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Invisible Fences


I love when different ideas collide in life.

A while ago a photo based blog post appeared in my WordPress reader, “Ghost Fence,” by Elan Mudrow. The next day my daughters and I took a walk in our neighborhood. They love to see all the dogs in the yards or on the front steps. There is one house on our route that the dogs come pretty close to us, but my girls never get to pet them because the owner has an invisible fence installed on their property. They have a few little signs and you can see the transmitter on the dogs’ collars. My girls love see the dogs up close. They know that the dogs can’t cross the invisible fence, and they know not to try and make the dogs cross the fence, either.

As I do, these two events got me thinking about our fences. Our ghost fences that keep us on our lawns without us even knowing it.

The first fence I thought of was habits. Our life, even our thoughts, are often dictated by habit. I’ll cover thoughts in a few minutes with another fence, so for this fence I’ll address how the habit of getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed, keep us from exploring the world. Even our weekends are habits. I have them. We get groceries every Saturday morning. Now, habits are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but they can keep us in place without us ever realizing it.  Days, weeks, and then years, even, go by as we find ourselves wondering when we will do anything exciting. When will we pursue that dream?

Life habits are easy to change. You recognize the habit and make the change. Even if it is something as simple as changing the route you drive to work, you will notice the change in energy for the day. For bigger things, like finally writing a book, you will have to make some other changes in habits, like writing for an hour every night. But still, making that change is relatively easy… it is the other fences that are harder to bring down.

As mentioned earlier, our thoughts are habits, too. But many thoughts are built from another fence that keeps us from leaving the comfort of our front porch… fear, pain, and doubt. We have all failed. We have all been shocked when we have tried to cross a line only wanting to see what the rest of the neighborhood was like. That pain got us thinking, created thoughts that reinforced our deepest fears, and we just kept repeating them until those thoughts became our daily dialog with ourselves. So we never try to cross that line. We don’t want to feel that pain. We tell ourselves that the goal isn’t really worth it.

Here’s the truth, we don’t have a collar on us. Oh yes, we have a transmitter, it is that negative voice in our head, but there is nothing really keeping us on the lawn. The world, your goals, are sitting there just beyond the pain. Beyond the doubt. Beyond the fear. I can’t guarantee you success, but I know that pursuing your goals will bring you more joy than you know. And that joy will short out that transmitter.

There is one more fence I thought of… and it might haunt us the most. The front porch is just too comfortable for us to get off of. As I walked with my girls, thinking about the idea of fences and even self evaluating my pursuit of the dreams I have, I admitted that some of my dreams are unfilled because life is comfortable. I’ve been held back by an invisible fence that makes my property look nice and tempts me to stay because life is good. Now, for those who really know me and my story, they know getting to this point in life has been a battle. That I have overcome some crazy odds. Many of you reading this have overcome obstacles. You deserve the good life you have. But if you are like me, there is a dream that keeps nagging at you, that keeps driving you to get off the lawn to conquer the distance it takes to achieve it. The fence of comfort is the hardest to cross because life stays good, even if you don’t achieve that dream.

As I walked with my girls, I was filled with happiness. The sun was shining. We were laughing as we watched some butterflies. That’s when my littlest one said, “Puppy! Look! A puppy!” (Every dog is a puppy to her).

Coming toward us was a golden retriever, trotting on the road. I told the girls to stand still and to hold out their hands to let the dog sniff it. They all held in their excitement as they held out their hands to the dog. It sniffed each of us and then stood between the girls while they petted him. I could see a collar on him with a dog tag. I pet his head and was going to check his dog tag when he looked at me, barked, then turned and trotted away. My girls wanted to run after him, but I said to let him go.

My youngest hollered, “Bye, puppy!”

The other girls joined in with her, all waving at him. I swear he turned back at us and smiled as he trotted away. Just a dog enjoying the world beyond his lawn. I went home to jot down my ideas for a blog post I wanted to share with people beyond my neighborhood.


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Bittersweet Blueberry Muffins

Like most Sunday mornings I awoke at 6:30 to start making Blueberry Muffins. Maybe it is the coffee, or the quiet of the house, or the playlist I listen to, but I always find myself thinking about life as I get out the eggs, pour the milk, and get the muffin mix ready for the cupcake pans. I wish I could say that this post will be positive, but today the muffins were bittersweet.

As you know we have blueberry muffins every Sunday morning. We have added chocolate chips muffins (after trying out a few different kinds), scrambled eggs, and sausage or bacon to our breakfast routine. Time has forced some changes on our family.

So, let me take you back a few days. One evening my oldest son asked if I remembered this song:

This was a favorite song when he was younger. His younger brother was in the living room at the time and all three of us sang along. It was a reminder of a time when life was simpler. But now, as teenage boys, they have already learned some hard lessons about life. They have had their hearts broken, they have had their trust broken by adults. And sadly, through different avenues, they have learned that hard work alone doesn’t pay off. (That is for another blog.) Yet, for a few minutes we were back in time, riding in the minivan, singing along to Kids Place Live.

Jump to this morning…

As I was making breakfast my youngest daughter appears in the living room, ready to play My Little Pony. She scampers over to the kitchen, eyes wide, smile wider, a few My Little Ponies in her hand. She asks if I am making muffins. I answer yes. She replies, “I love muffins.” Then returns to the living room to play.

As I mix the batter for the chocolate chip muffins I consider how life changes for us. No matter how much I want to be Holden and keep my children from falling off the cliff in the middle of a rye field, I know that I am helpless to do that. Even our tradition of blueberry muffins has changed because our family has.

But I smile, too, as I place the pans into the oven. Blueberry next to chocolate chip. The heart of our tradition is still there. And that won’t change, no matter how much time passes.

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Why Love

Tilte with boy running with balloons

A simple question keeps running through my head lately; ‘Why Love?”

Why anchor my life on Love?

Why not money? Why not success or pride? Why not fame? Why not Hate? These things seem to work… watch TV or YouTube to see how many times these characteristics get likes or shares. The guy tailgating me has a nicer truck than me (and I’m even in the right lane going the speed limit). I still tip even when my family is treated like nobodies at a restaurant.

Really, why not instill a selfish attitude in my children? It would be easier to send an email to the school complaining about something instead of listening to my children, asking them how they can make it better or how to work through it. I can teach them to not care about teammates or friends. The feelings and aspirations of others are not their concern. If they are going to make it in this world they have to go for theirs and pity anyone that gets in their way. There is no such thing as loyalty or dedication…

But I don’t. I do my best to choose Love.

Why Love?

Over the next couple of weeks I am going to try to answer that question through a series of posts exploring how Love works in building an incredible life.

Why Love? Join me to find out why.


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Hard Conversations

I’ve become a fan of Ben Rector. My second son, who is into electronic / dance music, actually shared his music with me. He said I would like it. He was right. Ben Rector has a song, “Like The World Is Going To End,” that has gotten me thinking. Well actually, it is a few lines from that song that got me thinking.


This idea runs through the song until in the last verse he sings that he would bring everyone he loved to California so everyone could say the things they were scared to say till then.

What really got me thinking was the idea that they wouldn’t be sharing secrets or past hurts, but speaking honestly about their love for each other. How scary is that?

How hard is it for us to tell someone how much you truly love them?  Now, I am not diminishing the power of saying “I love you” to family and friends. I’m talking about expressing our emotions openly to someone. That is hard for a few reasons. First because we have to remove all our defenses to that person. Our heart is out in the open and it bruises easily. Second, even for me, sometimes we just can’t find the words… or the words we have don’t even come close to revealing the depth of our feelings. Even as a poet, I can not tell my wife how beautiful she is when she smiles as she plays or interacts with our children. Or explain to my little girls the rush I get when they run to hug me when I get home.

Back to the song. Back to the idea that Ben Rector is sharing in the song. We should be telling our family and friends how much they mean to us, how much we love them. We should do this more than we do. No matter how hard it is. How scared we are to open up. Because I love how he ends the line, “till then.” In the song he is referencing the idea that the world is going to end. But I feel that he is also hinting at that once you decide to share your love with others you’ll wonder why you waited.

I hope you have some hard conversations today because

“Now that I think about it. Maybe we should always live like the world is gonna end.”
-Ben Rector



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What is the day?

What is the date?


We remember yesterday. We are living today. I can plan for tomorrow.

These are so easily marked off on a calendar…


Maybe the hardest day to understand and the most destructive word in our vocabulary.

I apologize, I can’t remember where I heard the quote by Steve Mazan posted above.  But it has been infecting my thinking the last couple of days.

SOMEDAY is defined by Merriam-Webster as:  at some time in the future.

The sentence example provided for students is: Someday I’ll travel.

And there is the problem, the destructive aspect of the word. And why it is so easy to use when we discuss our goals. Someday provides us a false sense of confidence. It sounds like we are working on our dreams. Someday I will write that book. Someday I will open that business. Someday I will visit my friend in Minneapolis (or any other place that fits your situation).

But let’s be honest, once we speak this ‘someday’ statement it is usually followed by our escape conjunction, ‘but,’ followed by an articulated excuse. An excuse that helps us rationalize our failure to achieve our goals. Sadly, the person whom we are speaking with will shake their head in agreement. And too many times, they will share their ‘someday’ goal followed with the escape conjunction and their own practiced excuse.

It’s a vicious cycle. It is hard to break. Steve Mazan has an idea built into his insight. He is correct, SOMEDAY is not found on a calendar. But your goal can be found on a calendar. Write it down on the day you want to accomplish it by. Simple. The hard part is to hold yourself accountable to that date. You have to let go of the false confidence of SOMEDAY and embrace the honest sense of pride you will gain by working on your goals.

You can make your life better, someday. Or you can mark your calendar for today.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comment section and share this post with others.



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Base Level


Theme from a past year for the Centura track team.

As a track coach I had my athletes set goals before every meet. There were three levels. Great, Good, and OK. Their goals could be a time, distance, or even a specific aspect like not hitting any hurdles. When considering their goals, the athletes had to think about how the week of practice went, how they had performed in past meets, how their health was at the moment, and other life issues that could affect their performance.

Next step was to set their expectations and write out their goals at the three levels mentioned above.


This goal was to be set at a realistic level, but also knowing that it would take a high level of performance to achieve. Everything would have to go right for them to achieve it.


This was the performance they should expect. A little background knowledge needed here. My athletes knew the training schedule for the whole season.  They also knew that the goal of the training schedule was to have them performing at their best at the district meet to give them a shot at qualifying for the state meet. So, some weeks of practice were difficult and the athletes should expect a different time or distance during those weeks.


Even though this level seems OK, this level was the most important level for them to set. This was the base level they would accept for themselves.  They would not allow themselves to perform any lower than this goal. The reason for this level was to help them handle the rough spots in athletics and life. They might have had their boyfriend break up with them. They might have gotten grounded. They might have been fighting a cold.  Instead of letting the rough spot ruin the track meet, I asked my athletes to set a base level.  Anything worse is just not an option. A rough spot can take away a whole track meet for an athlete if they don’t have a level of expectation for themselves.

But so many times in life we let a rough spot steal away a moment from our lives. We have bad days, but letting that negative moment take away everything else is worse. I don’t expect you or even myself to set goals every day, but creating a habit of considering how life has been going, being realistic, and fostering a level of expectation from yourself that you will not fall below, will allow you to be ready to experience something great.

At the end of the track meet my athletes had to share how their day went with me or their event coach. (I had a place on the goal sheet for coaches to initial.) In all they years I coached, there were a few times an athlete performed below their OK goal. But I never had an athlete perform below their OK level twice. What I miss the most this year is seeing the joy the athletes experience when they performed at their Great level. So many times they shared how they had a rough week but were not going to let the circumstance get to them and that mindset lead to a Great performance.

What is your base level?

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I get lost sometimes, really I do

The noise and commotion of life

Drowns out the simplest direction


To love each other


I find myself walking in circles

Even if it is just in my head

Wondering why it gets so dark


To see the path


I would ask a friend

But everyone seems like a stranger

Busy going nowhere


To help me find my way


So I stand here or there

Trying to hear, trying to see

But others just knock me down


To  the ground


I get lost sometimes, really I do

But through the noise and commotion

I try to follow the simplest direction


To love…


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This I Believe…Love

Holding Daughter's Hand

Holding Daughter’s Hand

I checked out the book This I Believe: On Love from my library a couple of weeks ago.  The book is a collection of essays written by everyday people.  The book is apart of the I Believe organization that fosters the sharing of our foundational beliefs through writing.  In the spirit of the book I wanted to share what I believe, on love.

Love takes strength, everyday.

Love is reflected in the daily grind of life, it is expressed in soothing a crying child at 1:30 in the morning, and the thirty minutes sitting next to their bed as they fall asleep (and not losing your cool when your knees pop awaking her so you have to sit for another ten minutes).

Love is reflected in making blueberry muffins every Sunday morning.  Sitting with the family at the table. Picking up shoes and coats in the entryway, everyday.

Love is seen in kissing your wife even though it is a bad day and things are not going right.  To show her that your marriage is more important than a bad day. Love drives us to be better next time, and the next time, and to be even better the next time after that.

Love calls us to live with an open heart.  To be strong enough to know your heart will break, because life will break your heart with joy and sorrow.  But love will put your heart back together.

Love calls us to be honest, to have the strength to do what is right in this world.  To stand alone sometimes and hold a candle size light in the dark until others find their way to you.

Love takes strength.  Love takes courage. Love takes everything you have.  And I believe that is the way it should be.


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SCVNGR is the type of app that highlights the power of being mobile.  The main goal of SCVNGR is going places, doing challenges, and earning points.  You can do other people’s challenges or create your own.  The heart of the program is connecting the challenge to a physical place that then turns into a social experience.  The website also allows you to create Treks.  Treks are a collection of challenges that can take place at one site or cover different places to travel to.

SCVNGR has done a great job in the design of their app.  Every challenge has the same four parts to it: Check-in, Social Check-in, Say something, and Snap a picture. When a place has been tagged in a challenge, every player has these options.  The fun comes in the unique challenge you create at that location.  There are two ways to create a challenge.  The first is by gaining enough points at that location and unlocking the bonus Create a challenge option.  The second is to make an account on SCVNGR’s website and build challenges or treks through the site.  You get four challenges with your account; you can email SCVNGR to ask for more challenges.  There is also a reward option you can unlock by contacting SCVNGR (click here for more info).

Why I like it:

It is fun.  It represents how mobile technology can be used to create a social and engaging experience.  Each Challenge or Trek has an activity feed that allows you to see how you stack up with other players. I used SCVNGR as the backbone of my Creative Apps workshop.  I built a Trek that introduced SCVNGR and then used it to enhance the workshop.

The first part of the Trek was a photo challenge.  The participants had to find a specific plant.  I uploaded my picture of the plant, and they had to take their own picture once they found it.  Next, I had two trivia questions they had to answer by asking specific colleagues during breaks in the workshop.  If you were wondering, no, their answers were not on the activity feed, just their points.  I then incorporated three discussion questions around other parts of the workshop.  These challenges were added to the four template aspects mentioned above.

One aspect I enjoyed was adding media to the challenges.  You can add movie files, pictures, or audio to your challenges to create even more personal touches.  I filmed the instructions for one of the challenges and attached them to the game.

Use in the classroom:

I think this app has great potential for schools. Below are some ideas.

Create Treks for athletic teams, band concerts, or the speech team.  Time is not a factor for SCVNGR, so a Trek can be active for as long as you want.  For example, to get fans to follow your team, create a season Trek that has each game as a challenge.

Create a reading Trek for a semester.  The location would be the classroom, but each book can have its own challenge.

Visit historical sites, or set up a Trek before a field trip allowing you to ask trivia questions, gather photos, and just create a more engaging trip.

Collect samples of plants for science class.

SCVNGR is one of those apps that reveals the power mobile technology has to enhance our everyday life, let alone what it can do for the classroom.  I think you will find SCVNGR to be a great resource. Share your SCVNGR successes with me via Twitter (jdog90).

In case you are ever in Kearney, NE, and enjoy coffee, I have a Trek, “Better Latte Than Never” you might enjoy.

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Grumpy Teacher

I think it has happened.  I am a grumpy teacher.  Many of my phrases start with “Back in my day,” or “Kids these days.”  To be honest, some days I feel drained after teaching instead of energized.  I get grumpy grading papers.  I am becoming that teacher.

How did I get here?  The answer is not easy to write, but I think it reveals some important aspects of education.

My Classroom

I teach all my classes over a DL (distance learning) system.  I juggle different start and end times for periods, 14 different school calendars, and one period with six different schools on the screen.  Not to mention technological issues or other factors that affect the environment of the class: lighting, all students on screen, and even just trying to answer a question from their computer screen.

I have, at best, shallow relationships with my students. I’m on line with them three days a week for 45 minutes.  I don’t get to have those conversations in the hall or at lunch.  They cannot ask for help in the morning.  I do not get to see the light bulb moments.  Learning is about moving to higher levels of understanding and articulation of that understanding.  It is scary to make that jump sometimes, but a teacher is that foundation that gives students the courage to make it.  I don’t seem to be building that foundation, and that is hard to live with because that is what a teacher does.

Connected to the environment is my approach to grades.  Lessons are just as much a part of the culture of a classroom as the desks and paint on the wall.  And with lessons comes grades.  I have tried to create a more project-based environment for both of my classes.  To create activities that builds the students’ skills without worrying about the grade.


Animal masks from when I taught in a classroom.

Here again I get tired of battling all the different grading issues, from the student cliché. “How long is it suppose to be?” to justifying every assignment that is not “graded” to schools.  In some ways I have made it even harder on myself because I’ve tried to run my DL classes as if it was a normal classroom.  So, I have kids go outside to write and take pictures.  Students hand in homework by taping it to the walls in their classroom.  But it is not so simple to correlate these activities with six other schools for that period.  Or to make sure all students post their work on the wall.

Grades are important, but I feel that improving their skills is more important.  Life doesn’t give us a midterm report.  We don’t get a grade for how well I did as a parent, or as a friend.  Yes, we do get evaluated for those things, but it is reveled in our sense of pride, the smiles and laughter at the dinner table.  Our skills help us create a life filled with love and strength to handle rough times.  I know a single classroom cannot measure up to life, but it can be a place to build the work ethic for students to strengthen the skills that will be needed in life.  I would rather see them work hard on an essay then filled a page requirement, but to create that freedom takes a relationship that is built throughout a school experience.  And I’m just some guy on a screen…

So I get tired, I get grumpy, I feel like a failure. But this feeling highlights what matters most in education and in life: the relationships we construct with students to help them reach their highest expression of talents and skills.  I might still be grumpy, but I know that all I can do is keeping trying.  Because I won’t get a grade for this moment in life, but will know how I’m doing by the smiles and pride my students express in their own life.

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