Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Nice Break

I believe it has been confirmed why I don't live in a colder climate: I would not do well having to endure a longer, colder winter than what we have experienced here in Middle Tennessee this year.

We have been whining since before Christmas, having now had four "snow events" which is what we call it when snow covers the ground. I know you in the more northern regions are scoffing at me, but you just don't understand -- we're not used to this.

But I am pleased to report that God has heard our prayers and gave us a gloriously sunny day yesterday, with temps climbing into the 60s.

Even better, Wife and I found ourselves with very little on the calendar. We know that's about to change big-time, so we took advantage of it.

I had an early morning board meeting for the non-profit I work with, and Wife met FDIL, her mother and the florist for the wedding to discuss flowers for the wedding, reception and rehearsal dinner.

After my meeting I took a long walk and just thanked God for the beauty of the day. We are blessed in the community where we live to have wonderful walking trails that meander through wooded areas and along a flowing stream. It is soothing, much as the Psalmist described in Psalm 23. It definitely renewed my soul.

Wife and I met back up at home about noon. After checking in with Younger Son, whom we had not seen since Friday night (and whom we would not see again until last night; can you tell he's our last child at home?), we headed out. There is a wonderful, quaint downtown area in the town just south of us. We went to one of its best lunch spots which serves delicious soups, sandwiches and salads in an eclectic venue filled with random tables and chairs that could have (and likely did) come from flea markets.

After lunch we wandered along the streets, stopping in the occasional shop. Wife took me to the place where Older Son and FDIL have picked their china and showed me their names on a shelf next to a dinner plate. I am not much of a shopper and it was only because of the lovely weather that I accompanied Wife, and she seemed to enjoy having me along.

We then went to the hotel where FDIL's parents have negotiated a group rate for out-of-town wedding attenders, and timed the drive from there to the church, so we could pass on that information to friends and family. That landed us up in Nashville, in an area where we rarely find ourselves. We enjoyed the change of scenery and commented on how we should explore the area more often.

Back at home, with night falling, we were pleased to see Younger Son eventually come in and join us and we sat with him while he had something to eat. I guess we asked him too many questions because he gave us one of those "why are you being weird" looks. He's just going to have to learn to humor us during these last few months before he goes to college. Although being the youngest has had its benefits for him (our totally relaxed attitudes), he has commented on feeling a bit smothered at times. Frankly, I believe the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, so I'm not very sympathetic. I will probably have much more wisdom to impart before he exits and my time is limited.

All in all, it was a great Saturday, one on which we will probably look back with a sigh in the weeks ahead as graduations, a wedding, moves in and out and transitions begin to take center stage. I'm thankful for the unexpected pleasures of an unplanned day, and definitely thankful for the break in the cold.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quarter Century Birthday

Christmas Eve, 1985: Like the "blessed Mother," Wife was "great with child" (pregant with our first).

We were meeting her parents for Christmas Eve church, then would go over to their house for dinner and gift-opening. My parents would make the two-hour drive from their house to ours the next day since Wife, so close to her delivery date, was advised not to travel at Christmas that year.

A couple of hours before we were to leave, she told me she was feeling a little "funny." We had been to birthing classes and supposedly knew what to expect. The feelings and rollings in her tummy continued. We decided there was a good chance this was "it." So we went to church with Wife's suitcase packed. We thought we were going to have a Christmas baby. I was going to get that tax deduction after all.

That's funny to think of now. Whatever it was, that funny feeling subsided and Older son was born exactly one month later, January 24, 1986 -- 25 years ago tomorrow.

On that day I had gone to the funeral of a friend's dad. I knew Wife had a doctor's appointment but, with her being nearly three weeks late (his due date had been January 6), she was going to the doc about every other day to make sure everything was OK. I had kind of gotten over being impatient and I think somewhere in my subconscious I was in denial about the whole thing. In fact, I had picked up a six-pack of beer earlier in the day for my buddy and me, to go with the homemade pizza Wife would make that night. Life would just continue as usual.

I think Wife had gone into a lull herself. That afternoon while she was at the doctor's office and I was at the funeral, her OB told her it was time to take the baby. Like now. Like she should go directly to the hospital and he would meet her there.

I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly what the doctor's reaction was when Wife said she had to go home and pack, but I cannot believe that, with her being three weeks late, it was not something along the lines of, "Go home and pack? You don't have your suitcase with you?!"

I digress.

This was before cell phones (not that I would have had it on at the funeral), so she reached me when I was back at my office about 3 p.m She had managed to talk her doctor into letting her go home. I went and retrieved her and by 6 p.m. Older Son had entered the world via Caesarean section, one ounce under nine pounds. I watched every bit of it (as I did when his younger brother and sister came along) and it was AMAZING.

Fast forward 25 years and we're celebrating his birthday tonight. He's out of college and he's getting married in June. And he is, without qualification, one of my very best friends. He was in no hurry to get here all those years ago, but oh how he brightened my life once he did.

Happy Birthday, Daniel.

Friday, January 21, 2011

More Snow

We have had more than our share of winter weather here in Middle Tennessee and had our fourth significant snowfall of the season last night. That's plenty of snow for these parts and, although it's beautiful and I love it, I'm beginning to tire of the hassle of driving and just how darn cold it is.

Early Wednesday morning I drove over to Memphis to work for a couple of days. I had heard snow was in the forecast for Thursday. Wife told me I should be paying close attention.

So yesterday (Thursday) afternoon about 3, with snow falling steadily but the temperature hovering just above freezing, I decided I could make it home. What's usually just over a three-hour drive took almost six. I drove 40-50 MPH most of the way.

Wife asked me if I was ever scared and I said no, that I was a little anxious at times, especially when the snow was blowing onto the windshield so fast that I was having trouble seeing, or when an 18-wheeler passed me and blew all the snow and wet stuff all over me. And a couple of times I slid a couple of feet when I hit the brakes. But generally, as long as I kept plenty of distance between me and the vehicle in front of me and went slower then usual, everything was OK.

Then Wife asked me if it had really been a good idea for me to make that drive. I said probably not, but this morning I am glad to be home. She said maybe I should check with her next time before I make such a decision. She's probably right.

Friday, January 14, 2011

If I'm Boss . . . .

Michael wrote not long ago that he's at a place where he's reconsidering some things about his career and, in conducting such reconsideration, he said he will be "throw(ing) everything into the air -- all my assumptions, worldviews, textual interpretations -- and then start(ing) over and see(ing) what I end up with."

He hasn't shared any of his findings with us yet, but what he said started me thinking.

I have been in the work force full time about 28 years now. I have been blessed to have never been truly unemployed. I had about two months off between my last and current job but had more than enough severance to cover things, so I don't count that.

The longest I have ever stayed at a job is seven years and I have stayed in two that long. Apparently that's not terribly uncommon in today's business world. I know people who have had many more jobs than I have, and a few who have worked in the same place their whole career (not many).

I have done a lot of second guessing over the course of my working life but I think that's my nature. Being sure of myself has never been one of my strong areas. There are a lot of things I would do differently if I could go back and change things but I don't dwell on that. God has been faithful and has taken care of me and my family. I can't ask for more than that.

I am not entrepreneurial. I am a good worker. I'm not a genius but I have a fair amount of intelligence and after all these years, I think I know the things I do well. I work well with people and I follow instructions well. I'm a good team guy and I can effectively communicate. But I'm not a big "idea" guy when it comes to business and running a business.

After all these years working, however, I do have some ideas about how I would run a company if I ever did have that opportunity. In a totally different universe where I was in charge and "ran the show," so to speak, here are some things I would do. Now let me say, quite clearly, that this is all in theory and in my mythical world, there would be no problem with the legalities and practicalities of the principles I would propose. Here goes:

1. In my fictitious company, the dress code would be business casual. A lot of places already do this, but many male employees, including myself, still wear ties to work. In my company, men would not have to wear ties. They would not be allowed to wear jeans, but they wouldn't have to wear ties. I don't have to wear a tie every day because I am fortunate enough to get to work from home many days, but on my office days I'm usually wearing a tie and I am tired of it.

2. There would be one staff (or departmental, depending on the size of my company) meeting per week, probably on Monday mornings. It would last 30 minutes to an hour, and it would be an open forum to cover current matters at hand. Anyone would be allowed to speak and bring up any topic. There would be no hand-held devices, cell phones or computers in the meeting (or in any meetings for that matter).

3. The Human Resources Department would be skeletal. I would prefer to not even have this department but in today's environment it is pretty much necessary. My HR Director (and any HR employees) would be respectul of all employees and there would be a zero tolerance policy if he/she ever broke that rule. The HR Director would report to and be accountable to the CEO. The HR Director would have no decision-making authority when it came to terminations, relocations, advancements, etc. (You might detect that I could write another entire post on HR Directors and departments). Neither would the HR Director be present during discussion of those matters.

4. There would be no "Diversity" department. HR would be under strict orders to comply with all laws regarding equal opportunity. It would go without saying. It would be unnecessary to employ people who devote themselves to meeting quotas.

5. There would be no money spent on "retreats," "team building," "coaching" or any other such thing. At the weekly meeting, the CEO or department leader would give a brief status report on various matters affecting the company and would take questions. Employees would be assured of their value to the company by their compensation. If the CEO or the lead of the department feels the need for extended time with employees, he/she will block off extended time during the day for this.

6. Performance reviews would be conducted annually. The words used in the reviews would be spoken and/or written in plain English and words such as "quantifiable" would be avoided. Likewise, goals set for employees would also be simple, so simple that very little instruction would be required, nor would a consultant be necessary to advise the company on how to conduct employee reviews. The person handling the review would record his/her findings, again, in plain English. Any type of "grading" would be on a 100 percent scale, similar to school grading.

7. Employees would use e-mail, of course, but there would be a limitation on e-mails sent per day.

Just a few thoughts and certainly easy for me to say when we're talking hypothetically. But interesting to think about.

Born to teach

I have always envied people who feel like their job/career is a fulfillment of what they were created to do.

Daughter began her last semester of college this week and today begins her internship, or student teaching, the last step in her becoming a full fledged teacher.

And I believe she was born to do it.

She started playing school at a very young age. When her little brother was old enough to sit up, he became her student. My parents had given us an old antique desk and she would have him sit there to do his "lessons." He was required to say the Pledge of Allegiance and say "Good morning" to her at the start of the school day. He was not always the most obedient student but he was all she had and she was eventually able to coerce him into tolerable cooperation (after a few parent-teacher conferences, of course).

She also loved going to school -- every aspect of it. When we moved from Little Rock to Nashville she was in third grade. In Little Rock she and Older Son had attended a small, private Christian school that at the time was located in a church.

With the move to Tennessee, we decided to go the public school route and save all that tuition money for college. Daughter immediately took to it. She loved riding the school bus, the long hallways and bells ringing. She was also fascinated with the big cafeteria and was delighted with the cafeteria ladies and their hair nets.

The structure of school was always a perfect fit for her. For a very brief interim period before we moved, when school had already started, Wife home-schooled Older Son and Daughter rather than have them start the school year and pull them out. Older Son, who has many of the personality traits of his mom, could not imagine a better life with the concentrated daily time frame under which Wife conducted home school. He had learned to play golf and was usually on the course before noon during that brief period.

Daughter, on the other hand, experienced one of the most stressful times of her life when she would get up, eat breakfast, put a bow in her hair and seat herself at the kitchen table promptly at 8 a.m., ready for class, only to find her "teacher" (her mother) and brothers still sleeping. She was convinced that irreparable damage was being done to her educational progress.

With no principal on the campus, she would report her concerns to me and I would try to mediate between her and her teacher/mom. (As it turned out, she was more than well prepared when she began her third grade class at her new school).

Going to get school supplies for the upcoming school year was always one of her best days. Her favorite of all was the "pencil pouch" and a new one was, of course, required each year. Even last week before she went back, I could hear the lilt in her voice as she told me she was going to buy a lunch box to take with her to her new class.

She has given us detailed accounts of her "hands-on" education classes over the last couple of years, and her passion is undeniable.

She has already sent me a text message today, saying she has told her second grade students about our dog, Ralph, and that she loves her teacher.

That's exactly what I would expect. I am picturing her in that classroom today, in front of those little boys and girls -- herself not so far removed from that little girl who so conscientiously taught her brother -- and I am immensely proud of and happy for her. I believe many children will benefit from this little girl who was born to teach.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

War Eagle!

The Auburn Tigers won the national championship tonight!

As regular visitors here know, Older Son and FDIL are Auburn grads, Daughter is a senior there now, and Younger Son will matriculate there next fall. Neither Wife nor I attended Auburn but, I assure you, I have PURCHASED my allegiance to Auburn!

Older Son, the savvy young man that he is, managed to purchase tickets to the game, as well as plane tickets, for much less than most. He could have sold the game tickets and come close to paying for his honeymoon. He didn't.

Daughter got a ticket through the lottery at school and, lucky young woman that she is, received a gracious invitation to accompany a friend's family who has a private plane.

As I write this, the two of them are celebrating in Glendale, Arizona. Wife, Younger Son and I watched from the comfort of home.

Through the speed of modern technology, I can already show you photos. War Eagle!

Daughter all decked out

Older Son and FDIL celebrating

Friday, January 7, 2011

2010 Reading

I'm a little late with it, but wanted to mention a few of my favorite books of last year. One of the most enjoyable parts of my reading in 2010 was re-discovering the poet, essayist and novelist Wendell Berry. I read his book Jayber Crow several years ago, which I loved, but never read anything else.

Berry's fiction is mostly centered around the fictitious farming community of Port William, Kentucky. Berry is himself a longtime farmer who still resides in Kentucky. As the stories progress, Berry's unspoken commentary on the unfortunate plight of the American farmer is clear.

His stories are interwoven with the same characters but, unlike most "series" books, you can really start anywhere. A World Lost is a compilation of a number of short stories, but which are in chronological order and flow together so as to give an overview of the characters of Port William. It would be a great place to start if you wanted to sample some of Berry's work.

His writing is nothing short of beautiful, intermittently bringing laughter and tears, reminiscent of a simpler time and place, although some of his stories evolve into the current day.

I read a Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute and The Maltese Falcon by Dash Hammett, which I couldn't exactly call classical literature but are both books that have been around for a while. I loved the former, the story of a woman who survives a Japanese death march in World War II and in the process meets an intriguing Australian gentleman. Falcon was a fun read, somewhat melodramatic.

I continued with Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series with number eleven, The Double Comfort Safari Club, which was every bit as delightful as the previous ten.

On the non-fiction side, I enjoyed Game Change, a page-turning narrative of the 2008 presidential campaign, and George W. Bush's presidential post-mortem Decision Points. It was as one would expect, rather self-serving, but providing an interesting view into the years he occupied the White House.

Also had fun reading In a Heartbeat by Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy, the couple from Memphis who took in football phenonenom Michael Oher, which lead to the eventual book and movie The Blind Side. It's written in a broken-up style that drives me crazy, intermittently first and third person by both of them ( I don't understand how a book editor would ever think a reader would prefer this convention), but once I got past that it was intriguing to get their perspective and some clarification on their story.

My list of "to read" books is growing. FDIL gave me The Fountainhead for my birthday, her all-time favorite, and I have Gresham's latest waiting as well.

For those of you who use the Shelfari bookshelf as I do, I'm always looking at your latest picks. Be sure and let me know your favorites. Good reading to all in 2011.