Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In honor of teachers and students

The unspeakable tragedy at an elementary school far away has caused me to consider today’s post in a different light. I was going to write about the newfound appreciation and respect I have for public school teachers now that two young women in my family have joined the ranks of the teaching profession. I was going to write about a program I’ve become involved with, tutoring first grade students who need a little extra help developing reading and math skills. And I was going to encourage those who read this blog to find a way to volunteer at a local school.

Compared to the ongoing challenges facing the students and teachers at Sandy Hook, niece Kelsey’s overwhelming task of teaching students with learning disabilities in the Milwaukee Public School District seems inconsequential. Stepdaughter Katie’s colossal effort to teach language arts to seventh graders in Denver seems diminished by the actions of teachers and staff in Connecticut who gave their lives to protect their beloved students.

The contributions of more than 400 volunteers in the Appleton School District, tutoring first grade students as part of the United Reading for Success Program and helping them improve their reading (and math) skills, pales as the names and faces of 20 precious first graders I never even met are locked in my brain foreverchildren who will never read another book, graduate from the sixth grade, play high school sports …

Wondering how to make sense of any of this—and it will never make sense to me—a journalist I have long admired provided an idea for moving forward. “Imagine if all of us committed to 20 acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown?” Ann Curry tweeted.  Her question took on a life of its own, with the hashtag #20Acts.

Considering that we are just days before Christmas, a time when so many of us are looking for ways to celebrate the season’s true meaning, the #20Acts movement has given me the push to “pay it forward” with random acts of kindness for the teachers like Kelsey and Katie, and also for students like the Horizons Elementary School first graders who read with me each week, in the name of the Sandy Hook students and teachers who will never know how many lives they have touched.

If you are able, maybe you can do something similar.  And, if you like the idea, forward this post and share it with your friends and family.  In the overused but under-appreciated words of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
How great would our world be if random acts of kindness replaced the random violence that fills our news?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sunday Brunch

Last month when the Packers hosted the Cardinals at Lambeau Field, we went looking for a Green Bay brunch—a place where we could meet up with others headed to the game, have a great pre-game meal and maybe a Bloody Mary to wash it down.

White Dog Black Cat serves up my kind of Sunday brunch.

A funky, casual place where folks dressed for a football game will feel at home, White Dog Black Cat, 201 S. Broadway, is not too far away but just far enough from Lambeau’s pregame circus. No worries about getting caught in traffic.

Owners Holly and Cory have gone out of their way to make the place warm and welcoming—Holly’s artistic flair is on display inside and out—and the food tastes like it came from Mom’s kitchen but with an added helping of creativity.

Always up for trying something new and a connoisseur of eggs Benedict, I gave Chef Cory’s Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict a try.  Served up on cornbread with spicy hollandaise, this ain’t your mama’s eggs Benedict, and it hit the spot perfectly.

Those who lean toward the sweet side of things will want to try the Stuffed French Toast, thick bread stuffed with gooey cream cheese and strawberries.  Our friends went with the Frittatas. The portions were Wisconsin-sized—WDBC is definitely worth a day off the diet— the service was friendly and quick, and did I mention the Bloody Marys?

With names like Bubba, Badger, Hometown, Pot O’ Gold and Tiqler, and featuring both traditional and non-traditional Bloody Mary recipes, our group ordered one of each and we tasted them all. (It’s a close group.)

No one was disappointed. In fact, I’m heading back for dinner this week as we begin a slate of holiday get-togethers. WDBC Sunday brunch was as good as I’ve had anywhere, and that includes a few white tablecloth, upscale, urban establishments.  If you’re partial to fun and funky, and you like creative home cooking, you’ll love WDBC.

201 S. Broadway, Green Bay, WI, 54303

Monday, November 26, 2012

Giving thanks for great customer service.

Welcome to Neenah, Festival Foods
A new Festival Foods opened in our neighborhood a few days ago. In the scheme of things a new grocery store isn’t exactly a big deal, but I’ve been whining about the lack of a nice grocery store since we moved to the west side of the Fox Cities a year ago.

Festival is a family-owned grocery chain operating a dozen or so stores across Wisconsin. Its employees seem to take genuine pride in their stores, they want their customers to enjoy not just the groceries, but also the grocery shopping experience, and they want their customers to return.

Imagine that.

It’s time for a competitor sitting just a couple of blocks away from the new store to wake up and smell the coffee. As the construction of the Festival store progressed, the competitor’s shelves were often out of stock or stocked with products well past their expiration date, the store was frequently dirty in appearance, and employees didn’t seem to notice—or care—if customers walked through the doors.

Of course, they’ll try to clean things up now that the new store is open, and I suppose there will be special bargains intending to lure us away from the shiny Festival store, but for many of their customers—including me—it’s too late. We’ll never return.

And here’s what I don’t understand. Even if you don’t like your job, where’s the harm in trying to help someone? Or in letting management know that customers have concerns? Or in making the best out of a bad situation? Isn’t doing a good job always more satisfying than not?

I know that in this economy, keeping the quality-to-service ratio in balance can be a challenge. And I get the fact that most businesses today are doing more with less. But it seems that’s all the more reason for those who are fortunate enough to be in business and to have jobs to at least try and meet the needs of the customers who are paying the bills.

At my husband’s company, a new employee began work today. Always wanting to make a good first impression, the company began the process of preparing for her arrival weeks ago. Office furniture, a telephone, and a computer were ordered for her new office and with each email or phone call to a vendor, the company discovered that its service expectations were unrealistic. No phone. No computer. No furniture. Not for several weeks.*

In this challenging economy when hiring is slow and spending is down, how can it be that some companies are taking their customer relationships for granted? Why aren’t they rolling up their sleeves and making sure that today’s loyal customer stays that way? Why do they behave as if customers have no alternatives?

There is a bagel shop in Green Bay that I patronized for years. The service is always slow and the employees are often more focused on each other than their customers, but the bagels are better than any I’ve had in Wisconsin. I’ve been known to wait in line for 20 minutes or more because, if I want a first-rate bagel, there are none better. Said another way, the quality is so good that I am willing to give up on service.

Most of the time, we do have choices and we don't have to give up on service. We can pick up an identical computer at an electronics store or order it online, and, if necessary, we can even take the time to install it ourselves. We can buy our groceries at the giant big-box retail store or try the new meat market that recently opened down the road. As consumers, we still get to decide where we spend our hard-earned dollars, and “earning” our business should be the norm.

Especially in times like these, we should choose carefully and reward exceptional service.

*Update:  After indicating that timely delivery and installation of the phone and computer were not possible, and after strained conversations with the unhappy customer, I am pleased to report that the phone and computer arrived just in time.   They’re still waiting for furniture ...

A special note to my friends who have been reading this blog: Please try posting a comment, even if it's a "test". (I won't publish test comments.) If you experience problems please send an email to sor@uncommoncomms.com and let me know what happened? I very much want to encourage community conversation and interaction, and if the tool's "broke" I need to fix it!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2.0: Beginning Again

When I began my professional life in 1979, just one week after graduating from UW-Oshkosh, I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to work at a local radio station, to bring news of what was happening in our community to the station’s listeners, and to provide those listeners with an opportunity to share information and ideas for making our community an even better place to live.

What I didn’t envision was that this part of Wisconsin—what I think of as the state’s beating heart—would become my forever home. Through the years, my professional travels took me to big cities and small towns across the United States, I’ve changed careers more than once, traveled just for fun, met some amazing people and made great friends along the way, fallen in love and married, and, still, I am here in Northeast Wisconsin and loving every minute of it. (Yes, I know winter is headed our way.)

Thinking about all of this in the past few weeks led to a re-evaluation of what I am doing in this space. While I care deeply for many who read these musings from far away, I plan to sharpen my focus and to write about those things that shape life along the river from Green Bay to Lake Winnebago. It won’t necessarily be an attempt to cover the news—there are plenty of people doing that—but I hope it will be an opportunity to shine a light on so many of the things that don’t make the news.  It might become a place for us to band together, to make connections and learn more about our community, and, maybe, to make it an even better place to live.

Selfishly, I get to write about things that appeal to me, and I hope those things will be interesting to locals and non-locals alike.  I might write about a new restaurant or a great art exhibition. I especially want to share information about activities that support those in our community that could use a helping hand. And I’d like to recognize the efforts of, and help to celebrate, people who are doing the extraordinary.

If it appeals to your selfish side, PLEASE share your ideas. (Just send me a note or post a comment below.)

That’s the great thing about being part of a community. We all have something to share.

More to come soon ...

Friday, August 3, 2012

Missing a piece of my heart

A friend and mentor of mine ended her battle with breast cancer in July, leaving this world behind for a better place—a place without chemo, radiation, surgery, hair loss, fatigue, side effects and the physical and emotional pain that goes with having breast cancer. Sue was a member of our beloved “volleyball team,” a group of seven spirited women who are still known for the Thursday night volleyball games that we played for most of our adult lives, even through we’ve not stepped on the court in almost a decade.

Now that most of us are in our 50s, we let go of volleyball choosing instead movies and dinners out, sampling favorite homemade desserts and watching Donald Driver on “Dancing With the Stars.” We share photos of grandchildren, stories of retirement and concerns about the economy. We are a support group for each other as our aging bodies give way to a variety of maladies, and when breast cancer found me three-and-a-half years ago, it was Sue’s positive outlook and wise counsel that helped show me the way.

This post is for her.

Odds are you know someone who is fighting breast cancer, has beaten it, or has lost a loved one to it. Sadly, you likely know someone who has not yet discovered that she will become a breast cancer patient. A cancer diagnosis can lead to a feeling of helplessness, but—and here’s the point of this post—I wonder if there is something we can do, collectively, to help each other. When I was at my lowest, Sue shared a book that provided me with a new perspective. Another friend sent notes of encouragement every day during 16 weeks of chemo treatments. Doctors and nurses went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I understood all the options and was as comfortable as possible.

So I’d like to share a few of my own ideas about battling cancer and invite you to add yours. Once you’ve added your ideas to the bottom of this post, send a link to this page to your friends and family members and ask them to add theirs. Together, we can build a resource that can help people transition from that feeling of helplessness over a cancer diagnosis to the confidence that comes from knowing that others have found these ideas useful. Since every cancer patient is unique it can’t be “one-list-fits-all,” but it’s a menu of ideas that people—those with cancer and those who want to help—can choose from.
  1. Join the Army of Women. I learned about this organization a couple of years ago and have since participated in two studies aimed at gaining greater knowledge of the disease, the development of more effective treatments and, someday, finding a cure. Joining is easy (and free) and healthy women are just as important to the cause as women with breast cancer. Many of the studies can be accessed online or by phone. 
  2. Read the book “Anti-Cancer – A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD. It’s a thought-provoking book about the tangible things everyone can do to prevent cancer, based on the premise that we all have cancer cells in our bodies and that the suppression of our immune systems gives the cancer cells strength. The author is scientist, doctor and a cancer survivor. 
  3. Avoid hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I remember only too well the discomfort brought on by menopause’s hot flashes and night sweats, and a respected endocrinologist told me that the known risk for breast cancer related to HRT was 1:1000. Good odds, right? Turns out my cancer loved HRT and I’m here to tell you that 1:1,000,000 odds are not good enough if you turn out to be the 1.
  4. If you have cancer, know there are options. I was initially referred to a medical oncologist and facility that felt “wrong.” After a couple of difficult appointments, I explained my feelings to the doc who provided the referral and was immediately given another option. It made all the difference in the world. Trust your gut. (My doctor, chemo nurse and the team at the Carbone Cancer Center in Madison will always be my heroes.)
  5. Read everything you can. Some doctors will say that the wealth of information available online is confusing to patients and better left unread, but a good doctor will take the time to review the information with you and explain whether or not it makes sense for your cancer. Researching available information and asking questions can give patients a greater sense of control.
  6. Want to help a cancer patient? “Just do it.”  Fighting cancer is a full-time job and anything friends can do to make life easier will be appreciated. Mow the lawn, take the kids to school, prepare a meal—whatever you do will be appreciated. Asking the question “what can I do to help?” serves up one more task. Better to “just do it.”
  7. Support the caregiver. As difficult as cancer is for the patient, it can be even more difficult for the family member or friend who is along for the ride. Help that person any way you can think of, whether it’s cooking a meal, offering to take over caregiver responsibilities for a day, or checking in by phone. Taking care of a cancer patient can be a very lonely, scary job. 
  8. Eat well. Giving your body the fuel it needs is important for both the patient and the caregiver, and taking the time to prepare healthy flavorful meals can be difficult during stressful times. Make it a priority to find out which healthy foods have the most appeal to the cancer patient and to keep plenty of those items on hand. Preparing simple healthy meals that can be frozen and re-heated is a terrific way for friends to support cancer patients and caregivers.
  9. Read “Cancer for Two” by David Balch. The book is about a caregiver’s experience—Balch’s wife has breast cancer—and he shares the emotional journey for both the patient and caregiver. My husband, Pete, and I both read it and found it to be reassuring. (Sue, my angel, thank you for recommending it.)
  10. Pray. I’m not an overtly religious person but there is comfort knowing that a higher power is on the cancer journey with you. You are never alone. 
Susan Rhode, 1955-2012
 Dear God, I know you will welcome Sue to your world and that her kind heart and wry sense of humor will brighten your days. Comfort her husband, Scott, daughters Kristie and Jenny, and their husbands and children.  Help us help others with cancer and to find away to bring an end to this disease. 

Missing a piece of my heart,

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The cure for what ails me

I’ve been on a blogging break for the last few weeks, the result of a jam-packed personal schedule and also a weariness that has been difficult to shake.

My friends in Wisconsin know the feeling.  For months we have been buried in relentless political messaging—on the Internet, in newspapers, on radio and TV, billboards, yard signs, robo-calls—if it was communication, it was Wisconsin’s corrosive, contentious politics slapping us in the face.  The political divide over who should occupy the governor’s office consumed our daily conversations and put families and the best of friends on edge for fear of saying or doing something that would damage lifelong relationships.  And sometimes the conflict revealed an ugly, dark temperament that would have been better left in the shadows.

Yesterday, I discovered the antidote.  I volunteered as an election inspector (aka poll worker) in my new hometown and found myself awash in everything good about the Wisconsin election and about our local democracy. 

I joined a dozen veteran election volunteers and, as the team’s rookie, did a little of everything—prepared coffee, made sure voters were in the right polling location, registered new voters, gathered voter signatures on poll books, recorded absentee ballots and tried to make sure the voting process went as smoothly as possible.  (My apologies to the man who waited in line for 45 minutes to learn he was at the wrong polling place.)  At the end of the day more than 4,000 voters from the Town of Menasha participated in what can only be described as a Wisconsin election like no other.

What was remarkable given the vitriol of the preceding months was a general attitude that made yesterday an inspired, heartwarming, positive, spirited, unpredictable election day:
  • For every voter who complained about having to wait in a long line there were at least ten who gushed about how important it was to participate, what a pleasure it was to stand in the sunshine, and the merits of patience.
  • The trio of young men who came to the assistance of an elderly gentleman struggling to get out of his car and then to stand in line; how they found a cool place in the shade for the older man to sit while they held his place in line, and the man’s genuine thanks for the kindness of strangers.
  • The enthusiasm and energy of the election volunteers, most of them 60+, who worked a 17-hour day with almost no breaks, taking great pride in ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the vote.  They are my new found heroes.
  • The many young, new voters who made a considerable effort to register and vote on election day, a privilege we are proud to have in Wisconsin, even if it means a trip back home to collect legally acceptable proof-of-residency documents.
  •  A local alderman/friend who jokingly offered to buy me donuts on election day, an inside reference to something that has become known as "donutgate" in this part of the state.
  •  The babies.  I fall completely in love with the infant or toddler who is experiencing the voting process for the first time or is simply napping in mom's arms while she does her civic duty.
  • The spontaneous contests among fellow inspectors to see who could find a voter name in the poll books the fastest.
  • The man named James Michener who lives in my town and other interesting factoids I learned about my new community.
  • The deep appreciation countless voters shared with election inspectors, thanking us for our service.
  • The strangers-turned-friends who told me I did a good job and invited me to return as an inspector in the fall.
  • The absence of conflict.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The end of the word.

For as long as I can remember the word has triggered an involuntary reaction.  My jaw clenches and my head snaps back just a little, and for years I’ve held my tongue and carried on as if nothing had been said.  Even recently, when the single six-letter word is tossed about almost in fun, mindless and thoughtless, and I’m certain that the people who say it aren’t even aware of the reaction it brings, I cringe.

Kimberly Ann (Kimmie)
I grew up on the east side of Madison across the street from a beautiful little girl.  Kimmie was the sort of person who saw only the good in life.  She smiled and hugged almost everyone she met and she taught me, her babysitter and friend, important life lessons.  This fair-haired spark plug, no matter what happened, always saw the bright side of any situation, any encounter.  If she knew I was sad, she made me laugh.  If I had a problem to figure out, she sat down next to me and wanted to help.  And I learned over time that if she could be cheerful always, I needed to rethink the things that were bogging me down.   

Back in the 1970s some people defined Kimmie by something none of us could see—an extra chromosome.  And while it is true that she faced a torrent of challenges that would crush the spirit of many kids, nearly everyone who got to know her and especially those who loved her, understood that her chromosomal difference was but a tiny part of an extraordinary package; a bubbly, enthusiastic, energy-filled, charmer.

 Kimmie became a beautiful young woman, cherished by her family and friends and touching us all in ways that can be hard to describe.  She left our world too soon, before I mastered the life lesson that came so naturally to her.  Still, there are days when it’s her memory that reminds me that my own life is really very good.

Back then people labeled Kimmie and others like her “mentally retarded.”  Over the years, that term has fallen out of favor and we are now asked to use the more polite term “intellectual disability”—but, honestly, neither seems right. 

None of you can be defined by just a couple of words, nor can any of your friends and family be described with a single word or phrase.  Some are smarter, some prettier, some weigh more, some have different colored skin, sexual preferences, lots of money, speak different languages, are good at math, have different body parts, wear different clothing, worship different gods or no god at all, belong to one political party or another, have lived a long life or are just beginning a new one.  The number of potential combinations is limitless and the very idea that anyone would label a human being based on a single attribute has always seemed … pointless.

So when a one-word label is used as a pejorative carelessly or, worse, deliberately—and for those who have not guessed I’m referring to the R-word here—I cringe.  But as a 54-year-old woman I can no longer stifle my response.  Now a caring adult and concerned world citizen, I’m obligated to stop what I’m doing and let those who give voice to the word know how I feel.  It hurts.  It hurts people like Kimmie who can't be marginalized, and it hurts me and countless others who have been touched by people like her.  And the language of intolerance, intentional or not, hurts us all.

There is a movement called “Spread the Word to End the Word” and March 7 was this year’s annual day of awareness to end the use of the R-word.  But one day and one word can’t possibly be enough, can it?   What other words should we banish from our language?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Athlecentric Universe

This post is later than planned.  Last week I wanted to write about the whole Ryan Braun mess but as each new development came and went, and as the media piled on, I wasn’t sure if there was much left to say.  Then another athlete caught my attention.  So here’s a post about public relations …

First, I have no idea if the National League MVP took performance-enhancing drugs and neither do you.  Unless Braun someday confesses, and that would seem doubtful, it appears we will never know for certain what happened.  What I do know is that early last week Braun was winning the so-called “PR War.”  It you haven’t seen it, take a look at Braun's statement from February 24.

Braun was straightforward and AUTHENTIC.  You could hear it in his voice and see it on his face.  His actions were consistent with everything else we thought we knew about him and he showed us he wasn’t afraid to face the media and take whatever questions reporters were prepared to ask. (Admittedly, the questions could have been tougher.)

Because I’m a Brewers fan, I wanted to believe that the favorable ruling by the arbitrator and the forthrightness from Braun would put an end to the sorry saga that was never supposed to have been made public in the first place.  By midweek that was a pipe dream.

There was the statement from Braun’s “sample collector.”  That defense was predictable enough and perhaps even warranted, considering that the sample collector’s identity was revealed just hours after Braun raised questions about his behavior.  But Dino Laurenzi Jr. did not face the media.  Instead he chose to issue a written statement and the statement ended with the sentence, “Any future inquiries should be directed to my attorney Boyd Johnson of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.”  It wasn’t a very good public relations effort for someone trying to clear his name and it was irrefutable evidence that Laurenzi was hiding behind lawyers who were calling the shots.  (Note to people seeking public relations guidance: You won’t find it in a law office.)

But then, Braun’s lawyer went public.  Even though the words of the written statement were measured, David Cornwall managed to undo what Braun had so eloquently done a few days earlier.   By labeling Laurenzi’s statement “inappropriate” and inferring that the only people who would believe it are dim, Cornwall stepped right off the high road and into the gutter.

It shouldn’t have happened.  Braun had already stated his case masterfully.  That Laurenzi (or MLB?) felt the need to fight back does not mean Braun’s side needed to have the last word.  The last-word game should be reserved for adolescents and in this instance the result is that Braun is also appearing to hide behind a lawyer.  (Later, Laurenzi’s attorney, Boyd Johnson III, won a small battle in the PR War by refusing to comment on Cornwall’s statement.)

All in all, it was an interesting exchange to watch and, honestly, I was a little sad to see it drag on.  Barring new information, Braun would be well-advised to not comment further and to let his athleticism do the talking from here.  


On a brighter note, I just love what AJ Hawk did.  Famous for the blond tresses that poke out from under his helmet on game day, the Packers linebacker cut his hair a couple of days ago so the hair can be made into wigs for kids in chemotherapy.  AJ's started a group called "Hawk's Locks For Kids."  It’s authentic, positive PR.  Might another teammate be next?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best Picture ... a sign of the times?

In the gap between the end of the NFL season and March Madness, our family has an annual tradition of seeing the movies that receive an Oscar nomination for best picture.  Ideally we’d see them all before the awards telecast in late February but in recent years the number of nominated movies has nearly doubled and it’s become a mad dash to fit them into our February weekends.

Nine movies have been nominated in 2012: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Help, Moneyball, War Horse, and The Tree of Life.  We’ve seen all but one and, because it’s no longer playing in the Fox Valley, Hugo will likely wait until after the Oscars are awarded Sunday night.
"The Artist", a celebration of Hollywood
in the 20s, is a leader among best picture

 Our tradition pushes us to see some very good movies that we might otherwise pass up.  2011’s Winter’s Bone and 2010’s     District 9 come to mind.  In 2008 we saw No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood back-to-back, leaving the theater wondering if our tradition would seriously jeopardize our sense of well being.  Other outstanding but dark and sometimes hard-to-watch films included The Departed, The Hurt Locker, and Capote.

Which leads to an observation about this year’s crop of nominated films.  (If you have yet to see them, this post is not a spoiler.)  Each of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar has a message that is positive; a spiritual journey that leads to a better place and, sometimes, even to triumph against the odds.  It’s true some of the films have moments of darkness and despair but others are completely filled with joy and pure magic.  And all leave the viewer with something good to take away.

What does it mean that all of the movies chosen for Academy Award consideration as best picture bring smiles to our faces, remind us that the underdog can win, that pursuing a passion is more important than making money, and that our connection with others—especially our own families—is what makes life worth living?

Have we hearkened back to the days of the Great Depression when movies were an inexpensive vacation from reality?  Are we so jaded that we are drawn to an uplifting film as a means of escape?  Or is it an expression of optimism and of hope?  Might our attraction to these films be a signal that we have grown tired of angst and pessimism?

I’d like to think we’re drawn to these movies because we’re feeling better about the world, that we’ve had enough of war … greed … anger … bloodshed … divisiveness.  And that we—like the characters in the movies—will find the solutions, overcome the obstacles, and emerge triumphant.

Naïve?  Perhaps.  But I sure am a fan of these movies.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When the media does good ...

There are so many negative stories about the Internet and all the scoundrels who use it to cheat the innocent and worse, and even more stories about the “old” news media that uses its power to show us everything bad about the world, that when something really good happens in the media, it makes my day.  This time it made my week. 

Perhaps you know about the story of Noah Lemaide, a 12-year-old who lives about an hour down the road from us.  It was in all the papers around here, and by the end of last week Noah’s story was on the CBS Evening News.

I never met Noah, but only had to take one look at his websiteNoah’s Dream Catcher Network—to know that our future is in good hands, and that when Noah’s generation is in charge, Uncle Sam won’t necessarily be the first person we look to to solve our problems.

If you haven’t seen the story, here’s a summary:  This young man has been helping people for a long time.  On his eighth birthday, he asked his friends forget about giving gifts to him and to give instead to a local food pantry.  When he was 10, he launched the website and raised enough money to send a friend to Disney World with her mom who was dying from cancer.  This January, Noah began raising money to save his grandmother’s house from foreclosure.

And he did it.

When our family gets together we talk a lot about the nation’s problems and what the solutions might be.  Our oldest, a sociology major at Colorado College, makes the point that many of the problems are too large and that our government must be involved in helping people who are not able to help themselves.  And she’s right.

But it’s nice to know that as individuals we can make a difference if we choose to.  We can look in our own neighborhoods—you won’t have to look far to find someone who is having a hard time—and we can take our cues from Noah.  A 12-year-old who knows that it can be done, helping one person at a time.

Thanks, Noah, for showing us the goodness of the Internet, and to the news media for helping to spread the word.  Here's a link to the CBS Evening News report.


Shifting gears a little, I saw something on one of my favorite television programs yesterday that made me think.  Bill Flanagan's plea to the “gossip press and scandal media” to let Whitney Houston rest in peace probably won’t make a difference, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it happened?  Houston had her demons and we all know that.  How about just this once, we stay focused on her incredible musical gift and the light that she shared with the world.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Did you see what I saw?

On Sunday, as my husband and I were watching the Super Bowl halftime show, there was a conversation stopper.  A familiar voice boomed from the surround sound and more or less demanded my attention.

Did you see it?  And, more importantly, did you see what I saw?

So engrossed in the two-minute announcement, I backed up the DVR and played it again, watching really closely the second time, admiring the ad’s nobility and purpose, the subtlety of the brand, and making sure I understood the intended message.

So how did I get it so wrong?

Within hours, the pundits were at work setting me straight.  Not only was the message not noble, Clint Eastwood was a shill for Obama … Chrysler was saying “thanks for the bailout” … And Charlie Sykes, a Milwaukee radio guy from whom I have come to expect such things, posted on his Facebook page, “Hey Clint, if it’s really half-time, can we get the $1.3 million back?”

According to the “experts,” what I was supposed to have seen – and somehow missed entirely – was a political ad clear and simple, asking voters to get behind our president for a second half, aka a second term.  I am so naive …

Upon further review, my call stands.

For me, it is “Halftime in America.” And instead of listening to the myopic perspectives coming from the right and the left with their “fog, division, discord and blame” it is time to find a way through this mess.  We can find agreement if only we will stop the blathering and recognize that we are on the same team.  Sitting on the sidelines cheering only for the offense, or only for the defense, gets us nowhere.  There’s time on the clock.

And this isn’t a game.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An apology ... almost

Michael Ellis picked a terrible time to refine his message.
My friends like to call it “spin” – the practice of finding just the right words to make a wrong appear, well, less wrong.  To revise history to suit today’s purpose.  To answer a question with a totally unrelated remark that has nothing to do with the flippin’ question.  To me, the sound of spin is akin to the sound of reality TV – grating and, nearly always, disappointing.

Hand me the remote.

The venerable state senator from Neenah, who after decades in office has earned a reputation for “telling it like it is,” missed the mark late last week.  Caught on tape last Wednesday evening describing Green Bay Preble High School as “a sewer”, it seemed reasonable that Ellis would act quickly to remedy the situation.  After all, he’s known for his candor and a mistake is a mistake, right?

In a letter ofapology to Preble’s principal and also in media interviews, Ellis repeatedly tried to shift at least some of the blame to the person who recorded the comments and made them public.  “Someone who was not part of our group secretly recorded our private conversation,” the letter explained.  (Aha, I get it.  No invasion of privacy, no video, no mistake.)  Once the witness and the video recorder were sufficiently discredited, the senator did go on to say that the comment he made was “simply wrong and should not have been uttered at all.”

To be fair, I’m not a fan of using cameras and cellphones to record others in private without their approval. (Technology would be banned from our home’s dinner table if I were king.)  But a restaurant isn’t exactly a private location and Ellis has long been a very public figure.  He knows better.

So why the need to blame others?  Why isn’t personal accountability enough?  Do politicians really think the public holds them to a standard of perfection?  REALLY?

That Ellis’ apology fell short is another reminder of wrong-headed thinking by people in positions of influence.  Somehow they’ve come to believe we desire perfection when what we really want is honesty.  And integrity.  And accountability.   In other words, forget the spin.

What would have been wrong with, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.  I’ve been an elected official for a long time and should know better.  It it won’t happen again.”

And, if Ellis felt the need to share the blame, it might have been OK for him to add, “I’m human.