I hope I continue to grow in all aspects of my life, my faith, family, financially, and my career.  It goes by fast.  In the span of 10 years much can change dramatically. 

        What would you say to the person you were five years ago?  What would you say to the person you'll be in five years?

        Tuesday, May 31, 2011

        How to score points with your wife.

        Full exclaimer here:  I am not a marriage expert, I've only been married 9 years and my wife gets frustrated with me on probably a weekly if not daily basis.  For real marriage advice talk to the couple that have been happily married for at least 25 years.

        But I've learned at least one thing - how to score points.  Points that pay dividends in your wife's memory bank.  Married men, we know all too well how our wives have memories like steel traps.  We need points because we screw up.  More importantly thoughtful action shows our wives that we are thinking of her - which will in turn add some spice in more ways than one baby!

        So let's cut to the chase.
        1. Finish your wife's project.  Your wife loves to garden.  She spends all winter long planning, buying seeds and all spring planting the perfect garden.  However in June the momentum has come to a screeching halt and nobody is there to water or weed the garden.  This is where you step up and score the points.
        2. Plan a date night.  Pick a date together, but you plan it. 
        3. Clean something up that you don't normally clean.  For instance, I never do laundry.  But one time I washed, dried, folded AND put the clothes away WITHOUT prompting.  Let's just say I was rewarded handsomely!  Points O Rama!
        4. Say thank you.  Marriages tend to go on cruise control.  Think of all the things your wife does to make your family life better.  A sincere thank you will fill a heart in need of acknowledgement. 
        5. Plan a daddy date with the kids - and give your wife a break.
        6. You proclaimed a month ago that you need a vacation and mentioned taking the whole family to Duluth.  Your wife used to get get excited when you  mention the "V" word but now isn't excited because you say things like this all the time and never pull the trigger.  Today - do what you say, and score some points.

        I'm sure there are more ways to score points - hopefully some of you will leave some tips in the comments section.  I need all the help I can get!

        Thursday, May 26, 2011

        What your greatest fear should be

        As I write this, I have gone three consecutive nights away from home.  The second night away from home was my son's birthday.  Sure I got up early and made him breakfast, wished him happy birthday, but I spent the rest of the day and evening working and going to meetings. 

        My son still had a great day with his mom and sister going to McDonald's, and getting to do whatever he wanted.  I'm pretty sure he didn't miss me.  Which troubles me.

        Author Francis Chan writes, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter.”  Is there anything worse than giving something all you have when, in the end, it amounts to nothing?  This week, I've made that mistake.

        Here is a list from the All Pro Dad's website of the top 10 things in life that don't really matter.

        1. Sports Results
          If a doctor informed you that you had six months to live, would the outcome of the Super Bowl suddenly mean anything at all? Sports are a wonderful means of entertainment. When participating they offer a myriad of very positive benefits. However, there is an obsession worldwide with the results of watching other people play a game. Taking someone else’s success story and somehow making it our own. Michael Jordan won a lot of championships and it sure was fun watching him do it. But the rings are on his fingers, not ours, so strive to be a champion in your own world.
        2. Living Up To Unrealistic Expectations
          Want to know how to be successful? Avoid unrealistic expectations. Sometimes they are external, such as from a parent or a spouse, and sometimes they come from within. In either case, do not waste energy trying to live up to something you are not. It simply does not matter. We all have a correct path to discover. That is where your energy should be focused.
        3. Television
          Talk about obsession. We spend vast amounts of time and resources on how to constantly improve our television viewing experience. We are all guilty. As with sports, television has a place in our lives. We are informed and entertained. But it has gone far beyond that. For some, existence revolves around the TV. Walks aren’t taken. Conversations aren’t had. Life is neglected. All for the sake of what is mostly mind-numbing and brain crushing worthless programming. One only needs to consider the startling success of “Jersey Shore” to realize that television has become an enormous problem in our society. Minds are being rotted into a mushy pulp. Benjamin Franklin, the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison used to inspire us. Now it’s Snooki.
        4. Bitterness
          We all have moments in life where we become consumed by petty differences and bitterness. This is a problem for society as a whole also. We can prop up the political climate in this country as evidence. Pettiness and bitterness only lead to destructive ends. Want to change your life for the better? Drop all those things you are holding on to that are eating you from the inside out. We are instructed to forgive.
        5. Revenge
          In the same destructive zone as bitterness, revenge remains a prime motivator in the lives of many. Revenge against the person who wrecked your marriage. Revenge against the person that got the promotion you wanted. Revenge against the driver who cut you off. Certain parts of society have even evolved to the point where revenge has become the heart of their culture. Certainly God desires more from us.
        6. Vanity
          The never ending search for perfection. Billions upon billions of dollars are spent each year on all sorts of things designed to make us feel better about ourselves. Whiter teeth. Tighter skin. Enhancements. The list goes on and on. We could feed and house every single poor child in this nation with the money we spend on vanity products. We have a set priority that looks are vastly important. It should be a low priority. From personal observation, the more a person uses artificial changes as a way towards happiness, the less happy they become. They are only masking the real issues that lay inside their broken soul. Most people want to look nice and that is ok, but there comes a point where you must accept and love who and what you are.
        7. Technology Obsession
          Life and success both have a best friend in moderation. Obsession tends to lead us too far down paths we do not belong. In this age, we are amazed and awed almost weekly with the latest technological advances. From smart phones to social networking, we are bombarded with new and faster ways to share and absorb information. In moderation, they are extremely helpful in many ways. When abused, they push our lives almost into an artificial existence. Does it really matter if you have the latest and greatest product to replace yesterday’s latest and greatest? No, it does not.
        8. Fear of Failure
          The following is a quote from John Keats: “Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, in as much as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.” Don’t waste your time on fretting about failing.  It won’t matter.  Just go out and do it.
        9. Wealth
          “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Money destroys more lives and more marriages than any other source. The trouble with money is that we all must have it. That’s a fact that we can’t get around. Some are blessed with a great deal of it, and others barely scrape by. There is no sin in being wealthy. The sin lies in what motivates you. We are taught from our first moments to worship currency. Like programmed robots. Make money – buy stuff. More money – more stuff. We put forth ten times the amount of effort towards financial matters than we do our eternal souls. No matter where your final destination lies, VISA will not be accepted.
        10. False Idols
          We were created and our destiny was written by the one true God. He is who we are to worship. His Word is quite clear about this. Our number one priority should always be our personal relationship with God. Yet, we surround ourselves with multitudes of false idols. All the things we discussed in this list and plenty more. What are you worshipping? Where is your heart? When you are moments from death, will you be able to look up to God and say “I’m ready?”  Don’t waste any more time on false gods.

        Monday, May 23, 2011


        During the Second World War, the USS Astoria was badly damaged by a Japanese vessel and sank.  Signalman 3rd Class, Elgin Staples, was swept overboard and kept afloat by a lifebelt.  Staples was rescued by a passing destroyer which again was sunk.  He was back in the ocean but OK thanks to his great lifebelt.  He was picked up once more by the USS President Jackson and on-board he examined the lifebelt that had saved him.  It read that it had been manufactured by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and bore a registration number.  Given home leave, Staples told his story to his mother, who happened to work for Firestone, and when they did research on the serial number, they found out that she had been the one to assemble the lifebelt.  One of those amazing acts of providential motherly love. 

        My mom and dad have both provided me with similar "lifebelts".  Its taken a few years later to realize all of the lessons. 

        Now I'm in the position to provide lifebelts to my little kids.  The lifebelt of being kind to others, to do work they are proud of, the importance of spending less than they earn, how to love and be loved - and how to get back up when you've been kicked down.

        Won't be easy to do, but worth it.

        Tuesday, May 10, 2011

        Your work

        Some people approach their work like this: "I come in on time, even a little early.  I do what the boss asks, and even faster than they expect.  I often stay late, I'm hard working, and loyal."

        Another way would be, "What isn't the boss asking me to do that I can do, learn from, make an impact, and possibly fail (yet not be fired)?

        Both mindsets are good, but the approach in the first example doesn't mean your indispensable.  Gone are the days were showing up and putting in a honest days work meant job security, advancement, or satisfaction (just ask any public school teacher).  

        When I was about 10 years old, my dad was lifting a heavy garden tiller into a truck.  I kinda just stood and watched.  He ended up dropping the tiller, and then yelled at me, "Don't just sit there - help me!"  Although I didn't appreciate the sternness at the time, he helped me understand that I shouldn't have waited for him to ask for help.  I should have been able to see the problem and jumped in without him asking.  Because I did nothing, I had to receive a consequence. 

        Hard work used to be working long days with physical labor.  Hard work now involves your brain - seeing a problem and taking a chance on a solution.  This shift means the opportunity lies in problem solving, especially when there isn't an evident problem.  I also think that opportunity will lead to you liking your job more, while creating a job that no one but you can do.  Making you very difficult to replace.

        What will you do?
        Put in longer hours, do what your told, and be replaceable OR solve the problem the boss doesn't ask and be irreplaceable?

        So what problem would you like to solve at work today?

        Tuesday, April 12, 2011

        The Meaning Behind Foo Fighter Lyrics

        On April 12th the Foo Fighters debuted a new Album called "Wasting Light".  I heard the album on their website, and it is phenomenal! 

        I listen to their music first and foremost because of the harmonies, and the rock beat, but then I started paying attention to lyrics.  Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters and former drummer for the band Nirvana has dealt with losing a friend in Kurt Cobain.  Dave's experience with death, in my opinion, has motivated the lyrics.  Many Foo Fighter lyrics are written by Grohl and hint about the trials and joys of life.  One song in particular - "The Pretender" has haunting lyrics that deal with the fatality of life.

        But here's the surprise - the lyrics seem to be in sync with some of the messages I try to portray on this blog.  That tomorrow isn't promised, to not wait to be the person you truly are.

        Here's a sample of the lyrics from "The Pretender"

        In time or so I'm told
        I'm just another soul for sale, oh well
        The page is out of print, we are not permanent
        We're temporary, temporary
        Same old story

        What if I say I'm not like the others?
        What if I say I'm not just another one of your plays?
        You're the pretender
        What if I say that I'll never surrender?

        I'm the voice inside your head you refuse to hear
        I'm the face that you have to face, mirrorin' your stare
        I'm what's left, I'm what's right, I'm the enemy
        I'm the hand that'll take you down, bring you to your knees
        So who are you? Yeah, who are you?
        Yeah, who are you? Yeah, who are you?

        My interpretation of the Pretender message - We try to be what society tells us to be, and we pretend to be someone we're not.  But deep down you know you're not happy being someone you're not, and you and you alone are the enemy if things don't change.  So who are you and what do you want to do about it?  Better hurry, you might not have much time left.

        Want to listen to the new album?  Check it out here

        Thursday, April 7, 2011

        Awesome Week - Day 5: Going Home

        When you've been away, there's nothing like going back home.  When you were away at camp as a kid, or when you were a freshman at college getting ready to come back home for the holidays - It felt good to finally sleep in your own bed, be around the ones you love, and be welcomed back with the comfort food mom makes.

        We all long to go home.

        When we are away from the place we love there is just something missing - we aren't quite comfortable, or we feel like we don't belong.  The comfort of home is our solace, our refuge.

        Sometimes we may even feel out of place when we're at home.  I have a theory for why this is. 
        I think we might feel this way because maybe we are away from someone who loves us.  Being away from that love, you feel kinda empty.

        Maybe we long to go home to be with the one who loves us the most.  The one who is crazy about you, and would do anything for you.   

        That's gonna be quite a day - when we jump into the arms of the one who loves us the most!
        That day will be -

        Wednesday, April 6, 2011

        Awesome week - Day 4: Sunday Breakfast

        Sundays bring a whole new level of awesomeness to the Warden household.  Sunday service starts the day out right, then after church we indulge each and every one of the taste buds.

        My favorite Sunday breakfast is loaded hash browns with sauteed onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and diced ham mixed all together and smoothered with melted cheddar cheese.  Then I top off the mound of golden goodness with a couple of eggs over easy.  On the side are two pieces of whole wheat toast, one with Jif peanut butter, one with strawberry jam and of course no breakfast would be complete without a hunk of Jordan's famous Pekarna sausage.  

        Thank you Sunday breakfast for being -

        Awesome Week - Day 3: Laughing until you Cry

        In first grade me and the rest of the St. John's boys around the table were sent to the principal's office for laughing too hard at lunch time.  When the principal asked us what was so funny, we told her the truth.  Poop.  We were laughing about poop.  She tried not to smile, but she did.

        In high school I knew I found a good friend when were making fun about a favorite coach's nuances that we laughed so hard we cried.  16 years later he and a couple of our close friends still meet regularly and play the board game, "Loaded Questions" a game in which has never failed to induce tears of laughter to all those involved.  I highly recommend playing with those who don't have a "censor" button in their brains, and it's helpful to wear name brand adult diapers.

        Laughing so hard that you cry creates a chain reaction of belly laughs, a contagious pee your pants phenomenon that reduces even the most stoic to laugh uncontrollably because it's too damn funny!  It unites us, brings us closer together, and creates a bond not easily broken.  It's a therapy that every doctor should prescribe.

        So laugh loud and proud - it's best in a crowd, and be sure to wear protective underwear!


        Tuesday, April 5, 2011

        Awesome Week - Day 2: April

        In Minnesota the weather starts to turn bitterly cold in November but we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving, then we gather around the table once again for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  A few days after Christmas we enjoy New Year's Eve festivities.  Many of us are very hopeful that it snows this time of year - we've even written songs like, "Let it Snow".

        The Monday following the holidays we have 90 days of long nights, snow, and cold until Spring arrives - we trudge through the dog days of winter with only a few minor holidays to get excited about.  Sure St. Patrick's day and Valentines day are fun, but they are not celebrated like the December holidays. 

        Then the gift of April arrives - a gift that nobody except us in Minnesota and the upper Mid-west truly appreciate.  Who else gets excited about April's 50 degree temperatures, warm sunshine, thunderstorms, and robins?!  Nobody from California that's for sure!  Without the long winter April is meaningless.

        Nobody knows better than us that every winter has its spring - it's a reason why April is:

        Monday, April 4, 2011

        Awesome week - Day 1: Cool Aunts

        Raise your hand if you have a cool aunt!  You know the one I'm talking about... the aunt that gives you the huge smile and hug at family gatherings, the aunt that you're excited to introduce your finance to, the aunt that always remembers your birthday and even sent you funny birthday cards while at college?

        I've been lucky to have a whole mess of awesome aunts - and yes I'm even talking about aunt Dorothy!  Cool aunts make Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the holidays a whole lot better.  They tell you stories about mom, dad, and grandpa that you never knew about.  They surprise you with cool gifts.  Being from a big family with a mess of cousins, the cool aunts always make you feel like you belong.

        Thanks for leaving my cheeks alone cool aunts, but most of all thanks for being -

        Thursday, March 31, 2011

        Week of Awesome

        Let's face it.  Life is funny.  One minute you're flying high like teenagers in love, and the next minute, you're being dumped.
        Life will do that to you.  It's gonna be filled with moments that make your heart stop in good and bad ways.  You're gonna get hurt, someone you love is gonna get hurt, and life will deal you with some tough blows.  We can do one of two things:
        1. Fill ourselves up with gloom and mope around the world forever or,
        2. We can dare to be different and look at the world with a new perspective.
        I don't think life has dealt me terribly difficult cards, but I have had bouts of depression, been rejected by people I loved, took chances that turned out badly, and have lost loved ones.

        But I've been lucky, because I've learned through inspiring authors, friends, coaches, and family members a secret - a way to make my life better - and I hope you know what I'm talking about.

        Yes awesome things make my life better, and if you notice them, maybe they'll do the same for you.

        Whether its the off the wall comments your three year old son makes, or finally getting the free coffee on your frequent coffee card, these tiny things make a huge difference.

        So next week will be my "AWESOME!" week.  Monday thru Friday we are going to do it Neil Pasricha style and blog each day about the awesome things in life.

        To get an idea of what I'm gonna do go here.  Enjoy!

        Wednesday, March 23, 2011

        The art of kissing

        When you think about it, isn't kissing a weird thing?   Putting your lips onto someone else's is a strange human interaction if you ask me.  But a passionate kiss between two love birds, is pretty awesome.  I highly recommend it, especially for all you married folks out there.  I'll share why I think a passionate kiss a day is good for your marriage later, but first - let me explain why I am a kissing expert.

        My senior year of college the campus radio station was hosting a kissing contest during the all campus party.  I just happened to be walking past the radio station where a bunch of my friends yelled out,  "Nate Dog, you gotta be a part of this kissing contest!"  Being the shy reluctant type, I declined.  But after heavy peer pressure and after I saw the girl I would be kissing, I said yes.   What can I say, she was cute, there were only a couple of weeks left until graduation, why not live it up?!  Plus if I won the contest I would get some cash.

        There were three other dudes that I was competing against.  They had no chance against me.   One by one the cute blindfolded girl would kiss a guy, and after each kiss she would rate them.  The first guy cheated and used too much tongue, so he only got a 3.  The next two guys tried their best, but only could muster sevens.

        Last but not least, was my turn.  Here is how it all went down!  I approached her and put one hand behind her neck, and another on her side.  I kissed her gently and slowly for about five seconds.  After the kiss, she was dazed, awestruck, and at a loss for words.  My score - a perfect ten!  YES!

        Just then the radio DJ's made one more call for any last second kissing contestants, as they made the announcement a man who was walking by stopped and said, "Oh, I'm in girlfriend!"

        This guy was probably the most flaming gay man on campus.  He walked right up to the girl, dipped her and kissed her Hollywood style - immediately the crowd went crazy with their hootin' and hollerin'.  The cute girl announced, "We have a winner!"

        The gay man grabbed his cash and said, "See what your missing out on boys!" 


        I was robbed I tell you!

        The weird act of kissing, elicits all types of emotions.  The awkward junior high kiss, the first kiss as a married couple, and the first time kissing your newborn baby.  Kissing, is pretty cool.  Which is why I think kissing your loved one should be done frequently.  If you're married, one big fat wet kiss a day is a must!  Hopefully it's with your spouse.

        Kissing is one of the most intimate and important acts that loved ones should do.  It rekindles passion, and makes life a lot more fun. 

        Don't take my word on it.  I lost a kissing contest to a gay man.  But, hey I'm still married and the sparks still fly with my wife of eight years.  That's worth bragging about. 

        Tuesday, March 8, 2011

        Life's greatest hits

        Sunday evening Winona and I went for a walk amongst the historic buildings of Jordan while the snow was falling.  As we held hands, the snow crunched under our feet and the orange glow from the city street lamps had a calming effect on us.  When we came back home, we kicked the snow off our boots, went inside, and started the nightly kid bedtime ritual. 

        After sleepy little heads hit the pillow, I walk downstairs, turn on some Miles Davis, and slowly sip a cup of hot tea and watch the snow fall.  Completely.  Relaxed. 

        My mind wandered to the past.

        I thought about the night I laid back on the hood of my car, looked up to the night sky and saw shooting star after star flashing across the horizon. 

        I thought about the evening mom and I walked beneath the northern lights.  We watched the shimmer in the north grow and gradually dance across the entire night sky. 

        I thought about the vacation in Glacier National Park with my bride of two months.  We moved our sleeping bags outside, rolled them out under the stars, and with her head on my chest, and my eyes on the constellations, I tried to make time stand still.

        Now as I finish my cup of tea, I realize tonight provided me another wonderful memory that I can add to the list when I'm thinking about life's greatest hits. 

        Tuesday, March 1, 2011

        The Search For Purpose

        In early December 1987, the Warden family jumped into their grey Dodge Caravan to cut down a Christmas tree.  Mom, Dad, my brothers and I normally picked up our pre-cut pine tree from the local garden center.  This year Dad wanted to cut down our own tree.  So we grabbed our rusty saw and off we went.

        A few miles down the road, mom asked if we were buckled in.  I wasn't belted.  I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "I should probably buckle up, but I'd rather not".  I thought about the potential consequences of being in an accident, but decided the chances were slim.  My brothers put on their seat belts, and I stubbornly looked at my seat belt, and did nothing.

        We were driving east down county road 8 and stopped at the stop sign before crossing highway 13. My dad looked left, and didn't look long enough right before crossing.  He proceeded to cross highway 13. My brothers and I were fooling around in the back when my mother gasped loudly.  Upon hearing mom I started to look out the window and -- BANG a conversion van traveling north on highway 13 hit the passenger side of our Dodge.  

        I blacked out and awakened a few moments later face down on the asphalt.  Shattered glass was all around me.  The van that had struck us, was just a few feet from my head.   Being only 11 years old at the time, I was scared.  But completely unharmed.  Not one scratch, cut, or bruise.  I quickly jumped to my feet and ran back to my family who were still belted in the car. 

        The back gate was flung open.  It became obvious this is how I exited the vehicle.  Either the gate opened upon impact, or my less than 100 pound flying body hit the back hatch and forced it ajar.  I entered the car the way I exited and climbed over the back seat to where I was sitting before anyone noticed I was missing.

        My youngest brother was crying, my mother tried to calm him, and my father was quiet.  What was going to be a memorable day, became memorable in a much different way than we thought.  

        The days following the accident, teachers and family members told me that I must have a good guardian angel.  Who was I to argue with them?  Was I just really lucky, or did I really have a guardian angel?

        Many years later I often reflect back to that December day and I can't help but think: I shouldn't have survived.  Why didn't I die?  The more I think about it, the more I believe God protected me.   Why did he protect me?   Am I here in Jordan, Minnesota to fulfill a part of His plan?  Its been over two decades since this has happened, have I done what He wanted me to do?  If not, what is His plan for me?  Is it to build a relationship with someone?  To be there for someone when they need it?  To be a good parent?  To write this blog for you? 

        And so I search for purpose.

        Maybe instead of searching for my purpose what I should be doing is leading a life of purpose.  The difference is living life deliberately.  If I search for my purpose, I may never find it.  Searching and hoping to find purpose postpones fulfillment for the future and leaves me unfulfilled today.

        The emphasis is not finding your singular snowflake purpose, but living deliberately where you start to experience a life of purpose.  It's all about creating experiences built for others now.

        When I ask people what their purpose is, the one's that are lost, think about their purpose in the future tense, the ones that are leading a life of purpose think of a recent past event that occurred this morning or yesterday.

        That's what I will try to do... live life intentionally, right now.  I assume my life will still have difficulties, and heartaches, but I will be happier today, and not sacrifice happiness today for delayed gratification that may not come.

        Tomorrow is not promised.  I'm lucky to have lived after flying out the back of a dodge caravan, now the challenge is to live as if I'm on borrowed time.

        Friday, February 11, 2011

        Tony Dungy Talks About His Three Sons


        Have 17 minutes?  Watching these two videos might be the best 17 minutes you spend all day.  His message took guts, and is impossible to top.

        Tuesday, February 8, 2011

        And the winner is....

        The committee has decided not to award the $200 just yet.  We were hoping for the proverbial 1st grader emphatically raising their hand saying, "PICK ME!  PICK ME!'  Although we sensed a great deal of compassion and empathy in the responses we just didn't feel a whole lot of passion.

        $200 is a lot of money in my world, and for me to give it away I want some "wow" factor to it.  So the committee will brainstorm some ideas with the intention of donating in a way that makes all those involved feel pretty darn good.

        In the meanwhile... If you have a cause that you are passionate about and could use $200 for it - I'm still open for suggestions!

        Wednesday, January 26, 2011

        Giving away $200.

        I'm giving away $200.  But need help.   Read my following blog post today to see how. 

        On Saturday nights I moonlight at the local golf course tending bar and waiting tables.  During the summer months the money can be quite good, but once the snow covers the ground and the golfers go south, the restaurant slows down.  Significantly.

        In the summer I tithe 10% of my earnings without hesitation because I'm making more money and work a lot more weddings and events.  In the winter, when the heating and electric bills are higher, and when the golf course slows down, I don't tithe each week, and when I do tithe, my giving is way down.  However, last week I hesitantly decided to finally to put some money in the collection basket at church.  I told myself, that this isn't my money, but God's.  I said this, but still had trouble parting with the cash.

        That Sunday evening I had pizza at my parent's place.  Davanni's deep dish pizza.  With the works.  Awesome!  After we filled our bellies with pizza pie, we started bundling up to go home.  As I'm walking out the door, my mother hands me a card and told me to open it up later.

        We went home, kicked off our boots, hung up the parkas, and opened the card.  Inside was a cashiers check.  A very unexpected check.  It was an inheritance from the passing of my grandmother.  The money won't make much of a dent in our debt, but is a blessing because financially, February is the toughest month for our family of four.  It's the month with the highest heating bills, and it seems like all of the irregular bills tend to hit our mailbox.  Is the inheritance check a blessing because I committed to tithing that morning?  I'll let you decide.

        A portion of that inheritance will go towards debt and bills, but I want to do something in memory of my Grandma with the money.  I want to give $200 away.  This is where I am asking for your help. 

        Do you have a worthy cause that is close to your heart that could use an extra $200.  Do you know a person who is down on their luck and $200 would rock their world?  Do you have a creative idea on how the money could be used to help someone?

        I'd like you to post your ideas on my blog or on my facebook wall.  I'll look at each post, each comment and award $200 to the best cause or idea.  A small committee (my wife, my mother, my dog, and me) will pick the winner.

        I'll take your ideas until Friday, February 4th.  Then will announce the winner on this blog after the Superbowl, Sunday, Feb. 6th. 

        Forward this post to anyone you can think of so we can get a good range of ideas.  Thanks for helping!

        Monday, January 24, 2011

         The Following is from the Art of Non Conformity blog.... worth Sharing here.
        January 24, 2011

        How To Get What You Really Want

        Last week I hosted a fun contest to give away my Frequent Flyer Miles to one reader. I expected a few hundred comments, and I got a few thousand.

        Wow. I tried to publish as many as I could; the rest are backlogged in Wordpress-land--we can see them from our side, but they're not up for public viewing due to the site being overloaded.

        First lesson: if you want your site to run very slooooow, just get hundreds of people to comment all at the same time. In this post I'll share the winner's name and story (it was a very tough choice for my biased judges and cat), but I also want to look at a broader issue.

        But really -- and this is important -- you don't need to win a contest, or even join a cartel, to pursue an adventure. Many of the commentors mentioned that it was their "life dream" to go to the place they mentioned. Hmmm.

        If it's your life dream, you don't need me or anyone else to make it come true.

        Please don't misunderstand me; contests are fun and I'm thrilled to share my mileage wealth with one of the many great members of our community. No problem. But even better, if we can work to help many people have fun adventures of their own choosing, the rewards will go much further than the one person who wins the miles.

        With that in mind, here's how you get what you really want:

        1. First, decide what you really want.
        Studies have shown it's hard to get something if you're not sure what it is. If time and money were no object, who would you be? What would you do?

        2. Never make decisions based on the perceived limitations in front of you.
        There is almost always a way around perceived limitations; watch this video for a great example. Instead, make decisions based on what you identified in Step 1.

        3. Take small, immediate steps toward getting what you want.
        Don't wait long; take the first step right now. Possible small steps toward traveling where you want include reading a guidebook at the library or bookstore, saving $2 a day, scheduling a date in your calendar even if you're not sure it will work, etc.

        4. Review the steps on a regular basis.
        If it's your life dream to go to Destination x, write it on a post-it note and put it where you'll see it everyday. Then always think, "What's next? How can I make this happen?"

        A long time ago, Barbara Sher wrote something that made a big impact on me:
        Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.
        I loved this philosophy when I first read it years ago, and have been actively applying it ever since. Dream big! Then follow the dream, step by step.

        Thursday, January 20, 2011

        Piano Lessons

        My little girl has taken an interest in the old fashioned upright piano in our living room.  The piano was my mother-in-laws, which we hauled from her basement in Winona to our house in Jordan.  After the traumatic experience of moving that beast of an instrument, I have vowed to never move it again.  The thing will be blown up before it gets moved.

        The piano has remained virtually untouched for over a year, until this fall.  My daughter discovered that when certain keys are played together, the sound can please the ears.  Her only other experience with this piano is her little brother banging the keys in the most obnoxious way.

        I think my daughter is experiencing her first "spark".  A spark is a hidden flame in kids, that excite them and tap into their passion.  I don't want to put out the spark, and want her to enjoy playing the piano.   Playing the piano is difficult, it involves math, coordination, and persistence.  I also want her to know that the most accomplished piano players puts in many hours of practice.  Even though practicing can be tedious, it should still be something she enjoys.

        So what has been my approach?
        1) I let her dictate the amount of practice time.  She asked if I could give her a few lessons (I took a piano for 2 years and also have a few beginning piano lesson books) and we went through the lesson book.  When she had enough of my coaching and when she became frustrated when her brain was out of sync with her fingers, then we took a break.   Now we practice about once a week for 15-30 minutes. 

        2) Make it fun.  We try to play fun kid music she likes, rather than some boring music exercises.

        3) Praise the effort, not her talent level.  In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliars, Gladwell points out that every professional instrumental musician has put in minimally 10,000 hours of practice.  Were they talented?  Absolutely, but it was the practice that made them great.  If I praise her talent, she may think she can't improve as talent can only take one so far.

        4) If she demonstrates an eagerness to take piano lessons.  We will fork over the dough.  However, if piano lessons ever turn into, "I don't want to." Then her piano playing days will be over.

        5) Support her as far as she wants to go. 

        Will it work?  Who knows?  I'm just trying to turn the spark into a flame.

        Anyone out there have any suggestions?

        Thursday, January 13, 2011

        The cheesecake dude

        Had coffee with one of my favorite people on Saturday - Dave Johnson the cheesecake dude.  To read how Dave and I met click here.

        To say Dave is an interesting man, is like saying Michael Jordan was a good basketball player.  Total understatement.  Dave is by far, the most interesting person I've ever met, and for folks who have met my father, that's saying a lot!

        Dave called a couple of weeks before the holidays to see if we could connect.  The reason being was he found an old broken chair next to a dumpster that was about to be tossed.  Upon closer inspection he realized the old chair was made of white oak.  He ended up saving the chair and refinishing it.  A process that took three months.  Knowing that I work for a school he thought the chair looked like an old teacher's chair and wanted to give the antique chair to me.

        A pretty neat Christmas gift if you ask me.

        The Saturday before Christmas Dave drove to Jordan with the antique chair (and a couple of mini cheesecakes).  When he rang the doorbell he looked into our sunroom and yelled, "I can't believe it!"  I opened the door to see Dave with a big smile on his face. 

        "You're not gonna believe this," he said, "but the chair matches your antique rocking chair."  We quickly brought in the "new" beautifully refinished chair that Dave was giving to us and examined the two chairs.

        Both chairs have the same rounded armrests, the same style backrest, and both were made with white oak.  Both chairs are have slight symmetrical differences in the armrests and the in spokes on the back rest, meaning that both chairs were not made in a factory, but by hand.  I can only guess that a carpenter or a small furniture store made the chair.

        To make the story a little more unique, is that the rocking chair was my great aunt Lou's.  Easily a 100 year old rocking chair.  It was given to me a few years ago when she passed. 

        You tell me, what are the chances that I meet I guy like Dave, become friends with him, he finds a decrepid old chair, gives it to me and just happens to be a match to another antique chair that was given to me by family? 

        Amazing.  Can't wait to hang out with Dave this weekend.  Who knows what will happen next?

        Want to see what the chairs look like?  Check out a few pictures below.

        Wednesday, January 5, 2011

        JK Rowling speaks of failure

        Highlights include:

        “…why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

        You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

        Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

        The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned…”

        “And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

        I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

        What is more, those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy…”

        “If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

        Tuesday, January 4, 2011

        Questions to ask yourself as you begin a new year

        The news we received in the final days of 2010 were a huge reminder to keep one's priorities in order.  The news heard was the worst kind.  First a friend and former co-worker died of cancer.   Then a favorite high school math teacher was diagnosed with terminal cancer and likely only has a months until he goes home.  Then we lost a very special person to myself and many people, my Grandma Kaster.

        Two lives cut short because of cancer, and one long life with a sudden ending.  We all know our time on this spinning rock is short.  Some live in denial of death, and some choose to live each day to its fullest. 

        This year I will set goals knowing that my life is finite.  The theme of 2011 is "intentional"... I aim to do what I say this year.  No regrets.  Below are questions I will be asking myself as we begin a new year.  I post these so that maybe they may help you reflect on your goals for 2011.

        There are seven areas in life we all should be reflecting on consistent basis.  A new year is a good time to remind yourself of your priorities.
        • How much debt do I want to pay off this year?
        • How can I save 3-6 months worth of expenditures for an emergency?
        • What can I sacrifice to receive financial peace?
        • What non-fiction books can help me in my parenting, my marriage, my children, and career?
        • What podcast can I listen to while I commute in my car?
        • How can I spend more time with my children?
        • How can I lead my family better?
        • How can I date my wife again?
        • Who can help me on my spiritual journey?
        • How much of the bible can I learn from this year?
        • What changes in my diet can I make permanently?
        • How many 5K races, half-marathons can I run this year?
        • What do I want to be known for when I leave?
        • How can I do more of the one or two things I love to do?
        • What is my career legacy?
        • What friends have I lied to and not set a date to hang out with?  
        • Which friends have I been neglecting?
        Other important questions
        • What are my passions and strongly held beliefs?
        • On a daily basis you should ask yourself, Why am I doing this?
        • What one sentence would describe my main focus on life?
        It is my hope that these reflection questions will help determine my goals (maybe your goals too) for the year.  Some rocking advice on achieving goals are below.
        1. Attack the goals with intensity and passion, without intensity and passion, you are likely to fail.
        2. Goal must have a big "Why" behind it.  If you don't have a good reason for setting the goal, it won't happen.
        3. Goals must be specific... instead of I want to lose weight, the goal should be, I want to lose 10 pounds.
        4. Goals must be measurable... you need to know when it is accomplished.
        5. Goals must be yours...  Don't lose 10 pounds because your wife thinks you should.
        6. Goals have to have a time limit... I want to lose 10 pounds by May 1st.
        7. Goals need to be written down, and shared with someone who will support you.  Put your goals in a place where you will see them often.