Books I Want My Kids to Read

In the middle of the night I had an idea to write a blog post about the books I would want my kids to read at different points in their childhoods. I chose one book for the following time periods: Before They Can Read, Elementary School, Middle School, and High School. Here’s what I chose:

Before They Can Read

Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss

One of my favorite rhymes...

One of my favorite rhymes…

This book beat out Green Eggs and Ham. That title was the first book I remembered my  father reading to me when I was small, and it would have made the list for purely nostalgic purposes. I decided to go with Oh the Places You’ll Go instead because of its message and I think it’s more of a fun rhyming story than Green Eggs and Ham.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go is fun to read, especially for little guys, but it also has a theme of the importance of seeking adventure throughout one’s life. I imagine reading this to my own children when they’re very small before bedtime.

Elementary School

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

The cover from the first edition of Maniac Magee, the one I read in fourth grade.

The cover from the first edition of Maniac Magee, the one I read in fourth grade.

I first read Maniac Magee in fourth grade, not long after the book came out. At that point, my elementary school days and years were long and seemed to stretch on forever. I remember spending a lot of time in class daydreaming and staring out the window when I could get away with it.

The book’s theme of overcoming racism is the reason that it’s on so many elementary and middle school reading lists. Heck, I used to teach it to my own classes of sixth grade language arts students. For me though, the book was pure escapism. It’s about a kid not much older than me at the time that didn’t go to school, and did what he wanted. I loved that thought, especially in those long, dull days in elementary school.

In a sense, it’s On the Road for kids.

Middle School

Scientific Progress Goes Boink (Calvin and Hobbes), Bill Watterson

Quiet possibly, this is a mirror image of me explaining something ridiculous to my own child one day.

Quiet possibly, this is a mirror image of me explaining something ridiculous to my own child one day.

I could have picked any of the Calvin and Hobbes books, but this was the first one I read.   It’s a book of comics, so it’s a relatively simple read, even for kids in elementary school. That said, I think that Watterson’s sense of humor appeals to adults and adolescents, as well as younger kids.

I picked this book for middle school because that’s when I think kids can begin to truly appreciate the off-beat and intellectual humor in Calvin and Hobbes. Plus, the art is fantastic.

There’s a nostalgic quality to the comics too. When I began reading them in seventh grade or so, I’d think back to more innocent, happier times in my life when I was around Calvin’s age–first grade or so–and wasn’t struggling with the pressure of adolescence. I experienced a certain wistful feeling, even at that young age, about a time gone by in my life.

High School

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

On the Road was the book that changed my life. A guy I worked with at a grocery store in high school told me about it. I read it when I was seventeen or eighteen, but didn’t truly appreciate it until I read it again as a freshman in college.

Growing up in the suburbs is actually a positive experience if you ask me. It’s safe, and there’s plenty to do when you’re a kid. Plus, you don’t know any other life. But when you get to high school, you get pretty bored a lot. I’m convinced that’s why so many high school kids drink, try drugs, or get into trouble. If they’re not involved in constructive activities, they’ll become destructive–I know I did. This book taught me that there was an entire life outside of the suburbs, and that people have adventures in real life–it’s not just something that people do in the movies.

Reading this book taught me that there’s adventure to be had everywhere–in the suburbs, on a college campus, and on the road, visiting distant friends and family. My mantra of choice, carpe diem, was inspired by reading about Jack Kerouac’s (Sal Paradise) travels hitchhiking and driving across the country to party with friends and chase girls.

I would want my kids to read this to show them that there’s nothing wrong with living an ordinary life, but there are also times to seize the day and step out of your comfort zone and into the wider world.

Honorable Mentions

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

What do you want your kids to read? Is there anything I missed?

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The World Cup–A Growing Obsession

My background in soccer is limited to the seasons I played for my park district when I was in early elementary school. In three years, I never scored a goal. The closest I came was in the fall of first grade–I was on the Green Dragons–and I found myself dribbing the ball away from everyone else. I was alone–I’m still not sure where the other team’s goalie had run off to–and approaching the goal. But I had never scored one before. I suddenly became nervous and… I intentionally kicked the ball out of bounds. Needless to say, I never made it on the pitch.

While I usually prefer baseball, (American) football, or hockey to soccer, the last few World Cup events have increasingly attracted my attention, mostly because of the spectacle of the world’s greatest sporting event, but also because the Chicago Cubs have been terrible in the 2006, 2010, and 2014 summers.

I enjoy the spectacle of the event more than the games themselves, though I’ve cultivated a novice’s interest in the sport the last few Cup competitions. I love the rivalries between the nations, the buildup to a corner kick or penalty shot, and the excitement of the crowd that often seems to leap off of the television screen into my living room… or into my office at work. I like watching the world’s best players compete for their home countries too. It’s been a treat to see Lionel Messi score live on television, rather than on some SportCenter replay, and Cristiano Ronaldo broke my heart when he scored the latest regulation goal in World Cup history against the United States Sunday evening.

What has made this competition more interesting than anything else to me is the U.S. team, whose coach openly stated that the team had no chance of winning the tournament, has played in two exciting group stage games against Ghana (a serious rival) and Portugal (with the above-mentioned Ronaldo, perhaps the best player on the planet). The Yanks have a solid chance of making it to the Round of 16 as well. For the first time ever, I’ve heard soccer discussed on sports talk radio. There have been large outdoor gatherings in big cities in the U.S. of people just to watch the games. You get the sense that soccer is coming into its own in the United States, and it has been great fun.

Soccer fans gather to watch the World Cup at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Soccer fans gather to watch the World Cup at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois.

Once the tournament is over, I’m sure that I’ll go back to watching my Cubs, Bears, and Blackhawks–I don’t follow Major League Soccer, and the few European league games shown on TV are at strange hours–but I’ll anticipate the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and hope for continued American success and growth in the world’s most popular game.

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On the Way You Speak of Your Wife… and to Servers

Yesterday I took half of a day off of work to go to a favorite brewery of mine with some buddies for lunch. The trip started off nice enough, and the food and beer were great, as always, but some of the conversations in the car and at the lunch table got me thinking about the kind of guy I want to be and be seen as, and also… the kind of guy I don’t want to be.

While most of the day was jovial and upbeat, the more beers that were had turned the conversation tasteless and, eventually one incident got us kicked out of the establishment. Two of the guys I was with relentlessly bashed their wives and marriages for most of the time we were eating and drinking. Their complaints weren’t even about specific incidents or traits of their wives, only that they felt it generally sucked having to share your life with someone else.

Does anyone, married or single, really want to hear about how much your wife annoys you? What image do you think people get of you when you’re constantly complaining about your spouse, and saying terrible things about him/her, especially to people you barely know?

The final straw was when one of my colleagues made an incredibly tasteless comment to our server; something about what kind of underwear she was–or wasn’t–wearing. The check was promptly brought to us by a male staff member, who threw down the bill on our table and said, “Okay guys, time to go.” I was mortified to be associated with this man in the moment. At least the guy who made the comment paid for everyone’s bill, but that doesn’t redeem him with the one person that counted most in the exchange–the female server.

Am I being uptight? Is that simply The Way Men are Supposed to Talk?

After I got home a couple of the people I was with began texting me and each other about how disgusted we all were by the man’s behavior. We’re reaching out to the establishment and the server to make amends. I was glad that they shared my feelings regarding the incident, but remained ashamed that I had even been sitting at the same table as some of these guys.

I made a very conscious decision after I had been married for about a year that I wouldn’t be one of those guys–the guys that are obviously miserable being married and complain about their spouses. Not only is it the opposite of the man I want to be, it’s also the opposite of the way I want to be seen by other people in general. Nobody likes to hear about how miserable your marriage is, or how your spouse is a jerk/bitch/good-for-nothing/loser. Deserved or not, I tend to think less of the people that speak that way of their husbands and wives. I understand that people need to vent from time to time, and that marriage can be stressful. Frankly, I know from experience that it can be difficult living with someone else. But if you’re miserable in your relationship, there’s an appropriate way to go about expressing it. On top of that, the complainer is 50% of the marriage, and has, if you ask me, some of the blame for being miserable more often than not.

If you’re miserable in your relationship/marriage, make changes, communicate, and vent at appropriate times to someone you trust. But no one, especially no one you just met, wants to hear the terrible things you have to say about your marriage or your spouse. It only makes people respect you less.

And always be nice to your server.

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Why I Left Social Media… Well, with Three Exceptions…

This past week I deactivated my Instagram, which was my last major social media account. I’ve been off of Facebook for two years, off of Twitter for over a year and a half, and away from MySpace for the better part of a decade.

The question is, when so many people my age (early-30s) inundate their lives with social Anti-Facebookmedia, why would I go (nearly) completely dark? There’s a few reasons.

First of all, I found that when I was on social media, I was spending too much time on it. I was constantly checking my Facebook or Twitter feeds when I was bored or had a spare minute, or even during TV commercials. I felt obligated to keep up with friends’ updates and tweets from news and sports people I followed. Now I find that, instead of constantly trying to stay updated, I’m able to put down my laptop or phone, and focus more on whatever I’m doing–be it speaking with my wife, watching TV, reading, or… just enjoying a moment in my life.

People will say, “You can control the amount of time you spend on social media,” or, “If you think you’re spending too much time on social media, just… stop.” For me, it wasn’t that easy. I think a lot of people don’t realize the amount of time they spend tweeting or on Facebook, and even less time thinking about the negative effects of being on social networks. I stumbled across this interesting YouTube video titled “The Innovation of Loneliness,” about the detrimental effects of social media. It’s only a few minutes, and worth watching, regardless of your feelings on the subject.

For the first several years I was on Facebook, it really was a nice way to keep in touch with old friends, organize gatherings, and share the occasional inside joke or reminiscence. But as those college friendships faded and I got married, it no longer served its purpose. I’d check my feed multiple times per day out of habit or boredom. I rarely posted anything, except for the odd quote or humorous anecdote. I stayed “friends” with girls I had been involved with for too long after the fact, and I didn’t feel right about it when my wife and I got serious. I’d only go on to check people’s statuses and occasionally check out their profiles. I began to feel like a creep.

Keeping in touch with old friends has been a challenge since I left Facebook, but not as difficult as you’d imagine. I mean, I still talked to people I knew outside of my area long before I was on a social media site. Instead of writing on walls or direct messaging friends, I actually pick up the phone and call them, or e-mail them. I started a fantasy football league with my college buddies as a way to keep in touch and give each other a hard time. Plus, the random text message about a funny high school or college incident is still funny between friends. I’ve had to make more of an effort to keep in touch, but I’ve found that the friendships I’ve made the effort to maintain are stronger and less superficial because it’s a more personal, direct interaction.

My second reason for leaving social media, was that it unnerved me to know that so many people knew what I was up to, whether or not I was updating my feeds. People I was “friends” with were posting pictures of me, tagging me in posts, and writing on my wall. Granted, the only people who could see my profile were “friends” on Facebook, and I had done a good job of weeding them out the last couple of years I was on the site, but I still didn’t like the idea of people creeping around my profile. Privacy was more of a concern after I got married and moved into a management position in my career. I simply didn’t want people seeing those picture of me partying in college or reading about a funny incident from my past that a “friend” wrote about on my Facebook wall. You may say that only people I chose could see my profile, but that couldn’t stop them from sharing that with others using their phones, e-mail, or showing it to them in person. I even changed my name on my Facebook profile once and was still getting friend requests from people who barely knew me.

I had been on social media in one form or another since the Fall of 2004, not long after Facebook was invented. I decided to leave it all behind.

What do I miss about social media? Surprisingly, nothing. Absolutely nothing. I thought that I would deactivate my Facebook account and miss it after a few weeks, but that never happened–not even for a brief, fleeting moment. What I felt was relief. I was relieved that the pressure of keeping up with my “friend’s” lives was over. I found added relief in the anonymity of not being connected.

What don’t I miss about social media? I don’t miss constantly feeling that someone was watching me and receiving regular updates on my life. I don’t miss seeing the humblebrags, complaints, and annoying updates from people I hardly knew anymore. I don’t miss seeing daily posts from people who seemed to get their self-worth from the attention they received online. I don’t miss the amount of time that I spent on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Now, I find that I can focus more on the here-and-now, rather than on what other people are doing.

All of that being said, there are three social media sites I still use because they serve a specific function in my life.

Obviously, I use WordPress. I don’t blog very often, and rarely log in. Frankly, the only blog I regularly read is Where2Sir’s, which I receive e-mails about each time he has a new post. More or less, I use this site as an exercise in writing for enjoyment, which I haven’t done much of since just after college in a journal. I write most of my posts during my long breaks from work and the summer, when I have extra time on my hands. I still don’t spend much time at all on the site.

I’m still on Goodreads, probably my favorite social media website. I have exactly seven “friends,” only three of whom I’ve met in real life, and the other four of whom I follow because they have similar taste in books as I do. I rarely look at any of their profiles. In fact, the only real reason that I’m on the site is that I like to keep track of the books I’ve read and my progress toward annual reading goals. Occasionally, I’ll get a good recommendation for a book.

Finally, I’m on Untappd, a mobile app for beer drinkers, and not under my real name. I have five “friends,” four of whom I’ve met in real life and one of whom was an actor on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I like this one because it lets me keep track of the beer that I drink and share my ratings and reviews of it. It’s fun, and I only spend a few minutes on it each week.

No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. I don’t miss them one bit. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me, and I’m happier because I’m not on them.

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The Secret to a Happy Marriage?

An interesting article about what makes marriages last. It’s quite simple, really.

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2013′s New Year’s Resolutions–How’d I Do?

Exactly one year ago today I posted my three New Year’s resolutions for 2013. A lot of people make resolutions, few keep them throughout the year, and even fewer, I think, reflect on them upon the dawn of the next new year. I thought I would take a look back at them and grade myself on how I did. 

I quote my resolutions below, but they have been edited for time and space. You can read the entire post here.

The first resolution:

1. Grow religiously.  …Going to church regularly was one of mine from last year as well, and I kept it, on and off, throughout the year. The last couple of years I’ve been trying to grow spiritually. My background is Catholicism and I enjoy the rituals that go along with it. In just the last couple of years, I’ve gone from an agnostic to a believer. My goal this year is to continue going to church on a regular basis and get involved in one… Another goal related to this is that I want to familiarize myself with the Bible on my own terms, rather than in the short readings read in church. I’d like to grow more as a religious individual and as a Christian this year, and there’s no better place to start.

Throughout this year, I’ve gone to mass regularly and officially joined my church down the street. According to my Goodreads.com page, I read no fewer than four religious books pertaining, in particular, to Catholicism, and enjoyed most of them and learned a lot. I’ve also read the Bible on a regular basis–not every single day, but I would often read a chapter from the Bible before I would do my regular reading for the night. As I’ve read and studied, I’ve also begun to pray more, everyday. What are the effects of my increased religiosity? Nothing but positive. I find myself at peace with myself, the world, and God. I reflect more often on the kind of person I am, and what I can be better at, namely, in the ways I treat others, especially my wife and close family. I’m a happier person than I was one year ago, and I feel that that has a lot to do with my religious life, and the increased sense I have of a higher power. Grade: A

The second resolution: 

2. Grow as a leader. This is my most important goal this year. For me, part of achieving this goal involves seeking regular input from my bosses on how I’m doing as a leader, reading (at least) five good leadership books, and reflecting, which I’m sure you’ll see on this blog.

This last year at my job has been trying. 2013 started off as a transitioning year in leadership where I work. Then, in the fall, we lost a close co-worker to suicide, a guy I had known and worked with for over eight years. Challenges have been abundant. In the last year, I have grown more confident in myself and my skills, learned from my mistakes, and regularly sought input from my bosses and coworkers on how I could have handled situations better. I feel that my staff respects me more now than they did a year ago, as does my boss. My boss even told me that, during a discussion with some of our staff members, he told them that I was “working [my] ass off.” Last December, I dreaded going to work most days. This past year, I’ve begun to thrive. I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way toward being a confident leader. 

My biggest failure related to this resolution? Looking back at Goodreads, I didn’t read a single leadership book. My goal was five and I didn’t read one. Truth be told, the five leadership books goal completely slipped my mind. I have a few on my “to-read” shelf, but never got around to them. I’ve considered getting one from my library, but thought differently. It may sound like a lame excuse, but reading leadership books reminds me of work, obviously, and when I come home to read for pleasure, I want to put my mind on something other than my job. That said, I’ve read several books about leaders (Churchill, Lincoln, The Kennedys, pilots in World War II) but I don’t count those books as the same thing. Grade: B

The third resolution:

3. Drink less and go to bed earlier. I don’t drink hard liquor hardly at all, except for the occasionally glass of scotch at a wedding, but I enjoy good beer, and probably too much of it. The fact is, I’m much more productive at work and on the weekends when I wasn’t up late the night before watching a Cubs game or imbibing one beer too many. This has actually been a goal of mine for quite a while, especially this past year. I’ve been pretty good at getting to bed early during the week, but there’s room for me to improve.

In the last year, did I drink every night? No. Did I have a beer or two most nights? Yes. For me, is that too much? Yes. But was it less than the year before? Definitely. Compared to the last few years, I’ve cut back on my drinking. I still love good beer, but I drink too much of it. Rarely do I have more than two in a night, unless it’s the weekend. Still, I need to continue to cut back. I have a lot of room for growth related to this goal. 

One success I had regarding this goal was that I made it a habit to go to bed earlier most nights, even on the weekend. In previous years, I had regularly gone to bed well after ten on a work night, and near midnight on the weekends. My wife, who goes to bed quite early because she wakes up early to work out, was often in bed for hours before me on the weekends. Now we frequently go to bed together on Friday and Saturday nights, often around nine o’clock–late for her and early for me. Being better rested makes me happier and more productive on the weekends and throughout the work week. Grade: C+

I’m not sure if I’ll make resolutions this coming year. Aside from continuing these, and maybe exercising again, I can’t think of anything new I’d like to change. That said, if I think of any, they’re sure to be posted here.

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Full Circle

The Christmas break remains a great chance to spend time with old friends in from out of town, and even those that I rarely see but who still live in my area.

Late in high school, I spent my time with a small but close group of good people. It was a heterogenous group of guys and girls, though rarely was their dating between us. The kids were good–the type I hope my own children will one day spend time with. They were generally good students from good families, didn’t drink or do drugs, and laughed about as often as anyone else did in high school, if not more, when we were together. I cringe when I think of the way that teenagers are portrayed in the media–horny, superficial, and downright mean at times. While some kids fit the mold even then, we didn’t.

We weren’t wild, so we spent a lot of our time hanging out at each other’s houses, shooting pool in someone’s basement or gathered on a family room couch. I remember spending hours just talking with them. Someone might put on some music in the background, but it was conversation that drove the friendships. We gossiped, talked about people we had crushes on, and complained about school or our parents–typical teenage topics. But we also spent time talking about life, relationships, and our individual philosophies. We challenged each other’s actions and beliefs without hurting feelings. The opinions and constructive criticisms we offered were in the best interests of the friend we cared about. Those conversations bonded us together in the waning days of high school, and still help maintain the friendships, though we’re older now and in different places.

Monday night, I gathered with some of these people at a buddy’s mom’s house. My buddy, his wife, another good old friend from high school, and my buddy’s mother and I sat in a family room talking until the wee hours of the morning. Wine was drunk, but no one was intoxicated. At most, it lubricated the conversation.

Ten years ago we would have been bombed at some loud bar drinking crappy beer. Five years ago, we would have been smashed at someone’s house or apartment. But Monday night, we gathered as we had when we were half our ages, to talk and laugh as we always have.

Looking around that evening, I was struck by how we had come full circle from high school. A decade and a half before, we would have been doing the same thing (minus the wine), and now we find ourselves in our early thirties simply enjoying one another’s company. A couple of nights before, we got together at my and my wife’s place to get caught up and reconnect. This night was about furthering the friendships.

We spoke of where we were in our careers, a friend’s anxious wait to be proposed to, politics, religion, marriage, family drama, and old friends who weren’t with us (we gossiped a little, so what?). We cracked jokes, some old, some new. We talked of our plans for the future, now including spouses, mortgages, and children. A TV was on, but only provided momentary diversion from our talk.

At nearly two o’clock in the morning, we put on our coats to head back home, and found ourselves engaged in some of the deepest conversation of the night around the kitchen table. Finally, hugs were exchanged, as were general sentiments that we need to do this a hell of a lot more often than we do. Another great night spending time with people I loved concluded.

The older I get, the more I recognize that the most important things we have in life are our connections with others: our families, first and foremost, but also our friends, and especially our oldest friends.

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