April 2010

With three weeks to catch my breath and rejuvenate before the summer semester begins, I am officially between semesters. Part of my rejuvenation includes taking the family to Disney World. That should be peaceful and relaxing, right?

Oh, contraire… with a 4 ½ year-old and a 20 month-old, this should be interesting. My wife and I lived just north of Orlando about 4 years B.C. (before children). In those days, we had season passes to the Disney parks and went whenever we wanted to, rode whatever we wanted to, ate when/wherever we wanted, and didn’t have to plan around an afternoon nap (as long as Sara didn’t get too grumpy).

This time will be completely different. First, there is the issue of getting there. We’re flying. The flight is only about one and a half hours from Atlanta, but I am not looking forward to it. Keeping a 20 month old strapped into a seat in an unfamiliar environment should be interesting. I know this from experience because I used to take the Atlanta/Orlando flight as a connector on several business trips when we lived in Florida. The dreaded Disney shuttle… this is a plane packed with overexcited, sleep-deprived children impatiently waiting to see Mickey, princesses, and the magical world of Disney. Yes, it truly is magical… how else could they make your money disappear so fast?

I think Olivia will be fine and the memories will be great, but Amelia is moving into the terrible twos. She is becoming defiant, stubborn, and developing a hot temper (where in the world did get these characteristics?). If you’ve ever seen The Incredibles, she is sort of like Jack-Jack when she gets angry. She bursts into flames and flies through the roof.

Finally, there is the issue of me going with three females. I have a feeling that ball gowns and princesses will replace Space Mountain. Oh well, isn’t that where part of the joy of parenting comes from? We sacrifice our comfort, preferences, and sanity just to hear a few giggles from an elated child.

I’m sure I will have stories to tell from this experience. Until then I have study up on my princesses.  I can’t tell Belle from Sleeping Beauty and I don’t want to embarrass my little princesses.


Atlanta routinely has one of the highest pollen counts in the United States. We peaked a couple of weeks ago with a pollen count of just below 6,000 (that’s not an exaggeration). It was snowing yellow. For those of you fortunate enough not to live in a high-allergen area, I’ll try to explain.

During a couple of weeks every spring, we have “pollen season”. This means that everything outside rapidly succumbs to a greenish-yellow layer of dust that keeps Claritin and Benadryl in business. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter inherited my supernatural histamines. Pollen season turned her into a splotchy snot-faucet.

This year was particularly bad. You could actually see clouds of pollen blowing in the air. In fact, it was so bad here that after just an hour outside on one of the worst days, I could barely see through my glasses because of the pollen buildup.

We’re through the worst of it now, so I decided to do my annual pollen cleanup. This involves scrubbing down the porches and trying to wash the pollen away in little yellow rivers. While cleaning, I found some mildew buildup in a few areas on my porch, so I began bleaching and scrubbing all the railings, columns, and even the porch ceilings.

We have a lot of porch space. By the time I got halfway through scrubbing the ceiling to the first of three porches, I was exhausted, but what a difference it made! As I was cleaning, I thought about how I saw these dirty porches everyday without paying attention to how bad they looked. It wasn’t until I saw how good they could look that I had enough motivation to clean them properly. Believe me, this job required motivation. It took about six hours to scrub all the porches and was exhausting work. Until I made the effort to clean one small area, that motivation did not exist.

Despite the difficult labor, I was very satisfied with my work once the job was completed. Every time I went by a window or door leading to a porch, I had to look out and admire my squeaky-clean porches.

What “dirty porch” do you have in your life? You may not be motivated to do anything about it now. You may look at it every day and accept the way it looks.  Perhaps if you just gave it a shot and saw what it could look like – the hidden potential behind the grime, you might find the motivation to finish the job well.

Back when we lived in Nebraska, I enjoyed taking my mountain bike out on the Cowboy Trail. This trail runs east and west for hundreds of miles along northern Nebraska. I spent many Saturday mornings riding ten miles from a park in Norfolk to Battle Creek , then turning around and riding ten miles back.

On one of my rides, just as I turned around to head back home, my left pedal fell off. Fortunately, I carried a few tools with me for just such occasions. Unfortunately, I could not get that stinkin’ pedal to go on. I kept turning it, but the threads just wouldn’t seem to catch. Thinking the culprit was worn threads, I pressed harder on the pedal as I turned it. Nothing worked.

There I was, ten miles from home in rural Nebraska with one working pedal. I tried using a stick for a pedal but it just kept catching in the chain and eventually broke. I finally gave up trying to make it work and biked the ten miles home with one pedal.

I arrived home exhausted (at least my right leg anyway) and frustrated because I broke my bike. I was getting ready to go to the bike shop to buy a new pedal, but decided to look at the threads one last time to see how badly they were worn.

That was when I realized that they weren’t worn at all. They were reverse threads. For those of you who are not mechanically inclined, this means the “righty-tighty/lefty-loosie” rule does not apply. I rode a bike for ten miles with one pedal when all I needed to do to fix it was turn the pedal the other way… and I’m a mechanical engineer.

If you’re a longtime reader, you know there is an analogy coming… When we don’t get the results we are looking for, we often keep trying the same thing thinking the results will change. When results don’t change, we try the same thing harder. There’s nothing wrong with persistence and trying harder is often the right thing to do, but sometimes we just need to try a different direction.

If you’re struggling with some stubborn issue that just won’t go away, maybe trying harder is not the answer. You may have the best intent, the best tools, and the best technique, but if you don’t have the right direction, you will not achieve your goal.

I’ve been extremely busy with school this week; most of which is writing papers on two research projects, so I’m not really in the mood to do much more writing. That’s a perfect excuse to post a poll. It’s been in the mid to upper 80s the past few days here so I’m thinking about summer. Do you have plans for a summer vacation?