Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rules, mistakes, and considerate corrections

As a person who loves the written word and appreciates all the structural "rules" about language and how it functions, I often make "mistakes" both in writing and in speaking. Everyone does this from time to time and it is often off-putting when corrected by another person. Some of my errors have been more embarrassing than others. I'll share just two that stand out in my mind as striking when they happened.

The first one was actually made on this blog. Honestly, I'm sure anyone reading my blog would be able to find several incorrect usages, punctuations, or confusing strings of phrases or sentences. I don't profess to be perfect. However, one post particularly made me shrivel in mortification. I am still relatively new to the blogging world, and I am excited about building a readership base steadily and slowly. I like to look at the stats to see how many page views and followers there are out there. One of my earliest posts titled "Lunch with a clarinetist and a beatboxer who improv together at TEDxLincoln" was particularly popular. As days went by, I was elated at the increasingly high-number of page views next to the title of that entry. Glancing at the title one day, I saw it. My heart dropped. I meant improv and I spelled improve. In the title! Upon further investigation, I realized I spelled improve several times throughout the post too! What would people think of me? Why didn't anyone bring it to my attention? I even shared the mistake all over Twitter and Facebook! I quickly, in shame, made my edits.

There is an actual term for making a mistake in a title. It is called Muphry's law:
If a mistake is as plain as the nose on your face, everyone can see it but you. Your readers will always notice errors in a title, in headings, in the first paragraph of anything, and in the top lines of a new page. These are the very places where authors, editors and proofreaders are most likely to make mistakes.
I'm great at ensuring that my unintentional mistakes (and what mistake is intentional?) are in prime locations for all to discover. I proof and edit a blog post multiple times before posting it, yet Michelle will point out errors in seconds that I have glossed over time and time again.

Another embarrassing experience of mine goes back many years ago when I was in college doing a practicum with a very smart class of 7th graders. Every week there were several spelling lessons in which it was my job to lead. As an English Education major, spelling has never been one of my strongest strengths. I can manage on my own but I wouldn't proudly say I'm an expert. Regardless of all this, I can hold my own and was pretty confident in my skills. One day I was up in front of these terrific kids grouping words, writing and talking at the same time like most teachers do. And I kept spelling a couple of words incorrectly. The first time the kids were considerate in their corrections. The second time it became a bit of fodder for the group. But soon I realized I had to make sure I was thinking and writing instead of talking and writing otherwise the mistakes would continue. I tried to turn the situation into a "nobody is perfect" lesson that, to this day, I'm almost certain didn't stick.

Luckily, my cooperating teacher sitting in the back of the classroom observing was intelligent, gracious, and had a sense of humor. She understood that mistakes are alright, part of the learning process, and, that being vulnerable and honest with your students creates a classroom culture of trust, collaboration, and synergy. A teacher of another persuasion may have viewed my missteps as a lack of intelligence, knowledge, preparation, or inability to be an effective English teacher. Luckily, I was working with the former and not the latter.

The last day of the semester, when my cooperating teacher handed me my teaching evaluation, she gave me a gift. It was a cup, with several spelling errors crossed out. Many students over the years have commented on this cup when they see it at my desk or in the classroom, providing me with my favorite opportunity to share the story of my first experience in a classroom as a teacher. It's a great story that all students love, making me--Mr. Pernicek--someone who can be real and fallible, a person just like them, imperfect on a journey of literacy development. That cup holds much symbolism and meaning today, constantly reminding me what kind of teacher I should be.

I read a post on a blog this morning that resonated with me (and that gift of a cup many years ago). It is what spurred this post. Chandra addresses the act of correcting another person's language mistakes all the while examining the interestingly complex world of linguistics and literacy privilege. It's worth taking the time to read. Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People's Grammar on the Internet.

Because of my field of study, oftentimes when someone points out my language (or literature) mistake they will follow it up with a comment referencing me being an English teacher (ie "But you're an English teacher!"). This has always caused me to cringe, because the premise behind that type of comment is that an English teacher should never make an English-related mistake. That is like saying people in every profession should be expected to be perfect: a mathematician will always compute a formula perfectly, a physician always makes the correct diagnosis the first time, a scientist is always accurate in enacting impeccable experiments, and an actress always remembers her line in order to give a flawless performance on the first take. We all know none of that is true. Flawlessness is basically nonexistent.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dreaming of getting old?

I recently posted about how I don't really dream at night. Apparently, I'm a liar. Because I had another dream two nights ago. The concerning thing is I think the dream was a premonition about aging. . . or maybe something else?

The gist of the dream was this: I was having trouble hearing out of my right ear. Of course, like most dreams, this one was very illogical and the setting kept changing. First I was in a doctor's office complaining of ear pain. The doctor kept telling me that I was not that old and that I was probably just imagining the symptom, comforting me, telling me that it would just subside on it's own.

Then I was transported to a vague situation where I was concerned about the noise level of the place. So, I wanted to wear ear-plugs or sound blockers in order to preserve my hearing. Now, I already do this in my waking life when working with loud machinery like saws, the snow blower, the mower, etc. I might get made fun of for doing this, but I am very conscious about protecting my ears.

Next, I was in a classroom, teaching. I kept asking my students questions and they wanted to answer. They were engaged. They were excitedly waving their hands in the air, wanting me to call on them. Yet, when I did, I couldn't hear them. I asked them to speak louder. I asked them to repeat what they said. I knew that I couldn't hear them because of my right ear. But the students didn't care. They were becoming very restless and upset that I couldn't hear them.

Finally, I was back in the doctor's office again, demanding she do an examination of my right ear. When she was finished, she confirmed that there was some serious hearing loss and asked me if I would like an implant or some sort of hearing device, which, obviously, I refused. I don't want a hearing aid! I'm not that old!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Christmas party invaded by frog-pirates

Last night we invited great friends over to the castle in order to relax and celebrate the holidays. In lieu of recent current events, I went to bed thankful for many things and thought it would be appropriate to blog about them this morning:

My wife, Michelle: Sometimes I am in awe that I married to her. The success of our party last night was largely due to her. It wasn't just the idea of the party itself, but also the warm-inviting atmosphere, the holiday-themed drinks, and the fact that we have such a core group of grounded, solid, supportive friends. Michelle is intelligent, beautiful, and puts up with every single one of my weird moods. We often joke that we're the gay couple from the show Modern Family because when no one is around our banter might slightly resemble theirs. The longer we're married the more confident I am that no matter what happens in life, her and I will be able to do anything as long as we're together. I'm constantly proud that I'm able to spend my life with her.

Friends: I couldn't ask for a better group of friends. Traveling through life with them is a blessing. Experiences with them make all the stress from the world disappear. When around them that moment in time is pretty great.

The imagination of a child: Almost every time that we hang out with Anna and Russ, Vivi will ask me to play hide and seek. So we took turns counting to ten (Vivi was adamant about it not being more or less) and I found different hiding places around the house while she continually rediscovered the same hiding spot under the kitchen table. When things got real, though, was when she suggested we play "pirates". What ensued was an elaborate, imaginative game of us being "frog pirates", complete with our own ship, flag, pirate accents, treasure, and alligator swamp filled with sharks (I know, I was a bit confused by that too). As an adult, it is amazing to revert back to being child-like and witness the imaginative creativity of kids. And Vivi is one cool kid.

Charlie: The jumpy, crazy Charlie did not last very long last night and only showed up a couple of times during a new arrival at the door. The majority of the night he was calm and well-mannered. He did follow Vivi around the house as she pulled a beanie baby around on his leash. And there might have been a little incident later on in the evening when he walked into the living room, stopping conversation because his dog parts were out for everyone to see. It was embarrassing. In spite of that social misstep, Charlie is still pretty wonderful.

Our castle: While I was curled up in the corner of the bedroom, hiding from Vivi, I overheard her saying something that absolutely no one would ever say about our meager 800 square foot home: "This house is soooo big. There are soooo many hiding places. This is going to take forever!" We have a great home that we've comfortably made our own, and filled it with important things that matter.

What are you thankful for this Christmas season?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy 3rd birthday!

Charlie turned 3 years old on Monday. In that short amount of time, we have learned much about Charlie and his personality. He has developed into a very loveable, loyal, and quite hilarious part of our family. As a tribute to his three years of canine-life, I want to share three moments with you.

Last week, on one of my afternoons off from work, Charlie and I were hanging out together in the living room when we heard a truck pull up in front of the house and honk. Charlie immediately jumped up, running to the window. He stared out the window. I stayed sitting on the couch. Charlie was still. Then his tail started slowly moving from side to side. It quickly began to pick up a frantic pace until it enveloped his entire body as he shook furiously. His monkey noise followed. I knew that the UPS man was delivering something to our front door.
For as long as I can remember, Charlie and I have shared a love for popcorn. Once in a while, he might get a kernel or two. He knows when I am getting popcorn from the kitchen. And when I'm trying to enjoy my little snack all to myself, he is moving every way possible to try and get close enough to steal some. Just the other day, I put up my legs on the couch, as a barrier, to keep him from coming too close to the delicious bag of popcorn. Charlie rested his head in the blanket, and just looked at me longingly with his eyes... until he fell asleep there, in a very strange prostrate position.

For his birthday, Charlie received a small raw-hide bone. He doesn't get these frequently, however, when he does, eating one is the last thing on his mind. Since his birthday, he has been carrying the raw-hide around the house, clawing at objects that don't move (like the carpet on the floor, the couch, or the Christmas tree skirt) in an effort to bury it. After some intense clawing, he will drop the raw-hide and walk away, only to "discover" it later and continue to carry it around the house. As he transports it from various locations, he will make growling or monkey noises. I'm sure in several weeks, he will finally start to begin chewing it.

For all of those reasons, and many more, I love him. Happy birthday, Charlie!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Charlie and I are plumbers

My day away from work this week allowed me the opportunity to install a new toilet. This was not exactly my ideal hope for a day off but when I was finished with the project I did feel pretty accomplished and good about myself. One may think that replacing a toilet is a tremendous undertaking but it really is a quick and easy job, despite the initial apprehension most people probably have about plumbing in general and the thought that you are tinkering with the inner workings of the porcelain god.

The tank of our existing toilet had cracked and water had been slowly leaking behind the bowl onto the bathroom floor for many months. The repair was long overdue. I was just putting it off because, sometimes, I am an expert at procrastination. We even had the new toilet purchased already and it had been sitting in a box in our living room for over a month.

Michelle occasionally states that the castle is not "our" house, that it is "my" house because I purchased it before we were married. I see her point. That is partially true. Her main justification is that I've put a lot of heart and effort into updates and repairs. Since we've been married, I've made a concerted effort to make sure she gets to be a part of the decision process when changes are made: she helped pick out the carpet in the spare room, she chose the floor tile in the kitchen, she approved of the new kitchen cabinets, the two bedrooms and kitchen now have new "Michelle" colors on the walls (which I really like, I might add), and I forced her to go toilet shopping with me. At first, my beautiful wife was not as thrilled as I was about this great excursion. She initially told me to buy the toilet. But now I can say she also participated in this house project too!

Charlie gets very excited when he and I are able to spend a day together during the week. Whether we're working outside in they yard, reading books on the couch, or installing a toilet, he is always right there alongside me, helping. I love the fact that he is such a loyal companion, even though he sometimes can be in the way. Here he is helping me set up all the parts to get the project up and going (no, I did not force him to pose for this picture, he was really there doing this):

 Notice how his food dish and toy ring is right next to everything else.

Removing the old toilet was relatively simple. The pictures below are actually of the new toilet going in, but the steps are the same just in the opposite order.

Turn off the water supply valve that is behind the toilet running to the tank. Flush the toilet several times after the water is turned off to empty most of the water out of the bowel and the tank. It may even be necessary to take a cup to dip out any remaining water in the tank.

Next, undo the water supply line from the tank. Put a small bucket underneath as leftover water in the supply line will trickle out as the connections are loosened. Less water mess will be made when the water goes right into the bucket.

Loosen the bolts that are attaching the tank to the bowl. Again, put the small bucket back behind the tank, as remaining water in the tank will stream out onto the floor if you don't. Lift the tank right off of the bowl.
Loosen the bolts that are holding the bowl to the sewer pipe. These may be rusted and, if so, they might just have to be cut off. Once loosened, just lift the old toilet up and off of the sewer pipe. When pulling up, the wax ring and seal will break from the sewer pipe.
A little side anecdote: Charlie was right alongside me the entire time, inspecting and approving of the process. However, when I wasn't paying attention, I heard the lapping of water. When I looked over, he had his head in the bucket that I had used to collect gross water when taking the toilet apart. Charlie was drinking it. I yelled at him. He jumped and ran out of the bathroom. I scared him. Poor guy. He can be such a gross dog.

Installing the new toilet is easy. Basically all the steps above need to be completed in reverse. But, before I did, I cleaned up the sewer pipe of any remaining wax from the wax ring. 

I noticed a pungent smell from the pipe, which is sewer gas. I know, disgusting. I Just stuffed an old rag into the pipe until I was ready to put on the new toiled. I inspected the flange on the top of the sewer pipe to make sure that it was in good shape. It was rusted but we live in an older house and a little rust it fine. The flange was still in fine condition and not cracked or broken. If not, I would have needed to replace or repair it. Here is a video for how to do that:

Before I put down the new toilet, I needed a new wax ring to establish a seal between the toilet and the sewer pipe. A bad seal will cause water leakage and it will also allow those awful sewer gases to escape into the house. While at the hardware store, I did stumble upon a product called a wax free toilet seal. Basically this is a piece that adheres to the bottom of the toilet and then fits snugly inside the sewer pipe. It is less messy than a wax ring. I was sure to measure the diameter of the sewer pipe to make sure I got the right size of seal. I was skeptical about this wax free toilet seal at first, until I decided to use it to see what would happen and was pleasantly surprised. I attached it to the underside of the toilet bowl and tried to pull it off, noticing, after much effort, that it was moving nowhere.

Charlie also seemed to think it was working just fine. (Again, this was not posed. He was there.)

Next I slid the bolts under the two notches in the flange. I carefully lined up the holes in the bottom of the bowl with the upright bolts and then pushed on the toilet, and the wax free seal went down into the sewer pipe. I had to press kind of hard but could immediately feel the seal. It was very simple. If using wax, it would work similarly: just put the wax on the flange and then press the toilet down hard so that it establishes a seal. When I was tightening all bolts, I made sure not to make them too tight because it could cause the toilet to crack.

After a couple of hours, and several flushes later to ensure there were no leaks and everything was working fine, the toilet replacement project was complete. Hopefully there will not be any more castle repairs for a while. Maybe Charlie will be able to help me with other things instead, just like he was helping me write this blog this morning.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Who moved my chair?

I'm not much of a dreamer. Actually, I should probably clarify that statement. I am a dreamer during my waking hours. My dreams contain all sorts of things: random thoughts and prayers for the future, imaginations of how things might be, and hopes for those people whom are closest to us.

Dreaming while I'm asleep is a completely different story. Generally, I don't dream. Technically, I know that people dream every night but we don't always remember our dreams. I never remember mine.

Michelle, however, always dreams. I get to hear about the crazy machinations that go on in her mind while she is sleeping. They are quite wonderful, except when I'm a part of them. For some reason, I tend to do things wrong in Michelle dreams. I say the incorrect thing or frustrate her. And when she retells these dreams during waking hours, I get to hear about everything I shouldn't have done. There was even an instance when Michelle had a dream and she was mad at me for several days afterward. I don't remember the details, but, yes, that happened.

So, basically, dreaming isn't really necessary for me because my wife dreams for two.

Occasionally, I have a dream. Lately, I'm having one reoccurring dream. It's stupid really. And I can never recall any of the specific details, aside from one, very annoying scenario. I'm at work, sitting in my small office and I walk behind my desk to sit down.

When my bottom hits the chair, I know immediately what is happening: my chair is not my chair.

It doesn't feel right.

It is not the correct height.

It doesn't roll the same on the floor.

It has a different backrest.

But I don't do anything about it. I am just mildly irritated at the fact that I have a different chair. And I wonder what happened to my other chair but I don't really care. Nor do I take any action to resolve my frustration. This all makes me wonder who took my chair and why they would want it. And, if someone really wanted to take my chair when I wasn't present, why did they replace it with a different chair?

I guess this dream has some sign of significance. All dreams mean something, right? What is my chair in real life? What does the chair represent? Why do I feel it is being taken from me?

If anyone out there has a psychology degree, respond to this post. Or, if you do not have a background in dreams, reply to let me know what you think. Even better yet, what are your own reoccurring dreams that you just can't seem to let go?

Please respond to any of those questions... I would like to hear the answers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mixed signals

Charlie is an incredibly well-behaved dog. I know that those of you who have been around him do not get to see that side of him. Unfortunately, his love for people (especially visitors) diminishes his listening skills. Yet when he is comfortable, just at home with his parents, his true colors and personality really come through.

Early on in the "potty training" process when Charlie was a puppy he would never really signal at the door when he needed to go outside. I assume that most good dogs would go to the door and paw at it to let their human owners know they need to go outside. Or maybe bark at the door? Or something canine-like. Rather, Charlie has always preferred to just stare at us. Or walk around nervously for a while. Or claw at the bedroom door. Or something equally strange. We just could never figure out what his signal was to go outside.

Then, one day, Michelle and I were both sitting on the couch in the living room. Charlie came up to the couch, took his front paw, lifted it, and clawed at the side of it. We asked what he wanted. He did it again.

"What do you want?" (that's right, we talk to him like he is a person).

The incessant pawing continued, more intensely.

Michelle said, "Do you want to go outside?"

Charlie took off running from the living room into the kitchen.

That is how we figured out his signal. Ever since that moment, when Charlie would claw at the couch, we knew that he needed to go outside. Sometimes he would jump at us and claw at our leg or chest when it was apparently urgent that he get out immediately.

Then about a month ago, Charlie did his infamous signal. We were all being cozy on the couch, cuddling up with quilts. Charlie got up from his cuddle spot and pawed at Michelle. She asked if he needed to go outside and he just looked at her. And then he pawed at her again. She said, "OK, Charlie, let's go outside," as she began to get up. Charlie jumped down to the floor and Michelle got up but Charlie just stood there looking at her, confused. She walked through the kitchen to the back door and Charlie followed. She opened the back door. He didn't move. Or go outside.

This relatively similar scenario happened multiple times. We couldn't figure out what was going on. Was the universally understood signal being changed on us? Was our dog confused? Was there a fear of something outside? Had the cooler weather made Charlie reluctant to leave the house? He had us stumped. He seemed equally confused by our reactions to his clawing.

One revealing day, the clawing happened again. This time, Charlie gave us another clue: he put his nose down to the quilt we had to keep us warm, nudged it, clawed at it, nudged it again. At first annoyed, Michelle instinctively lifted up the corner of the quilt, and then Charlie crawled under the covers and went to sleep. And ever since, he claws at us when he wants us to get under the quilt. Even smarter yet, he will claw at us when he wants us to get out the quilt so he can snuggle with it.

I guess Charlie clawing can mean many things: snuggle time, or a need to poop. Our signal has distinctly different, multiple meanings.

Oftentimes, signals in life can be confusing. We think we know what things mean and then we can find later that we were wrong. This happens in our interactions and judgements of other people, in our communication with each other, or sometimes even in conflict. Our judgements can be misleading. Or even flat wrong. When we are not patient, understanding, or persistent, we become jaded, frustrated, and even alienated. Yet, when we try again, take our time, act with caution, and are honest with ourselves and others, we become more willing to forgive or see the best in what otherwise might have been a misguided or misdirected interaction.

I've had a crazy couple of weeks full of misguided signals and energy. My work life has been exhausting to the point where I've wanted to throw in the towel and give up and give in. But I've been forcing myself to view the positive, look for the good, and give up what I can't control. This is not easy for me because I easily forget that there isn't always one signal in life. I can thank Charlie for helping me understand.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What I've been up to: the exterior doors project (and leaves)

New back exterior door.
Life has been busy lately. And I'm thankful for that. One of the reasons why I have not posted for a while is I have been putting some finishing touches on the exterior doors that I installed on the castle. The other reason is two 50-year-old large oak trees, one in the front yard and one in the back yard, and the corresponding leaves that keep falling from them.

First, the doors. The front door I put on last year and I left the trim unfinished. This has made our castle look a little less like a castle. Michelle has politely been reminding me of the unsightliness of the front of our house.

Then, the kitchen remodel process a couple of months ago, and the installation of a new back door, has led to a matching unfinished theme on both sides of the house. Both door frames have been exposed and awaiting either painting or siding. For those of you who have read past posts, you know that I really don't have the patience for painting, so, instead of painting the trim I was hoping for an easier, seamless solution that would be more permanent. I've been doing research on how to wrap doors and windows with aluminum siding. It looked easy enough. And I formulated a mental plan of how this project was going to work. Oftentimes when I imagine a project on the house, I discover that it is not as easy as I thought. Or I run into complications. Plus, if it is the first time I'm attempting a project, it makes me a little nervous because the end result doesn't always match my mental map. I considered just hiring an expert to do the job.

And I've been procrastinating.

And when I have some extra time and plan on doing the work of finishing the doors, I generally start with attacking all the leaves on the ground, leading to hours of work, and unfinished doors. But the cooler weather signaled a need to make the door project pertinent, in preparation for winter (and to please my wife). Forget experts. I was going to do this myself.

A day off from work and a trip to Home Depot led to my purchase of the aluminum trim coil. When I got home I began to improvise wrapping the doors, and I quickly discovered it was pretty easy, even though I didn't own the proper tools like a coil dispenser. It wasn't ideal, but I cut the aluminum coil with tin snips, shaped the edges to wrap around the corners, and then attached it to the door frames using nails sparingly. Then, I installed the storm doors and sealed the edges with silicon calk. The end result looks pretty darn good for an amateur.

Next, I went back to the ever-present leaves, spending four hours in the yard, clearing piles away from absolutely everywhere. I felt pretty good about my hard-fought effort, until I looked up and saw endless brown leaves still clinging to limbs. After a windy, warm day yesterday, they released themselves. I woke up to a 28-degree morning, and this sight outside the back door:

There were piles just like this everywhere in the yard. If only I could do something amazing with aluminum wrap that would magically make leaves a low-maintenance, one-time, chore.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The amazing brain

Lately, I have been thinking about my experience from TEDxLincoln. The talks presented there have made me more aware of that wide world that is out there. Coincidentally, the theme of the day was titled Wide Horizons, Open Minds. Having an open mind definitely can broaden one's horizon, leading to unique perspectives about the world that would easily be missed if one was distracted or not open to seeing. Which, leads me to a short rant about my frustrations from the last couple of weeks.

I've become increasingly disappointed in those whom I work closest with because of their lack of open eyes and open minds and a general unwillingness to ask questions and listen first. Little effort is made to relate to others, listen to them, and make decisions based upon common, mutual understanding. Rather, actions are determined solely based upon one's individual lived experience, and communal experiences or ideas are automatically disregarded as invalid. Living among people who operate in this manner exhaust me. It's infuriating and demotivating.

But that is not the point of this post, nor is it the main reason I've been thinking about TEDxLincoln. I turn to the cool parts, the inspiring parts, the hopeful parts of humanity to recharge when I become frustrated and cynical. And that is where I intend to focus the premise of my writing today.

I stumbled upon a book titled Brain Power. I haven't read the book yet, but it is on my Kindle, awaiting me. The video that corresponds with the book is very cool, comparing a child's brain to the internet. The unique thing about our brains is that they are constantly malleable, changing, based upon where we decide to focus our attention. Our brains literally re-wire themselves because of behavior, connecting and severing synapses.

The neatest thing is that the potential for brain development is greatest between birth and the age of five. Every single experience of a child is a formation of the brain. The video below illustrates this in a more concise way than I can explain it here (and it also explains the formative nature of the internet).

Generally, we don't think of our brains in the terms presented in that video. We take brains for granted. But when you consider them, they are fascinating, impressive, and able to shatter unthinkable expectations. But brains are only capable of doing this if we focus attention strategically. This is proven by listening to Tiffany Verzal's talk from TEDxLincoln titled "Time, intensity, and Patience."

Tiffany and Brandon's daughter, Alexis, was the victim of a traumatic brain injury. As a result of her injuries, Alexis was expected to be blind, unable to eat on her own, and unable to walk and talk for the rest of her life. Tiffany explains in her talk that she and Brandon rejected Alexis's prognosis, repeatedly saying that was, "not OK." Because of their persistence and resilience, Alexis, at the hands of tremendous people at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, NE, was able to re-wire, rehab, and reteach her brain. See Tiffany explain how in her talk below:

Through intense focus, brains can do phenomenal things. Tiffany and Brandon Verzal produced an award-winning documentary titled Pathways: from brain injury to hope. I hope that we all can continue to broaden our horizons in life. And, like the title of Tiffany's talk, maybe more focus on time, intensity, and patience is what it will take to do just that.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Saying Yes Can Change Your Life: Mark Zmarzly at TEDxLincoln

Well, the time is finally here! The videos of the TEDxLincoln event, Wide Horizons, Open Minds are starting to be posted online. I can't be more excited, because now I can share my thoughts about the event, and, you, the blog readers, can watch these amazing talks for yourself.

The universe and I must be in sync because my favorite talk of the entire day given by Mark Zmarzly, "How Saying Yes Can Change Your Life," was posted first.

Essentially, Mark, through a series of stories, shares how we should balance the "yes" and "no" in our lives. He focuses on the "yeses" as a way to point out that they are what makes a life. As a fellow writer and English major, he shares that the "yes" is what puts a character in motion in a story. And, if you really consider this, it makes sense. All characters, whether they be in movies, on television, or in books, all say "yes" to something and that is what makes them compelling, intriguing, relateable, or likeable. Mark says that nothing happens in a story until a character is in motion.

So true.

Think about that for a moment.

It's really powerful when you dwell on that notion of motion in stories. Of course it's a small leap from characters in stories to us, the people in life, saying "yes" in order to put our own lives in motion. How often do we say "yes"? How often do we put ourselves in motion in order to live a life that is affirming and fulfilling?

While those "yes" moments define us and put us on certain paths, so does "no". The "no" is what captivated me in this talk.

Mark explained that "no" is primal, even for children. When kids are learning language, the word "no" is a root behavior and a word that they learn and use first, long before "yes". There are good reasons for this: children must be able to communicate what they don't like. So while affirmations are important, so are the opposites. Negations have impacts. Mark shares the statistics regarding the yes to no ratio that children receive from adults in their households growing up, and breaks down this ratio by economic status, giving us an insight into one of the many consequences and complications of poverty: a child who grows up in a professional class family will receive 6 yeses to every 1 no, while a child who grows up in a welfare family will receive 1 yes to every 2 nos. A child in a welfare family typically receives a 118% increase in negations per year than a child in a professional family.

Now that is power. Think about the motion of those "nos" a poor child receives and how it creates, shapes, and forms his or her world view growing up.

So the yes/no balance in our lives has real consequences. How do we harness that balance? What do we choose to embrace? And when does fear push us more towards nos rather than yeses?

What were some of the "yes" moments in your life?

One of my "yes" moments in life lead to Charlie. Michelle and I had talked about getting a dog for a long time and we vacillated about it until, one day, I just voiced with certainty that we should get a dog. In no time, we were bringing Charlie home as a puppy.

I'll blog more about that moment in another post. For now, you must watch Mark's powerful talk in it's entirety. It's 18 minutes long. Say "yes" by clicking play. You won't be disappointed that you did.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Carving 2012

Pumpkin carving 2012 was a success again this year. It was a little different because in previous years we have carved pumpkins with our friends and had a little pumpkin seed roasting competition. Unfortunately, though, we were unable to find a time that worked with everyone's schedule. Fortunately, we did some carving with the family.

The evening started off with my niece, Katey, being the life of the party. She just woke up from a nap, and, as always, was very happy. She was dressed in her Halloween outfit, including black cat ears. We went outside to hang out on the front porch while waiting for her dad to get home from work.

As we were waiting, we talked about the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. A self-portrait was necessary to document our short time together, which was interrupted when Ryan, her dad, turned onto the street. When Katey saw his blue Volkswagen, her face lit up, she screamed, and her legs kicked furiously. Her dad is pretty cool in her eyes.

When we got back inside, Michelle and Katey also had a good time doing a little bonding.

After dinner, we covered the kitchen table in preparation for the pumpkin mutilation. I picked out two perfect pumpkins for the annual ritual. I go in search for the slightly deformed, not perfectly round pumpkins. I try to find ones with evenly flat sides, caused by the pumpkin laying on one side on the ground. The smashed side aids the ease of carving, while also looking much cooler when lit up.

Next, is picking your pattern. I cheat by using the ones included in the carving kits purchased at the store or printed out from the internet. Generally I enjoy the elaborate ones but this year I went with something just a tad more simple. A goblin of sorts. I wanted my creation to be a secret, but Michelle was spoiling my fun by showing it off to everyone when I wasn't paying attention. This is why I call her "the dream killer". She really did kill my dream of having a secretive pumpkin revelation.

Michelle did a "P" for Pernicek. I honestly can't remember what Ryan's was and I can't tell from the picture. Any readers out there who have an idea, let me know. Mom's was some strange set of numbers, which made everyone laugh. Brandy, my sister, went with the traditional face. Here are the end results of everyone's creations:

And, of course, in order for us to enjoy our work, the lights needed to be turned out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Science of Yawns, Dogs and Empathy | Video - ABC News

I saw a fascinating piece on ABC World News about the empathy of dogs, specifically regarding yawning. Apparently, researchers studied whether or not dogs would mimic when people yawned. And, in fact, dogs did yawn 69% of the time after a human yawned.

Yup, that's right. Someone studies this stuff.

Additionally, dogs empathize with humans and their moods. So yawning is a form of sleepy empathy.

After watching this on TV, I got off the couch, got down on my knees eye to eye with Charlie who was laying on the couch. I looked him in the face and gave a brilliant, big yawn. Charlie picked up his head, looked at me strangely, then put his head back down, and, sighed. No yawn.

I tried again.

Same result.

My dog falls in the 31% of dogs who don't empathize. I know he yawns. He does it all the time.

Check out the video here: The Science of Yawns, Dogs and Empathy | Video - ABC News

Monday, October 22, 2012

A running playlist

Running is exhilarating for me. I have recently (again) fallen out of my regular running routine. I'm trying to reinstate a healthy, regular habit.

The cool, beautiful, autumn weather, along with the onset of corresponding color changes motivated me to put down the book and get off of the couch on a lazy Sunday several weeks ago. Since then, I've been out on more runs than usual.

Running is motivating when you have a great set of playlists to help set your pace, pick up your spirits, and drive you a little further than the last time. How does a song make the playlist? Sometimes it is just the beat and not the lyrics; other times the lyrics are all that matters. Or, it can be a song that contains some sort of emotional connection to an event you once experienced, bringing back a flood of feelings, setting a mood. This can lead to a strange conglomeration on iTunes. Hence, an amazing running list. Here is my playlist "Running 7" (yes, I have 9 of them, please don't judge):
  • Roll Out - Ludacris
  • Hey Ya! - Outkast
  • This Is Why I'm Hot - Mims
  • Dani California - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Send Me On My Way - Rusted Root
  • How Bizarre - OMC
  • Lump - The Presidents Of The United States Of America
  • Juicy - The Notorious B.I.G.
  • She F*#%!ing Hates Me - Puddle of Mudd
  • Harder To Breathe - Maroon 5
  • I Can - NaS
 Getting back into the habit of running is easier once the headphones meet my ears and the music "Roll Out" messages my legs to hit the pavement in the direction of the MoPac trail four blocks from our castle.

Another motivating factor that makes running uncomplicated and effortless is when I take Charlie with me. His pure excitement and joy of being out of the house is inspiring. We are both free as he looks up at me, happily, with wide eyes, establishing our pace together. He can't go far because he is a small dog, however a one to two mile jog is enough for us, kindred spirits, to enjoy our time in nature together.

Oftentimes, though, the best playlist is devoid of music or Charlie. Instead, the calm, quiet peace of solitude, interrupted with the pad, pad, pad of my running shoes hitting the pavement is all I need. Then I can take in nature's beauty along the way. A playlist of all the senses...

As I enter the wooded area from the pavement of the street and neighborhood, my feet meets the soft dirt path, leading down to the peaceful trail, shaded by large, overgrown trees. I turn to the trail and the added sounds of early fallen leaves crunch to my stride.

Soon, I approach the rusted bridge that safely carries me above North 48th Street and the whirring of civilization on the street below.

The trail becomes less populated with people as the sky darkens, and the voices of birds fill in the air with their night-time sounds. I never stop for a drink at this blue fountain, but I like the blaring color that stands alone.

After I turn around and head back towards the starting point on the same path, I see a different perspective from an opposite direction. There are more colors on the trees than before, welcoming me back home.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lunch with a clarinetist and beatboxer who improv together atTEDxLincoln

This last Thursday, I spent my entire day off from work attending the TEDxLincoln event, Wide Horizons Open Minds. I am very thankful that I did. The day was filled with fabulous speakers who challenged me to think differently about the world, grabbed my attention and took me on an inspiring journey, or had me (and the entire room) in tears, or just (I can't believe I wrote "just") introduced me to a new idea.

I filled up each page of the program with notes as I, with difficulty, pulled my attention away from each speaker to record my thoughts. There is much I want to blog about as I turn my notes into responses, and there is even more that I want to share, such as links to the videos of the talks that will soon be posted on YouTube, or books and movies of the presenters. So check this blog as I spend the next several days writing about Wide Horizons Open Minds because I feel I can't do it justice with a single post.

Before the event, Michelle suggested that I live-tweet it. Now, what you must know, this guy does not do so well with the technology. I mean, I can hold my own compared to some people, but if I had to compare our technology skills, she would be an evolved genius and I'm a dying neanderthal. The great thing about my amazing wife is that she is patient with me and she takes the time to help me along (even though most of the time I think she easily grows very impatient with me). I drove to the event with anticipation, and, strangely, with a little nervousness about live-tweeting because I didn't want to break any tweeting norms. After being re-tweeted early on in the talks, I gained confidence and loved the experience. I was connecting with total strangers in the room while the event was going on. People were reading my reactions, and I theirs. Twitter enhanced my experience.

My first "hash-tagged" tweet of the day was, "Giving the speech of your life is hard," which was a direct quote from the emcee, Susan Stibal. Dr. Gregory Oakes lived up to that quotation by sharing with the audience his talents on the clarinet in his talk, "Originality, Your Own Way." A line from his bio in the TEDxLincoln program states, "Oakes is one of the most exciting and energetic clarinetists of his generation." And for the few minutes I watched him (and, later listened to him talk while we ate lunch at the same table) I can see why.

He began his talk comparing the artist to the scientist because he grew up surrounded by scientists and a musician was a different thing to "be". He said, "The idea of being a musician was something you did on the weekends." But he lived for originality. He said that you should never do or don't do something because of money. That seemed like a challenge because, in a lot of ways, that statement is not an easy one to follow. Then he launched into sharing some music, playing one movement from a piece titled "Folksongs." Here is a short clip I captured on my iPhone:

Later in the day, after lunch, DeWayne Taylor gave a talk titled "The Evolution of Beatbox". A talented musician and artist of a unique kind (who also ate lunch at my table), DeWayne has competed in the American Beatbox Championships. He also shared with the audience the uniqueness of his instrument--him, informing us all about the intricacies of his craft. What I found most insightful was when DeWayne was speaking about the emotions of a beatboxer and how those are communicated in many the same ways as other artists, like musicians. In order to demonstrate this concept to us, he asked for the audience to randomly pick three emotions. Then he performed for us, incorporating those three emotions:

Those two amazing performances were enough to blow my mind, until at the end of the day, when I was leaving the event, I discovered DeWayne and Greg in the lobby doing improv. Just when I thought my day couldn't have been filled with more coolness, it was:

I will be writing about the other phenomenal talks from Wide Horizons Open Minds in further posts. You should check out the TEDxLincoln Facebook page at And you should attend this event next year, either in person or streaming it online. I will vouch that it will be worth your time!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Follow me on Twitter today @CharliesHuman!

Today, I am attending TEDx Lincoln and am incredibly excited!

Nebraska: Wide Horizons, Open Minds has a great line-up of speakers.

Follow me on twitter for live updates throughout the day

I will blog about the event soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: My favorite things

While I enjoy having Charlie around, I miss his canine friends and the action they provide.

Here are my favorite things of having three dogs in the house:
  1. Porter chasing Charlie from room to room when Charlie has the ball in his mouth. Usually Charlie wants us to chase him around the house. I admit, I occasionally will do this. But it is easier to sit back and watch them.
  2. Three dogs running to greet me at the door instead of one.
  3. Cuddle time.
  4. Feeding time. And trying to keep three dogs at their own food bowls when all of them not only want to eat their own food but also the food from all the other bowls.
  5. Having other dogs around makes Charlie less reluctant to go outside. Today he didn't want to go out because the cement was wet and it had rained last night. If Porter and Ollie were around, he would have ran out the back door with them without hesitation.
Maybe it is time for another dog... OK, probably not. But we'll dog-sit anytime.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Autumn grilling

I appreciate the four seasons. The difference each one brings is exciting from the cold brisk snow of winter, to the budding green fresh spring, to the warm long summer days, and the cool color changes of autumn. Of course, along with the perks of each season are the downfalls and, let's face it, who really wants to grill in a white winter wonderland?

Being the grill-master in the family, I must get as much grill action out of my system before the winter season hits. Tonight, my lovely wife prepped the food for our autumn grilling deliciousness. She sliced sweet potatoes, then seasoned them with olive oil, a "teensy, teensy bit of salt," pepper, and cinnamon. She cut broccoli, sprinkling it with olive oil, garlic powder, and pepper. Both the sweet potatoes and broccoli were wrapped in foil. She buttered some fresh bread from Hy-Vee and sprinkled it with garlic powder. I threw this all on the grill with some pre-seasoned swordfish steaks.

After a short-time and little effort, the food was ready (the only secret to being a grill-master is not flipping the food too much, each side should be facing down only once). Most of my time was spent watching Chalie in order to keep him from eating acorns off of the driveway. He likes them. They make him sick. He still eats them.

The food we had for dinner was delicious and didn't make anyone sick. To top off the autumn flavor of the evening, we complimented the food with a Pumpkin Shock Top.

This dinner was a different take on the traditional grilling of burgers, steaks, or brats.

The best part of any grilled meal is minimal cleanup with few leftovers.

Charlie tried to sip some Shock Top because he loves beer. Honestly, he loves anything we do. If we drink it, he wants it. He always is sly as can be, thinking he also might be able to get a little people food but that never really happens. Instead he settles in next to us and pouts until we are finished eating.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's the great pumkin, Charlie!

Charlie is neurotic. For those of you who know us and have been reading past posts, you have heard about the craziness that is Charlie. We love this about him. Part of his neurosis is sad. But that does not stop us, his human parents, from enjoying the reactions we get out of him. I know it's bad parenting. I rationalize it as non-abusive because we hug him afterwards. That's OK, right?

There are certain little traditions Michelle and I have experienced together over the years. One of them  is getting together with others to have pumpkin carving time. (I enjoy this tradition much more than Michelle). We do this with family every year, and, then again, with our friends. Pumpkin carving tradition is pretty basic and low-key. You get together. Enjoy each others' company. Drink some beverages. Carve pumpkins. Light them. Enjoy the ambiance from the orange glow. Take pictures to document the occasion. Roast the pumpkin seeds. And then do it again next year. Yes, we do that twice every Halloween.

Michelle let me know of the great Facebook deal (at my own store where I work by the way) of buy one pumpkin, get one free, and suggested I get some. I gladly obliged because picking out the perfect-shaped pumpkin is a strategic part of the carving fun. Walking to my car after the purchase, however, I had another idea for fun.

Last year, we discovered that one (out of many) of Charlie's fears was pumpkins. As I was driving home, I called Michelle and told her to get ready to video the events of me bringing my buy-one-get-one-free prized possessions home.

I know, mean.

But you will see the brilliance of my idea after you have watched the videos of this below...

So, Michelle told Charlie that I was on my way home. It is incredibly cute when Charlie hears that one of us is coming home. He immediately becomes excited, and waits in the front window for our car to come down the street. If only he knew what was in the backseat of my car...

Once he saw my car, he went running to the back door to greet me. Apparently, Michelle was able to get him to wait patiently by the door. The poor guy had no idea what was about to happen...

Now, instead of writing what happened, I think it will be more pleasurable for you to watch some of the events as they transpire in the videos below.

Then, I walked in the door...

After being afraid, not liking the pumpkin, things got a little strange...

We're not quite sure what was happening there... tasting it, trying to eat it, making out with it? If only Charlie could speak a little English and let us know what was going on in his canine mind.

Moving the pumpkin from the kitchen to the living room, led to additional fear. I apologize for the camera rotation here, but not sharing this video wouldn't do any justice to the sequence of events.

And, finally, I went back out to the car to get the other pumpkin. The second one Charlie viewed more favorably than the first.

Stay tuned for more pumpkin posts this season! I am certain there will be exciting updates as the Halloween date approaches.

What do you like to do with pumpkins for Halloween?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In preparation for the Wednesday Presidential debate

I'm going to begin with a little bit of a confession here, a baring of the soul. Here's the truth: I'm a nerd when it comes to the American political system of government. I read profusely (from a variety of sources) the arguments and plans of all politicians. I like to watch debates on TV. I generally watch the President of the United States address the nation, like the State of the Union, out of respect for the office. I admit, I sometimes talk back to the TV. OK, let's be real, sometimes I yell.

Tomorrow is the first debate for President between Mitt Romney and Barak Obama. I'll be tuned in. And I thought that tonight would be fitting to write in preparation for tomorrow.

While I'm being a truth-teller, I'll disclose that I'm a registered Democrat. I know in writing this, I'm being judged by everyone's perception of what a "Democrat" is to them in their mind. When you tell someone you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent, certain judgements are automatically made about you. Something about this is slightly unfortunate. So I'll also share (for, I  guess, maybe, a bit of credibility) that I've voted for Republicans.

For a little more credibility, here is the breakdown in our household:
  • Me - registered Democrat
  • Michelle - registered Independent
  • Charlie - (he tells me he is a strict Republican, always has been)
I'm concerned how both sides (because, let's face it, there are only two sides right now, as there are no other voices strong enough to overcome our two-party system) characterize the other, oftentimes with unfair generalizations. Because of this, there is little true discussion about what really matters. All one has to do is look at what is being posted on Facebook.

Here's one:
I do think that we have a personal and moral obligation to individually help others through good-will and charity. This is ideal. Being compassionate and understanding with others is also favorable.  However, I'm not sure that our government holds people hostage (I'm guessing through taxes is the message here) at gunpoint to give poor people money. Education is not charity or compassion. Neither is a home. Or nourishment. Or affordable health care. Rather, these things are what people need to live free, productive lives. Let's discuss that.

Here's another one:

Everyone is talking about budgets, endless spending, debt, and deficits. I think we need to be fiscally responsible. We need to take care of our fiscal crisis. We need to do it without talking about "class warfare". War is war. Soldiers serve and sacrifice. And people die. Let's drop the class warfare rhetoric and dig for rational solutions. There is a need to cut wastefulness. There is also a need to be responsible and reasonable. Patriotism is paying your taxes without complaining because they get us roads, clean air and water, cheap reliable energy, education, safety and security (a military), and a stable society. Patriotism is also about demanding a balanced approach with solutions, requiring sacrifice, investment, and a true look at what we can really afford (what we can afford to cut and what we can afford NOT to cut). Let's discuss that.

Real discussion is not happening.

We're all pretty much to blame. Read why: Voters Angry At Washington Gridlock May Want To Look In The Mirror

Voters are becoming entrenched in their views, so much so that they are even unwilling to listen and consider another point of view. Many (not all) politicians move toward more extreme views to get elected and many (not all) refuse to compromise--on absolutely anything--as a result. And those are the politicians who get elected.

Sadly, the politicians who sometimes would cross the political aisle are being replaced by those politicians who pander to the extreme side of either the right of the left of the political spectrum.

And now we suffer with the effects.

Part of the polarization and "do nothing" Congress has much to do with the polarization of America. If the populace wants it's government to actually do something productive for everyone then maybe they need to be more willing to be civil. This doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. Opposing viewpoints are necessary. That's democracy.

Civility means this: what must happen is a demand for more from our politicians (and ourselves)--a willingness to listen and, yes (oh my gosh), actually come to compromise and common ground.

What can't happen are continued overly simplified arguments containing glowing rhetoric without reason, those lacking contextualization, decency, and sound logic that only reduces complexities to simplistic theoretical notions which have nothing to do with the reality of the world and the people who live in it.

There. I feel better now that I got that out. I'm ready for the debate tomorrow night.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

More blankets, and other seasonal changes

I've been working all weekend to make up for some time I took off this week. Usually when I come home, Charlie is in the window waiting for me, or already at the back door, or running to the back door when I enter the house.

Not today.

I walked in. Silence. No Charlie.

I even said, "Charlie, where are you? I'm home!" Still nothing.

I was certain he was probably doing something important with his mom and didn't hear me come home. But when I walked into the living room and spotted Michelle sitting by herself, he was not with her. That is when I turned and saw this:

Charlie was snuggled up with the blankets, extremely comfortable.

I like the seasons. The changes are exciting. The difference is almost energy-giving for me. I especially like what fall brings, like:
  • Nebraska football
  • cool brisk mornings followed by mild, calm weather
  • colorful foliage
  • a string of celebrations like Halloween and Thanksgiving
  • and, of course, more blankets.
This approaching fall has also reminded me of how time is changing everything. From the pictures of kids getting older on Facebook; to the wedding of our friends, Caitlin and Talor; to having dinner with work friends for our beloved director who is moving on for a promotion; life doesn't slow down. Except it does slow down for those truly great moments when we make time to have dinner with colleagues, enjoying an evening filled with recollection and laughter. Or celebrating the love and friendship of a new marriage. And even the few seconds we take to enjoy a short moment with a child. It is all very special while also fleeting.

So take a few moments to enjoy a cuddle in blankets or some other special, yet normal, moment of living to celebrate this fall.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: The adjustment

Life has calmed down since my previous two posts. 3 dogs in 1 castle has become comfortable, a routine, a way of living. Of course Ollie and Porter are about to return to their own homes, which, I'm sure, will lead to a bit of an adjustment for Charlie. But for now, we are fairing quite well.

The adjustment period. We've all experienced it at some point in our lives. It's the period of time it takes us to become accustomed to our most recent endeavor. Adjusting can be thrilling, unnerving, or both of those at the same time. Depending on the situation, our outlook, and our ability to be flexible all determines whether or not we emerge from this period successful and well-adjusted or defeated and demoralized. Well, maybe those polarized outcomes are not exactly what happens after an adjustment period, but hopefully you get the point. Some times adjustment periods are dramatic and important. Other times, they are slight moments of fine-tuning.

School presents many adjustment periods like a new teacher, a different class, a new school. At each step of the way there are different rules, expectations, ways of doing things. The greatest adjustments in school come with age, from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. During these times we reconcile what we expect that next stage to be like with what we actually experience.

Changing jobs or beginning a new job. We are the new one who is out of place and does not yet belong. This change contains new co-workers, a different culture, learning the norms of the workplace, and becoming accustomed to new roles in an establishment.

Moving to a new neighborhood, city, state, or country. Or maybe even changing living arrangements like getting a new roommate or living with a spouse.

An addition or loss of a family member, co-worker, neighbor. How do we go on without someone dear to us? How do we adjust to the changes the new person brings to our established living?

Having three dogs in the house took a slight adjustment for all of us. Porter and Ollie clearly are missing their human family. Charlie is not getting all of the attention from his human parents. And Michelle and I are dealing with an entirely new dynamic. My other posts describe the rocky beginnings, especially during the first night, and of course the rolling in poop incident. But the second night was much better. We decided that Charlie would sleep in his bed like always. Porter and Ollie would kennel up. Porter was fine with this arrangement. Ollie voiced his concern with low growls followed by puffs of air from his nose and mouth. For hours. He sounded like a fire-breathing dragon.

Night three, the arrangements stayed the same and no one voiced dissent. The back yard went from a place of constant fighting for domination to a communal space all dogs happily shared. They settled comfortably in the house, relaxing in their surroundings.

The dogs are now enjoying each others' company as they regularly compete for the prize possession, the toy of the moment. Sometimes that is Ollie holding the rope in his grasp as he gnaws at it, growling at the slightest moment of an approaching Charlie or Porter. Other times it is Charlie and Porter circling for the ball... which now has a nice little hole chewed out of it.

Life is like a body of water. The ebbs and flows of the waves can be predictable or uncertain. They can be destructive. Or they can be calm and peaceful.

Or life can be like 3 dogs in 1 castle. The relationships and temperaments must be negotiated. They can be tense and trying. Or they can be unexpectedly content and perfect.

What have been the best and worst adjustment periods of your life? Which of those moments are worth sharing?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: Unfinished business

I didn't sleep well last night. My intentions were the complete opposite. I had a plan. So did Michelle.

We expected Charlie to sleep in his bed next to ours, like he always does. We expected the other dogs to also not sleep on the bed. Sort of. We knew Ollie would probably sleep on the bed with us because he is small and we could handle that. Sure enough, Ollie helped himself up on the bed and was waiting there, trying to snuggle himself under the covers.

Porter took some extra prodding to come to bed. She kept wanting to sneak back into the living room to lay on the couch. Finally she came to the bedroom and I shut the door. And that is when her pacing around the room began. After trying to fall asleep, I got a pillow for her and put it on the opposite side of the bed from Charlie. Charlie liked this new pillow and immediately curled up on it as Porter watched. Minutes of coaching led Charlie back to his own bed and Porter ultimately got on the impromptu one I just made.

At regular intervals throughout the night, Ollie shifted in bed, followed by shaking his head/ears, ringing the tags on his collar. Porter got up to walk the room and paw at the bed. Sometimes Porter would bark, at who knows what.

After a sleepless night for both dogs and humans, the real excitement happened later in the day when Michelle came home from work. Apparently there was unfinished business to accomplish in the backyard from the previous night. I was still at work when I got the text: "Omg. Pretty sure all 3 dogs just rolled on poop! For reals. I think I need to hose them off."

Michelle then started live tweeting the events along with supporting photos:
Rolling in Poop!
In trouble!
Trouble #2
Partners in crime.
Certainly, the saga of 3 dogs 1 castle as been eventful and unpredictable. What's next?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: The first night

Charlie's canine friends, Porter and Ollie, are staying with us for about five days. They have only been here about two and a half hours and some pretty exciting dog shenanigans already have taken place.

When Porter and Ollie first arrived, Charlie could not contain his excitement (well, that is always true when someone comes over) and he ran to the front door, pushing himself out, not moving off of the front step until I pulled him by his collar back inside the house. Once we safely got everyone inside, chase-fest 2012 began.
Everyone was moving too quickly for me to get a good picture.
Porter and Charlie ran from room to room of our very small castle until Charlie saw the toy ball that came with his two friends. Like always, Ollie kept his distance watching the crazy take place.

The ball added an new element to the game of chase and was the obsession for at least an hour. Charlie was not afraid to be the rude host, and snatched the ball away from his visitor. Once he had it in his jaws he would run ferociously about, growling, with Porter right behind him. Charlie was determined to be the dominant one. This was his house. He wanted to make the rules.

But Porter had a plan. She went right to Charlie's box of toys in the living room. No one messes with Charlie's toys and he became immediately concerned about what Porter was doing. Porter executed her plan with extreme precision without a moment of hesitation, sticking her head into the box. Charlie dropped the ball to defend his treasure of toys. And that is when Porter scooped up her ball, and dominated again.

Porter can play fetch endlessly. The slobbered ball was gingerly placed on the edge of the couch. On my ankle. Like the dutiful human, I threw the ball so she could retrieve it.

The ball was the object to endlessly dominate, however Charlie put that out of his mind for a moment when he noticed that Anna, Russ, and Vivi were not going to be staying at the house with Porter and Ollie. As they walked down the front sidewalk to the driveway, Charlie made his loud, whiny, monkey-noises. He was extremely sad the human visitors were leaving so soon.

All returned to normal. Sort of. The dogs drank a lot of water to hydrate from the activity.

Before bed, I took all the dogs outside for fear they would wake me up in the middle of the night to go outside as a result of all the water consumption. Immediately, both Porter and Ollie pooped, marking their spots in the backyard. As they ran off into the darkness, Charlie crept up on what Porter left behind, stretching his neck out slowly, getting his nose ever-so closer. Then he raised his back leg to pee on Porter's poop. I looked over in the dark and Porter was rolling around in the grass. I panicked, worrying she was rolling around in some other dog poop. She wasn't.

Once inside, Porter made herself comfortable.

Ollie found a good spot near the window so he could watch the neighborhood.

All was peaceful the rest of the night. Except for Porter barking at every little noise she heard outside. These next few days are going to be absolutely awesome!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The best things in life

There are many things in life that provide us value and a sense of self-worth: the new job or promotion, the nice bonus check, the position of importance or status, the new house or car. All are good in their own context. The best things in life, though, are the littlest, simplest things.

Like walking our dog on a beautiful September evening on the wonderful trails in Lincoln. Charlie was just groomed, his coat trimmed and silky, his ears un-matted, his nails and paws perfectly cut, and a scarf tied around his neck. He was being good that night, not pulling on the leash, heeling next to me the entire time, automatically stopping to sit at intersections like we trained him. Fellow trail patrons wanted to know what kind of dog he was. Others commented or pointed out how cute or well-behaved he was. I was a proud dad that night.

Like having lunch with a great friend and mentor, Elaine, who has recently retired. I lovingly (and sometimes jokingly) refer to her as my second mom. She was a wonderful supporter as I made my way through student teaching. Then I was lucky enough to call her a colleague for almost seven years. Now we are both in different places in life: she still teaching but now in a different setting, me wondering if I'll ever return to the classroom.

Like being an uncle. I love all of my nieces and nephews. They each have unique characteristics, and it is fun to watch them grow from babies into little people and beyond. At each stage of life they discover something new about their world, no matter how simplistic it might be. Last week I spent a short amount of time with Katelyn. She is a little afraid of her uncle Todd. Stranger danger is part of growing up and she is at the age where she is incredibly wary of people she does not see on a regular basis. At first when she saw me she teared up a bit. But then later, as she got comfortable with the newest person in the room, she was OK. When she spotted my shoelaces, she came right over and began to unlace them.
Within seconds, not only were my shoes untied, but Katey was having the time of her life!
She was fascinated with the things. I couldn't believe her intense grip as I worried about whether I would be able to undo the knot she just created.
Katey then looked up and discovered that the leg, which was connected to the shoe, was all part of the scary man. She seemed to have forgotten. We became great friends.
I, Uncle Todd, was proud to be able to pick up and hold an amazingly curious, inquisitive, and somewhat cautious little girl!

Like having an impromptu get-together with friends at our house. Everyone brought their own food. We caught up, sharing the most recent events of the week. We grilled (including chicken nuggets). We enjoyed the company that goes along with great friendship, laughing, commiserating, and playing an exciting game of Hide and Seek with the kids in the backyard. 

Where do you place your focus in life?

I read a post on a great blog the other day posing that very question Foreground vs. Background - Life Refocused. Do we emphasize the foreground or background, or are the two merged together? Oftentimes our focus depends upon state of mind, the moment, our perspective, and even emphasis. So, what are your best things in life? Where is your focus?