The move is on. . .

May 2, 2007

As of today we no longer own a home. We are paying rent for the first time in 31 years. It is only for one month. We are relocating from Indiana to Las Vegas and the cost of moving is not staggering, but moving from the seventh lowest-cost of living urban area to one of the fastest growing urban areas is staggering. We love our home and enjoy it more than love it. Yet, it remains a home and not an obsession. Our new home is the same size, just $195,000 more than what we just sold our “old” home for. After doing the numbers we find we can afford a new home, even if sticker shock really does apply.

Finding a home was not as easy as we thought it would be. The last two homes we purchased were in small markets with few homes available. We looked for 1 or 2 days and saw what we thought were best picks. Time in the community affirmed our decisions. DSC00196.JPGThis time we struggles. JoAnn searched for 2-days and found a few in our price range. I didn’t like any of them so on the third day we started all over again and this time we found 3 homes we were both comfortable with. The first home was clearly our favorite – 3 bedrooms, den, living room, family room and the master bedroom was a dream room. So was all the grass. The price, however, meant we would probably only eat every 3rd day, so that was out. The next two we selected were much easier and found them comfortable. The one we have purchased was comfortable to us from the moment we walked in the door. It was clean, relatively new (4 years), warm southwestern colors throughout (check out the photo of the spare bathroom – we will issue sunglasses) except for the laundry room and spare bathroom. They too remained a part of the southwestern theme. For JoAnn the key selling point was the 12 to 15 feet of kitchen counter. She is dreaming about the cupboard space and counter space.
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And so once again we are moving, but for the first time in 35 years we are moving west. In 1972 we left California for 2 years in Utah, a masters degree, and back to California. Somehow Kansas, Iowa, and Indiana got in the way over the ensuing 33 years. Years that we will never forget or regret. The desert was probably not our first choice, but in fact, it was. We are going to enjoy being west after all of these years. I’m leaving my snow shovel and salt behind for our new home owners. I’m leaving my lawnmower behind for my good friend who has a large acreage, and we are embracing a desert lifestyle (so to speak).
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Heroes

March 11, 2007

What a quick and dynamic last 9 days. It began with my wife returning from Idaho a day earlier than planned, thanks to a major snow storm in Minneapolis, and then a moderately quick trip to North Carolina to get our daughter set up home for her husband’s return from Iraq. It was a great opportunity for the three of us to bond, work to help our youngest daughter, and then back home to strip wallpaper (clearly one of my least favorite tasks). I left my wife behind to spend more time with our youngest daughter and to help her clean their new to them house.

What did I learn this past week. Two important things. One about others and one about myself. These are not new learnings, but re-awakenings. It is the need to awake in me previous learnings that strengthen and reinforce me.

I met two young men this week, both in their early to mid-twenties who are Marines and were preparing to leave for 12 months to go to Iraq for a year. My own son-in-law is already there and will be home in one week. He has been fortunate to be in a job that does not require him to put his life on the line. That is not the case for these two young men and their families. I think they are probably representative of so many young men (and women) who are going to Iraq. There were no words of complaint, no recriminations, just a grim determination to do what they need to do. I cannot say they were at peace, but I also did not perceive a fatalism about them. They are going to do a job and they know they will be in harm’s way, potentially on a daily basis.

Each of these young men is leaving a wife behind. These stay-behind spouses are the unsung heroes in this war. Being there is a challenge to one’s life, but the danger these two young men are facing is very real. For the left behind spouse there are fears, uncertainty, and hope. The mix of emotions is so intense that I can believe at times it is probably almost overwhelming. In my own daughter I was selectively sensitive to these emotions and others in my family were not sensitive at all. My heart has gone out to those spouses who have been left behind.

Sure, this is not the first nor the last war that we will ask young men and women to put their lives on the line, but it is our current war. I am at an age where I have the opportunity to be reflective and the wisdom to do so. My sense of loss among families is great. We have not been touched by loss, but others have and it has changed them in ways we can only imagine. Some come through the loss and separation stronger. Others never get over it. The stay-behind heroes face pain, loss, and sometimes more devastating – the unknown. As I said, my heart goes out to them, but so does my soul. This is a time for inner searching to find ways to deal with the daily threat of loss. We must be there for them as a society and more importantly as individuals.

I have been changed by knowing these two young men. I am a better person for having had the opportunity to know them.

At this point my second learning point seems insignificant and selfish. I shall leave it for later – or for not at all.

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A Change of Pace

August 27, 2006

School has started and the students have arrived back on campus. Life is all a-buz with lost freshmen, returning students arriving late to campus and to class – it all seems so normal. And yet, after a quiet summer it also seems so hectic. During that first week of school we reacquaint ourselves with our colleagues who have been gone all summer, solve lots of last minute student problems, get the postings up on Blackboard that we had intended to get up all summer, finish the last of the writing that we promised ourself we would complete in June, get assigned to more committees than desired, try to figure out how to get out of the office early – after all summer really isn’t over, it’s still hot outside. And through all of this, it still feels good to be back in the swing. The beginning of the fall semester is full of promise and of challenge.
Dan at work
Higher education is a great job. There are few jobs as rewarding and providing so much freedom. It can have its challenges and the last couple of years we experienced a few. I’m anticipating a more mellow year, but one with lots of internal focus, refinement, and yes, challenge. Not so much internal to me, but internal to the department. After two years of addressing university requirements for change, responding to those requirements, nearing completion of the process; it’s time for us to look inward again and to focus our energies on our vision and direction. I could spend a long time talking about direction, focus, and vision, but suffice it to say that it requires constant attention. It’s a little like driving down a busy interstate, there is an air of comfort and confidence, but there is also a need to be vigilant. You never know when someone is going to cut you off or the unexpected accident down the road or unplanned construction diverts traffic. All will force you to alter your way, but not your destination. This is where we have been. We have altered our way and in some ways altered our vision, but now the road looks clear and we need to look at our vision. Visions change and they need to be responsive, but they do require discussion – sometimes lots of it.

A change of pace is not wholesale change, but an adjustment of change. A change of pace is important in each of our lives. The focus in growth is to simultaneously look inward and outward adjusting our lives to our values and measuring the importance and influence of the external environment. We have done a poor job of this the last couple of years. It is past time to change our own pace and to focus on our future – one that we will have more control over, yet remaining consistent with our college and university direction. It is a balancing act that all organizations face. Where do we place our emphasis, how do we effectively link our future with the future of our university. I am the optimist I have talked about and believe our vision and direction is consistent with the university. A key part of that direction is being able to convey to others our belief of its importance and how it fits in the bigger picture.

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How hot is hot?

July 19, 2006

I sit in Salina, Kansas this afternoon basking in an air conditioned hotel room watching “Without a Trace” wondering just how hot can it get. It is 110 degree Fahrenheit outside. I have lived and worked in hot country, but it has been a long time since I experienced such heat. In the lower midwest we rarely if ever see 100 degrees. I haven’t seen it at my home in 16 years. Yet, when we lived in the central valley of California we experienced temperatures in excess of 100 degrees daily, for months at a time. I used to spend parts of my summer in the high desert of southern California running between howitzers, as a safety officer, in 125 degree heat.

Morocco

We adjust to the environment we live in, or at least we like to admit we do. In fact we no longer live within our environment. Instead we go out of our air conditioned homes and offices to experiences moments of heat and cold. But we no longer need to adjust to the temperatures. I only open my home up when the temperature and humidity meet my expectations. If the temperature adjusts 5 degrees either way I consider closing my home up and reverting to my artificial environment.

In my visits to Morocco I see much less of this adaptation. There may be some air conditioning, but the vast majority of individuals do not have the luxury of creating an alternative environment. Are they better or worse off then those of us who have technology available? I don’t know. It is another argument for another day.

As a child growing up in the midwest I was not privy to air conditioning. As a youngster, I remember walking into the Yonkers’ store in downtown Des Moines in the early 1950s and seeing and feeling air conditioning for the very first time. You had to walk into a space bounded by plastic sheets to feel the cool air. I thought it was great. Even then we altered our environment the best we could. Open the house at night, close it during the day. Use fans where possible. Spend time in the basement, or on the cool side of the house.

I have often pondered how the early pioneers trekked across the great plains day after hot day. How they retained the ability to endure the heat and the cold. Of course I know that they suffered and many died. Were they stronger than us. I don’t think so, but they were products of their environment and of the technology that was available to them. Just as we are today. Does that make us lucky. Yes and no. Yes, in that we have the ability to control our environment. No: When that technology doesn’t work we often don’t know how to respond. In a sense we have insulated ourselves from our own environment and it may be at our own expense. We don’t know how to dress for cold, we don’t know of the need for water in the heat, we don’t know of the dangers of being unprepared.

The control of our environment has allowed us to make technological progress, it has allowed us to alter our work habits, it has allowed us to remove the environment from our worries. I’m not sure Maslow ever thought about this. How would he respond to it. We move from the heights of comfort and safety to fear, anxiety, and sense of loss in just a moment. Several years ago we were forced to leave our hotel because of a tornado alert. We worried about our safety, we could get no word. Technology came to the rescue. 1500 miles away my daughter accessed weather.gov and gave us ongoing updates on the storm. We knew what was going on.

Our comfort breeds a contempt for natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina is an example. People scoffed at the idea of listening to the warnings of those who knew the dangers. When the worst happened they pointed fingers at others. Who was right and who was wrong? Both and others have been pointing blame ever since. Again, another topic for another day.

So how hot is hot? It’s a matter of perspective, experience, and our ability to control our exposure to it. Sitting in an non air conditioned trailer in the middle of the prairie, it is HOT! Sitting in a hotel room looking out the window, having turned the AC to a warmer temperature so I’m not cold, it’s not so hot. Or is it?

Peter Drucker once said that 95 percent of all that managers do is designed to make it difficult for others to do their job. I’m a manager and I like to think I don’t operate that way, but after the frustrations I have working “through the system” over the last 2 plus years I’m wondering if I have fallen into the 95% trap. I don’t understand why so many organizations don’t trust their employees and why those at or near the top of the organization set themselves up as judge and jury. Peter Block wrote a book a number of years ago called Stewardship. I used it in my graduate leadership class for several years. It hit a resonant note with me about the role of the manager and how to provide leadership in the organization. It also hit a similar feeling related to the behavior of employees. The idea that we are all stewards, rather than leader-follower is a concept that is well developed in some organizations and in other organizations not even a thought that has ever occurred.

I worked for a number of years in an organization that was as close as I have seen to a stewardship culture. I now work in an organization that is loose-tight autocratic. When someone doesn’t follow the guidelines new rules are put into place for everyone to follow. The silo mentality is strongly in place by some executives and not by others. The absence of a leadership model / culture has a significant impact on the organization’s ability to change, grow, and meet new demands. There is a clear absence of leadership at the top of the organization. I see many who want to do what is right, but are confused by what is wanted. I see others who are striving to be creative and to open new opportunities fully frustrated by a system that refuses to recognize change.

I suppose that if some leaders of this organization were to take Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Inventory for The Leadership Challenge they would find themselves woefully lacking. Or I might find that I am out of the mainstream of what should be done. I’m not sure that I’ve ever fully embraced the mainstream, but at least I’ve tried to dance around it. As my wife frequently says, “Your the guy who moves the cheese” and while that may be true I am of the feeling that it is sometimes psychologically painful to move that cheese and make sure it stays moved.

Where does all of this put me. I’m an experienced and, by my standards, a successful manager. I believe I have had some leadership moments. I know I have many blind spots and that sometimes I don’t know when to quit (or shut-up). My gut tells me I’m right and I should continue to fight, so does one of my trusted colleagues. My brain tells me I could use the time and the frustration more effectively doing other things and so does another of my trusted colleagues. Yet, where does the decision ultimately lie? It lies with me, as always, after I have given due consideration, spoken with others that I trust, but who will not mirror my feelings. Making decisions are not necessarily hard, but sometimes hard decisions require decisions that are necessarily hard. It is sometimes the easy decisions that are easiest to make.

As I have reflected upon the above writing I’m asking myself am I half-full glass or half-empty glass person. I’ve always thought of myself as a half-full glass, but after reading the above I’m not so sure. My daughter once made a needle-point that says “Limits exist only in your mind.” I’m a firm believer of that. My comments have caused me to reflect more than I have for some time. I have spent several days writing just these few words, yet I’ve put many hours into reflection. Reflecting on some reading I’ve been doing it may be important for me to take the external view and become a disinterested narrator of the process. That is easier said then done. I doubt it would be a disinterested narrator, but a narrator who looks at the process from a different perspective. I’m not sure I can pull this off. Vivian Gornick wrote some excellent insights into the process. I’m going to give it a try. Learning is doing and doing is learning, and writing is combining learning and doing in a narrative format.

Classroom visit

May 15, 2006

This past week I had the opportunity to visit my sister’s elementary school. Just for clarification, she is the principal. This afforded me a little different perspective of the visit, and I came away very impressed with the quality of what I saw happening in the classroom and the among the students and faculty. This is a year-round school located in central California. My sister shared with me what was happening as we toured the classrooms and observed teachers in action. For a college professor this was an eye-opening experience. All of my children are grown and gone. I see the products of our educational system and while many in our society seem to be able to find much fault with the educational system, I find much success. Granted, I am at the top of the heap receiving the best that high schools have to offer and not what doesn’t make it through. If I was managing a business where we had high turnover of high school dropouts I might have an entirely different perspective. Back to my visit. . .

As I watched kindergardeners practicing words and sentences I kept reminding myself that when I entered first grade I still couldn’t count past 10. Now these kindergardeners are expected to be readers by the end of that first year of half-days. In a society where English may not be the first language for 50 percent or more of them, that is a daunting task. It is one I believe they are accomplishing. If not, it is not because these teachers are not working hard with the students. Considerable resources are being expended to make our children successful. We should all be thankful for that.

Wandering around the classrooms we got to visit with students, teachers, and support staff. They all radiated a sense of commitment to what they were doing. I even met a university professor visiting student teachers. There was an easy confidence among the faculty. The faculty knew their students and my sister knew every student (and I was impressed) by name. They knew the students strengths and weaknesses, what motivated them (in most cases), when there were problems at home, what needed to be done to help the student grow, and much more than I can share in a short blog here. One young teacher was keeping a photo journal of her class.

For those that suggest American education is failing, I would argue just the opposite. It is succeeding and succeeding quite well. I can’t speak for high schools, but I can for one elementary school in California. I know that my children received a better education than I did and my grandchildren are receiving yet a better education. It may be that in this highly competitive society we need to keep pushing the limits of learning. I don’t believe we have hit those limits yet and as technology improves so will our ability to deliver learning. I was struck by the limited technology being used in the classroom. I saw overhead projectors that were little changed from when I was a student, yet the overhead transparencies were improved. I saw none of what we call smart classrooms. When I asked my sister about this she said it was beyond their budget capability. Do smart classrooms make students smarter. No, but their use can enhance the opportunity for learning. I need to be careful here as I move into discussion areas I am not qualified to discuss.

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On the Road, Again

April 29, 2006

The truth is, I lead a pretty sedentary life. I don’t travel much, I enjoy being at home, and I enjoy the opportunity to focus on my community, which is mostly the university. Trips are not an interference as much as they are an opportunity. Herein lies what seems to be an overarching theme – a chance to grow. This past week I’ve spent time in Utah and California, visiting with family and a university in that order. In the former I had the opportunity to spend time with two of our extended families and their children.

As I visited this morning with a former parks and recreation director he said, when it is all said and done, what is most important is family. That was refreshing to hear. I don’t hear it nearly often enough. We get so caught up in our day to day activities, in our goal to be or do better. It is families that we find an eternal perspective. I don’t know my great grandfathers or their great grandfathers, except as names on a genealogy sheet. However, I did know my grandfather and somehow I sense that he knew his grandfather and that through his life he honored both his father and grandfather. Okay, I know that is a broad and probably highly erroneous assumption, but some of us like to live in the world of assumptions – for good or bad.

Nonetheless, I do believe that the time I spend with my family strengthens their knowledge of me, strengthens me as I see their personal growth and development – physical, emotional, and spiritual. I revel in that personal growth – just as I revel in the personal growth of my spouse. I have come to the conclusion after my time in Utah that my wife’s frequent trips to visit children are all important.
I'm So Cool

Coming back to my theme – I do learn from my children and grandchildren. I’m also reinvigorated by their personal growth, by the knowledge they share with me (directly and indirectly). As I watch my children interact with one another and with their spouses I see reflections of their mother, and of their father, but I like to think the really positive things in their life come from their mother.

Learning, then is not always something new. Sometimes it is a feeling or a focus or a sense of time or place. Learning sometimes comes as a reinforcement to existing knowledge, other times as a side trip that turns into excitement, or yet other times as a rude awakening. Yesterday as I sat reading a report describing low enrollment in an academic program it was couched as “being at the end of a product life cycle.” I have always pursued enrollment declines as a cyclical issue rather than a marketing issue. This was startling to me and has caused me to begin rethinking who we are. If the park and recreation academic marketplace is at the end of a product lifecycle, then sport management is very much at the front end of its product lifecycle. The challenge becomes how do we reposition ourselves to reinvigorate the lifecycle? That’s a discussion for another time.

The Children Came Home!

March 14, 2006

The children came home this past weekend. It seems a bit of misnomer when I first write that. The children range from 21 to 36 and just coming home takes a herculean effort on their part. They literally come from the mountain west to the coastal plains of the southeast. So coming home means a lot to us. We had a great weekend for all of us. One was not home due to previous commitments, but was fortunate and spend a couple of days with her aunt! Some were home for less than 48 hours and two are still with us. How come my family is functional (by my definition) when so many others aren’t. By the way, I know lots of functional families.

I know too many families that don’t have time for each other. Everyone is focused on work with family a poor second. Yet my family – from my grandparents to my grandchildren – are focused. I remember as a child that we would drive any distance to be home for Christmas. Many times when we live far away we would leave at 8 pm and drive through the night – just to be there for Christmas day. We still gather when we can, although not as often. Our lives have changed, but not our love. In our own family our children will gather “at the drop of a hat” as my father says. We don’t need many excuses. As one daughter expressed in her email last night “I have such a fun time.
Krissie & David's Reception - 38
I can’t wait for another get together – can we have a ton of cake again?” That seems to be the tenor of this family, we have fun together. It may be just talking, reminiscing, or planning for the next big get-together. We aren’t perfect, but over Thanksgiving we had 10 children from 4 families all in the same house!
So what brings us all together to enjoy ourselves so much? Is it because we all like each other, or we all love each other, or there is a sense of acceptance and love. I think it is all of that and more. I have watched the sons and daughters grow and become best friends with themselves and with their Mom and I can tell you mom would rather spend time with her daughters than anyone else, except maybe me. I think that what pulls a family together is a common love, tolerance, and appreciation for each other. Those are surface words and don’t convey the depth of feeling that is present when a family comes together. Gone are the days of rancor between teenagers (but maybe not all of the differences), replaced by the growth that has occurred in each family member. It is what we like to call building an eternal family. I firmly believe in eternal families and that the work we do in this lifetime is what sustains us hereafter as a family.

I hear through academia, the news, and from observation that families are not the same as they once were. That may be more true than false, but families remain the core source of learning, social development and acceptance, values, attitudes (here we can debate), and love. It is our responsibility as parents to help our families become eternal, to become a place of refuge, to share our love one with another. In these types of settings family members can grow and be nourished. I look forward to future generations where family remains important.