Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sharing Food With Strangers

I'm eating dinner alone tonight in Culver City CA at a little place called Thai Dishes.

I've been here a few times for lunch, and was looking forward to the dinner sized portion of the Ka Ree Panang. It burns a nice sized hole in your gut, but tastes so good going down.

An older couple next to me were very friendly and chatty and were complaining in a cheerful way that they never knew what to order at these kinds of places since they wanted to try it all. They seemed a tad bit adventurous to me... And it proved out in short order.

When their food came the gentleman said "here you go young man- try this!" And placed bits of their 2 different entrees on my plate. What could I do? Well... Of course offer some of mine.

I placed a chunk of chicken positively soaked in yellow pungent burning hot curry sauce on some rice and he pushed it all onto a big spoon and downed it before I could warn him.

He choked and grabbed his chest, then downed his entire glass of water before declaring loud enough for all the neighbors to hear "my god, man, that's spicy!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Business Convention = Party!

At the risk of sounding like I am making fun of an industry, please allow me to make fun of an industry. Or at least their annual convention.

I am in LA this week on business, and staying at the relatively nice Marriott Marina Del Rey near where Washington Blvd meets the Pacific ocean.

The widely known and storied National Association of Purchasing and Payables (known affectionately and sleepily as NAPP) annual convention is tearing up the meeting rooms, lounges and hallways of this respectable hotel.

I have seen literealy dozens and, well, maybe a dozen, of the attendees partying hardy in the lounge with their ties scandilously loosened and ladies with buttoned-to-the-neck blouses with absolutely no frilly collars with O'Douls in hand and hoot'n and holl'rn about how Mr. Ferguson had played a trick on the association's best-practices committee chairman.

He had mentioned that his department routinely padded procurement prices with a 5% "transaction fee" to pay for their departments Christmas party in Aruba (also attended by their vendors who matched the 5% fee with a year-end kickback rebate). Apparently the chairman turned red and stammered before realizing it was a joke.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Four Simple Ways to Help Keep Your Child Safe

Last year I was invited to write an article for a parenting website and had a blast doing it. I've written several articles before for magazines and websites, but all have been focused on entertainment or technology- fun and interesting things for sure, but not nearly as meaningful and important to me as the safety and welfare of children. I had forgot about this piece until someone recently posted a comment and it hit my Google Alert again. Thought I would re-publish it here on my blog. Hope you enjoy.

Four Simple Ways to Help Keep Your Child Safe

Like many parents of small children, I taught the time-worn mantra of “don’t talk to strangers” to our kids, resulting in the always confusing “who is a stranger?” conversation that was sure to follow. Adults know perfectly well who a stranger is- it’s someone we don’t know. But to a child, a stranger is all too often someone completely different, with imagined characteristics that surprise many parents. Children asked what a stranger looks like often describe ‘scary people’ that wear dark glasses and clothing, hide around corners and follow them. They say strangers are ‘mean people’ that look like they hurt others. Unfortunately, most people that hurt children look like most anyone. They often appear to be kind and caring men that want to help kids.

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of connecting with Julie Clark (founder of The Baby Einstein Company) and John Walsh (host of America’s Most Wanted) while working for a large media company. I had decided to branch out and acquire more kids video products, and, through research, discovered their new venture- The Safe Side. After a few months of discussions, I signed them for distribution, and then shortly after that, they hired me to help launch the company. I had fallen in love with their mission to help kids- I jumped at the opportunity.

To me, the teaching presented by Julie and John through their videos is simple, yet revolutionary. It talks to kids, not down at them, and gives them and their parents a whole new vocabulary that allows them to speak the same language. It breaks the world into 3 groups of people- that’s it- no middle ground. There are ‘Safe Side Adults’ (a small group of 2-5 people or so that mom and dad or the primary safe and loving caregiver define), ‘Don’t Knows’ (anyone the child does not know) and ‘Kinda Knows’ (anyone the child ‘kind of knows’ such as the next door neighbor, teacher, coach, your friends, or even an uncle or cousin).

Children really get this- it sinks in fast, especially when presented in the Safe Side videos by the lead character, Safe Side Superchick. I go into greater detail about The Safe Side and the important Hot Tips that help keep children safer in a post I wrote a few months ago on DigitalRichDaily.

It’s relatively easy to keep children safe when they’re younger. For the most part, they’re always in sight and under your watchful eye. It’s when they hit school-age that things get a bit more complex. Suddenly, they are off to birthday parties, spending the night at a friend’s house, or playing at a next-door neighbor’s. This is the time to pull out the parenting manual you were given by the hospital, where you gave birth to your precious child. Mine is titled “Children: Installation and Operating Instructions” and was printed sometime around 1956 or so. Oh- you didn’t get one? Don’t bother. Much of the lessons on safety from our parents is no longer effective. How could our parents know the new or changed threats that are facing us today? One example- who would have thought just 10 years ago that most every American family would invite an always-on Internet connection to be in their home, essentially a 24/7 stranger living down the hall?

If you're investing time and effort to provide a healthy, safe, and encouraging environment for your children- congratulations! Way to go! I figured you are- why else would you be reading a post on a site like I’m sure you know, however, that there are families your child will come in contact with that don’t share the same values, or provide the same environment as you do. In fact, sometimes I think these parents and their children are drawn to those that do, sensing a caring and safe world that they aspire to be a part of.

The challenge is keeping your children safe, while also allowing them to learn and grow, by experiencing different environments and people that will add context and understanding to your teaching and instruction. But that must never come at the expense of their safety.

Here are 4 specific things you can do to help keep your kids safe as they start to experience more freedom in their lives, exploring new friendships and environments:

1. Talk to your kids about ‘Don’t Knows.’ Children should understand that ‘Don’t Knows’ can be very important people in their lives. ‘Don’t Knows’ can be fun and exciting people, full of information, fun stories and good times, as long as you (the Safe Side Adult) are around.
‘Don’t Knows’ can even save your child’s life - and it is important your children understand that it’s ok to talk to them in emergencies, when you’re not around. Take for example young Brennan Hawkins, the 11 year-old boy lost in the mountains of Utah during the summer of 2005. When rescuers were near enough to hear and rescue him, shouting through bullhorns, he didn’t respond, because he was taught not to talk to strangers. Using the trusted ‘secret password’ system also helps in these situations.

Another ‘Don’t Know’ that can be a help to a child, when he or she is lost or separated from you, is any mom with kids. Teach your children that, in these situations, they should look for these special ‘Don’t Knows.’ Having your child look for a police officer or a store employee comes in a distant last place to the help the ever-present mom can provide. Security guards can often be mistaken by a child for a police officer (I am sure most of the security guard folks are fine upstanding citizens, but there are many creeps in the profession as well). Anyone can look like they are an employee to a child- but there is no doubt they will easily spot a mom with kids- and who else will latch on to your child with care and concern until they are safely with mom or dad again?

Another reason why moms with kids are preferable over anyone else is this- according to a 2003 US Bureau of Justice Statistics report, 99% of all sex offender arrests are male. The vast majority of the females that are arrested don’t have children. Case closed.

2. Expand on the concept of ‘Kinda Knows.’ Unfortunately, most children that are hurt emotionally or physically are hurt by someone they kind of know, or, in too many cases, know well. It is important that children know not to go anywhere or do anything with ‘Kinda Knows’, just like ‘Don’t Knows’, without their Safe Side Adult’s permission. ‘Kinda Knows’ include absolutely everyone that isn’t in the other two groups. This includes sports coaches, teachers, pastors, their friend’s parents, or your friends.
I coach softball and I am shocked at parents’ willingness to leave their child in my care, dropping them off for practice and leaving them with me for hours. They think they can accurately judge my character and who I am after a few amiable conversations, and seeing me pour my heart into helping these young girls develop new skills and self-confidence. In my case, they happen to be right. I would never even imagine hurting a child, but there are those few sick individuals out there that would, and they count on- depend on- carelessness like this to secure what they need.

3. Let Your ‘Private Investigator’ skills shine. Our first child was invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house across the street when she was 6 years old. We knew the family relatively well- my wife had been to their house a couple of times for neighborhood playgroup gatherings and trusted them. All went well until the next day when our adorable little girl gave us a minute-by-minute recounting of her first sleepover.

She talked about playing, eating pizza, watching a movie, and lots more. Much more. I have to admit I started to zone out after a few minutes, trying to get in some E-mail time while listening. Then I heard a word that didn’t seem to fit in with the whole “what I did on my sleepover” report. I looked up and asked her to repeat the last thing she said. The word was gun. Turns out her friend invited our daughter to join in on a secret mission to sneak upstairs, to look at her daddy’s shiny new gun. That birthed a new tradition in our household- the pre-sleepover or play-date questionnaire:
Do you have any firearms in your house? If yes, are they locked up and completely inaccessible to anyone in your home except you?

Is there any alcohol in your home? If yes, is it in a locked case and inaccessible to all minors? Will there be anyone drinking alcohol or smoking in your home when my child is there? (I have a friend that had to go pick up his daughter from a friend’s house when she called home to report that her friend’s mom was drunk and yelling loudly and she was scared).

Are there any older siblings in the home? If so, how old are they? (I hate to say this, but if you have a daughter, it might not be a good idea to let them spend the night at a friend’s house that includes older teenage boys unless you know and trust the family very well).

What activities will my child be involved in while there? (If music and movies are on the agenda, ask which artists or films will be played. If they are on your “not in our house” list, then speak up and let them know they will have to choose different entertainment. Suggest sending over your child’s favorite movies if they would like).

Will any other children be at the house, or spending the night? (This is important- I had another friend, whose daughter spent the night at a friend’s, only to find out the next day an older sibling had a rather rowdy co-ed party at the house the same night. Not a good scene).

Are there any computers with internet access in the bedroom? If no, is the computer’s location in a common area where you are able to keep an eye on activities?

These may seem invasive, and are a bit uncomfortable to ask the first or second time you do it, but trust me- it gets easier. Another thought- why not set a great example for others by providing them a brief overview of your plans, and even answers to the questions if their child will be spending the night at your house? A great way to do this is to send a brief E-mail thanking them for trusting their child to your care, explain the activities for the evening, confirm the drop-off and pick-up time, and answer the 6 questions you would ask them if your child was spending the night at their home.

If your child has spent the night at their house before, and they’ve endured your investigation, it shows you are consistent and fair. If they haven’t, you will make it easier when it’s time for you to ask them those questions. Plus you may just start a trend.

4. Explain the concept of personal space to your child. The physical space around your child is an important tool in keeping them safer. About the only way for someone to hurt your child is to get close to them. Teaching your children that there is an imaginary circle around them that ‘Don’t Knows’ and ‘Kinda Knows’ shouldn’t cross into if you’re not around is very important. Many cases where children have been injured or abducted have started with an adult approaching a child for what appears to be an innocent reason. Whether the adult says they need directions, or help finding a lost child or pet, what all of these have in common is an attempt by an adult to cross into a child’s ‘Safe Side Circle’ when you’re not there. Teach your children that adults don’t need help from children- period. If someone they don’t know crosses into that circle, your child should leave immediately and find you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

How To Say It Right Here In TN

The national media have descended on middle Tennessee to cover the big story- the wide-spread storm and tornado damage.

I'm impressed that CNN, Fox News and the other news networks have taken the time to learn the peculiar pronunciation of our towns and counties here. A few examples…

Lafayette = la-FAY-it
Santa Fe = santa-FEE
Maury County = murrEE
Clarksville = clarks-VULL
Memphis = mefis
Hohenwald = hone-wall
Hartsville = hurts-VULL
Lebanon = Le-bin-in
Murfreesboro = mur-FEEZ-bura

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Give Me My Money Back!

I got a letter a couple weeks ago from a class action settlement management company regarding a refund due to me as an international traveler between 1996 and 2006.

It seems there were some aggressive fees charged by credit card companies for overseas purchases and cash withdrawals and some law firm somewhere saw huge bucks in their future filing a lawsuit on our behalf.

The letter asks if I am willing to settle for a one time immediate refund of $25 (which they REALLY want me to do so the lawfirm can keep the rest of what is really owed me), or if I prefer, I can spend my time filling out various details to back-up any claims that I traveled extensively to get a bigger refund which will take months and months to get.

Hopefully this check will come along about the same time as my tax rebate from the US government as part of the new economic stimulus plan (that, incidentally, John McCain didn’t vote for, thank you very much).

This got me thinking about another class action suit that could be filed on behalf of consumers that might yield huge refunds. And I had this thought when I typically have my lame and stupid thoughts- while on the treadmill wishing 45 minutes would go by faster. My mind starts to wander in an effort to ignore the pain in my legs.

Is the electricity that is required to make that metal dial spin around in my electric meter charged to me? I mean, if the electric company wants to monitor my electricity usage so they can bill me, isn’t the cost of the electricity that makes that thingy go round and round their responsibility? They put it there to record my personal usage of electricity.

If I am getting charged for it, I think that’s fraud. Its stealing. The electric company is stealing from me. I researched the amount of electricity it would take to move that metal dial (about 15Watts), multiplied that by 24 hours to get the total Watt-hours (360WH), then multiplied that by 365 days (131,400WH), and then divided that by 100 to get the total Killowatt-hours (1,314KWH).

According to the US Department of Energy (in 2006), the average cost of consumer electricity was 9.86 cents/KWH. So, that means that little metal dial spinning around my electric meter costs me about $130 a year. Multiply that over the last 23 years my parents have not been paying the electric bill, and I should see somewhere around a $3,000.00 refund.

I’d like a refund from the Middle Tennessee Electric Company please. If possible by this spring when I get my tax rebate and international bank fee refund.

Now that’s what I call an electrifying economic stimulus plan.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Long Night

Sleep was elusive last night as wave after wave of storms plowed through our area starting about 7PM and continuing until about 2AM this morning.

While we had to twice move the whole family down to our bottom level 'storm room' (which is actually a closet in the basement), and the tears flowed from more than a couple of our girls, we have little to complain or moan about.

Some lost sleep is absolutely meaningless when compared to those that lost life and property in the surrounding counties.

The first trip to the storm room was quite precautionary. The news reports said severe thunderstorms were headed in our general direction and to seek cover.

After going back upstairs we watched the news again and were told our part of the county would probably be clear of storms for a few hours. That gave us time to tuck the girls in and watch an episode of Lost on DVD. We still wanted to keep an eye on the storm so I set the laptop on Michelle's night stand and pulled up Nashville Channel 2 live feed online.

We kept an eye on it while watching TV. Near midnight we decided to turn in, but kept the laptop running. Fortunately Michelle is a light sleeper and awoke around 2AM to see the radar showing a huge storm line headed right for us.

We watched and were thinking we probably didn't need to get the girls up when suddenly the meteorologist said "for those of you in Leipers Fork, you should seek shelter as radar is picking up a hook echo and rotation headed your way."

The radar image on the laptop showed 3 huge rotations bearing down exactly towards our house moving at 60mph in our direction.

We got the girls up and headed back downstairs. Tears and fears were served up again. Our cat Aslan was a bit freaked out too. He NEVER comes near me normally, but last night he curled up in my lap while I sat cross-legged in the basement closet.

I think that made the 9th or 10th time we have packed ourselves in a closet seeking protection from a possible tornado since moving to Tennessee 13 years ago. Of those 9 or 10 times we have had a tornado touch down within 2 miles of our house twice.

Its getting old.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

5,000 Years From Now

What will matter a few hundred years from now? It’s very likely many things will. The formation of the United States of America some 200 years ago still matters. We all still know it, read about it, live it.

But will it matter 200 years from today? Probably. Will it matter a thousand years from today? Not so sure.

Will it matter then if I work extra hard in the coming weeks to land a big consulting contract that will pay another 5 or 10 grand a month? Not thinking it will.

I’ve been preoccupied lately thinking about this, and stretching that number to 5,000 years.

I’m a big Beatles fan. Well, actually, borderline fanatic. The Beatles broke on to the international scene 44 years ago. They reached their zenith in popularity just over 40 years ago. 2 of the 4 are dead now, one of the remaining cant sell more than a few hundred thousand CDs on a new release, and the other couldn’t sell any if the remaining years of life counted on it.

But, still, their music is still so relevant today. This past fall an amazing film was released called “Across the Universe” using Beatles music as not only the soundtrack, but the story line. It reconnected a new generation to this decades old music. Even my 4 young kids appreciate the Beatles and often have one of their songs on their lips. But a thousand years from now? Five thousand years?

So much of my day is spent on the things that won’t matter 5,000 years from now, much less 100 years.

Tell me about your great-great grandfather. What was he like? What did he spend his time doing? What did he do for a living? What kind of car (or horse buggy) did he drive? What were his hobbies? His interests? How did he do in school?

Doesn’t matter. You probably don’t even know. I don’t…sadly, I don’t even know mine’s name.

But I can tell you this- how he loved (or didn’t love) his wife, and his kids, and his neighbors probably matters to this day. And could continue to matter throughout eternity.

How did his kids learn to love from him? How did they learn to think about and treat other people? What legacy did they leave because of him? Or their great-great grandmother for that matter. Did your great-great grandfather’s daughter learn that she is invaluable? That her soul and mind and body are priceless? That no matter what she did or didn’t do she couldn’t make her father, or God, love her any more or any less?

If so, she lived her life in a way that mattered too. And impacted her sons and daughters, a flowing underground river of life that is buried beneath the surface of our consciousness, prompting and leading us to live as we were meant to- image bearers of a loving God.

Sometimes the underground river is poison. It is bitter with hate and rejection, with unspoken acts of betrayal and murder of the heart. And those things too can matter for eternity, spreading through generations and slowly poisoning all who drink or touch the water.

So… what will I do today that will matter? I will try, though I fail constantly, to remember that how I love those around me could matter for eternity, while the proposal I need to get to a client by the end of the day wont matter next year.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dry Skin, Fru Fru Lotion and the Smell of Fish

I’ve written before about how children’s minds work in mysterious and often funny ways. They can’t help putting two and two together and getting seventeen. Everything they see, hear and experience is put through their little filter that is only a few years old.

Logic is but a glimmering part of their distant future. The right now can only be viewed in the context of the last few months of their lives.

And for our little six year old R, it was perfectly logical that she inform me that what appeared to be, was not.

We were headed out for the day- on our way to see the High School Musical, umm, Musical, at the Tennessee Performing Arts center. As if Disney hadn’t sucked enough money out of our pockets through DirecTV subscription fees, trips to DisneyWorld and DisneyLand, countless plastic figurines, Cinderella and Snow White dresses, and so, so, much more, they of have to put on Broadway style performances of movies we have already seen a million times. And we gleefully plop down $300 or more for all six of us to go see a story we already know, and songs we know by heart, with no doubt whatsoever how it will end.

And so we went to see Troy and Gabriella fall in love. For the thousandth time.

The day was fairly cold- and a few of us were fighting off coughs and runny noses. I had noticed the skin on my hands had got rough and sore in the last couple of days and so as we drove I asked if anyone had any lotion. This is rather uncharacteristic of me. I simply do not use lotion. I don’t use hair products. I don’t use loofas or any other tools of the trade used by the common metrosexual. But this was different. The pain and itching were beyond my ability to ignore and so I had to apply some sort of moisturizing lotion to ease the pain.

Michelle handed me her lotion, warning me it smelled pretty girly. Well…that was an absolute understatement. I looked at the bottle and commented that it looked like it would probably smell sickeningly sweet and I didn’t feel like having to smell that on my hands for the next several hours. I commented on how the image on the bottle looked like it would reek and opened it up getting a wave of stink as if I’d shoved a dozen flowers up my nose. I asked if anyone else had any lotion.

Little R spoke up- “I do daddy. It’s in my purse.” She dug around and pulled out the lotion. She handed it to me as I drove, arm stuck backwards toward her seat with my hand open. She plopped it in my hand and then assured me that I would like the lotion despite the way the tube looked. I looked at the cute tube of hand lotion and noticed the penguin on the front.

She told me, serious as a heart attack, “Don’t worry daddy, it doesn’t smell like penguin.”

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Win Lose Tie
Yes No Maybe
Food Drink Air
Cold Hot Tepid
Earth Sea Sky
Run Walk Stand
Birth Life Death
Earth Moon Sky
Heart Mind Body
Happy Sad Angry
Heaven Hell Earth
Day Night Twilight
Sight Sound Touch
Small Medium Large
Right Left Straight
Morning Noon Night
Pain Pleasure Numb
Son Husband Father
Before During After
Past Present Future
Poor Rich Middleclass
Flying Floating Sinking
Daughter Wife Mother
Love Hate Indifference
Angels Demons Humans
Mountains Valleys Plains
Forward Backward Stalled

Saturday, February 02, 2008

That Time Of Year Again

Softball is back. This morning K, L and I showed up to help out with Girls Softball Association of Franklin's registration day.

The morning started off at 9AM with moving tables and folding brochures in preperation for the arriving moms, dads and girls.

This year, again, I will have all four of my girls playing and me playing the role of assistant coach on four teams.

I am legend. Not in the Will Smith sense- only in that the entire league of 33 teams, 70 coaches, 400 girls and some 20 or so umpires all await the practice and game schedule after the association president custom designs it around me.

He kindly and graciously builds the schedule making sure that I don't have overlapping practices and games, and that enough time is built in so I can get from field to field for each game.

Practices start in early March, and soon I will be out again on the softball fields for 8 practices and then 8 games a week into early June.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Singing Girls

Every once in awhile I find a female vocalist that I really dig. Usually its because they sing in a scale that I am able to meagerly follow along with when no one is around to hear.

There is a new breakout artist named Sara Barilles that I’m particularly digging. Her song “Love Song” is not only a lyrically beautiful, but frighteningly catchy.

Kind of reminds me of early Michelle Branch. You can check it out on

I don’t know how much depth there is to Sara behind the music…perhaps plenty...but one female vocalist I have been watching for some time I know has depth beyond measure.

I met Vicky Beeching several years ago when she was first signed to EMI. We invited her to perform a cozy acoustic set for the sales and marketing team retreat.

The plan was to have a day of hiking and outdoor sports, picnic lunch and music. While it was fun, the day was horribly hot and sweat was rolling down the faces of everyone around. Vicky showed up picture perfect and managed, despite the unbearable heat, outside under a gondola in the woods with no breeze, to play beautiful music and deliver a thought provoking message.

While what she says has great value and captures the attention of the listener on its own merit, her adorable Brit accent doesn’t hurt either.

I recently discovered she has a blog- some great reading, interesting thoughts and questions, and a few funny pics. Check it out:

You can also check out her music on her MySpace page: