Monday, December 28, 2009

A Candle and some Cabbage

I had the entire week off for Christmas and had an outstanding time with friends and family. On Saturday, we had the Huff Christmas. It is pretty amazing how much it still stings to have Christmas without Grandma physically present. Yet, her spirit lives on in and through us. We have a candle that we light in her memory. (I’m not sure if pictures show up on facebook from my blog so you can click here if you are reading from facebook and don't see a picture.) This year my dad asked me to share a memory of Grandma. Coincidentally, I had been contemplating a blog post that was going to include a reference to a story from my childhood.

My brothers and I were very fortunate to grow up two fields away from our grandparents. Consequently, we spent a great deal of time with Grandma. She would read us stories and play games with us. Of course, she prepared the best lunches and always asked if we wanted milk. (I don’t think we could have ever drunk enough milk to appease her!) One fond memory from my childhood is that Grandma would cut up cabbage and put a bowl of it on the kitchen floor. Then, she would tell me to pretend that I was a little rabbit and eat it from the bowl for a snack – no fingers allowed of course. Cabbage never tasted so good! (I have always liked cabbage.)

So this is a pretty goofy little story. Yet, for some reason it really came to mind during this Christmas season. It has something to do about not worrying about looking goofy. It has something do about living boldly, freely, and imaginatively.
(By the way, I think this picture also captures another theme quite beautifully - light in the darkness. Maybe it is not really a different theme at all.)

Monday, December 21, 2009


On Saturday evening, I spent about six hours out in the cold and snow playing my trumpet and sharing some news. In fact, the news was so great that we, the heavenly hosts, shared the news 89 times. Of course, it really didn't seem like 89 times because a miracle occurred in the form of Wooden Peel pizza appearing right in front of us. I broke one of the cardinal rules of trumpet-playing enjoyed several pieces of delightfulness.

So what is this good news that I mention. Well, it is the greatest news of all time. Unfortunately, I don't do a very good job of sharing this news. In fact, as I write this on my parents computer (yay for dial-up Internet), I am a little dismayed to think that over all of these years, the Holy Walk is the one time in the year that I explicitly share this news with others.

Yet, after twenty-nine years (okay, I was not even a year old when the very first Holy Walk was right outside the window of the room where I'm typing), the message is still fresh. In fact, the message is still fresh more than two thousand years later.

I know this for a fact.

I am convinced of this.

When the 88th group (each group averaged about 25) came by at 11:11 PM, something happened.

Normally, when I do the trumpet fan fare and exclaim, "Fear not,..." the shepherds and sometimes also the guide kneel. Once in awhile a young kid or two and a parent might also kneel. Something different happened though at that late hour. Several members of the group kneel ith the shepherds. Then, I watched as the members of the group looked at those kneeling and at each other. Then, collectively, the remainder kneeled. My eyes are watering right now with this image of a group of middle school kids and their parents kneeling on hillside outside of lowly Bremen hearing a proclamation of hope.

I think many of them were probably yearning for something.

In fact, I am confident of this.

Why? Because I was yearning for something and we are all people and deep down we all share some longings and desires.

I was yearning for the manger.

In fact, I said to some of the angels that I really wanted to go to the manger.

Unfortunately, I didn't.

Why? Probably for some of the same reasons that the people in the group were hesitant to kneel. It was cold. Someone else might see me. It was just toogoofy.

Well, on Sunday morning, I still longed for the manger and felt compelled to head over to Bremen United Methodist for church. As I was sitting in the pew, I heard the pastor say, "People want a glimpse of the manger."

Why? Because all of the sudden in that one glimpse, God is real. God is right there in the quagmire of shit (no really, I know for a fact that animals leave a mess - I scooped it plenty of times growing up on the farm) that is part of our human existence.

God is right there in a dirty, grimy manufacturing plant. God is right there when the tears blur the vision - when someone dies, when the world does not make sense. God is right there when we hesitate to be ourselves - even among friends.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Play Date

Well, I'm happily on vacation for the next week and am looking forward to this time of relaxation and rejuvenation. It might sound extreme, but this past week was a pivotal week in my transition this fall from the plant in Bremen to Lafayette.

It just became clear to me that we are making progress.

One of the highlights of the week was publishing my first newsletter for the fabrication facility.

It is called Fab-ulous Times. My hope is that it will be a newsletter to share improvement and best practices. We don't do a very good job of spinning our successes. We focus way too much on the negatives. This newsletter is just one step in the direction of improved communication. In addition, we started to make the initial steps toward empowering our production associates. My hope is that strategic, incremental steps will lead to more actively engaged employees. These steps are coupled with more tangible successes including turning in over $150,000 of engineering change requests that appear to be on track to approval in entirety.

I bring up the newsletter, though, because for me this newsletter was an example of playing. It ended up being a spontaneous decision to write up the articles. It also allowed me to get back to something that I really enjoy doing. I have kind of tucked away my interest in journalism over the years but some of my best memories from school were as the yearbook editor under the direction and guidance of Mrs. Smith. The nice part about the newsletter is that my boss is 100% on board. (He thought the title was great, too.)

So as I join my loved ones in preparing for the celebration of Christmas, I am particularly mindful of playing. This advent season, I have spent much time reflecting on God-in-the-Bod, Jesus. In sending a baby, a child, it is almost like God is saying, forget about playing by the rules. Forget about worrying about tomorrow. Forget about jumping to conclusions. Forget about feeling utterly inadequate. Forget about what others think of you. Instead, it is like God is saying, my Son, Jesus, needs a play date.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Play vs Play

Well, to continue from my last post, some definitions would be helpful. Many definitions of play exist. Probably the most common usage involves sports, and this definition is what good old Merriam-Webster gives first for play.

1 a : swordplay b archaic : game, sport c : the conduct, course, or action of a game d : a particular act or maneuver in a game: as (1) : the action during an attempt to advance the ball in football (2) : the action in which a player is put out in baseball

Ooh, swordplay. Now that sounds dangerous. But this is not really the definition of play that I have been thinking about. Although, in a round about way, I actually have been thinking about this, too. Okay, I'm confused, too.

No, the definition of play that captures most what I have been thinking about is nestled in about halfway through the M-W entry.

3 a : recreational activity; especially : the spontaneous activity of children

And, yes, this is the definition that I'm interested in most.

Back to the bike ride from the previous post...

When I started out on the ride, I knew where I was leaving from and where I was going to end up (back right where I started). However, beyond that, I did not have a plan. That is what is so powerful about this type of activity. As I think back over the years, some instances of this type of spontaneous activity come to mind.

Just last year, a few people were over to the house and we played music. We weren't looking at any music. We just played. It was amazing. Wrong notes did not exist. We weren't worried about how others thought we sounded.

One of my favorite memories from growing up on the farm is building straw forts with Matt. We would spend hours up in the barn building forts and crawling through tunnels trying to protect ourselves from an unseen enemy.

For some reason, all this is weighing on me heavily during this advent season. I'm going to try explaining in the next post (or two).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why is it sometimes so hard to play?

After my last post, I have spent additional time thinking about playing. While contemplating this not so deep concept, I asked the question, “Why is it sometimes so hard to play?” My mind quickly wondered back to a boy who was absolutely terrified about learning how to ride a bike. I was so afraid that Mom must have pretty much given up. In fact, she ended up having Cindy teach me how to ride bike in town. Well eventually, I must have finally figured out how to ride. I still have the George Washington Avon bottle that Cindy gave me as my prize for being able to maneuver that two-wheeled beast on my own.

I think this memory has a lot to do with why it sometimes seems so hard to play. In many – maybe all - cases, playing makes us kind of vulnerable. I mean, let’s face it. It really hurts to fall down on the gravel driveway when attempting to ride bike. Yet, even as recent as a few weeks ago, I was so thankful for the opportunity to explore the countryside around Rensselaer on my bike. And yes, it is still seems kind of vulnerable – especially with the shoes hooked into the pedals. I’m sure it would still really hurt – probably even more so today – to end up on the ground. Yet, for some reason it is okay, in that situation, to let go and play.

But, there is more to the story...

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I struggle a great deal with work. This past week, though, I learned a lot about these struggles. By Tuesday evening, I had ended up in a pretty dark place so I decided to call Mom on my way home. I told her that I was just so tired of the roller coaster ride. I told her that I must just have a wire crossed or something that keeps me from having any type of ongoing satisfaction with work. I told her that I just couldn't understand why school is so fulfilling and work is not.

Well, she brought up the toy farm collection. When Chad and I were younger, we used to play with our 1/64 scale farm collection. This collection is quite impressive and includes a house, garage, 2 barns, cow building, pig building, horse building, grain bins, and silos. It also includes pigs, horses, cows, and people (young and old of each). Other details include 3 types of fences with opening gates, sand box, swing set, and porch swing. Of course, we also all of the necessary farm equipment to maintain the operation. So Chad and I would spend hours filling the ping-pong table with our farm collection. Then, as soon as we were done setting everything up, I would head back upstairs.

Mom reminded me that this would frustrate Chad so much. Why? Well, we never actually played with our collection. We just spent hours setting it up. So Mom's wisdom, "Todd, you need to remember to play."

She's right.

It can't all be about strategy, lay-outs, and projects.

At some point, there has to be some time to play - to enjoy work.

Somehow, by the end of this week, this was happening. I had an unexpected phone call and also an unexpected visit. Results started coming in to the tune of over $65,000 in savings on one project with another $100,000 in process and another $35,000 on deck.

This all boils down to a sense of balance and perspective. I'm not sure what the next steps will be but I'm definitely going to remember to play.