ADD and Me – Part 1

Back in the seventies, John Denver sang “Rocky Mountain High”, which contained the lyrics: “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before”.

I’ve always understood what those words meant, but from a distance; they weren’t personal, until yesterday. At the behest of my wife, I went to see my family physician to see if I suffer from ADD. I took a brief quiz prior to visiting the doctor’s office. I sure seemed to have most of the symptoms: frequently losing things (wallet, keys, etc), disorganized, starting projects and not finishing them, etc.
After a semi-lengthy discussion with the doctor and a review of the quiz results, he agreed that I do indeed suffer from a mild case of adult ADD. He prescribed a medication and talked with me about it. He said that unlike heart or blood pressure medication which must be taken daily, I could decide when I needed to take the medication, though never in excess of the prescribed dosage. For example, if I don’t need to focus that much on the weekends, no need to take a pill that day.
At any rate, I filled my prescription and took my first pill. Within twenty minutes, life as I knew it changed. And so like the object of the song “Rocky Mountain High”, I’ve been born in the summer of my forty seventh year. Better late than never, I always say.
Tomorrow, I will post some details about how life is different. It is amazing the difference a day (and a pill) can make.
Loving life even more than before,
Joe

Atlas Shrugged Pt. 1 – Movie Review

 

I was the second person in line outside theater #13 (?) at the MJR Theater in Sterling Heights, awaiting the 7:20 PM showing of Atlas Shrugged. By the time the film started, I had counted approximately seventy-five people in the audience.

Where to start? First, if you’ve read the novel, you know that Atlas Shrugged (AS) is a monster-sized novel. over 1,000 pages and the print is small to boot. There’s a TON of material in this story. Worse, much of the most meaningful story as told by Rand occurs in the minds of the characters which then explains their actions. This meaningful information is difficult to get out on to the screen.
Secondly, and I may not have every exact detail on this accurate, but.. this movie was allegedly made for ten million dollars, which is to say, next to nothing. The story goes something like this. A group of people including the producer of this movie procured the rights to make the film from the estate of Ayn Rand. How long they had them, I do not know. But supposedly the rights were to expire within a couple of months and if the film had not started, the rights would revert back to the Rand’s estate and we’d probably be waiting a few more decades for AS to come to the big screen. So, instead with only a few months to go, a script was written, characters cast and filming began. Both the screenwriter and director are relatively inexperienced.
Even in three parts, AS may prove to be too much material to be adapted to the big screen, at least too much for three parts, if part one is any indication. As I watched the film, my mind was equally focused on two different tasks. Task number one was simply to enjoy the film as a fan of the story. I very much did enjoy the shift in time period to 2016 as opposed to 1950 or so. The second task I tried to keep in mind was watching the movie as if I had not read the book. My recommendation: read the book before seeing the movie. The material is simply doled out so fast that I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of viewers who haven’t read the book. Clearly at least some of the audience members at my showing had not read the book. This was evident by sincere whispers of “who is that guy?” when clearly the character on the screen was John Galt.
At times the dialogue is a bit contrived, but not too badly. At other times, it matches the book verbatim. And at other times, it is dialogue in the spirit of AS splashed with a hint of the twenty-first century. Random things I noticed… Frisco calling Dagny “Slug” with audience having been given no reason why. It is revealed in the film that as young adults they were lovers. It was not revealed that they had indeed been childhood friends and Slug was Frisco’s nickname for Dagny.
I ***VERY MUCH *** like the casting of the characters of Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler), Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) and especially Francisco d’Anconia (Jsu Garcia). Though Bowler makes Rearden more charming and less “intimidating” than the book-version of Rearden, he is still excellent in the role of Rearden. In the case of Taylor Schilling, she does an admirable job portraying Dagny Taggart. That she is extremely attractive certainly didn’t hurt the cause. However, at least to my mind’s eye, Jsu Garcia’s appearance comes the closest to what I expected Francisco d’Anconia to look like (and he’s my favorite character from the book as well!). Other characters were nowhere close to what I visualized them as…Ellis Wyatt, nope, Owen Kellog, no way and Paul Larkin.. NOT! Especially troublesome is John Galt himself. While we see him only in the shadows I could tell he’s tall and normal-to-a-bit-larger-than-normal build. With Paul Johansson as John Galt, believability could be in doubt in parts 2 and 3. Remember, John Galt is the man whom Dagny has been searching for her whole life.. the man at the end of the railroad tracks. In the book, Galt is very slim and slight in stature (maybe 5′ 10″, tops. Johansson looks like an NBA-power-forward in a trench coat and hat. How this resolves itself will remain to be seen.
One quirky little minor thing that I really enjoyed was the appearance for all of one minute by Rearden’s secretary, Gwen Ives. Her appearance is short but extremely enjoyable. She’s like a twenty-something clubber, but very competent in her job and the brief interplay between her and Rearden is cool.
Lastly, the first run of the John Galt Line on the Rio Norte Line is actually quite magnificent, especially when they cross the new, ultra-modern bridge made of Rearden Steel. Dagny is so relieved that the track and bridge held together she gasps and hugs Rearden, which is of course is a harbinger of their activity later that same night.
In the end, AS Part 1, can be in no way a “short cut” to “get” what Rand was trying to say in the book. Rather, I view it more as a visual reward, long over due for those devotees of the book who already “get it” and simply want to give their overworked “mind’s eye” a rest. They can finally relax and watch the timeless story retooled for the 21st century. If you’ve read the book (at least once), you’ll enjoy the movie. If not, you may be scratching your head and wondering why this story has such a devoted following.

MCTWF 2010 Christmas Party and the IT Band

Well, thanks to “da boss”, we finally have some of our Christmas party band performance on YouTube. As the tape is slowly digitized and the links trickle in from YouTube, I’ll amend this page so all links are in one location. Enjoy!



The Fray – You Found Me

ColdPlay – Clocks

ColdPlay – Yellow

The Allman Brothers Band – Whipping Post

Happy New Year 2011!

It’s back to work today. First work day of the New Year. I fought vicious “tug-of-war” battle this morning… to get out of bed or to stay in bed. Of course, I lost.

Whatever lingering remnant of holiday/vacation bliss I had was shaken loose upon arriving at work. The typical voice messages, emails, pleas, demands, problems that make up the days of my life were there waiting, as if I had never left.
I’ve always wondered, from time to time… about the significance of how I spend my life and as I get older, I seem to dwell on this question more and more. I don’t have a definitive answer of what I should be doing, only nagging questions about what I am doing.
To make matters worse, I saw one of those year-end recaps on TV where they show all of the celebrities or otherwise notable people that passed away in 2010. Every year the list seems to contain more and more people representing a larger and larger slice of my own life. And naturally, you know where that internal conversation leads…how much time do I have left? What am I doing with it?
One of the things I am trying to do more of from here on out is writing on a more frequent basis. Frankly, that’s the reason I am writing this now. I need to write, write, write, every day… something… without fail. Very often, I am sure, it will not be good. That’s OK, but I must do it. Who knows, someday something good may come out.
That’s all for now… Happy 2011 and may you feel good about how you’re spending your days.

Crazy? Really?

Daniel Indiviglio of “The Atlantic” magazine has a piece published today that I read on Yahoo’s finance page.
The title of the piece is “Something Republicans and Democrats Agree On: Their Hatred of the Fed”.
There’s nothing earth-shattering in this article, but there is something with which I take exception:
In other words, a majority of Americans want changes. This goes beyond mere discontent. And this isn’t really a political issue. According to the poll, 19% of independents, 16% of Republicans, 12% of Democrats, and 21% of Tea Partiers want the central bank abolished. That last statistic isn’t terribly surprising, since one of the Tea Party’s favorite politicians, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is arguably the chief Fed opponent in Washington.
Yet the idea that the Fed should be abolished entirely is rather crazy. A complex economy needs a central bank. Some calls for reform could be more legitimate, however.
Hmmm…. The idea that the Fed should be abolished entirely is “rather crazy”. Really?
Let’s have a look at the history of the Fed, shall we? First of all, the Fed’s ORIGINAL purpose was to maintain stable prices and prevent panics, in other words, generally smooth out the ups and downs of the economic cycle.
Price stability: Since it’s inception in 1913, prices have increase 19-fold, or 1900 percent. Said another way, the dollar has lost 95 percent (or more) of it’s purchasing power. That’s not my opinion, that’s a fact.
Grade: Complete failure.
Eliminate Panics/Smooth out economic cycles: Since the Fed’s inception, we’ve suffered through a crash in 1920, the mother of all crashes in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. We’ve suffered through stagflation in the 70’s, Black Monday in the 80’s and are currently riding out The Great Recession, as it’s been dubbed. These are not my opinions, these are facts.
Grade: Complete failure.
OK, so the Fed was a complete failure on it’s original two missions. You’ll have to forgive them. You see, these missions are what was told to the public. The real mission of the Fed was to have a never ending money supply so banks can lend money even when nobody is depositing money AND, here’s the biggie… to “privatize bank profits and socialize their losses”. What does this mean? That when things go well, the banks win and when things go very badly, you lose. Does the term “TARP” ring a bell?
This was in the plans from the beginning, commencing with the Indianapolis Monetary Commission starting around 1870. The goal of the IMC was to convince the public that fiat currency would actually end panics and benefit them. Surprisingly, the most uneducated farmhand in 1870 knew much, much more about the nature of money and how it works than does the average person today. The public was very much against central banks and had a deep mistrust of Washington and Wall Street (sound familiar). The IMC was in the battle for the long haul, however. For decades, willing accomplices in the media printed papers published by the IMC on how things would be much better under a central bank. After decades of being bombarded by these messages, the old skeptics eventually passed away and newer generations were more open to central banking.
In 1910, presidents and vice-presidents of the largest banks in America converged on Jekyll Island, Georgia and began crafting a plan for central banking. Keep in mind that these men were competitors, or at least they had to compete when money was honest. The fruit of their labor became the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, and as I just mentioned earlier, the American tax payer has bailed out the banks. This is not some catastrophe. This was not unforeseen. This was merely part of the plan; the plan was activated and you and I are left with the bill.
Remember that mission about stable prices, one of the Fed’s original goals? It may interest you to know that from 1800 until 1913, the consumer price index was zero. That means that money bought the same general basket of goods in 1913 that it did in 1800. Disclosure: There was a central bank in the U.S. until 1811, until it’s 20 year charter expired an was not renewed. Incidentally, Andrew Jackson was the president who refused to renew this twenty year charter because he was vehemently opposed to central banking. Today, Jackson’s picture appears on the twenty dollar bill. Coincidence? I think somebody in the Fed at some point decided to have a bit of fun at Jackson’s expense, replacing Grover Cleveland’s face with his in 1928. Jackson actually warned the public about the dangers of paper fiat money in his farewell address to the nation.
But enough history. Back to Mr. Indiviglio.
Sir, are you really telling us, with a straight face, that 113 years of stable prices and far fewer financial crises is “crazy”…. and that a 1,900 percent increase in prices and severely deep recessions and depressions are sane?
Really? Really??

Walking the Walk

“What have you done to increase your human capital today?”

This is a phrase that my friend Mike Miller and I coined while trudging through our masters degrees at Walsh College from 2004 through 2007. Human capital is a term economists use to to describe the set of skills accumulated by an individual, specifically those skills that are in demand by the marketplace.

Mike and I were both in the I.T. profession at the time, gainfully employed and making good salaries. And yet, there we were, once a week, sometimes twice a week at Walsh studying finance of all crazy things, specifically, personal financial planning.

First and foremost in our mind, we wanted to know how to do something other than I.T. just to broaden our job prospects in the future in case it ever came down to that.

Secondly, we wanted something that could complement our current positions and certainly the core financial classes in accounting, economics, financial statement analysis, fundamentals of finance, etc, can come in handy when dealing with our corporate “users”. We can speak their language.

And finally, on a personal level, it never hurts to know how to manage your own money and the specialization in personal financial planning provided us with those skills.

For three years while much of the country was glued to the T.V. to see who was “voted off” their favorite reality T.V. shows, Mike and I were glued to our books, to our computers and to the Walsh library. Many people would consider it torture. We considered it fun. We were increasing our human capital.

Sometime after graduation, Mike observed that the large, international I.T. company he worked for was laying off more and more people. He began looking for a way to utilize his degree and move into financial planning. If you know Mike, you know that the word “prepare” is central to everything about him. Finally after many close calls, Mike received word that he too was being let go.

Fortunately the severance he received worked perfectly into his plans to study for and pass the multitude of exams required by the SEC and State of Michigan in order to become a financial planner.

Mike stopped by my house last night, invited there by me to look over some life insurance questions I had. To watch him at work you’d think he’s been a financial planner his whole life. He is not only surviving but thriving in his new career and is on track to earn more than he ever did as an I.T. professional.

The purpose of this blog post is not to boast (or whine) about hard Mike and I worked, rather it’s to illustrate the way I think we should all conduct our lives. One does not have to spend money on tuition to improve your human capital. There are innumerable ways to do it if you’re determined. Every day we should go to bed knowing more than when we woke up that morning. Yes, I’d like to come home and relax and watch T.V. for four or five hours every night. And that might even be a great plan if “T.V. watcher” becomes the next hot career, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
In life, there are those that wait around, satisfied with the status quo until they become a victim. Once they become a victim there’s plenty of blame to go around: evil corporations, a bad economy, the governor, the president, the Congress… everyone except the one who’s unemployed. And there are those who make things happen. Mike and his family could have become just another “sob story”, the kind so frequently written about these days. But he took steps while he was working to drastically reduce the odds of that happening.Look, all the preparation and education in the world is no guarantee that you won’t become jobless. That’s not my point. My point however is that if you’re doing NOTHING to improve yourself then you have nobody to blame BUT yourself if you’re out of a job. If you’ve really made a good faith effort at improving or expanding your skills while you were employed and you’re still jobless, it doesn’t suck any less, but you can look at yourself in the mirror and say “hey, I did EVERYTHING I could to prevent this; it’s certainly not due to a lack of effort and preparation.”My buddy Mike refused to become a statistic. He worked his ass off, he studied the market and compared it to his own career likes and wants, he made contacts and preparations and when the time came, he activated the plan and came out smelling like a rose.

I want the very best for everyone. I want all the people reading this to never want for anything. My only question to you is, “are you doing everything possible to increase your marketability?”.

So, what have you done to increase your human capital today?

Sparky, I Hardly Knew Ye

Like so many, today I mourn the passing of Sparky Anderson, one of the great managers in all of baseball history.

In 1984, the Tigers were a meteor that shot out of the gate with an amazing 35-5 start. I am no statistician or historian, but I wonder if any other team in MLB history ever posted such a record for their first 40 games. That meteor continued for the remainder of the year, obliterating everything it its path. The San Diego Padres were nothing more than a sacrificial lamb and a mere footnote in baseball history that year.

When a pro sports team goes through a season like that, it carries a town. Especially a baseball team. I can’t begin to imagine the number of backyard barbecues, parties and other get togethers that summer where the voices of Ernie Harwell or George Kell weren’t present.

But imagine is all I can do…Sadly, while I can admire and appreciate how much Sparky meant to the Tigers and to Detroit, I understand it with my head and not my heart. That’s because I was serving in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987. I was in North Carolina up until June or so. One day over breakfast I read in a fledgling newspaper called USA Today that my beloved Tigers were 35-5! Wow! I immediately thought “damn! I wish I was there!”. Remember, there was no web, no smart phones, no MLB “packages”, no ESPN, etc.. It is strange now to think of how disconnected everything was back then. If a game wasn’t on national TV, there was no way to enjoy it… only read about it the next day in a newspaper.

In June, we boarded a ship and sailed across the Atlantic. In a bit of an unscheduled stay, we spent the next four months or so at the U.S. Navy base in Rota, Spain. Finally as the playoffs arrived, the Tigers’ games were carried by Armed Forces Radio. Every game night me and four or five buddies from Michigan would stay up to listen to the game. With Spain being five hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the U.S., the games didn’t START until 1:00 AM. Those were some mighty tired days following a game.

Upon my return from the Marines, back in Metro Detroit, I did get to see the Tigers (and Sparky) win the A.L pennant on the last day of the season, wrestling it away from the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, I was at the game.

In the years that have followed, I have enjoyed three Pistons world championships, four Red Wings Stanley Cups, a U of M football (co) national-championship and a lot of success for the MSU basketball program. In 2006, I was at all of the Tigers’ playoff games except for Game one of the World Series. The highlight of that stint was being present for Magglio’s walk-off homer against the A’s to send the Tigers to the World Series. I was even at the game when Justin Verlander tossed a no-hitter in 2007.

No matter how glorious the celebration… the people old enough to remember always say “this is great!, but it’s not as good as when the Tigers won in 1984”. I am forever disconnected from my fellow Detroiters in that one special experience that bonds them all together as the city’s finest hour in their lifetime.

And so, all I can do is hope against hope that somehow the Lions can win a Super Bowl because I am sure that WOULD eclipse a World Series. I can also hope that I become a billionaire. Either one has an equal chance of happening.

Sparky, thanks for the memories, old friend. I sure wish I hadn’t missed the big one, but in due time, I am sure you and I can sit down, enjoy a root beer and you can tell me all about it.

Thank You Howard and Marion Cunningham

It was with sadness that I read about the passing of actor Tom Bosely, known to tens of millions as the lovable “Howard Cunningham” on the ’70’s T.V. show “Happy Days”. Howard Cunningham was “America’s dad” for a generation of this country and his TV wife, Marion, played by actress Marion Ross, was America’s mom.

I had my own special encounter with the Cunninghams, well…, at least Marion, who was known as “Mrs. ‘C'” on the show.

It was the day before Thanksgiving in 1984; the place was in Marseilles, France. I was a young Marine serving aboard the U.S.S. Shreveport as our unit was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea with our job of practicing the evacuation of U.S. embassies in the region. On this particular day, I found myself standing guard duty on the pier at the base of the “ladder” (stairs) that lead from the pier to the deck of the Shreveport.

A large motor-coach arrived nearby, bringing with it the members of a USO show that was to perform later that night. The members of the troupe included Marion Ross (Mrs. C) and Anson Williams (Potsie Weber) from Happy Days, John Walmsley who played “Jason” in the T.V. show the Waltons (he was the musician in the family) as well as many dancers/actresses from the movie “Flashdance”,

The group moved toward the Shreveport and arrived at the end of the ladder where I was standing guard. Marion Ross approached me, took one look at the little bit of red hair I had peaking out from under my Marine Corps “cover” (hat) and said ” Aw, you remind me of Richie!” and proceeded to tip-toe up and kiss my cheek.

Later that night, the USO show took place aboard the Shreveport. The tables and chairs of the chow-hall had been pushed aside. Marines and Sailors were crammed into every nook and cranny around as we watched the show, cheering and especially enjoying the girls from Flashdance. A lot of hooting and howling seems to ring a bell. At one point, Marion Ross took the stage and addressed us. She told us all what fine young men we were and how much she and the country appreciated us being on the job, protecting our country. She then spoke about our sacrifice, being so far from home during the holidays, away from family. She broke up a bit, emotionally, as she addressed us. Of course, she is a professional actress as well, so it was kind of hard to say if it was genuine or not, but we gave her the benefit of a doubt. I looked around the room to see if I was alone in my attempt to inconspicuously brush aside a tear or two. Through my blurred vision, I was relieved to see that I was not.

The show continued with the musical band playing “Splish Splash” which was sung by Potsie Weber (Anson Williams). It was just like being in a re-run of Happy Days!

As the show neared its end the Sailors and Marines of the U.S.S. Shreveport, predominately young men between 18 and 22, began chanting “Mrs. C!, Mrs. C!, Mrs. C!”. You might have expected throng of young men cooped up for months on a ship to be demanding more of the girls from Flashdance. What they really wanted on this Thanksgiving so far from home was a mother, and who better to stand in for their own mother than the lovable Mrs. C?.

I shall always remember that chanting crowd, her emotional address to us, and most especially her kiss on my cheek.

Thank you, Mrs. Cunningham, and I am very sorry for the loss of your husband, Howard.

A Sobering Dose of Reality

This evening I had a very interesting doctor’s appointment.

More precisely, the doctor’s appointment was pretty boring and average. It was the time spent in the waiting room that was interesting. There was one older gentleman waiting with me. He turned out to be seventy but looked much younger to me.

Sure enough it didn’t take long and he started talking to me. I felt a little guilty, as I was trying check Facebook on my phone. Normally, this is about the time when I start thinking: “Please!! Don’t start a conversation with me!”

With resignation, I just put down the phone and listened politely.

Within a few moments, he told me that he had recently been diagnosed with terminal, inoperable cancer – in his liver, lungs, bones, lymph nodes… everywhere. He had my attention. My mind began racing… Is he going to break down and cry? If he does, should I hug him??

He continued, saying that he wasn’t afraid of dying.. only of becoming a vegetable, a burden. He wants to go quickly but the thought of his wife and daughters grieving over him bothers him.

The past few days have been very emotional. His wife cries all the time. His daughters are upset. Yet,he has remained distant and philosophical about it, at least so far. He wonders when it will hit him… when he’ll break down… when he’ll “lose it”. I sensed that he waiting for the opportunity to talk to somebody who wasn’t family… who wasn’t involved.. who wasn’t close to the situation. He’d been carrying this around with him and he needed to get a lot off of his chest. Through sheer happenstance, I was the chosen one.

He went on. I marveled at his strength, at his ease with himself.. at the grace with which he was handling this most unfair hand of cards he had been dealt.

Today was his first day of chemo. Without the chemo, his odds of living one year are five percent. If the chemo works spectacularly well, his odds of living one year go up to thirty percent.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but project myself into his situation. I couldn’t¬†imagine being as calm and dispassionate as him. It made me almost physically ill to contemplate.

By now, I was so glad that I was there for him. He obviously needed to talk.

I learned that he worked until age sixty-eight at which time he took a buyout from General Motors. Now, a mere two years into retirement, he’s staring the last year of life head on, in the face. “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. Money doesn’t mean shit”, he said. If I wasn’t quite convinced of this before, I was now.

He talked about other things too…. His daughters, his son-in-laws. His three grandchildren, the youngest a little girl of two.

Forty five minutes late, the office assistant finally called my name. I rose from my seat.

I walked over to him and purposefully extended my hand. I looked him in the eye as we shook hands. Our hands stay clasped together longer than a “normal handshake” called for. “I sincerely hope that everything goes just the way you want.”, I said, releasing his hand. I turned away and followed the office assistant through the door, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

As you can tell, this has had somewhat of an effect on me. So many thoughts stream through my head, but the important ones are these: Life is fragile. Life is short. And, you can never have too much of the important things: Love, family, friendship, laughter…

So, my friends, while I am in this melancholy mood of mine, I just want to thank you all for being a part of my life… I enjoy each and every one of you. Each of us has a unique relationship and they all mean a great deal to me.

Peace, out.

District 28 Toastmasters Conference

Friday evening and all day Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Toastmasters District 28 Spring Conference. For those of you who don’t know what Toastmasters is, the short answer is it’s an international organization in 106 countries around the world, dedicated to helping its members improve their communication and leadership skills.

If I had to put my finger on just one single thing I enjoy most about Toastmasters, it’s being surrounded by people who are trying to improve and to be the best person they can be. If you surround yourself with toxic, negative people, there’s an exceedingly good chance that’s where you’re headed. However, if you surround yourself with positive, upbeat people who are striving to improve, to be the best they can be, and who have committed to help you do the same, well… let’s just say it’s a wonderful experience, a fantastic community and a great way to spend one’s days as we pass through planet Earth.

The keynote speaker and honored guest throughout the weekend was Lance Miller, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) and winner of the 2005 World Championship of Public Speaking contest. Wow… what a speaker. Perhaps the most inspiring topic Lance discussed was during his keynote address, titled “Losing My Way to the World Championship”. Lance did not sign-up of for Toastmasters and become a World Champion the next day. Rather, it took year after year of LOSING contests to achieve the world championship. It’s a great lesson for us all. The road won’t always be clear, nor the ground always level. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle and the obstacles plentiful. Still, keep your eye on the prize, honestly evaluate yourself, make corrections in your course and never, ever, give up the ship.

We also had another honored guest, Paul W. Smith, morning anchor on WJR (760 on your AM dial). Paul was a tremendously entertaining speaker and we all agreed we could have listened to him for HOURS! He was very entertaining and so gracious to accept an invitation from District 28 and to speak at our event. It’s amazing to learn that he never prepares a speech. He just gets up and starts talking. Well, let me tell you.. he is VERY GOOD at it!

I made some great new friends with some Toastmasters from across the border in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. We sat with them at lunch and engaged in spirited conversation about healthcare reform as we asked them about their system. One gentleman said “no system is perfect, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one Canadian who doesn’t like our health care” and immediately, Kevin, also a Canadian shot his hand in the air as if to say “hello! Here’s one right here!” Kevin was very passionate about politics and explained the Canadian parliamentary, multi-party system to us. Clearly, Kevin was more conservative than his fellow club members who rolled their eyes at some of his analysis. Kevin has a better grasp on American politics than many Americans, which was very interesting.

After lunch we headed to training sessions before returning to the main dining room for the International Speech contest. Once again, we found ourselves sitting with our Canadian friends. Unfortunately, I can only remember the names of Kevin, Rick, Ada, Vladimir and Susan. There were a couple more (but I am terrible at remembering new names).

After the speakers had delivered their speeches, the room was cleared to prepare for dinner. Upon re-entering to be seated, Magda O’Hanlon (our treasurer) and I found ourselves seated completely on the opposite side of the room from where’d been sitting all day. Still, we landed with another table of Canadians – a different group this time. But alas, Magda tapped my arm and jerked her thumb over her shoulder. There were Vlad, Kevin, Ada and Rick sitting right behind us, back to back.

I have no clue how speech contests are judged. We are given scoring sheets so we can follow along and do our own scoring. I rate the speakers according to my own thoughts, but any speaker I rank as first has no chance to actually win the contest, and so it was again last night.

Let me tell you about one of the contestants, Lynn Fitzsimmons. When she was announced to speak, Lynn entered from the back of the room as all speakers do, but she was assisted by a companion who helped her make her way between all the tables and chairs in the banquet hall as she approached the stage. You see… Lynn is blind! With help from her companion and the Toastmaster of the Day, she climbed the steps and was lead to center stage. Lynn delivered a stirring speech of what it was like to be born blind, one of three blind sisters, to a blind mother and an angry, alcoholic father. She was misdiagnosed and put into a school for developmentally challenged children. Fortunately, one of the teachers saw the true Lynn and knew that she was not developmentally challenged. With this teacher’s help she made her way to a school for the visually-impaired and then a regular high school after that. She joked that when she was set up on a date with her future husband, he didn’t realize he really was getting a “blind date”. Lynn is now a mother, grandmother and successful business woman. Oh, and by the way, she’s also going represent District 28 at the World Championship of Public Speaking in California, because she won the contest! The new format of competition has eliminated the regional-level competition, so Lynn goes straight to the World Championship, though there are MANY semi-final rounds there to thin the ranks to a smaller group in the finals.

Whew… this is more typing than I planned on this Sunday morning, but I just wanted to convey to you the wonderful time I had at the Toastmasters District 28 Spring Conference. If you’re not a Toastmaster and this sounds motivating or inspiring to you, give me a shout and we’ll talk. It’s one of the best things you can do with your time.

http://www.macombspeakeasy.org/