Day 78 – Character

If you only pay attention to the screaming headlines–you know, the ones that claim our world is overrun with scandal and lies and cheating and horror and greed–you probably walk around with a pretty grim view of this planet and the people walking around on it. I’m not denying that stuff exists. Of course it does. We humans are perfectly imperfect, and we don’t always care about each other the way we should or make the best choices.

But if you take a moment to avert your eyes from the sensational click-bait headlines and turn down the noise, you just might get a glimpse of the big beautiful world we’re all living in just trying to do our best and grab onto a little happiness along the way.

Call me naive, but I’m of the opinion that people are generally good. Deep down, I think we all just want to feel safe and loved. I think we all just want to find our purpose. But I also think we sometimes get lost along the way. We focus too much on ourselves, on climbing some social or professional ladder, on establishing ourselves at the top of the food chain, even if it means clawing someone else out of our way.

I’ve been posting a lot about the floods taking place here in Nebraska the past few days, and if you haven’t taken the time to read any of the stories, I hope you’ll take a moment to do so now. The devastation will tear your heart right out of your chest–the suffering, the pain, the loss. But the stories of people coming together, of communities rallying, of quiet heroes stepping in to lift up their neighbors and their fellow humans–those stories will make you whole again.

Character is the choices you make when nobody’s looking. Character is reaching out to help someone who needs it and expecting nothing in return. Character is loving and respecting other humans because they’re human, and not thinking twice about their race or religion or socioeconomic status or whether they voted red or blue.

Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.

Humans are capable of horrible things. It’s true. I’ve seen it up close with my own eyes. Hell, I’ve been on the receiving end of it. But humans are capable of extraordinary things too. And if you look around and pay attention, I think you’ll probably notice that there’s a whole lot more of the good stuff happening. And the best thing about that is, you can choose what you want to pay forward.

Get out there and spread some love and light.

Day 76 – #NebraskaFlood2019

I’m totally borrowing and recycling information tonight, but it’s honestly the best thing I can think to do on this blog right now. A lot of people in my home state need a lot of help. We’re pretty dry here in Lincoln right now, but the massive flooding all around us is damaging the city’s wellfield and threatening our water supply. As of about an hour ago, we’re officially on mandatory water restrictions.

And still, we’re the really lucky ones. The town of Peru has approximately 170,000 gallons of water (about 3 days worth) left in the tower.

Other towns have lost all water and been completely evacuated. And some have been swallowed up completely.

There are a lot of people hurting, and a lot of rebuilding that will need to be done once the floodwaters finally recede. So much has been lost, will continue to be lost in the days and weeks to come. But there is so much good happening here too. People coming together, helping each other, loving each other. This…this is what being human is all about. We will get through this together.

We are #NebraskaStrong.

Day 75 – #NebraskaStrong

You know we hear all the time about how the world is more connected now than ever, how social media and internet access and smart phones give us instant access to things happening all over the world, allowing us the experience news as it breaks. But that’s only half true, isn’t it? Because we’re really only as connected as our newsfeeds and our limited worldview allow us to be. The reality is that we can believe we’re informed and think we’re so “woke” but the only way we can ever really know for sure is to disconnect from our usual channels and push outside our comfort zones and look past the noise and the bullshit being fed to us.

Forgive me if I’m a little irritable right now, but I’m sitting here in a state that is literally drowning. Two-thirds of Nebraska is under water tonight. Entire towns, farms, ranches. Animals are freezing, starving, drowning. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes, lost everything. Bridges and roads have been washed away. I’m seeing photos of the devastation in my newsfeed, posted by friends and family. Yet somehow this is all a blip on the national radar, barely a story any of the major news stations are really covering.

Hell, Nebraska got way more coverage when our new state slogan was unveiled a few months ago…”Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” Yeah, that hit the late night circuit. Live with Kelly and Ryan sure had a great time poking fun at it.

Tonight, all of the major news outlets are running the same old stories about who the President is tweeting at today, followed by hard-hitting headlines about April the giraffe giving birth again, the potential for Russell Wilson to sign the biggest NFL contract in history, Lori Loughlin losing out on deals with Netflix and the Hallmark Channel, and Chris Hemsworth snapping selfies with wildlife in Australia.

You know, all the really important things.

But even if we’re laughably called a “flyover state” by a whole lot of people who have never even bothered to get a real glimpse of what Nebraska has to offer, there is absolutely no other place I’d rather be at a time like this. Because if there is one thing we Nebraskans are really great at, it’s facing adversity head-on and taking care of each other.

So yeah, we’re getting bitch-slapped by Mother Nature right now and most of the world isn’t even aware, but we’re standing up and pulling together and I have absolutely no doubt that we’re going to emerge from this stronger than ever. It’s just who we are. It’s just what we do.

We’ll stay #NebraskaStrong

Day 74 – I can’t even

Stevie is convinced that he’s got Henry’s next Halloween costume all picked out…

What do you think?

No shit folks, this is just his hair! Now, I will say, it wasn’t quite this crazy when he went to school this morning. Just the usual patch standing straight up near his cowlick. But by the time the day was over, this happened…

I can’t even. Where do I start?

Day 66 – The evolution of Electra

You know, there was a time when we first got Electra that we worried she was mute. Electra wasn’t even a year old when we adopted her from the Arizona Beagle Rescue, and she was the calmest, most laidback dog Stevie and I had ever seen. We first met her at a foster mom’s house in Goodyear. Electra and a dozen other beagle and beagle/basset mixes ended up being rescued after their owner had a heart attack and was told by his doctors that he needed to get rid of all the pups he was training to track rabbits. Electra had gone to a foster home with six other young beagles, and when we walked up to the door and rang the doorbell, both Stevie and I jumped when full pack of crazy hound dogs started jumping and howling and falling over each other trying to greet us and lick us and sniff our pockets for hidden treats as we edged our way into the living room.

It was mass chaos.

But across the room, sitting demurely in the corner and staring at us with a pair of big brown eyes, was our sweet Electra. She just sat, watching, quietly waiting her turn. When we called her name she walked over, put her paws up on my thighs and invited me to scratch behind her floppy brown ears.

Five minutes later, we signed the adoption papers and took her home.

For the first six months or so, we honestly wondered if something was wrong with her. She wasn’t like any other puppy we’d ever known. She would occasionally get up and play and run around, but she never really barked or growled or made any kind of noise. And she was lazy as hell, right from the beginning, preferring to snuggle up in your lap and take long naps and follow us slowly from room to room, flopping down on the floor at our feet as soon as we stopped moving.

Hell, she even faked a leg injury to keep me from taking her for walks. Apparently she didn’t appreciate the pace I demanded, which is an average (and maybe even slightly slower than average) walking pace. But Electra simply isn’t interested in doing anything except meandering at a snail’s pace around the neighborhood, nose glued to the ground.

At that point, we were honestly thinking maybe Electra couldn’t bark. When we were going through the adoption process, we’d heard that there were several beagles at the rescue whose former owners had the dog’s voice boxes surgically removed because they couldn’t stand the way the beagle’s howled and barked.

No joke. That’s actually a thing some people think it’s okay to do to a pet. Pricks.

But the folks at AZBR assured us that Electra was in perfect health and there was no sign her former owner had done anything of the sort. In fact, before he had to surrender Electra, she was being trained to hunt and track rabbits, which meant she had actually been rewarded for catching a rabbit’s scent and then signaling her victory would a good ol’ hound dog howl.

The first time we ever heard Electra voice, we didn’t even know it was her. She’d been out in the backyard for awhile, when all of a sudden we heard a booming, rhythmic bark that was so loud and deep it rattled the windows. We went outside, thinking one of our neighbors must have a new pet, but all we saw was Electra, nose bouncing along over the ground and making some weird wah-wah-wah-wah sound, sort of like a small helicopter, her tail wagging so hard her entire ass-end was swaying back and forth and damn near knocking her off-balance. Outside, the barking was so loud it was echoing, and it wasn’t until Stevie walked right up beside Electra that he realized she was the one making all the noise. We tried calling to her, tugging on her collar, promising her cookies, but there was no stopping her until the scent ran out.

There was something about Electra’s deep, booming bark that just cracked me up, so I thought it might be funny to actually teach her to bark on command. And knowing how food whorish motivated she is, I decided to train her to bark on command and reward her with dog cookies and bits of kibble.

Worked like a charm.

But it also wasn’t long before I realized I’d unleashed a beast. As soon as Electra discovered that she could actually be rewarded with food for barking, she decided that it was perfectly acceptable to let us know LOUDLY each and every time she felt it was time for breakfast or lunch or dinner or second and third dinner (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that we have to feed this ridiculous hound five small meals a day to keep her from acting sullen and waking us up every couple hours through the night).

And now that she’s entered her senior years and she’s getting old and ornery like a Betty White sort of old lady who just doesn’t give a f*** anymore and will do whatever the hell she wants, Electra does not give two shits whether we yell at her or scold her or plead for her to stop. She just announces her hunger and her impatience like this:

If she wasn’t such a great dog otherwise, this would be really annoying. 😉

Love you Electra!

Day 54 – Love and learning

So this story ran in the New York Times in January: Students Learn From People They Love

I don’t believe it’s just coincidence that this story ran just two days after one of my favorite humans in the world (my mentor and former English Professor Dr. Mandana Nakhai) was honored for her service and her unparalleled dedication as an educator and administrator at Concordia College – New York. I like to think the universe has a way of connecting things like that.

I bookmarked this article. Printed it. And I’ve probably read it at least a half dozen times in the past month. I like the way it makes me think about all of the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life, the way it brings back the memories of what it felt like to sit in their classrooms.

The best teachers don’t charge ahead and clear the path for you, and they don’t take a seat on the sideline and lost sight of you when you stray. The best teachers are the ones who take the journey with you and walk the path alongside you. They are the ones who take the time to explain the unfamiliar road signs and delight in the fact that they get to continue learning something new along the way. And when you come upon a door that leads to a brand new opportunity, the best teachers will squeeze your hands and smile and remind you that you have everything you need to unlock the door and walk on through.

When I think back to all the moments and the choices and the people who got me where I am today, there is no denying that it was the emotional connection that really made all the difference. I couldn’t have learned unless I felt safe and supported in the classroom. I wouldn’t have gone onto college without the elementary and middle and high school teachers that went above and beyond just trying to teach me math equations or analyze the themes in Shakespeare’s plays. And I wouldn’t have graduated from college, gone onto get a Master’s, or pursued a career in higher education if it weren’t for the faculty and staff who invested in me, challenged me, and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone that I sometimes have a hard time remembering what it feels like to be truly scared of anything.

And while I am so thankful for all the the things they taught me in the classroom, that’s really not even half of the story. I had teachers who helped me earn scholarships, who steered me toward opportunities to participate in prestigious writing programs, who helped me get published. I had teachers who helped me navigate volatile relationships, who pushed me get into therapy, who sat with me in the hospital until they knew that I was okay. I had teachers who helped me craft my first resume and cover letter, who invited me to dine in my very first Michelin-rated restaurant, who took me to my very first art museum and Broadway show. I had teachers who helped me piece together my first professional wardrobe and who (to this day) remain some of my greatest mentors and confidants and friends.

So, if you ask me what really makes the difference in a child’s education, you’re probably not going to hear me talk about the tests or the textbooks or the state-of-the-art facilities. Instead, I’m going to talk about the connections they can make with teachers, because from that love comes learning. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?