Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pep Talk: "A Stronger Cord Of Caring"

Thanksgiving visits back home to Kansas City always involve the drive from the city’s airport, north of town, into the downtown area and crossing the Broadway Bridge, which spans the Missouri River as it turns eastward and flows across the Show Me State.

Just before crossing the bridge one encounters the old airport. It conjures up childhood memories of the family picking up my late father from a business trip and of the victorious Kansas City Chiefs’ coming home from winning Super Bowl IV over the Minnesota Vikings and delirious fans welcoming our heroes.

This latest trip to the City of Fountains sparked another memory. One of Luther Gulick, founder of Camp Fire USA, which is headquartered in the heart of downtown. For whatever reason, my mind wandered to a man who, 105 years ago, asked a simple question that started a national service organization: “What are we doing for the girls?”

The year was 1910. Gulick and wife Charlotte were watching young men march off to summer opportunities while girls were relegated to learning, whether desired or not, how to run a home. The Gulicks thought that was crazy and started Camp Fire Girls to give young ladies a chance to express their gifts and talents in other ways. I served Camp Fire USA (it became coed in the 1970s) as the executive director of its Central Rockies Council for a few years. We provided after-school programming in underserved parts of Denver. I’ve always loved its philosophy of encouraging kids to “work hard, make healthy choices and show love and respect for one another.”

So as darling wife and I were driving through Kansas City on the way to our hotel south of downtown, I found myself staring at the office building where Camp Fire USA’s national headquarters are located and asking myself, “What are we doing for kids in poverty?”

It’s a big problem in Denver. Too many kids in poverty and not enough resources for them. It’s the mission of Victory’s A Stronger Cord wellness movement and a major platform of my attempt at public office. We need to offer kids in poverty greater access to sports, music and arts. They need a well-rounded educational experience and less temptation to join gangs, which offer security, a sense of identity and money. As a society, we need to give the gangs some friendly competition.

The “What are we doing for?” question could just as easily be asked about those on the comeback trail from addiction and incarceration, or for seniors in isolation. The needs are obvious while answers seem elusive. We need to rise up and come up with creative solutions to complex issues concerning ever-increasing populations of isolated Americans in need.

As we neared our hotel, the downtown office tower housing Camp Fire USA was out of sight, but Gulick’s words were top of mind. “What are we doing for - fill in the blank?”

The answer is not money. It’s us. We need a stronger cord of caring for one another.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pep Talk: "Feast On It!"

Considering your knucklehead scribe has spent more than a quarter century on television in the Denver market as a journalist, there is a propensity for others to start conversations revolving around the “news” of the day.

Quite often, usually in frustration, the individual will toss into the conversation, “I don’t like to watch the news anymore, it’s too depressing.” The numbers certainly reflect the desertion of viewers to other channels geared more toward entertainment, sports, cooking and the plethora of other interests drawing America’s attention.

It’s important to not lose sight that, despite what the evening broadcast might suggest, there’s plenty of wonderful “news” to report.

Here’s an example.

At our weekly South Denver Kiwanis meeting there is a tradition to donate one dollar (Happy Dollars) and share a story of good works. One of the club’s longest standing members shared one recently. It’s a beautiful example of the power of never growing weary of doing good for others.

“I had a flat tire the other day and did not know what to do,” shared the fit, vibrant and friendly elder. “I don’t fix flats.” In previous conversations with the gem of a human being, it was obvious she exudes a spirit focused on serving others. It’s one reason she’s been a long-time Kiwanian. The volunteer service club is celebrating 100 years of service and focuses its efforts on helping kids.

With about a dozen Kiwanians gathered, a story unfolded of a woman wondering “What to do?” When, apparently out of nowhere, a man emerged and offered, “It would be an honor to fix your flat.” Somewhat startled, our storyteller accepted the gracious gesture and learned of its inspirational source. Before starting the repair work, the man mentioned, “When I was a teenager, my father taught me how to fix a flat and reminded me of the importance of helping others in need, especially women with car issues. I finally get a chance to practice what my father preached.”

The man fixed the flat in quick order. As a token of appreciation, the grateful woman gave him a small amount of cash. The good Samaritan accepted, put the car jack back in her trunk and left. The woman drove away and continued running errands.

A short while later, upon returning home, she went to retrieve some items from the trunk of her car. Lo and behold, what did she find? The money. The man had accepted the cash but left it in the trunk.

Yes, there is a ton of bad news out there. It tends to dominate the headlines, but there’s also a ton of good works going on as well. I’ve always joked it would be great to start a news channel that focuses on the positive and not the negative. Would it make a difference? Who knows?

This much I do know, as we roll into Thanksgiving week. We all have the ability to never grow weary of doing good for others. Let’s feast on it!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pep Talk: "Prune It Back!"

From your scribe’s vantage point, all that was seen was the back of the man’s head. It would have been priceless to see the expression on Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s face when he muttered, “Our fiscal thicket has many brambles on many branches.”

The leader of the Centennial State was addressing the state’s Joint Budget Committee in a large and packed meeting room (I was in attendance) at the state capitol. The popular chief executive, along with state budget director Henry Sobanet, were answering questions from lawmakers about a 2016-17 budget that calls for a $373-million dollar shortfall and the craziness of issuing refunds while cutting funding to critical state services like education and transportation. Thus the governor’s truthful barb about a “fiscal thicket with many brambles on many branches.”

As a long-time lover of words (I blame Scrabble during childhood years) I scrambled for my torn and tattered Oxford American dictionary to gain clarity to exactly what “thicket” means. “A number of shrubs and small trees growing close together.” Then the mind wondered about the meaning of “bramble” and discovered its definition of “a rough shrub with long prickly shoots.”

The state of Colorado takes great pride in being innovative. Many states look to our state as leaders in thinking outside the box. Heck, we were the first to legalize marijuana, led the way on stringent industry regulations for carbon extraction, background checks and magazine limits for firearm purchases, and many other policies that offer hope common sense can prevail in governance.

But the way we try to fund a state budget? It’s almost comical. Another fiscal wonk that I’ve gotten to know since jumping into the political world as a RISE UP with Mark candidate for House District Six likes to joke, “We’ve had TABOR on the books for 23 years and not ONE OTHER state has followed our lead.”

Colorado’s fiscal bush is overgrown, full of prickly shoots and needs pruning.

While certainly not an expert gardener, this aging jock loves to tend to a small group of rose bushes in our backyard. For the roses to vibrantly bloom it’s necessary to prune them. Without vigilance, bushes, trees and shrubs become thickets, with many brambles and become overgrown and weak. Whether in nature or under Colorado’s golden capitol dome, pruning is necessary for health and vibrancy.

What about our lives? Where might it be time to realize our relationships, careers and community involvement have become a thicket with many brambles on many branches? Where might pruning, to restore balance and discard prickly shoots, be a good idea?

In nature, pruning also promotes growth of other plants. Neglected trees and shrubs become overgrown, making it difficult for underneath or adjacent plants to thrive. When is it time to prune and remove the broken, diseased or dead branches of life that no longer serve us and those around us, mentally, physically or spiritually? Where’s the thicket with many brambles on many branches?

This week, prune it back!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pep Talk: "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad"

“It was one of those nights that just warms the heart,” flowed from my lips to an attentive mother during our usual Friday morning chat. This knucklehead was stuck in Denver’s growing traffic quagmire and reflecting on the night before. I had attended the University of Colorado athletic department’s annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

Eleven new inductees into the school’s highest-echelon of athletic achievement. I was blessed to have a special guest. A blue-eyed beauty of a daughter, a freshman in Boulder, came along for the ride and met many cool folks. It was a thrill for an old man to hang with his college-age offspring at a college event. Made me feel young again. I was marinating in the moment while stuck in traffic and chatting on the phone.

One thing that resonated powerfully was the warmth exuded toward the campus newcomer. She did tire of the constant “Rachel’s a freshman and studying journalism” introduction but did seem to enjoy the hearty “Welcome to the Buff family” salutations it triggered. Shoulder to shoulder, the 18-year-old was in the midst of a large herd of Buffs to the bone.

It was one of those moments: A Dad joyful for a healthy, beautiful and maturing child, many friends and the opportunity to exalt black and gold greatness. A wonderful night, and your scribe was telling his mom about it when not grumbling about horrible traffic congestion.

Another highlight shared with mom was the induction speech delivered by long-time CU athletic department employee Jon Burianek. In an emotional and heartfelt way, “JB," who always made sure the Buffs athletic events unfolded with as few hitches as possible, never mentioned himself.

This fabulous human being spent 38 years working for CU athletics and chose to use his acceptance speech to thank others. Wife, kids, grandkids, co-workers, subordinates, volunteers and many others were praised incessantly. Toward the end of his remarks, the father of two asked many in attendance to stand as he continued honoring them. 

In a lofty moment of individual achievement, a man stay focused on gratitude toward others. Impressive indeed. Standing in the back of the auditorium, next to precious daughter, tears began to well in my eyes in admiration for a friend who has always thought of others before himself. If the army of folks in attendance is any indicator, that philosophy has served the devoted husband, father and athletic administrator quite well.

The ol’ noggin raced to the importance, for us, of never growing weary of doing good for others. Burianek’s story was a powerful example to the truth that, if we embrace such a philosophy, nobody reaps the harvest more than us.

This week, let’s take a page from Jon’s journey and embrace the value of serving others. That game plan fueled a grateful man to CU’s highest athletic honor. That spirit will serve us well, too. It empowers others and soothes our souls, but does not do a darn thing about the Mile High City’s congestion problem. 

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Pep Talk: "Anything But Arrabbiata!"

Your knucklehead scribe nearly flunked basic Italian during his freshman year at Mizzou. I can recall vividly begging the considerate professor to please allow safe passage. I don’t know if it’s still true 40 years later but at the time, taking a foreign language was required of freshmen in the College of Arts and Science. I was not the best student.

So most of my Italian proficiency, or lack thereof, has come from two sources: Former Denver Post reporter John Henderson. One of the most interesting men in the world was a fellow “beat reporter” for many memorable, for success, CU football seasons. Two goofballs covered the team and hung out together, home and away. “Hindu” now lives in Rome and serves as our European tour guide.

The other mentor of Italiano is Vinanzio Momo, owner of Cucina Colore in Denver’s Cherry Creek North. We’ve known each other for quite some time. He’s a great guy who is passionate about family, sports, friends and creating delicious food and comfy atmosphere at his long-standing and successful restaurant. Luck would have it, the fun spot is just a few blocks from where I’m blessed to lay my weary head each evening snuggled up to, when she’s not traveling, one of the world’s amazing ladies, my darling wife.

Anyway, I digress. The other day I popped into Cucina for lunch and ordered the usual with a loud, “Vinanzio, pasta arriabiata!” For whatever reason my feeble brain raced back to those freshmen days of cluelessness in Italian class. I asked Vinanzio what exactly “Arrabbiata” means. The proud Italian from New York City didn’t hesitate, “It means angry.” In the culinary world it’s the spicy red sauce turbocharged by the heat of the chili pepper and one's reaction to it. Stomach, beware.

What burrowed into marrow was “The heat of the chili pepper and one’s reaction to it.”  My mind then wandered - it does often - back to earlier in the day. At the weekly meeting of dudes sarcastically cajoling one another to strengthen our spiritual walks, a buddy was talking about a buddy. Apparently this guy, as a way of keeping mind, body and spirit sharply focused, climbs Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in winter. Most climb in summer and worry about getting down the mountain before prevalent afternoon thunderstorms and lightning threaten their well being. This wack job climbs in winter’s deep mountain snows knowing, with one slip, “I’ll vanish.” Humm. Apparently that keeps this intense man locked in on what’s important because, in his words, “I would just disappear.”

The heat of the chili pepper and one’s reaction to it.

Life can certainly get spicy when we least desire it, right? There are moments making us angry, roiling our tummies and leaving us muttering, “What the heck is going on?” Whether muttered in Italian, English or your language of choice does not matter. The bottom line becomes, “We got the chili pepper, how we gonna react to it?”

This week let’s focus, keep a firm foothold and make sure our reaction is anything but “arrabbiata!”
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