Tag Archives: bucket list

A Principal – Life in a Shark Tank

I haven’t written about my bucket list lately.

One series of goals that I set at 30 was to earn a teaching credential, a master’s degree and a doctorate.  So, at 33, I went back to school to begin work on my teaching credential.  I then reentered the workforce as a novice – again (this was my third career).

As a classroom teacher, one of my goals every day was to be the bright spot in each student’s day.  I thought if I could help 30 kids enjoy school, maybe they would enjoy learning.  The problem was that when I was busy earning my teaching credential, I thought I would be a fourth grade teacher.  Instead I spent my entire teaching career at middle schools.  So, my influence on 30 students extended to 180.

After several years of teaching, I began to think that maybe I could extend a positive influence to an entire school of students (or from 180 to 1,000).  So, I earned my administrative credential and M.A. and was promptly asked to begin working as a principal at an elementary school.  As I spent the summer preparing to take the helm of a school of about 500 students, I decided that I was going to learn each student’s name by October (I did) – it really wasn’t that hard.  We had a great time together and I believe we made great strides – in fact I just ran into one of those students and his parents this past week who still remembered me (he was a kindergartner my last year at the elementary school and is now in eighth grade) and they made some positive comments about my knowing all the kids at the school.

I had a wonderful time with elementary students, but eventually moved back to working with middle school students and again learned every student’s name (about 1,500 this time).

Middle school is a nice euphemism for shark tank.  Kids are going through so much as middle schoolers and we (adults) tend to marginalize the emotional, physical, social, intellectual, and moral changes they are experiencing (and ages 11-14 tend to be at their lowest point of self-esteem).  As a result, many (most) kids tend to pick on others in order to feel better about themselves (I’m generalizing due to time constraints).  I tried to make each day bearable for them and did whatever I could to make them feel that they had at least one advocate.  However, if they needed to be disciplined, they were (we expelled about 20 kids each year).

My favorite story to hate about middle school happened one year on the first day of school.  I watched a new sixth grader walk onto campus with his father.  The kid was wearing a sweater vest, tie, dress slacks, and dress shoes (he looked pretty sharp) and was holding hands with his father as he entered campus.  My first thought was “well, you don’t see that anymore, how nice.”  My second thought was, “he’s dead” (socially).  Sure enough, he only lasted two more days before checking out and going to a private school.

There were many great stories as well.  Like the students who earned a place in space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, or the students who created a welcome program to help assimilate new students into the school, or the students who went on to earn scholarships to universities or military institutions, or just the great kids who would come back to volunteer on their days off after moving on to high school. 

But the one student who couldn’t be himself – couldn’t just be a kid – still haunts me.

Anyway, I eventually moved on to become a principal of a high school (with some of my middle school kids) and now a university (educating teachers, counselors, and principals), always with the goal of making school more enjoyable for students, with the hope that they will enjoy learning.  Only now, instead of a goal to be the bright spot in the lives of 100 or 1,000 students, my goal is to create many bright spots who will enter classrooms and school all across Southern California, becoming a positive influence on (literally) millions.

Welcome to middle school!

Welcome to middle school!

Building Community in Costa Rica

I had an opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with some high school kids from my church to refurbish a community center.  Each of the communities around San Jose (the capital city) has a community center, but many of them had been taken over by drug dealers and were unsafe for kids.  The particular community center we were to take care of was in serious disrepair.  It had been abandoned for several years and it took two days just to clean up the yard and make repairs to the building (including adding an interior wall to cordon off one end for a police outpost).

As we worked on the yards and made repairs, some of our kids walked through the neighborhood meeting people and telling them we were reclaiming the community center from the drug dealers.  We set up a couple of tables and some games as kids started spilling in from the neighborhood.  While we painted the building, kids played in the freshly cleaned yard and/or colored pictures at the tables.  Neighbors brought food and we ate together – it was great!

The person who set this up for us was a kind of renegade missionary – not really affiliated with an organization, just trying to make a difference among people who need an advocate.  He took us to a local government meeting one evening (with the mayor and city council) and made a pitch for them to hire people to run after-school programs at the community center.  They were very kind and told us they would consider the request (we found out later that they had some people in place within just a few weeks).

By the end of the week our work was complete and the police were in place in their new office, so we were free to do some sightseeing.  One of my goals had been to hike in a rainforest, and I had convinced the rest of the group to take a short hike.  We found some tour guides to take us into the rainforest (but off the touristy, beaten path).  It started raining about five minutes after we stepped out of the vans, rained for the next two hours while we hiked, and stopped raining just as we were getting back into the vans.  It was a fantastic experience as we hiked through lush jungle, along beautiful streams, and past small waterfalls.  This was the only time it rained while we were on this trip and it just seemed fitting that it was while we were in a rainforest (I don’t think anyone was upset about getting wet). 

Following our hike, we toured a butterfly farm and I bought a blue morph.  The farm only boxes butterflies that have died, so no butterfly was harmed in the making of my memories.  The one funny line from the staff, however, was that butterflies are not sold to be pets – they are sold to be food.  How odd.

A couple of goals met, time spent with some great kids, many new friends, a sense of accomplishment… good times – great trip.

I’ve added some photos – not mine, but they look just like my memories.  Thank you to http://www.monteverdeinfo.com/photo_gallery.htm


Costa Rica Jungle http://monteverdeinfo.com

Who I want to Become and Another “Bucket Lister”

I happened across Doug, another “bucket lister” http://douggeivett.wordpress.com/2008/07/24/my-bucket-list/ and found his post interesting.  He responed to yesterday’s post with this thought:

There are several ways to go about this business of working on a bucket list. One is simply to make a list of things I feel especially compelled to do before “kicking the bucket,” and tick them off as each is done. But it could be useful to ask why those particular things are on my list. What does my list say about me? And is that the kind of person I want to be when I’ve finished my business here on earth? An alternative is to think strictly in terms of what sort of person I wish to become, then get busy becoming that sort of person. But how do you do that?

Good questions.

As I think about the kind of person I (still) hope to be, I am struck by the words of Michelangelo when he was asked how he could turn a block of stone into a beautiful angelic statue.  He responded with something to this effect: “I see the angel inside the block of stone and remove everything that doesn’t belong.”  That is (more or less) what my list has become for me – a vision of who I want to become and a chipping away of what doesn’t belong. 

It became much easier after my kids were born.  I wanted to be the kind of person who could be patient with them as they grew up and developed into the kind of people who could be patient with me as I grew old.

Why Create a Bucket List?

I thought I might add a bit more detail about why I created a “bucket list” almost 20 years ago.

When I turned 30, my wife threw a surprise birthday party for me, which was a big deal as the two of us are about as unsentimental as a couple can get (we didn’t even have a camera until our kids were born – 14 years after we married).  I hadn’t thought about my age for almost ten years.  I was suddenly doing a lot of thinking – and was instantly depressed.  My generation didn’t trust anyone over 30 and I had just become untrustworthy.  As a matter of fact, all I could think of was that my life was all but over (I had strange thoughts about mortality at 30) and I had nothing to show for it.  I felt that I had made no real impact on the world and that I was not living up to my potential.

I languished in this semi-depression for almost a year before I decided to do something about it.  This is when I created what we today call a “bucket list”.  My list consisted of fifty things I wanted to accomplish before I died.  Fast-forward almost twenty years and I find myself with an almost completed list (two items left).  I guess it’s time to either make a new list or die (I’m thinking I’ll go with the first).

Although I won’t bore you with my first list, my categories were:

1. Self-improvement

2. Investment in others

3. Family

4. Travel

5. Professional life

I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve met some of these goals and, although I included a section on self-improvement, I now wish I had paid closer attention to who I wanted to be rather than what I wanted to accomplish.  However, I feel I am getting closer to the person I should be and want to be in spite of myself.  All in all, it’s been an enjoyable journey – and much more satisfying than just wandering through life.

A Debt Free Life and the Value of Relationships

One of the “bucket list” goals that I set at 30 was to be debt free within ten years.  It was an interesting goal (at least to me), and one I could never hope to accomplish alone.  In reality, my wife was the one who did most of the work to make this goal a reality.

We had just moved from Tucson, Arizona to Sacramento, CA when we turned 30.  This was in the late 1980s, just after the Keating Savings and Loan debacle, so we moved back to California with virtually no assets and seriously in debt.  When we determined to be debt free (well, actually we expected to still have a mortgage) we discovered a couple of basic principles about successful debt reduction: 1. Create a budget; 2. Commit to pay down debt; 3. Pay cash for most expenses; 4. Don’t spend more than your (after taxes) income; 5. Don’t try to impress anyone with possessions.

These principles seem basic (they are) and easily discovered (they are), but seem to elude many young couples – they eluded us for several years.

We began by setting a budget, then began paying down our debt that carried the highest interest and/or had the shortest pay off.  We stopped impulse buying and used cash for virtually everything we chose to purchase (including cars – eventually).  We began to live well within our means (in order to buy down our debt more quickly) and purchased a fixer upper home in a nice neighborhood (more on that in a later post).  We bought cars we could afford and quit buying a new car every six months or so (embarrassingly true).

If this all seems simple to do, it’s not.  It required a commitment to not buy every shiny thing we saw.  It also required a commitment to quit caring if our home or cars were as big, or fancy, or modern as those of our friends, but we also decided to love what we could afford and celebrate with our friends when they made their purchases.  In short, without realizing it, we really were committing to live pretty stress free lives.  My wife and I grew closer together and we were able to be virtually (still have a small mortgage) debt free within about five years.  This has given us freedom to move when we have wanted to do so, change jobs when we feel like it, spend more time together, depend on each other rather than things, and make donations to charities when it’s needed – investing in the lives of others rather than in stuff that will rust – without fear of not being able to pay for the stuff we have accumulated.

Accomplishing this goal was easily the most satisfying and brought with it a realization of the value of relationships over possessions.  Not a bad lesson to discover while doing something so basic.

Oh… Down in Mexico (but not the James Taylor song)

When I created my “bucket list,” my desire was to create a “better” me.  However, I didn’t want it to be all about me, so I also thought about how I could bring others along with me.

One of my goals was to organize groups to travel to Mexico to build homes and provide medical screenings (again, this was nearly 20 years ago).  Within two years of listing this goal, I was able to make contact with some individuals who lived near the border and had contacts within the border area in Mexico.  I found a group of teenagers and adults (from our church) who shared an interest in helping others and our first trip was organized.

We were a ragged bunch.  Most of our adults worked in the construction or medical industries (Doctors or Nurses), but our teenagers had no experience with either.  Almost no one had ever been to Mexico.  Most had never been out of the U.S.

I have many stories to tell about the trips over the years, but will keep it short (for tonight).  As the years passed and many of the same teenagers made the trip with us year after year (through college and into their adult years), we not only saw their skill level increase, but their compassion for others grew as well.

A favorite story:  On the first trip, one of our teenagers would not get off the bus when we arrived at a village.  While the others in the group were chatting with the people who lived in the area and unloading supplies to begin building, I climbed back onto the bus to see if I could discover the problem.  As I made my way to where the student was sitting, I noticed he was crying, so I asked why.  He said that he was ashamed to get off the bus and let anyone see his shoes because his shoes “cost more than these people’s houses.”  Needless to say, we scrounged up a pair of shoes for him and as we completed the trip he returned home a changed man.

That first year we also discovered a McTaco and returned time and again.  The photo below is not mine (ours actually had golden arches, but is in a box somewhere), but I found this on Perry Jasper’s site (go look at his great photos).

McTaco - Perry Jasper

McTaco - Perry Jasper

A Tour of Israel

I set a goal to visit Nehemiah’s wall in Jerusalem.

I read the leadership book, “Hand Me Another Brick” by Charles Swindoll, and was impressed by the leadership and work of Nehemiah (an old testament character in the Bible – read up, if you get the opportunity).  I wanted to see what he led his people to build, so when the opportunity to tour Israel was offered, I took it.

We arrived in Israel on the day of Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral (you may remember that he was assassinated in November 1995 – interestingly enough, Rabin’s father’s name was Nehemiah… random, but true).  Read up on Rabin, if you haven’t already.  The streets were very crowded because so many people were in town for the funeral, and I was surprised to see all the twenty-somethings carrying weapons (military service), but dressed in civilian clothes.

Yitzhak Rabin from Jewish Virtual Library

Yitzhak Rabin from Jewish Virtual Library

We toured through many parts of Israel and Jordan.  Bethlehem was going to be turned over to the Palestinians the next month, so there was a bit of tension while we were there.  I also remember twisting through road blocks around Jericho as we passed through the area where Yasser Arafat lived (I was able to look into his compound without getting shot).  I was able to ride a Camel while in Jericho (another goal).  Most of the rest of Israel was pretty stress free.  We rode out a storm (that came out of nowhere – very biblical) on the Sea of Galilee, waded in the Jordan River, and went swimming (well, floating) in the Dead Sea. 

Jericho Neolithic Tower from BiblePlaces.com

Jericho Neolithic Tower from BiblePlaces.com


Sea of Galilee from BiblePlaces.com

Sea of Galilee from BiblePlaces.com

We were able to visit the Holocaust Museum, the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, and many other sights while in Jerusalem.  An interesting note; while in Israel, we hooked up with a tour group.  Since the tour group did not have any religious affiliation, the tour guide took us to all of the famous sites – there are unique Catholic, Orthodox, and Christian sites for most events in the life of Christ. Apparently, over 2,000 years, each group has decided which sites work for them.

The Western Wall (I think I used to hear it referred to as the Wailing Wall), was part of the outer wall of the Temple, is the only part of the Temple that wasn’t destroyed in 70C.E., and is the closest you can get to “the dwelling place of God.”  You will see, in the photo below, an archway – within is a very nice library.

Western Wall from Jewish Virtual Library

Western Wall from Jewish Virtual Library

While in Jerusalem, I let the tour guide know that I wanted to see Nehemiah’s wall and he said he would let me know when we were close.  During our tour of the old city, he told me that during our shopping time he would give me directions… he did.  I followed them down a couple of streets and down some steps until I was well under street level.  I saw a pane of glass near the floor and through the glass I could see part of a wall – just about all that was left of Nehemiah’s magnificent wall (you should really read the story).  Jerusalem has been torn down and rebuilt so many times that the people didn’t try to clear rubble, they just built the new walls and buildings on top of the rubble – hence, all the archaeological digs that constantly take place in and around Jerusalem.  So, Nehemiah’s wall is way below ground and even the Western Wall is below street level (look at the top of the Western Wall photo and you will see a white building – that is, more or less, street level).

It was a fun and fascinating trip.  I was able to complete a couple of items on my list and gain a better understanding of current (well… at the time) and biblical events in Israel.  All in all – well worth it.

What in the Dickens… The Bard? A Travelogue.

Two of my literary heroes are Shakespeare and Dickens.  I wanted to visit someplace they lived and touched.  A few years after adding a trip to England on my “bucket list,” I was able to travel there with my wife.  We were not only able to visit Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ homes, but were able to visit Liverpool (home to my musical heroes) and Bono’s home (on a side trip to Ireland) – well…technically I only stood in Bono’s driveway… but nobody yelled at me to move on.

A discovery while at Stratford-upon-Avon:  The people must have either been really short (most likely) or they walked around in their homes bent at the waist.  I realize that I’m abnormal at 6’7″ tall, but it was really uncomfortable to spend most of my time looking at the floor of Shakespeare’s home.  I also learned that Avon is Latin for river, thus, the many Avon’s in England that aren’t attached.  The area is absolutely beautiful – please go visit if you can.

from Stratford-upon-Avon website

from Stratford-upon-Avon website

While in London, after visiting Dickens’ home (he only lived there for a couple of years, but it is his only standing home), we attended Her Royal Majesty’s Theater (experiencing Phantom of the Opera – a thrill), and found that our seats were right next to Dickens’ box (not really a thrill, but interesting).  We also scoured local bookshops for old, British versions of Dickens’ classics and came away with quite a few.  We even came around a corner (not far from Drury Lane – really) and literally stumbled into The Old Curiosity Shop.

Dickens' Home

Dickens' Home

We were also able to visit Stonehenge – also on my list (as my kids would say, “It Rocked!” – I know, lame).  What an incredible, awesome, and unusual place.  This ended up being a true highlight for me.  No picture will ever do Stonehenge justice – you must see it.



I guess the trip helped me to feel that I was somehow in touch with human ingenuity through the arts and architecture.  What a great opportunity!

Swimming with the Fish (Food)

Another of my goals was to snorkel in Hawaii.

My wife and I planned a trip (pre-kids) to Maui and scheduled ourselves to go out on a boat to snorkel by a reef.  It was quite a trip.

We showed up at the dock that morning thinking we were going to be on a trimaran.  However, it turned out to be a pretty smelly little tug boat kind of thing.  At any rate, we pulled out into the sea and began making our way out to a reef and small island.  About 15 minutes into the trip, my wife discovered she was prone to seasickness.  I felt badly for her (Mr. Compassion), but was still looking forward to snorkeling.  When we reached the “dive” area, the crew anchored the little boat and gave us the necessary safety tips for a “safe and sane” trip.  They handed out equipment, then served our lunch (a “lunch buffet” was included in the trip).  The “lunch” turned out to be peanut butter, cheese, bread, mayonnaise, chips, and some kind of beverages out of a little ice chest.  I don’t know what I expected, but that wasn’t it. 

My wife was still a bit woozy after lunch, but thought a dip in the sea would help.  It did.  She said she felt much better as soon as she hit the water.  My experience was a bit different.  I became seasick as soon as I hit the water and immediately fed the fish my lunch.  I climbed right back into the boat, tossed the gear to one of the crew, then hung over the side for the rest of the trip.  After staying in the water until the last moment before we left, my wife joined me at the side of the boat for the return trip.

We literally felt like kissing the ground on our return, but were walking on shakey legs and were afraid our smootch might be involuntary if we didn’t concentrate on trying to walk with some semblance of dignity.

Anyway, the next day we went out and rented snorkels and swim fins and spent the day snorkeling just off the beach.  It was beautiful and fun and involved absolutely no boats.

Well… goal fulfilled, fun had, fish fed… It could have been better, but still memorable.

Hang on to the Paddle! – Rafting for Life

My “bucket list” included whitewater rafting.  I thought it would be somewhat similar to a rollercoaster ride.  It was actually more of a series of lessons on life.

Several of us put together a trip and invited some of our friends – male bonding at it’s finest.  Most of us had never been rafting, but we were smart enough to hire guides.

We had a great time and shared many experiences on the river, but one still stands out:

On our first day, the guides gave us a short training course and talked about safety on the river.  There was much to learn and remember.  The one thing one of my friends remembered was that we were not supposed to let go of our paddle – no matter what!  Well, we weren’t on the river long before he fell out of our raft.  It was a pretty wild part of the river and my friend did almost everything wrong (according to the guide’s list of rules), but he did hang onto the paddle.  He was pretty spent by the time he finally made his way to shore and we were able to stop and pick him up.  He did, however, raise his paddle in triumph.

At the campfire that night, I heard my friend telling several people that while he was in the river all he could think about was hanging onto his paddle.  He claimed that the paddle saved his life.  Our guide was walking past at just that point and my friend asked him what it was specifically about hanging onto the paddle that saved him.  The guide looked at him, and without missing a beat said, “Hanging onto that paddle did nothing for you.  In fact, it could have caused you to drown.”  My friend then asked, “Well, why did you tell us to hang onto it?”  The guide replied, “They’re expensive.”

In the years since that trip I have often thought about the expensive things in my life that could cause me to drown if I hang onto them – I usually let go.

Meeting a goal, learning a life lesson, bonding with friends, and not drowning – all the ingredients of a successful trip.