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Behind Every Picture is a Story

It’s been a while since I posted here. I could provide a list of excuses but that is all they are. Today, I want to talk about pictures, the stories they tell, and the stories behind them.

I have always loved taking pictures. From my first Kodak Instamtic to my present Nikon Z6, I have loved to capture moments. I don’t like to stage the moments (which is why I abhor portrait photography). I refused to spend money on a “good” camera for many years because it was just a hobby. Then one year I asked my wife to buy me a camera for Christmas – which she did!

I started by taking pictures of the birds in our backyard. When the snow melted, I took pictures of my son playing tennis.

Any parent who has watched his/her child compete in sports understands how nerve-racking this can be. I found it calmed my nerves. It allowed me to enjoy watching my son and his friends play without excessive nervousness. So I kept doing it.

Taking pictures of my son playing tennis evolved into taking pictures of my son, his team, and his friends. Eventually, I started taking pictures at Augustana sporting events. Sharing the pictures with the student-athletes and coaches. (I have taken pictures at all sports except golf (I tried but got the time wrong), track, and cross-country (maybe someday).

(still my favorite picture)

Truth is, I am not very good but I occasionally get lucky. I have no formal training. For every picture that turns out, there are ten failures. I have spent countless hours going through the pictures and deleting them. Nobody sees that side of the hobby.

I try to capture moments – like this.

And action like this.

Behind every picture is a story. The picture at the top of this post has a great story. I will think of the story every time I look at it. It’s not a great-quality picture BUT it captured a moment. The picture is of legendary Augustana basketball coach Dave Krauth. Since 1989, he has been the Head Women’s Basketball coach at Augustana University. Thirty-two seasons with only one season below .500. He coached his last game this week. A heartbreaking one-point loss in the NCAA Tournament.

I took this picture a couple of weeks ago. It was taken during the pregame of his final coaching win. I was wandering around the arena during warmups. As Coach Krauth was heading into the locker room, a fan named Scottie (if have been to Augie games you know who this is) began thanking Coach Krauth for his service and wishing him good luck in the game. It was a special conversation. As the conversation started, my camera was off and the lens cap was on. I noticed the smile on Coach Krauth’s face. It was genuine, kind, and rare in the arena. Quickly, I turned my camera on, removed the lens cap, and tried to capture the moment.

My autofocus didn’t fully focus and my framing was off. Yet, I mostly captured this moment. This picture will always be special to me because I know the story behind the picture. And now you know the rest of the story.

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Christmas Eve

It is December 24.  It is a day when families and friends gather to begin Christmas celebrations. Growing up, our family would gather on Christmas eve with friends. We would have oyster stew, cheese plates, and other hors d’oeuvres.  Sometimes my parents would let me have a glass of wine or coke.  Because my father was born on December 24, we also had a birthday cake and gave him presents. At the end of the evening, the kids could open one present before bed.  We capped the evening off by opening ONE present. We always chose the gift from Grandma Harris because she ALWAYS bought us pajamas from the JC Penny in Aberdeen. 

When my father passed away, Christmas eve became a painful reminder of what was lost when he passed. I didn’t really enjoy it much. However, there were two events that changed my view. 

The first was Christmas eve 2001. It was the first Christmas of my marriage.  My wife, our oldest son, and mother traveled to our cabin in the Black Hills.  There is an incredible church in Lead, South Dakota.  It was built in the late 19th/early 20th century. Its Christmas Eve service is amazing. In 2001, the music, the service, the faith, and the fellowship were special. Words can not adequately describe the experience. The church is small, old, and quaint. The pews are wood. The lighting is poor and it was even darker for the late evening service. The sermon gave a great message though I can’t remember what was said. What I do remember is the music. There were two professional musicians with local ties. They shared their gifts with us. Somewhere, I still have the bulletin. To share this experience with my new wife, mother, and oldest son was special. It was the first Christmas Eve after my father’s passing that was not painful. The second was Christmas eve 2018. I’ve written about this before so I won’t bore you with the details.  Long story short, I am adopted. On Christmas eve 2018, after a long search, I received the first communication from my birth mother. It was an overwhelming feeling that I continue to process. Christmas eve is a time of new beginnings and connections.

Tonight, our family will gather. We have established our own traditions which include oyster stew and cheese plate. In recent years, I have purchased five different types of cheese at a local establishment. We all taste, critique, and vote for our favorite. We also enjoy each other’s company. Tomorrow, we will open gifts because it is our tradition to open gifts on Christmas day. From my house to yours, Merry Christmas.

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2022 Gratitude Challenge Wrap

After 31 days, the 2022 Gratitude Challenge has come to a close. This is the third time I have done this challenge. Each time, I learned more about myself. I am more aware of the importance of gratitude. I find myself complaining less (even during Viking games). I am more appreciative of what is going on around me. I shift my focus on what is and what I can control.

Yesterday, I saw a portion of an interview with Charlie Munger (at 3:30 of the clip). In the interview, Munger asserts that even with all the progress humans have made, we are less happy. Technology, medicine, and other improvements have made our lives easier but we are less happy. Why are we less happy? While some would argue it is greed, Munger argues it is because of envy. Humans often want what others have that they don’t.

I think Munger is on to something. We spend so much time obsessing about what we don’t have. We want the latest gadget. All sorts of lists tell us what the “Hottest Christmas” gift is this year. The anecdote to envy is gratitude. Be grateful for what have. When you focus on what you have, you will find you have an abundance. Have a great weekend.

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Day 31 Gratitude Challenge Bonus Day

When doing a challenge like this every day, it is easy to miss gratitude opportunities. If you haven’t figured it out by now, there is much to be grateful for. I know I have not included important people, groups of people, things, or experiences in postings. This challenge could be a year and I would still miss a few things.

Yet, my gratitude challenge is not complete unless I talk about about the two young men who are my sons. I am so grateful for both of my sons. It has been a joy to watch them develop and grow into amazing human beings. My oldest graduated from college and earned a master’s degree in public policy. He is currently working in a job where he has the opportunity to shape the world around him for the better. He is married to an amazing woman. I get to see them in a couple of weeks and can’t wait. My youngest is in college. He is doing great. He has a wonderful group of friends, a vision for the future, and the drive to succeed. While I saw him over Thanksgiving break, it was too short. He will be home for Christmas break and it will be wonderful to have him home. The best will be when they are both home over Christmas.

If you have children (furry kind count), take time to be grateful for them. They grow up quickly and leave the house. Send them a note letting them know you are thinking about them.

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Day 30 Gratitude Challenge

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal had an article about the financial benefits of marriage. The data indicates that married couples have a higher net worth than couples who cohabitate. While there is no definitive explanation for this, there are some theories. You can read the article here. I have my own theory about this that I might share later.

I hope everyone has a person in their life they can count on no matter what. A person that picks you up when you are down. A person that cheers the loudest when you succeed. A person that listens to your concerns and helps you problem solve. A person that loves you unconditionally. A person who is a true partner in life.

I am fortunate to have such a person in my life. For over 20 years she has been my rock. I don’t know what I did to deserve such an amazing person as my wife. Today I am grateful for my best friend, travel partner, business partner, girlfriend, and wife. I can’t imagine what life would be like without you.

Today is the last day of the Gratitude Challenge. Have you noticed a change? More about that tomorrow.

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Day 29 Gratitude Challenge

It is late November in the upper plains. This means cooler (cold) weather and shorter days. It also means snow. This morning I woke up to snow on the ground. While I am grateful for the beauty and moisture of the snowfall, this is not the focus of the post today.

Today I am thinking about my parents. I am thinking about the decisions and sacrifices they made to provide me with the opportunities I had. Not all are as fortunate as I am. The older I get, the more I realize this.

My parents made sure my basic needs were met. I never had to worry if there would be enough food or if we would have a home. I have always had an abundance of clothes (even if my parents would t buy the new Nike and instead purchased the Keds knockoff!😜)

After years of parenting through the Great Recession and the pandemic, I realize how challenging it must have been for my parents. Were they perfect? No. Did they make mistakes? Probably. However, they did the best they could with the tools they were given. In my opinion, they did a damn great old job. My faults and flaws are of my own making, not theirs. Unfortunately, my parents have passed and I can’t personally thank them for all they did. Perhaps you can take some time to think about your parents today. Think about the sacrifices they made for you. Did they attend your performances, concerts, recitals, games, and/or conferences? If so, they gave up something to be there. If your parents are still living, give them a call or write a letter. Let them know about the good things they did for you.

And one final thing, nothing screams “I love you” more than 70s fashion. The wide white belt and a turtleneck. Enjoy the picture.

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Day 27 Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday was a good day for at least two reasons. First, it was the annual “Gathering” of family of my wife’s side. As legend has it, the “Gathering” was started by my wife’s grandmother. It takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. When I first attended the gathering, it was hosted (on a rotating basis) by the siblings (children’s of wife’s grandma). In recent years, hosting duties descended to the cousins (we hosted last year). About 30 people (3 generations) gather for food (potluck style), laughter, stories, and a gift exchange. It is an amazing group of people with a wide variety of interests and talents. It has become a highlight of my year. I am grateful for family and kinship. I am grateful this group has welcomed me with open arms and accepted me as one of their own. I am so lucky to have become a part of this family. It was a great ti,e last night.

Second reason yesterday was good…Michigan beat Ohio State in football. I don’t measure my worth based on whether one of my favorite teams beats an arch rival BUT my day is definitely better when they do. I am grateful for spectacle that is college football. The excitement and energy of game day is amazing. Someday I hope to attend “The Game” in person.

Take some time today to be grateful for extended family. Reach out to a few and see how they are doing. As we move into holiday season, remember the importance of family and gratitude.

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Day 28 Gratitude Challenge

All of this started because Jeff, my oldest brother, died. My struggle to cope and adapt continues. While I have written a lot about my brother Jeff, I haven’t written a lot about my brother Matt (or other siblings). This isn’t because they are irrelevant or not important. In fact, the opposite is true. They are very important and very relevant.

Genetically, my brother Matt is very similar to Jeff. However, the two could not be more different. Matt is younger. Matt’s personality is different. Jeff was more serious while Matt is happy and mischievous. Growing up, I was closer to Matt as he lived in our home until he 20. I helped take care or Matt.

My brother lives close to me. I visit him occasionally but not nearly enough. Every time I visit my brother, I feel better about life. His smile and attitude are infectious. I could write more but I think you understand how wonderful he is.

Though I only wrote about one, I am grateful for all my siblings. (I have 7 siblings – it’s complicated). Take time to express gratitude to one or all of your siblings today.

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Day 26 Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday I was reading about tapping into intrinsic motivation. One idea from the reading was the idea that sometimes you need to look back to move forward. Often we focus on how far we have to go rather than how far we have come. Looking forward can be overwhelming if you have a lot of work ahead. So sometimes, one should look back for motivation.

Today, I look back. I look back to February 29, 2020. It was a Saturday. The pandemic was about to hit the United States with full force. I was planning a trip to San Diego with my wife. She worked for a bank three hours away and I worked for a non-profit organization. Neither of us was particularly satisfied with our professional lives. My health had much room for improvement. While I have no recollection of what I did that day, I know one thing I did NOT do that day. I didn’t take at least 10,000 steps.

In the summer of 2017, I became a walker. I took long walks because my schedule allowed me to do so. At my peak, I would walk about 22,000 steps most days. This is approximately the equivalent of 10 miles. But, sometimes life happens and I wouldn’t achieve my daily goal of 10,000 steps. I think my longest streak was bout 200 consecutive days with 10,000 steps or more. Usually, a streak would end because I was sick or traveling.

However, when I awoke on the morning of March 1, 2020, I resolved to walk at least 10,000 steps every day until the pandemic was over. At the time, I thought this would be no more than four months. Yet, we all know the story, it lasted longer than four months.

Yesterday was a milestone day in the goal. Yesterday, the streak reached 1,000 days. Looking back, it is quite impressive. 33 consecutive months. Three months more and it will be three years. While the early days were easy because walking outside was one of the few “permitted” activities, the last 200 have been a challenge with a career change, increased travel, and an illness. If I was looking forward to another 1,000 days, it would be easy to be overwhelmed.

Looking back, I took over 10,000,000 steps and walked more than 4,000 miles. If I had set that specific goal, it would have seemed overwhelming. Instead, I took it one day at a time. Looking back, it is remarkable and I am proud of myself. Today, I am grateful for the opportunity and the ability to accomplish this goal. The challenge today is to take a walk, preferably outside, and start working towards a fitness goal.

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Day 25 Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday was a great day. Great weather for Thanksgiving. Two long walks with the dog. One along the bike trail and the other at Good Earth State Park. Lots of family time including wonderful meal and some trivial pursuit. Closed it all out with a Vikings win.

Today will be interesting. While many will be out shopping form deals, I will be working. The last time I worked on a Friday after Thanksgiving, Bill Clinton was President.

The challenge today is a repeat. It is a pay it forward and/or random act of kindness kind of day. If you have the day off, enjoy it but remember others are working. Maybe leave them a bigger tip, give a compliment, or do something kind. Maybe you buy a stranger coffee, breakfast, or lunch. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that you act.

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Day 24 Gratitude Challenge

Today is Thanksgiving. Many have the day off from work. Many will gather with friends and family to overeat, watch football, and tell stories. What a fantastic tradition to gather In gratitude with those you care about.

Today I am reminded of past Thanksgivings. Growing up we shared Thanksgiving with close family friends. I have many great memories from those gatherings. In more recent years, our family gathers at a local club for amazing food and disappointing football (my youngest is a Detroit Lions fan). We gather again with a larger group (three generations) in a couple of days.

Today, rather than blog to start the day, my faithful companion took me for a walk. During the walk, I took time to think about all the things I am grateful for. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am grateful for my health and the health of those I care about. I am grateful for my home. I am grate for the opportunities I have. I am grateful for my job, my coworkers, customers, and organization. I am grateful for so much more than listed here but this is a start.

Todays’s challenge is to make a list. Make it a long list. What are you grateful for? Include everything whether big or small.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading.

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Day 23 Gratitude Challenge

Short post today. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The weather forecast where I live is very favorable. It is supposed to be clear and 10 degrees warmer than normal. When in college, I remember driving home in poor driving conditions. Few will have to deal with this today or tomorrow.

Today, I am grateful for the weather forecast for as it allows people to travel safely to spend Thanksgiving with family. if you are traveling today, please do so safely.

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Day 22 Gratitude Challenge

A couple of nights ago, Michael J. Fox won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award. “The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an Oscar statuette, is given to an ‘individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.’” It isn’t surprising he won the award.

In the 80s, Fox was one of the top stars in the world. His characters in television and film were iconic. In the early 90s his life changed with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Fox kept his diagnosis secret for many years. In 1998, he went public with his diagnosis and ever since has been advocate to find a cure for the disease. Learn more about his efforts at the Michael J Fox Foundation

I took time to watch Fox’s acceptance speech for his award. Watching the speech I became overwhelmed with emotion. I was reminded of his optimism, compassion, and humor. I reflected on his career. I wondered what career had have been. Side note: My favorite movie of his is Doc Hollywood.

Mostly, I was reminded of my mother. Like Fox, in the early 90s, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I remember her optimism when Fox went public with his diagnosis. She was hopeful his money and star power would help find a cure in time for her. While the cure did not come in time for my mother, I remain hopeful that a cure will come in my lifetime. I am grateful for the attention Michael J Fox has given Parkinson’s Disease.

He ends his speech with the following words:

“Because my optimism is fueled by my gratitude. And with gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”

The challenge today is to be optimistic. We all have challenges but can we face them with the optimism of Michael J Fox? Use your gratitude to sustain your optimism for a better world.

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Day 21 Gratitude Challenge

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”

— Randy Pausch

Today the challenge is simple. Show gratitude towards others. Be conscious of saying thank you to others. Keep track of how many times you say it today. Pay attention to how people respond to your gratitude.

Also, be gentle with Viking fans. They might be a little sensitive today.

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Day 20 Gratitude Challenge

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

William Morris

I came across this quote yesterday and it resonated with me. We recently “remodeled” our home. Additionally, we refurnished the house. The result is what was old and aging has been revitalized. Our home looks and feels new.

As part of the remodeling process, we gave away and/or disposed of many things in our house. Furniture, clothes, papers, books, and knick-knacks were all disposed of. It was a liberating experience.

While getting rid of unnecessary things is liberating, it is also overwhelming. It is overwhelming because of the amount of stuff we have accumulated over two decades. Where do you start? What do you keep? What do you throw away? Can you repurpose it? Here is my advice, use the rule above. Is the item useful or beautiful? If not part ways.

The challenge today is to look around your living space. Notice the things that are beautiful and useful. Notice the things that are neither – and get rid of those things. Commit to getting rid of two things today. Dispose of two things tomorrow. Repeat until the above quote is a reality.

Be grateful for the beauty around you. I have included a picture of my dog on the new furniture. Beauty and usefulness in a picture!

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Day 19 – Gratitude Challenge

There is a current trend on Instagram asking people to post an old picture of you. If you don’t, you will have bad luck for two years. My life changed with a picture. The picture is at the top of this post. I remember taking the picture. It was a seasonably warm November day. The semester was wrapping up and I decided to teach a class in a hoodie. More importantly, I decided to memorialize the moment with a photograph.

Those that know me, know I like to take pictures. I have three primary cameras, a Nikon Z6, Canon PowerShot G7 Mark II, and my iPhone. Two years ago, I set up the Canon on a small tripod outside, used the remote photography feature through my phone, and snapped the photo. I posted the photo on social media with the following:

I’m teaching class today in my @augievolleyball hoodie Why?
1. Because I love the coaches and players
2. Because I can!
3. It’s a great day
4. My @augietennis hoodie is worn out
5. It’s the only Augie hoodie I have
6. My mom will probably appreciate a picture of me.

The post was intended to be lighthearted and funny. It was. But later that day I looked at the picture and said “Something has to change. I can’t be like this anymore.” For two years, I have been living healthier and happier.

Today I am grateful for at least two things. First, I am grateful for my interest in and the gift of photography. Photography captures moments. I love the moment I have captured over the years. Photographs serve as a reminder of the past. While one shouldn’t dwell on the past, it is entirely appropriate to reflect on the past. Second, I am grateful for the ability to change. One has the power to change. You just have to decide and act.

The challenge today, in addition to no complaining (remember day 1), is to ponder your hobbies or passions. Be grateful for those hobbies or passions. I love the stories pictures tell. So today, find an old photo of you and post it…or you might have two years of bad luck!

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Day 18 – Gratitude Challenge

I have to admit that yesterday was one of those days that got away from me. Not sure exactly what happened but I didn’t get everything thing I wanted done. I lost focus and a bit of motivation. While I was grateful, I didn’t do as well I hoped in keeping the list. Today I will do yesterday’s challenge again.

In addition, I will do the challenge scheduled for today which is to focus on the gift of life. So often we forget that merely being alive is a great gift.

Each day I get to spend with family, friends, and coworkers is an opportunity to live, laugh, and love. So today, take moments to live. Be grateful with each breath. Listen to your heart beat and be grateful. To live is the great adventure of all.

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Day 17 Gratitude Challenge

I was looking at the gratitude challenge post for this day from last year. Apparently the weather was extremely nice and I was able to take an hour long nature walk. Presently, it is 30° outside and falling. It is unlikely there will be a long nature walk today.

I cannot control the weather. Nor can I control most things that go on around me. I can control my response to things. Today I choose gratitude.

I am grateful for the gifts I have been given. I won’t list all of the gifts here. Throughout the day, I will keep a notebook handy and write things down for which I am grateful. At the end of the day, I will take a few minutes review the list and add to it. Then I will have a gratitude list that I can look at when I need to be reminded all that I have. I challenge you to do the same.

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Day 16 – Gratitude Challenge

In recent days, I had several conversations about people going through health challenges. Some of the issues are significant while others are relatively minor. These conversations are reminder of how delicate life can be.

I have a pretty good life health wise. I have relatively few major health issues. Some is due to luck. But over the last few years I have made health a priority. I am in reasonably good shape (though I hope to get in better shape). I try to walk at least 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) every day. Current streak is at 990 days. I eat fairly well. So, overall good health.

Today I am grateful for my health. Especially, this good health I presently enjoy. After I write this blog post, I am going to take my dog for a short walk outside. It’s 21 degrees but feels like 0 and is dark. I’ll try to be grateful that I can do this. maybe you can do something healthy today too. Take a walk. Eat a vegetable. Workout. Drink more water.

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Day 15 – Gratitude Challenge

Few will remember that he would have been a year older today. I am sad he no longer with us. But I am grateful for the 59+ years he was on earth. His life and his death have impacted my life beyond measure. My brother was special. Happy Birthday, Jeff! Thanks for letting blow out the candles.

Take time today to notice the people around you. Don’t just float through the day and mindlessly interact. Go out of your way to give compliments to people. Often, we have no idea what people may be going through. Maybe someone just lost a family member. Maybe someone just lost a job. Maybe they just ended a relationship. Your compliment may make all the difference today.

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Day 14- Gratitude Challenge

The other day someone asked me if writing this blog daily was difficult. I asked the person for clarification. “Don’t you run out of gratitude ideas?” My response was, “Absolutely not. In fact, it is the opposite. I only have 30 days and there is so much to be grateful for and ways to express it.”

Gratitude includes ideas, thoughts, words, and ideas that focus your mind on abundance. While I have a plan for each day, I sometimes alter the plan based on mood, world events, and Vikings football games. I worry that I will leave out important people, ideas, thoughts, and things in this challenge. For instance, today’s post will focus on a very specific group of people for whom I am deeply grateful. This doesn’t mean I am not grateful for others. If you are reading this, I am grateful for your support. Even if you don’t read this, I am grateful for you. If you made someone’s life better today, I am grateful for you. If you play for the Minnesota Vikings, I am grateful for you. Get the point?

But today is about special groups. I have been fortunate to have been a part of many special groups in my life. Today I want to focus on a group that has been a great source of support, joy, and pride over the last few years.

I started going to Augie Volleyball games many years ago when my youngest son was still in elementary school. It was a way to spend time with him and support my students. Over the years, my attendance became more frequent, I became somewhat of a super fan, and rarely missed a home game. I still have no idea what happens. I cannot tell the difference between a 6-2, 5-1, or 10-4 scheme. I don’t understand blocking or defensive schemes. But it is an exciting sport to watch. But I digress..

Four years ago, I agreed to teach a class that included freshman volleyball and soccer players. In my 16 years at Augustana, this was my favorite class. All the students in that class are amazing and have a special place in my heart (I hope they all read that sentence). All are going to do great things in this world.

However, the freshman volleyball players chose to take another class with me. In the class, I hoped to focus on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. I loved the students in the class. Notably, the class holds the record for the most pizza fines. However, it was my least favorite class ever for two reasons. First, the class was forced to “pivot” online at the beginning of the pandemic. Second, it was full of unnecessary academic oversight and bureaucracy. But again, I digress.

This gratitude post is about the Augie Volleyball team. They are an amazing group. I am particularly grateful for the six who were a part of the best and worst classes in my academic career. It is no coincidence that I was wearing an Augustana Volleyball hoodie when I made a decision to change my life two years ago. I am appreciative of how hard these players work both on and off the court. They inspire me. Three teammates will graduate this year. One will become a nurse, another is going into marketing, and one will transition into a management or marketing role. I can’t wait to see how they change the world.

Three of the original six will play another season (Covid gave students an extra year if they wanted). Yet, “the group” played their last game on Friday night. It wasn’t the result I hoped for. The night before, the team defeated the number 2 team in the nation in a five set thriller. It was the second time this season they beat a top-five team. When they played at their best, it was magical. Over the years, I have enjoyed all of the players and teams. But as discussed above, this team is special.

The picture attached to this post is serendipitous (or fate). As background, in recent years I have visited one of the first practices for many of the fall sports. When I stopped by volleyball this year, they were taking their team pictures. Both the photographer and the team suggested I pose with many of the players (the freshman were wondering who the heck is this old guy and why is he taking pictures with the team?) This picture is something I will cherish. I am so grateful for this program, the players, and the coaches involved.

The challenge today is to think about a special group of people (not your family). What makes this group special? Why are you grateful for this group? Reach out to all, most, or some of the group and express your gratitude.

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Day 13 Gratitude Challenge

“The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible.”

— James Clear

It’s been almost two weeks since we started. Have you noticed any difference in your your attitude? Are you happier? Are you more appreciative? Do people respond to your gratitude?

One of my goals is to make gratitude a habit. It would be great if everyone did but I can only change myself. Habits take time. But it isn’t hard to incorporate gratitude into your routine. If you have read and completed all the challenges so far, you are on your way to a habit.

Todays find time and reflect. Reflect upon the progress you have made since the beginning of the challenge. Be grateful for what has happened. Notice what is working? How have you changed? Are you complaining less? Focused on what you do rather than what others do? What didn’t work? How can you improve? Just as sports teams make adjustments at halftime, so should you. SKOL Vikings

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Day 12 – Gratitude Challenge

“The key to beating chatter isn’t to stop talking to yourself. The challenge is to figure out how to do so more effectively.”

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross

Words matter. The words you use influence your life. Think about your own internal dialog. What words do use? Are they positive? Inspiring? Negative? Consider the impact of asking better questions. If you ask empowering questions, you will receive empowering answers.

So today, focus on the language you use in speaking with yourself and others. Rather than asking “How are you today?” Ask “What is good today?” Ask “What are your grateful for today?” Ask “How can I solve this problem AND have fun doing it?”

Be creative with your language. Pay attention to the responses you receive. Also, no complaining and pay it forward.

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Day 11 – Gratitude Challenge

For many, today is a holiday. It is a day off from work. But it is, and should be, so much more. It is Veterans Day.

In 1926, Congress passed the following:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

Millions of people have served our country, including many I care deeply about. My grandfather, father, uncles, cousins, and many others have served. So today, I am grateful for the veterans, living and dead, who served our country honorably.

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Day 10 – Gratitude Challenge

As I suspected, my spouse did not read or comment on my blog post. It’s okay, she is not a social media person. She is busy with other things.

Yesterday was a long day but I did experience the joys of nature. When I woke up, the temperature was about 60 degrees which is unusual this time of year. Hence, I took nice morning walk with my dog. At the beginning of the walk it was dark and I enjoyed the stillness and quiet. Towards the end of the walk, it started to get lighter. As we returned home a couple of ducks flew by quacking about something. Throughout the day, when I had a moment, I thought about the beauty I see in nature everyday. Just thinking about it made me a bit happier.

The challenge today is simple. Today, commit a random AND anonymous act of kindness (or at least try to be anonymous). It is important to do nice things for others. This could be anything really. Put coins in an expired parking meter. Buy a strangers lunch or coffee. Send flowers to someone. Leave an encouraging note for a coworker Want some more ideas? See this list

Don’t forget, you can do todays challenge along with other previous challenges. Remember no complaining? Caught myself complaining on the way to work this morning. Finally, take time to notice how the actions make you feel. How did others react? Was it worth it? Have great day!

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Day 9 – Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday, after work I was talking with my spouse. She indicated she sent an encouraging note to a dear friend that was going through a challenge. I thanked her for reading my blog posts and taking action. She said “What do you mean?” After forcing her to read my Day 8 post, she exclaimed “This is exactly what a I did.” Long story short, I know few read my posts. This is okay. I am grateful for those that do. Better to help one than none.

Today the challenge is to focus on nature. Think about what is beautiful. Is it the sunrise? Sunset? Beach? Mountain? Trees? Find the beauty and think about it, smile, and be grateful. T

he picture at the top of this post is from a hike this summer. It was an amazing day. I will spend some time thinking about that today.

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Day 8 Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday was a success. I paid it forward at a local coffee shop. I didn’t make the impulse buy. I complained less than usual. College basketball is back on. It was a god day.

Today is Election Day. I am grateful the unnecessary mail, television ads, and door knocking will be reduced. While I am grateful for the opportunity to vote, I don’t like the negativity of the election cycle.

Recently, I was decluttering. This is a never ending process in my house. I found a letter written to my dad by a friend when my dad was in the hospital. The letter said “Please take good care of yourself and take it easy. We need a healthy Dr. Harris in South Dakota. I am grateful that you are on the mend.” I remember that illness. My dad almost died. I can only imagine the impact the letter I had on my father.

The challenge today is to put down your devices. Get off social media (after you read this) and take time to write a letter of gratitude to someone that has made a difference in your life. Then mail the letter Delivery by hand, interoffice mail, or carrier pigeon are acceptable methods too. Bonus points if you send more than one.

Not sure who is worthy of a note? Here is a possible list – grandparents, parents, spouse, child, sibling, coworker, mentor, teacher, professor, or candidate for public office (just have a dialogue change if we sent notes thanking candidates rather than throwing beer cans or attacking with hammers).

One final thought, do you want to take this challenge to the next level? Perform two of the previous challenges each day. Imagine how you will feel if you write a note, pay it forward, and do not complain all day. Imagine how others would respond if you did so. Imagine a better world.

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Day 7 Gratitude Challenge

First, full disclosure, I was traveling yesterday and forgot to pay it forward. It will happen today. Second, remember the challenge from Day 1? Try it again today. Third, tomorrow is Election Day in the US. It is your right and your duty to vote. Now on to the challenge….

Today the challenge asks you to resist the marketing. We are constantly asked to buy things through ads n television, radio, social media, websites, and print media. Today, don’t indulge. Don’t make that impulse buy. Instead, save the money or buy for someone else. Bring treats to your office. Take friend to lunch, coffee, or drinks. Focus on someone other than yourself.

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Day 4 – Cherished Memories

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Yesterday’s challenge called for one to live in the present with gratitude. Do not focus on the past for it is done. Do not dream about the $1.5 billion lottery I will win on Saturday. Imagine those gratitude posts! Live now with what is happening now. Enjoy the moment because it is here.

So what happened? Yesterday was hectic. I had several meetings that took more time than anticipated. Issues popped up throughout the day that we unexpected. And there was a funeral. A funeral of a friend who died too young. Trying to be present at a funeral is challenging. It puts perspective on everything. Life is precious. Each day is a gift. And we are so interconnected.

Today’s challenge requires us to focus on cherished memories. Rarely do we understand the value of experience until it has passed. Below, I outline a cherished memory.

In the late spring of 1996, I moved to a new community. One of the first people I met were young married couple about my age. We quickly hit it off and became friends. Less than a month after moving, this couple invited me to go golfing with them on a Saturday. They heard it was my birthday and wanted to make sure it was special. The course is a small tight nine-hole golf course with small greens. We played the first nine holes fairly quickly and decided to play another 9. As we came off the number 3 green, a golf cart driven by a young kid approached us with a note.

The note was for me. The note said “Paramedics called. Call your mom at home.” I jumped in the cart and rode back to the clubhouse (cellphones were not widely used yet). In the clubhouse, I called my mother and learned that my father had unexpectedly passed away.

I drove back to my friends and told them what happened. It’s an awkward moment when you tell friends your dad died. I suspect it’s worse when you are still in your 20s. The wife immediately gave me a big hug. The comfort and calm I felt with that hug was exactly what I needed at that moment. The husband hugged me too but we were 20 something guys and it was awkward..but he meant well. I don’t remember much after that except I left the golf course and drove 30 minutes to my mother’s house.

A few months later this couple would move to a different community. However, our lives would intersect many times. We eventually moved to the same community. We ran into each other at church, social events, and restaurants. Our oldest and their youngest went through confirmation together.

Every time I saw either of them, I remembered that day in 1996 when two people I barely knew, treated me with such care, compassion, and kindness when my father passed. I don’t think I ever thank them for their kindness. Yet, that moment on the golf course is one of my most cherished memories.

Unfortunately, Shannon passed away in March 2021. Yesterday, I went to Lee’s funeral. I hope that Shannon greeted Lee with a big hug when he passed. Both died too young but I will always have that memory of the moment on the golf course. I am grateful for that memory.

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Day 3 Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday, I took time to notice and appreciate the small things. I also strive to continue refraining from whining or complaining. How did I do? Better than day 1.

The first small thing I noticed was the temperature when I walked my dog before sunrise. The normal temperature this time of year ranges from 34° to 50°F. This morning it was 60° at 6am! Normally I like the cool and cold weather we get in winter. When you can walk your dog before the sun comes up wearing only a hoodie in November, this is a good thing. I took a few moments to gaze at the colorful vibrant sunset. Enjoyed my coffee in the morning and my tea at night. Watched part of the World Series. My team is not playing but watching reminded me of when they were. Finally, I shared a funny story with a friend I haven’t connected with in awhile. At the end of day, I felt better than day 1. The goal is not perfection but rather improvement. Be grateful for what is rather than what is not.

Which is a nice segue to todays challenge. Today you are to focus on the present. Be mindful. By mindful, I mean be aware. So today, be aware of what is happening. Do not focus on what has happened. Do not focus on what may happen. Be grateful for all that is today. At least three times today, stop what you are doing and be grateful for what is.

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Day 2 Gratitude Challenge

Remember the goal of Day 1? No whining? No complaining? Day 1 did not start off as hoped. Few things irritate me more than my morning commute. My commute is short (about 5 miles). On a good day, it takes about 15 minutes. Most days, it takes a little over 20 minutes. For many reasons (school zone, two construction zones, stoplights, heavy traffic), yesterday’s commute was longer in duration than usual. For most of the commute, I kept my cool, thought positive thoughts, and enjoyed the time alone. However, within a mile of work, a man in a pickup (which describes about 45% of the vehicles on the road) pulled a U-turn in front of me, parked in a no-parking zone, and severely limited traffic flow. After some choice words, I stopped myself. I admonished myself for the outburst as it violated the day’s goal. Upon arrival at work, I paused and refocused my efforts to be positive and not complain. Often merely interrupting your negative thoughts (complaining and whining) before they progress further is a victory. I was not perfect today, but I was better. I will try to do the same again today in addition to the challenge for the second day.  

Not knowing that she was preparing me for Day 2, I came home last night to my wife watching a fireplace on tv. It is a thing. We had a discussion about Norwegian Slow TV which was popular a few years back. After dinner, I put on a video of a slow train ride in Scotland. As the film progressed, we were struck by the overall beauty and began planning our next trip to Scotland. After a few minutes, we started to notice more little things. A deer running up a hill. The lack of authentic train noise. The train did not stop in some towns and we wondered why. We noticed the colors. In a short period of time, we were completely relaxed and in awe of all the wonder of the video. One of us became so relaxed she fell asleep!

The challenge for Day 2 is to notice and appreciate the little things. What is something you see or experience every day that you do not think about AND impacts your life in a positive way? Notice these things today and be grateful. Want to take your gratitude challenge to the next level? Take time at the end of the day to think about things you noticed, write them down, discuss them with a friend, or all the above. Have a wonderful day.

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Small Changes

“Think about the massive positive change that could occur in the world if we each did even the tiniest thing to make a difference every single day.” – Jen Sincero

Twenty-three months ago, I made a decision to change. I made a commitment to be healthier and happier. Most of the physical change occurred in the first four months. Since then, despite repeated efforts to change even more, I have mostly stayed within a 10 pound range. While I have maintained, I haven’t made significant movement towards my ultimate goal. This has been frustrating.

A recent instagram post by Adam Grant may have led to a breakthrough for me. He said, “When you’re committed to a goal, it’s motivating to lookahead at how far you have to go. Staring at the summit fuels grit. When doubt creeps in, you’re better off looking back at how far you’ve already come. Seeing your progress builds confidence and commitment.”

While these quotes can be inspriational, they do little good if you don’t put them into practice. Reading Grant’s words reminded me that early in this process, I was committed to a very specific goal. I started each day with a singular focus. Specifically, I spent the begining moments (about 15 minutes) of each day thinking about what needed to happen that day to move me towards my goal. I thought about what was going to happen that day, where I might be challenged, and how I might deal with the challenges. As I moved through the day, I adapted as necessary and tried to stick to the plan. Obviously, it worked.

Stated another way, speding about 1% of each day to focus on my goal correlated to a tremendous change. Likewise, when I stopped consistently spending 1% in focus, I did not make significant progress towards my goal. Today, I changed my schedule. I started the day with 15 minutes of focus on my goal. Stay tuned!

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Progress

As readers know, I have been on this lifestyle journey for nearly two years. While my life has improved immensely, there is work to be done. After a recent trip to the UK, my weight had crept up a bit. Time to back things up again. So, I resolved to lose the weight gained on the trip plus a few more pounds. I announced it here. I created a plan and implemented it. Here is the latest progress report.

Things are going okay but not as well as I hoped. When I started in November 2020, I had a strong why and a good plan. I and amazing early and consistent success. I had nearly total control of my schedule and meal planning. I also had a major event in the beginning which provided more motivation.

This time it is different. With a new job, I have less control over my schedule and meal planning. While I have a good plan, I have been inconsistent in execution. My successes have been followed by setbacks.

While I have a good why, it isn’t a great “why.” My weight loss goals feel more like a should than a must. It’s frustrating because last time, it seemed so easy. I should be more than halfway to my goal but I am not.

This week, I got frustrated which was good. Frustration can lead to failure of you let it. I chose to let the frustration provide motivation resolve. I recalibrated my plan. I recalibrated my why. I committed to excellent execution. The result is significant momentum towards my goal.

So here is the report, since my trip, my weight is down 7 pounds. While I still have several pounds to go, I achieved nearly 30% of my goal. Even if I only added 1% each day, I would reach my goal by Christmas. So this is good news which MUST be celebrated.

But I have to be honest, it is exhausting. Staying focused on this all day along with everything else is often overwhelming. I start running out of gas about 2:00 pm each day. By the time I get home after 5, there is little left to “fight the battle.” My will power is shot. My motivation is shot. I just want to sit, read, pet the dog, and/or watch mindless television.

Because I know the flesh is weak, I make sure there are NO unhealthy options available in my house. Every dinner is planned before the day begins. When I get home, I know what is for dinner and I make it (if it isn’t already made). For snacks, I have simplified it. I have at least one fruit and one vegetable available. My go to vegetable is carrots. For fruits it is either banana or grapes. I eat only this (and limit fruit and binge if needed on vegetable. There are no other snacks available. No chips. No ice cream. No crackers. This makes a huge difference.

So long story short, plan…plan…plan…plan and stick to the plan. Your plan must include options for disruptions. Also, don’t go for perfection but do go for excellence. Execute the plan as best you can.

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Momento Mori

Today is a day of reflection for me. Two years ago, I went to bed unaware my life was about to change. My oldest brother Jeff had tested positive for Covid-19 ten days prior. He was holding his own and showing mild symptoms. Many, myself included, thought he was going to survive. Yet, at around 2am, a police officer notified us that my brother had passed.

My brother was the 200th person in my state to die with Covid. As of this writing, the number of deaths is over 3,000. I don’t wish to argue about the pandemic. Rather, I want to talk about one of the things the pandemic taught me.

The pandemic taught me life is precious. It can be taken in a moment. The pandemic also reminded me that we are all mortal. We will all die. Towards that end, each day is important. It is important to embrace what life gives you each day.

So I close by asking a favor, before you go to bed tonight (and every night), tell those you love how much they mean to you. For if something should happen before you wake, let the final words be ones of love and gratitude.

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Listen to your body

I spent the last 10+ days focusing on my health goals. I have made a greater effort to listen to my body. Our body sends us all sort of signals. I often ignored the signals. The pain in my knee? I must have slept wrong. Irritability? It must have been something some one did to me. Sore throat? I must be taking a lot. Since I often eat when I am bored, I spend more time listening to the signals my body is providing. Below are three things I have observed.

First, my body does an excellent job telling me when it is hungry. Over the last 10 days, I often woke up feeling genuine hunger. When I snacked after dinner, I didn’t wake up hungry. Eating a proper breakfast of fruit, yogurt, or eggs, the hunger feeling goes away.

Second, my body gets irritated if I eat processed food with sodium. How does my body respond to this? I have a lot more inflammation in my hands and joints and hence some minor pain and discomfort. I retain water and feel bloated. My skin looks and feels terrible. I look older. Depending on the food, I get a stomach ache. These are some of the small things that I notice when I don’t treat my body right.

Third, when I make good food choice, I feel much better. Good food choices included eating plenty of fresh vegtables. A couple of servings of fruit to appease my sweet tooth. And finally, drinking at least 90 ounces of water every day. I sleep better and have more energy. My skin looks and feels better. I have less pain.

As I write this, I admit I am struggling to achieve my present weight loss. I have fluctuated in a four pound window but am down one pound since I started. So today, I am going to plan and prepare for my weekend. Build in flexibility and focus. Make sure the right foods are in the house. Resist boredom eating and drink enough water.

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Success & Setbacks

Full disclosure- I am a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. I have endured four Super Bowl and six straight NFC Championship game losses. I turned the tv off with three minutes left during the Minneapolis Miracle game. I couldn’t watch the Vikings lose again. I often turn the game off when I get “the feeling” it won’t go well. If you are a true Vikings fan, you understand “the feeling.”

So why do I write about the Vikings? Because there have been several times when I have stopped watching the game and the final score was not what I expected.

Much like a football game has ups and downs, so do weight loss and health. Life is not static. This week, I had some victories but also setbacks. It is easy to get discouraged by setbacks. This is why it is important to track what you do. When you track what you do, you begin to see patterns. The patterns often show why the set the back occurred. Did you give into temptation and eat the whole bag of Oreos? Did you get bored and just start snacking on what was available? Did you super size? Does the same thing happen at the same time every day?

I have two MAJOR challenge areas. First, after 6:30pm, I eat out of boredom. I’m not hungry yet I eat. This week I made a conscious effort to ask if am I hungry after 6:30pm. If I am, I eat some carrots (my go-to healthy choice) or drink a glass of water. Over the past couple of months, I didn’t make the good choice. I would eat the whole box of NutThins. This often made my spouse unhappy because they were purchased for her…and then I eat them all. I declare today, that I will not eat them anymore.

My second challenge area is the weekend. On the weekend, patterns and schedules break down. So does meal planning and tracking. This often offsets the positive progress of Monday-Friday. Amazingly, just two days of poor choices can cancel five days of good choices.

So, like a football game, I am adjusting my game plan. This weekend, I will track my food intake and plan my meals. I will make my health a priority. I’ll report back next week on how it went.

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The Battle is Rejoined

It all started with a picture. A picture of me I didn’t like. A picture that motivated a significant lifestyle change. The picture was taken 20 months ago.

Since the picture, I lost a lot of weight. Most of the weight came off in the first three months. Over the last 17 months, there has been a slight downward trend.

All of this is good. I am still 60+ pounds off my high. I have mostly maintained the weight loss (give or take 5 pounds). I am still walking every day (at least 10,000 steps per day for 899 days). Occasionally I jog. I eat healthier than before. I am still amazed by my progress and celebrate the progress I have made so far.

Yet, I want more. I have a new number and fitness level in mind. My new goal is 20 pounds lower (don’t worry – if I lose 20 more pounds, I will still be “overweight” according to CDC BMI guidelines). My new number is a good number. It will put me down 80 or two softener salt bags. My new number will also incorporate some more weight training to obtain a higher fitness level.

So I will blog about it in real-time this time. So I begin with my why:

First, I believe 20 pounds down will be a healthier and happier weight for me. Second, I want to lower my health risks. For further information, search “health risks of being overweight.” Third, I want to break the pattern. Both my fathers died in their mid-60s. (Note: Both ate poorly, smoked, drank, and got little exercise). Fifth, I want to see my children grow older. Finally, I promised my wife a trip in 2044. I need to be around for this.

So the battle is rejoined. 20 pounds or bust – or 20 pounds is a must. Let the fun begin!

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Scotland

Please accept my apologies, I started this post over a month ago. A lot has happened since then. Mostly, I started a new job and have been adjusting to a new work schedule. I do however digress to a discussion of my travel which ended almost two months ago. I also commit to regular posting (once or twice a week going forward). When we left off, I was leaving rural England for a new adventure – Scotland.

Scotland is kindness, respect and generosity. Scotland is determination, creativity and curiosity. We are castles, lochs and mountains. We are students, explorers, innovators. We are Scotland and good things live here.” Scotland was a new adventure. My spouse had never been to Scotland and the last time I was in Scotland, Gerald Ford was President. This was a new adventure.

While we did some research prior to going, this portion of the trip lacked our usual planning. We have admired Scotland from afar. We were attracted by Scotland’s history, culture, topography, and climate. Only during our trip did we learn of Outlander – which apparently is a big deal. Long story short, Scotland did not disappoint.

Prior to arriving, we asked several friends about Edinburgh. “Are you staying in Old Town or New Town?” I looked at a map and couldn’t really tell. Old Town dates back to medieval times and includes Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile and basically everything “up the hill.” New Town dates back to Georgian times (1714-1830s). To an American, both are old. Each parts are charming. Upon arrival, I learned we were based out of New Town at the Caledonian Hotel. The hotel is located at the base of Edinburgh Castle.

For a number of reasons, we decided to fly to Edinburgh rather than drive or take a train. Upon arrival, the airport was easy to navigate. While we planned to take a taxi to the hotel, we took the tram. For our next visit, we will most likely take a train from London or fly directly to Edinburgh.

We spent most of the first day acclimating to the city. We walked around New Town and eventually found our way to Old Town. Once in Old Town, we walked the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

This is the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh. The palace dates back to 1128. It was a wonderful palace to introduce us to Edinburgh. If you go, I highly recommend visiting.

Our second day in Scotland was the one I anticipated the most. It involved a bus tour from Edinburgh to St. Andrews and the opportunity to walk on the famous Old Course. We booked a tour with Rabbies Tours. It was a nicely done tour with stops in Anstruther, St. Andrews, and Faulkland. Each stop was unique.

Anstruther was a quaint coastal village with a small market along the street. The views of the Firth of Fourth were stunning.

St. Andrews was everything I thought it would be. I loved walking around the Old Course and crossing the Swilcon Bridge. We also walked around the main streets and the University of St. Andrews.

Faulkland has a lot of history and a very nice palace but we didn’t have enough time to enjoy the palace. Overall, a very good tour which was reasonably priced. The guide was friendly, funny, and knowledgeable. I thought this was going to be the highlight of our time in Scotland. It was an amazing day but it finished second.

Day 3 saw us taking a 20-minute taxi ride to the west side of the Pentland Hills Regional Park at the car park near the Threipmuir Reservoir. We had no idea what we were doing, where were going, or how we would get back to Edinburgh. It was the best day of our travels. Arguably, this was the best day of the trip. We walked around the Threipmuir Reservoir, up and around Black Hill, and through the Green Cleugh (missing Bavlev Castle).

This took us to the Howe, by Howlett’s house, and along Loganeia Reservoir while looking at the east side of Black Hill and the west side of Carnethy Hill. We continued along the Logan Burn by the Glencorse Reservoir eventually making our way to the Floterstone Inn where I had a couple of pints.

Conveniently there was a bus stop at the Floterstone Inn and we took the bus back to Edinburgh. There are few words to use to describe this 3 – 4 hour hike. It was amazing. If you get to Edinburgh and you like to walk in nature, go to Pentland Hills Regional Park.

On the fourth day, we spent some time shopping in the morning. We walked from our hotel along Princes Street towards the Waverley Train station. We stopped in several stores before arriving at St. James Quarter. If you get to Edinburgh, I recommend you check this place out. If you can’t find what you want here, it probably isn’t available in Scotland. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we didn’t have much time to shop as we had an afternoon admission time at Edinburgh Castle.

As we approached the castle, you feel the energy. There were many people on the Royal Mile and even more as we approached the castle entrance. If you come to Edinburgh, you must visit the castle. It is the heart of the city. It sits atop a hill overlooking the town. Parts of the castle are nearly 1000 years old. I would advise booking the first time available for entrance to minimize the impact of the crowds. I loved the history and the views on our tour. St. Margret’s Chapel is small but amazing.

The Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny a must-see for history buffs. Yet, there were parts I did not like. I did not like the crowds. There were too many people. Further, the castle, like many of the historical sites in the United Kingdom (and elsewhere), has been Disnified. Further, they are not allowing guided tours so you are left to your map or your audio guides (perhaps someday I will write how audio guides are destroying historical places and ruining the experience). Yet, overall, this is a must-see. Read about it before you go and go early.

Our final full day in Edinburgh was a long wandering day, we left our hotel, walked down up to the Royal Mile, and eventually to the trailhead of Arthur’s Seat. The climb up Arthur’s Seat was challenging but doable (be sure to bring good footwear, water, and a walking stick). It takes 45-60 minutes to get to the top. Be sure to stop by the St. Anthony’s Chapel Ruins on the way up (or down). If you go early, there are fewer people. We saw more people going down than on the way up.

On the way down, we diverted away from people towards the Dunsapie Loch and along Queen’s Drive. Upon arriving at St. Margaret’s Loch, we diverted heading towards the Firth of Fourth and stopped at BabaRista for some refreshments and rest. We continued towards the water and walked around Portobello Beach. At this point, we decided we were tired. Against our better judgment, we decided to walk the 4+ miles back to our hotel.

On the way back, we needed rest again and stumbled upon the Scottish Parliament. An eclectically modern building, it had the cleanest bathrooms of the trip.

It was fun to learn about the government and walk through the building. While they were debating the issues of the day, we elected for a quick bite to eat and walked back to the hotel. My app tells me we walked 18.4 miles that day.

For most of our stay in Scotland, the weather was amazing. Clear to partly cloudy with temperatures in the upper fifties to mid-sixties. This all ended on the day we left. While the temperature remained about the same, the skies opened up and it rained. Perhaps Scotland was crying because we were leaving. We traveled from the hotel to the airport and flew to London Heathrow where our next adventure would begin.

To wrap up our trip, we took covid tests at Heathrow and ventured to our hotel which was located at the airport. We had a nice meal in the restaurant, watch the sunset from the rooftop bar, and went to bed.

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London Times

And so our time in London is done. In a short few days, we visited the birth place of Elizabeth I (Greenwich) and her death place (Richmond). The palaces are long gone but the cities are amazing. We visited the Richmond Green (including the Ted Lasso pub) and toured Kew Gardens. We experienced various pubs (Stage Door, Queens Head, Princes Head, Coach and Horses). We ate amazing food (Thames Eatery, Brasserie Zedel, Arch Duke, The Ivy, Colbert, and St James Cafe). We ran into friends from home. We walked and walked and walked (averaged about 10 miles per day). We observed a city prepared to celebrate Elizabeth II. It is her platinum jubilee 70 years on the throne.

London remains an amazing vibrant city but it has changed. In the future, I will write more about how London has changed since pandemic and Brexit. For now, we travel outside of London to visit dear friends we have not seen since before the pandemic.

“Happiness is a good flow of life.” – Zeno

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Homecomings

My father was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He grew up in Aberdeen shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. My grandparents lived in Aberdeen for most (if not all) of their 50+ years of marriage. Both my grandparents and several relatives are buried in Aberdeen. Growing up, I visited Aberdeen a few times a year to visit my grandparents. When I think of Aberdeen, I think of family.

So why do I talk of Aberdeen? Is it because I want my readers to know about the third largest city in South Dakota? Not really but be curious and click the link above to learn more. Is it because I am feeling sentimental about life and reflecting upon all that is good? Perhaps. Is it because next week I will be in Scotland near Aberdeen, Scotland? No, but I will be in Scotland next week and will blog about it.

So why Aberdeen? Why now? Bear with the story for moment. About 18 months ago, I made the decision to transition out of higher education. As I researched career transition option, I considered many industries where I could utilize my skills. For many reasons, I focused much of my attention toward the trust industry. The trust industry has a strong presence on South Dakota due to favorable laws.

With that, I am extremely excited to announce that I have a accepted a position with Dacotah Bank in Sioux Falls as Trust and Wealth Advisor. So how does this tie into Aberdeen? Dacotah Bank was founded in Aberdeen. So, in many ways, this job is a homecoming for my family.

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Transitions

At the top of this post, is a picture of a place that was a sanctuary during the pandemic. It is approximately a 2-mile walk from my home. I would come here and look at the flowers, the gazebo, and the trees. I would ponder life and meditate. Today, I came here to do the same. I wanted to teach a class here but never did.

A little over a week ago, I gave my last lecture. Today will be my last class session. In lieu of a final exam, we will watch student-made videos and say goodbye.

This will be one of many transitions that will take place in the coming days. Seniors will be graduating from the institution I have loved for the past 16 years. Most will move into jobs and careers while others will matriculate to graduate school. Those not graduating will transition out of the dorms to home or other summer living arrangements. Many will transition from school to summer work and/or internships. And finally, many students and colleagues will transition out of Augustana into another phase of life (retirement, another school, work).

For me, I will continue my life change. I am moving out of academia back into the private sector (decisions will be made tomorrow). Next week, I will move back into our remodeled home. I will travel to see friends and places not seen for a couple of years (and a few new ones). My wife will transition to one year older and I will follow if a few weeks.

Today, I am pondering all of those transitions and wishing my students and colleagues the best. I hope we can remain connected but I understand that often life takes us in different directions.

I’m not attending any of the graduation festivities this weekend and my office is clean. When I leave Augustana today, it will be the last time as faculty. In the past, I often wondered how I would feel on this day. Joy? Sadness? Relief? Excitement? Mixed emotions? As I sit here on the bench looking at the gazebo, I have the answer. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Harris out.

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The Last Lecture

Today I will give my final lecture at Augustana. After 16 years, it is time to move on. I am not the same person who began teaching 16 years ago nor is Augustana the same institution it was 16 years ago. This is neither good nor bad. Change happens.

In recent weeks, I have thought a lot about my final semester and my final days as a professor. Last night I watched much of Randy Pausch’s last lecture.  (I watched the entire short version (here is the short version) At a minimum, you should watch the short version (10 minutes). If you are curious, you would watch the long version (approximately 85 minutes).

In class today, I will talk about intellectual property and criminal law. I will talk about the value of brand and ideas. It won’t be perfect but there were a few stories. I hope the students learn. I have always hoped they learned.

Yet I don’t want my last lecture to be about Cody the Cow. I wanted my last words at Augie to be more. Though I wasn’t asked to give the last lecture, I prepared one anyway.  I might even record it and put it up. I give this last lecture to and for my students, my colleagues, and anyone else who cares to listen. My title is “Believe, Be Curious, and Let It Be.

So please imagine I was delivering this lecture to all of my students in person.

Thank you for coming to my last lecture. I hope you enjoy it and take something away from it. To my students, you have taught me more than you will ever know. You have taught me patience, humility, clarity, compassion, and gratitude. You have taught me to ask questions before jumping to conclusions. You taught to me think the best of people. I have not been perfect and made mistakes. I have tried to hold you accountable while showing compassion.

I hope that I have taught you something in our time together. Mostly, I hope I taught you to believe.  Believe in yourself. Believe in others. Believe in your dreams. Believe you can be better and do more. I know life is tiring and you will need to rest. Rest if you must but don’t stop believing. If you could just believe in yourself as much as I believe in you – Oh, the places you will go and the things you will do. You have no idea what you are capable of achieving unless you believe.

Think about it for a moment. If I can graduate from law school, pass the bar exam, argue a case before the South Dakota Supreme Court two years after law school graduation, become a college professor, lose 60 pounds in 4 months, and walk at least 10,000 steps every day for over two years, you can do anything.

So, do us all a favor and set your goals high and work towards them every day. Believe you can do it and go for it. I believe you can do it.  Do you?

Next, I want you to be curious. Ever spent any time with a 6-year-old? Many six-year-olds are curious. They are constantly asking questions. They want to learn for the sake of learning. They aren’t angling for a grade, a job, a promotion, a raise, or fame. They just want to know!

As an undergraduate student, I was not very curious. Like many of you, I took classes to check a box as a requirement for graduation. I simply wanted to pass the class and move on. I didn’t give much thought to why the class was required or how it could help me in life. Just give me my C and move on because Cs get degrees!

I wish I would have taken the time to think about things and be curious. Ask questions. Look for solutions to the hard problems. Listen to others. What you can learn by just listening. Read books for fun. Travel frequently and to new places. Explore where you live. Find Walt Disney’s signature on the Augie campus and tell others to do the same.

Please spend part of each day growing your mind and learning something new. Read an article in a newspaper, magazine, or website. Read a chapter in a book.  Listen to a podcast or take a MOOC. Talk to an “expert.”  Ask questions. Explore nature.

Change and innovation happen through curiosity (along with hard work, luck, and failure). Innovation happens when a curious person asks, “Is there a better way to build a mousetrap?”, “Do we need a mousetrap?”, or “Perhaps mice are beneficial and shouldn’t be trapped?” Questions are powerful. Curiosity is powerful. You are powerful. Use your power for good.

Finally, accept things for what they are. One of my favorite Beatles songs is “Let It Be.” The melody is simple yet wonderful. The lyrics provide one of life’s best lessons. 

Here is a verse – And in my hour of darkness, She is standing right in front of me, Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.

In life, there are challenges.  There are moments, days, weeks, and months that do not go your way. This is part of life. Most of this will not be within your control. But roll with the punches. Get knocked down 7 times and get up 8. Keep moving forward.

There is very little in life you can control. You can control what you eat, drink, and wear (with some limitations). Mostly, you can control your thoughts and reactions.  Beyond that, it is out of your control. So, whatever happens, don’t label it good or bad – just let it be.

To those that have been a part of this journey over the last 16+ years, from the bottom of my heart thank you. You have all given me more than I could have imagined. While I am sad that I am leaving, I am so excited about my next chapter. Life is an adventure and a journey. Enjoy the ride. 

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Gratitude

I try to live each day in gratitude. Some days are more challenging than others. Finding something to be grateful for improves my mood and attitude. When grateful, I am a better husband, father, friend, and person. Gratitude provides balance is in an uncertain world.

As many of you know, I like to take pictures. I first began taking pictures when I was younger (4th grade). I particularly enjoy taking pictures at athletic events. This was inspired by reading Sports Illustrated. I was always fascinated by the pictures of athletes in action.

About six years ago, I began taking pictures of my youngest son. I did this primarily for me – to calm my nerves while he played. Then I began taking pictures of his teammates and other players I knew. I would share these pictures with the players and their parents. Most seemed very appreciative. While it took hours to process the photographs, the gratitude that I felt in sharing it with others was worth of work.

I eventually branched out and began taking pictures of student-athletes at the University where I teach. I would share these pictures on social media and with the players. I didn’t do this to receive praise. Rather, I enjoyed taking the pictures and I enjoyed giving to the students. Student-athlete work so hard and get so little attention. (Note: My University is a Division II University not a top tier D1).

Last night, I was invited to attend the spirit squad season ending showcase event at my university. (I would’ve gone even if nobody had asked because several members of the spirit squad are students of mine and deserve faculty support.) It was a wonderful and fun event full of dance, cheer, and happiness. And of course, I brought my camera and took over 1000 pictures. I’m still processing them but some are posted on my Instagram and Facebook page. I’ll work on some more tonight.

Midway through the event, I was asked to come down to the floor. While they were initial hopes that I would become “a flyer” it was not to be. Rather, I was called to be recognized by the squad for my support of them. The certificate of appreciation states gratitude for my “continuous support, your genuine excitement and appreciation of our skills and talents and for capturing those moments on film.” There were other kind words spoken and the spirit squad cheered for me. What an honor.

So today, it’s easy to find my gratitude. I’m grateful for the spirit squad at my university and my students. I often forget how busy their lives are. I often forget how hard they have to work outside of the classroom. And many of these students receive very little recognition or support. I hope that my taking pictures and sharing helps them feel recognized, supported, and appreciated.

Take time today to be grateful for one thing and share your gratitude with others.

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Look in the box

Warning – This post has little relationship to the purpose of this blog. As many may know, we are doing some remodeling in our home. This has required us to temporarily move out to another location. Because we have lived in the same house for nearly 18 years, moving out has been quite a task. We have accumulated a massive amount of stuff, junk, trinkets, Knick-knacks, and memories while in this home.

Preparing for the remodel has required us make decisions about the “stuff.” Yesterday, as we were finishing cleaning out the house, my wife asked me to “take care” of a box on a shelf in our closet. I gave her a quizzical look and said “Are you sure that’s my box?” After a couple of eye rolls and sighs, she informed me it was my box. She also let me know that that box has been bothering her for years. For once, I said nothing back.

I approached this with excitement. A potential adventure if you will. For nearly 18 years, I had no idea this was “my” box. What was I going to find in “my” box? It was like opening an 18 year old time capsule!

With the help of chair, I carefully lifted the box off the top shelf in a closet. It was covered in layers of dust. No doubt this box had been the shelf for 18 years. I carefully lowed the box to the floor because it could have delicate treasure. Perhaps something from our wedding. Or maybe romantic cards we had sent to each other when dating.

Then I open the lid to reveal the treasure. First, I found a shower curtain I purchased at Grand Hotel. We went there won our honeymoon and have returned many times since. The picture above is from the first time our family went there together. I highly recommend you go.

Back to “my” treasure trove box. After carefully removing the shower curtain, my eyes couldn’t believe what I saw. The box, which was a bankers box, was full of ….. bank statements. All of bank statements predated my marriage. The statements were in banded together by year in chronological order. The most recent bank statement noted was from March 2001.

This was all that was in the box. A shower curtain and bank statements from my “Independent Jason” days. Clearly, this was worth the wait.

Yet, as I have thought about it, something can be learned. Perhaps there is something you have been keeping that you need to let go. Is there a box on your shelf? Take some time today to unpack the old box and get rid of the stuff you don’t need.

PS – When I told my wife what was in the box, I started with the bank statements – another eye roll was seen. Then I mentioned the shower curtain. My wife wants the shower curtain form the apartment. Sorry, it was in “my” box.

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Remembering Jessica

It’s been almost 20 years, yet I remember her. Some people impact your life in ways you can’t imagine.

Early in my career, I volunteered for Junior Achievement. I was assigned a first-grade classroom at one of the economically challenged schools in my community. I met five times with the class to deliver the required curriculum which included discussion of community, family, and education. I was asked to give the students a small gift at the end of the class. After much thought, I decided to give the students a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble. At the time, I had no idea that most of the students had never owned a book or knew Barnes and Noble existed. Their teacher would arrange for a “field trip” to Barnes and Noble so students could pick out their books.

On a couple of occasions, I met the class and helped the students pick out their books. To see their joy and excitement was amazing. Many struggled with their decisions. I told them they could band together with several picking a book in a series and promising to trade the books as they read them. In the end, we all posed for a picture. The students would depart and our paths would never cross again.

One of those pictures is part of this post. I have circled one of the students. Her name was Jessica. With every visit to her classroom, she greeted me with a beaming smile and A LOT of questions. Questions about what I did for a living. Where was my office? Was I married? Did I have kids? What were my kids like? Did I want to see her latest art project? A couple of times her teacher reminded Jessica that I was there for all the students to learn. And when I would leave the class all of the students would say goodbye and give me a hug. Jessica wanted to be the last one.

I never saw Jessica again after that day at Barnes and Noble. She did write a thank you note for her book. Yet, a year later she was in the news. I only knew her by her first name. When I went back to the same classroom with the same teacher, she pulled me aside and told me the news. Jessica had been murdered. She would be 26 if still alive. I think of Jessica often. I think of her curiosity. I wonder what could have been. I had no idea that this precocious, curious, and kinds child would be a part of me forever. I post this today because today is the anniversary of her death.

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Spring and hope

In season one of the hit series Ted Lasso, the main character gives a locker room talk about hope. My take away is hope sustains us and gives us reason to move forward. Hope gives us reason to believe that things are possible.

Yesterday, while spending too much time on social media, I found a picture of the “first bloom” of our state flower. The picture is above.

The picture triggered a flood of thoughts and emotions. Instantly, I was transported to my hometown. I was reminded of the joy that spring flowers bring. The beauty of the lavender, yellow and green tones against the brown pine needles are stunning. It has been many years since I have seen this bloom. I would love to see it again.

The picture reminded me of the hope that spring brings. Winter in South Dakota can be harsh. It often teases you by warming up for brief periods in February and March only to get cold and snowing again. There is very little color present. But slowly, The colors begin to emerge. And with the reemergence of color comes hope.

Finally, I was reminded of my mother. When I was a young child I would go outside of our house to pick several of these flowers and make a spring bouquet for my mother. She always acted like it was the best gift she had ever received. The flowers would quickly die and wither. I would pick another bouquet. (I note it is illegal to pick the state flower on public property).

So on this first day of April when many play jokes on each other, take time to be hopeful because spring is here and new opportunities occur.

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Persist and Stay in the game

It’s that time of year when many Americans turn their attention to college basketball. The NCAA has done an amazing job in promoting and branding the March Madness tournament (AND FINALLY ALLOWING WOMEN TO USE THE BRAND). There will be millions of brackets filled out and busted (Kentucky, Iowa).

I write this short post to remind people to stay in the game. Don’t quit. If you focus on the result you want, it will become your reality.

Last night, the Creighton University mens basketball team was down by 9 points with 2:29 left in the game. The team chipped away and tied the game at regulation to send the game into overtime. Down by two in overtime with 2:42 left, one of Creighton’s best player suffered an injury and left the game. Seconds later, another key player fouled out. Through persistence, belief, and teamwork, Creighton won the game 72-69.

This reminds me to persist and stay in the game. I will never achieve my goals if I stop trying. Each day I do something to move towards my goals. Persist. If I have a set back, I make adjustments and always keep moving towards my goals. Persist. Have a great weekend. Watch some basketball and move towards your goals.

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St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He is often credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland and bringing Christianity to Ireland. Note: According to at least one article, there weren’t any snakes in Ireland – so his act may not be all that impressive. Nonetheless, today, March 17, is the day the Irish (and many who claim to be Irish, wish they were Irish, know an Irish person, or hope someday to go to Ireland) celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. While it was originally a religious feast, it has become secular celebration founded by Irish immigrants in America. Simply put, it’s a big deal and it is a big party.

People all over American celebrate this day. There are parades, green beer, green rivers, and lots of fun. My mom was 1/2 Irish and raised Catholic. She loved St. Patrick’s Day and she loved a big party.

Do you know why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today? Why March 17? Was he born on this day? No. Is this the day he introduced Christianity to Ireland? No. Is this the day he drove the snakes out? No. We celebrate this day because it is believed he died on March 17, 461.

I’m not a huge fan of this day. It is a day I will never forget. I was headed out to work when the phone rang (this was back in the days when people had landlines). My wife answered the phone. She quickly made eye contact, mumbled some words into the phone, and held up her hand indicating I needed to stop. Being the ever obedient husband, I stopped. A blank look came over her face. I asked who was on the phone. She said, “It was the nursing home. She said your mom isn’t doing well and you should get there soon.”

My mother had been in the nursing home for a couple of weeks. She was recovering from surgery to repair a broken hip. Additionally, she had Parkinson’s Disease. She was no longer the smiling and engeretic person she once was. For 13 years, Parkinson’s Disease had ravaged her body and her mind. We knew the end was near.

I drove quickly to the nursing home. When I walked into her room, I immediately noticed what she was wearing. She wore a very bright multicolored sweater. If you knew my mother, this sweater matched her personality perfectly. My mom had picked the sweater to wear. It was the perfect sweater for her to wear to big party. I think she knew.

Also in the room was a nurse. The nurse said my mom was having problems breathing. My mom was laying in her bed. I sat down next to her. I held her hand and let her know I was there. And then, it happened. All the stress and tension that Parkinson’s Disease had put in her body went away. My mom’s Parkinson’s mask disappeared. She was so peaceful and relaxed. I had not seen her that way in years. I felt a warm rush of calm serentiy fill the room. But then it hit me, my mother had passed away. She was gone and just like St. Patrick, it was March 17.

I kept the sweater and found it again the other day. It reminded me of what a bright star my mom was. It is pictured in this post. So as you celebrate your Irish heritage today, raise a glass to honor my mother, raise a glass to honor your mother, and raise a glass to honor St. Patrick.

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Gratitude and Identity

This will be a short post. Today I am feeling extremely grateful. As background, many of you know I have been a professor at a university for the last 15+ years. A perk of the job is free admission to most of the sports and cultural events. For the past 15 years, I have attended most of the home basketball games. In the early years, I took my sons with me. It was a wonderful father-son experience. In the later years, I went alone. My children grew up and became busy with other things. To watch this program grow from mediocre to excellent (Division II National Champions 2016), has been an incredible experience. It has been fun to get to know the coaches, the players and the fans.

Over the last few days, this program has hosted the regional NCAA basketball tournament. The team won its first two games to advance to the regional final (Sweet 16). Last night the team played on its homecourt with a chance to advance to the Elite 8. It was an amazing game between two excellent teams. The arena was full, people were cheering, pep bands were playing and spirit squads were dancing, cheering and stunting. “My” team did not win. It is not the result I desired. For seven seniors, their college basketball careers end.

But here is the thing, even though it wasn’t the end result I wanted, I am so happy today. I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for this season and all the previous ones. I am grateful for each of the coaches and players I have interacted with over the years. I am grateful for the experience of the last four days. To see the players, the coaches, the spirit squad, the students, the band, and the fans come together for a couple of hours was wonderful. It is something I have not felt since before the pandemic. So today, I am grateful for all that is the Augustana Basketball program. I am grateful for all who make it fantastic. While it is no longer my identity, it is a major part of who I am. What are you are you grateful for today?

Weekend Musings

This past week was one of corporate Christmas celebrations (i.e. an introvert nightmare). I had four Christmas parties, three work lunches, and big weekend plans.

While my eating (grazing) at the Christmas parties was poor, I continue to make exercise a priority. My morning walk (outside or on the treadmill) has become my sanctuary. During this time, I think, observe, read, listen, or exist for a few moments every day. It frees my mind and gets me ready for the day. The specific way I use this time varies. Sometimes I reflect a n what has happened. Other times plan and/or strategize my day, week, or month. I always spend a portion of the time in gratitude. At the end, I am ready to take on the day.

To be honest, today has already been tumultuous. I wasn’t supposed to get moments on the treadmill today but I did. These moments walking in solitude allow me to refocus so I can attack the day. Today I am ready.

In closing, the experts said it will snow a couple of inches last night. The experts missed the mark. It happens. So today we adapt, adjust, and enjoy the gifts we have been given. Enjoy the weekend.

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