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Be the paintbrush!

At a recent staff meeting we discussed the departure of a staff member. The departure was unexpected and unexplained, and understandably, there was a low rumble around the various offices and staff rooms of the school. The weekly staff meeting failed to raise the topic until one of the more concerned staff members brought it up. “Can you elaborate on the departure of this person?” For once, the room was all ears. All laptop tinkering ceased and the audience was captive.

After the meeting I had the good fortune to chat with a good colleague who shared the concerns of the question raiser. He was looking for some feedback on what I saw in the meeting. “Could I see the anger in the room?” or something like that.

Rewind 24 hours.

Golf is an interesting game. Most of the time you spend playing golf you don’t actually play golf. You walk. You talk. You reflect. You analyse. You plan. And then you play golf. For about 30 seconds as you stand over the ball and try to condense all that reflection and analysis and planning. Inhale. Exhale. Focus. Swing. Strike. Watch. And then you stop playing golf. You walk and talk and reflect and so on until the next 30 seconds. And it was last night, as I was walking and reflecting that I was presented with the opportunity to reflect on the general tone of conversations happening in and around my office and in the school in general. From some quarters the tone is dark. From others the tone is golden. In between are the rest of the shades, and it was on this continuum that I attempted to plot myself. What shade is my tone. And then the next 30 seconds of golf interrupted my musings. I’m wasn’t sure I reached a conclusion until my colleague asked me about the anger in the room.

My response was, “You see what you look for.”

I shared that if I was looking for the angry people in the room they would have been plainly visible. If I had been looking for the happy people I would have seen them just as clearly. Darkness is just as easy to see as light if you are looking for it.

So as I revisit the “What tone are my conversations?” question I have decided my conversations are a paintbrush and I have the power to choose whatever colour I want to paint with.

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Hockey, Principalships and Space

Below is a recent picture of my first foray into the world of ice hockey as a player.

Growing up in the land of sunshine, beaches and big patches of green grass, my formative years involved a lot of water sports, running around chasing an assortment of different shaped footballs and hitting smaller balls with different shaped lumps of timber or stringed things. So now, at the age of 42, I can give you a good run for your money with any of those types of sports. I’ll take a game or two off you, score a couple of goals, land a try, hit a six, kick a point, sink a long 3 or drop into a nice curling right hander. Hitting a small solid rubber thingy with a long flat stick whilst sliding on ice on two thin blades is ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY!

The process of me diving into this “other thing entirely” has been a most interesting leap.hockey

It all began with some encouragement. “C’mon Knox. Join us for some ice hockey. It’s not that hard. You’ll love it!” and it continued with some more encouragement. “C’mon Knox. You’re an athlete. You’ll be a natural! You’ll love it!” Then it dropped a notch and continued with challenges. “C’mon Knox. If Smith can get out there, so can you!”, before devolving in to common school-boy taunts. “C’mon Knox. You’re being a pussy! If you think you’re a man, get out there and play!”

I rode the taunts and challenges and found myself watching a bit more hockey on TV. Following the puck was the first challenge. Where the hell was that bloody thing? Then, as I began to see the puck, I began to see the positions and began to ask questions about the rules, the plays, the coaching and the refereeing. I was beginning to understand how the game worked, from a spectator level. At that point I began to consider having a go at it.

While my formative years in Australia saw my sporting focus elsewhere, I had been roller-skating (during junior high at Skateland on a Friday night) and on the ice on a handfull of occasions. Not really enough to answer in the affirmative when my taunting colleagues asked if I could skate, but just enough to know that if I did get out there, I would not be completely useless.

So I borrowed all the required equipment (which is considerable), joined my now-relentlessly-taunting colleagues and headed off to “IceLand” to play in my first game of Ice Hockey. And then the reduction began. My first question was, “How do I get dressed?” My next question was, “How do I stop?”. Then it was, “How do I turn?”. The one I worked out for myself pretty quickly was, “How do I get up?”. I had a lot of practice at that! While I was correct in presuming I would not be completely useless, I was not completely (or even partially) useFUL either. By the time I was heading in the direction of the puck, the puck was already heading back in the direction it had originally come from, with three of my taunting colleagues dangling or dribbling or whatever they call it with I’ve-done-this-since-I-was-three aplomb. On the few occasions that my random orbit was interrupted by the trajectory of the puck, some very interesting scenarios transpired.

Scenario 1: My still-taunting-colleague slammed me like the noob I was, relieved me of the puck with shaming simplicity and sped off like Mr Ovetchkin to perform an even more heroic ice hockey manouvre.

Scenario 2: My still-taunting-colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to three to see if my interaction with the puck was going to result in anything magical… and then slammed me like the noob I was (because there was no magic!)

Scenario 3: My still-taunting colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to ten to see if I could summon some magic, hoping that I might (by some stroke of random happenstance) do something useful with the puck.

This continued for a good hour, by which time I had thoroughly experienced the game from the player level.

The theory had been put into practice and I had been completely reduced to the point where I understood, better than ever, how much more I had to learn. I was bruised, wet, sweaty, sore and smelled awful… and loved every minute of it!

As I continued to reflect on the whole first hockey (not “Ice” hockey! There is “Hockey” and there is “Field Hockey”. There is NOT “Ice Hockey” and “Hockey”!) experience, it occurred to me that my move into my first principal role is going to be strikingly similar.

There will be elements of being a principal that I will presume I will be useful at. There will be moments when I will not know what to do. There will be moments when I will need someone to pick me up. There will be staff members just waiting for a chance to jump in, while others will give me a starting chance. And there will be some who will just sit back and watch.

With some form of humility I will contend that I will be stepping out onto the ice that is being a principal with a lot more training and experience than onto the ice of a hockey game. I will also contend that my understanding of the “rules” and the “plays” of an elementary school is somewhat more sophistocated than those of hockey, where dropping the gloves is the equivalent to having a difficult conversation!

But consistent throughout both experiences is the space in which all of this happens.

The space where I am standing in different shoes, looking back at the comfort zone I have left behind, being stretched in ways in which both my body and my mind have not been stretched before, learning things about who I am and what I can accomplish.

And in all that I do, that is where I want to be standing.

 

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What Evil looks like!

A few things have been swirling around in the media over the past few days and weeks have gradually coalesced into something worth writing about, and this morning over breakfast, my beautiful wife summed it all up in a single sentence, “Zombies aren’t the face of evil, this is!” Cue swirling…

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Last weekend I had the privilege of joining some very good North American friends for their Thanksgiving dinner. Not being of a nation that celebrates Thanksgiving, I was interested to learn more about what it is, what it stands for, what families do, what the traditions are, etc, etc and left their home with a full belly and a much better appreciation of the celebration. Family, togetherness, thankfulness. All wrapped up in a big cooked bird and some stuffing, of which the secret family recipe shall never be revealed!

And then we woke to learn that Nelson Mandela had died.

If ever there was a person who epitomised “thanks” it was this incredible man. Having had the chance some years ago to stand outside the cell on Robbin Island in which he was held for 27 years, that thankfulness is even more incredible. So incredible that through him, and through him alone, a whole nation is healing.

Sustainability Milestone Meeting March 17th 2011

And then this week there has been a media flurry around WalMart. For 2013, Walmart posted a net income of US$17 billion (source here), up from 15 and some change the year before. Now that is a lot of coin. A. Lot. And the flurry was surrounding the fact that one store plonked a couple of buckets down by the front door with a sign on them, asking employees to donate food to fellow employees so that they could “enjoy thanksgiving dinner”.

And then… (yes, another “And then…”), this morning as I sat with my daughter reading the news together over our bowls of cereal, we found a news article reporting a possible nation-wide (USA nation!) strike across fast food outlets, in protest of low minimum wages. The aim of the protesters was to raise the minimum wage from $7 and some to $15 and some.

I was shocked!

Not by the effrontery of the protesters, but at the amount of the current minimum wage. 25 years ago I was just about to turn 17, and McDonalds (yes, that fast food megalith) sacked me because I was about to jump to the next step on the pay scale. Apparently I wasn’t meeting targets (whatever that was!). It was the best thing that happened to me because I then found a job as a cleaner and started earning $12 an hour. That was in 1989. I was 17, unskilled and uneducated.

Kayne West

2013 is now drawing to a close and companies that are earning B.I.L.L.I.O.N.S! are paying their staff a wage that doesn’t allow them to provide a Thanksgiving dinner, and are asking their employees to donate food to help them lay a table.

This is the face of evil. Not vampires, or zombies, or Kayne West’s latest excuse for a song. THIS is the face of evil.

As my daughter grows up, THIS is the type of thing she needs to be scared of. This is the sort of approach to people that should truly frighten her. And like those protesting the minimum wage, she (and anyone else who cares about others) should be standing up and lending their voice to the chorus demanding respect. Respect for individuals, respect for what someone is worth, and running a business with that respect at its core.

For 27 years a man stood behind bars espousing respect. He was eventually heard.

Apparently Walmart still isn’t listening.

 

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Attempting to go too far!

Last night we had a leftover Thanksgiving dinner with good friends, a lovely meal of turkey, stuffing and mashed potato (and a jar or two of the household brew) and much thanks was given.

In between all the thanking and giving (and jars) we were discussing my recent trip to Korea and I shared that moment where my dark side was reprimanding me for even considering that I can be an Elementary Principal. There was a serious “Who the hell do you think you are!” internal monologue, with a “you know nothing John Snow” closing line. With all this internal castigation happening on the plane on my way to the school where I am going to be the new Elementary Principal in 8 months time, I waved for the flight attendant and had another shot of single malt poured. Darkness within!

And then today I read Seth Godin’s blog post of the day and one line of his leapt out at me…

“Internal monologue amplifies personal drama.”

The context of his comment was something that also caught my attention, as I have blogged about it in the past and just recently was contemplating some new ink to immortalize the sentiment in flesh. Seth wrote…

“When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that this time we went too far, that our plan is far too risky, that our product is way too bizarre, that our behavior is just too weird…”

I wrote,

“jump and the net will appear“.

Back to my thanksgiving dinner and the chat I was having.

When I mentioned the dark side, my host leapt at the comment with a, “don’t you just love that!” It wasn’t what I immediately expected as a response, but I had to agree. Yes, I did love it! He went on to say something to the effect of being really concerned when that dark side is not present. That the guy without the dark side telling him to give it up and stop dreaming is the egotistical maniac that we have all at some point in our careers wished we didn’t work for.

So as I put it all together, the wisdom of Mr Godin, the wisdom of my thanksgiving dinner host and my drift to the dark side I know things are going ok.

I’m not an egotistical maniac that my future colleagues will wish they were not working for, the precipice I am walking out onto is so much closer to the ground than I think, and I can chew a lot more than what I have bitten off!

Seth finished with,

“You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far.”

Here’s to attempting to go too far!

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The song that made me change my mind!

Is this the worst piece of creativity I have ever had the misfortune of watching/hearing? Undoubtedly!

You have to wonder about the state of the recording industry and fame in general when a song with lyrics like,”One good girl is worth a thousand b**ches. BAM! BAM!” and “She asked me what I wish for on my wishlist. Have you ever asked your b**ch for other b**ches?” has received 6942810 hits on YouTube. With a half-naked woman, famous for simply being famous, astride a motorbike in the video clip, there is a question whether the youtube visits have been for the song of for the half-nakedness, but even that is concerning.

What is this saying about fame and art?

Here we have a famous rap artist serving up a song which, to my ear, not a single moment of artistic worthiness, with a video of similar pap. And now 7107793 have watched it! That is 165000 more views in the time it has taken me to type this post. That is BONKERS!

Again, what is this saying to our students about fame and art?

Another line in the song caught my attention… “I wanna f*** you hard on the sink. After that give you something to drink. Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.” REALLY! What the hell is this? If this is songwriting then something has gone terribly wrong! Terribly, TERRIBLY WRONG!!!

Now, up until today I have always been one to argue that all music is there to be appreciated. There is no such thing as bad music, just music that I don’t prefer to listen to. Well, today I have changed my mind.

I’m going to, for the first time ever, go on the record and condemn this song as an insult to music, an insult to anyone who has the misfortune of having it crawl into their ears, and a complete insult to the notion of creativity.

And then, as I sit back and try to scrape the refrains of the inane and sad self flagellatory words out of my ears I am actually inspired!

If this is now what passes for popular music, there is hope for us all, even my daughter, who is 6. The songs she sings in the bath are better than this s*** any day!!!!!

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From a bass guitar to discarding a curriculum!

17 years ago I took my bass guitar in for a repair and it came back not quite right. It took me a while to realise, but the wiring had been finished incorrectly and the battery (making my active bass work) continually drained, rather than only draining when a cable was plugged in. The work-around has been, for the last seventeen years, to unscrew the back of the guitar, pull out the battery, connect it up, put it back in and rescrew the plate on – EVERY TIME I PLAYED THE GUITAR!

Until today!

I fixed it. Myself*

*with a lot of help from YouTube and a Bass Guitar forum. But I did the fixing.

What a sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT the other night when I pulled the guitar from its case, plugged in and began playing for the first gig of my newly formed band, the “Iqama Chameleons”. I felt like announcing it to the rest of the band. “Did you SEE that??? I just plugged in and played!!! Fantastic isn’t it!?!” It would simply have confirmed their already growing suspicions that I am a little bit crazy!

And then I got to thinking… why did I put up with that for 17 years!

Well, for a start, 17 years ago YouTube didn’t exist. The internet (as I know it today) didn’t exist. I didn’t know any electricians who worked on the electronics of guitars, and the guy who made the mess of it in the first place had packed up his business pretty soon after I had been to him and disappeared. I didn’t know any other bass players who might have been able to show me a thing or two about the inner workings. I had me and a local library.

The screwdriver and the constant open-up-and-connect-it-all scenario seemed to be the easiest solution at the time!

Now things are different. I searched for a website that had listed a similar problem to mine. I found a handfull and read through them all. I discarded four and stayed with one forum where the description of what I was faced with most closely matched. I did a YouTube search for someone who might have taken the time to explain the issue in a video, and sure enough, there was another handful of gents talking me through what might amount to a fix.

So not wanting to dive in and fry my very nice Fender P-Bass Lyte, I thought I would clarify things and on the forum I had found by briefly describing my issue, the resources I had discovered in my research and what I believed to be my solution. My question for the forum, was, “Am I on the right track?”

BOOM! MrBassMan replied within 20 minutes to confirm I had done my research well, and with a couple of slight tweaks, would have my funky bass lines ringing out in no time.

That was the “What to do”. Next was the “How to do”.

Again, YouTube was the answer. Search, review, refine, review, refine, watch, rewind, rewatch, rewind, re-rewatch, pause, deep breath. Do! Plug in and test. BINGO! Funky bass lines coming at me out of the amplifier!

What. A. Sense. Of. Accomplishment!

And then I thought about the students at my school…

How often is their learning at my school packaged like this? How often do students get to the end of something and have to restrain themselves from jumping on their desk and shouting to the world, “DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID!!!!!!” My daughter is 6 and is learning to read right now. I see it in her eyes when she decodes a new word, sounds it out, mutters to herself the sounds, thinks and then realises what the word is. She has that look in her eyes. That look of “WOW! I JUST READ A NEW WORD!” She runs to me or her Mother and leaps about with excitement. “DADDY, I JUST READ “happy”! DADDY, THIS SAYS “happy”!!!”

If you are a teacher, how often are you working with your students with this as a goal? How often do you plan to begin your next unit of instruction with a challenge that is immediately daunting, challenging and seemingly impossible? How often is the summative assessment so naturally satisfying that there is no option but to succeed? Is it actually possible to do this with a school curriculum? If it is not, are we really teaching the right thing?

Big questions!

I’m not sure I have the answers, but like my bass guitar experience, I know there is a bunch of people out there thinking the same thing, facing the same challenges and making efforts to address them.

I can’t wait to find them!

 

 

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It’s amazing what a difference a year makes!

Started: Dec 31, 2012…

I have always liked the saying, “Jump and the net will appear”. It exemplifies both my approach to life and my approach to teaching. Never having been satisfied with just getting by, I have always striven to learn new things, start new things without knowing how they will end, head off to distant destinations without really being sure how I will get back and generally trust that I can learn my way into and back out of everything I do. This approach has served me extremely well and has led me into classrooms across the globe, learning as much as I teach, and teaching as much as I learn. But now I am beginning to question my philosophy.

Correction. Not necessarily the philosophy, but more the strength of the net.

Some jumps you take hardly require a net. I’m going to purchase a clarinet that I don’t know how to play and I am going to learn to play it. No net required here. I’m going to ask a beautiful woman to marry me. Strong emotional net required. We’re going to start a family. Large net of unknown strengths required. I am going to relocate my family overseas. Large net required again.

Which brings me to the driver behind today’s musings.

I am currently contemplating uprooting my family from a very good school, where my wife and I have very good jobs, where our lifestyle is very good and our income is similarly very good. That is the “from” in the uprooting scenario. The “To” in the scenario is directly proportionate to the size and strength of the net required should we go ahead and jump.

The current “To” is a place yet to be determined, with a job yet to be determined, with a salary yet to be determined. Do I have some direction as to what those so-far-undetermined aspects should look like? Of course. But what I want them to be doesn’t necessarily mean that is how they will be. Enter the net.

To date, I don’t think I have contemplated a leap that requires a net of such size and strength, and it is this point that is prompting me to question my philosophy and step back from the edge. It is this hesitation to jump that is new for me. It is this hesitation to jump that is causing me all sorts of turmoil. The constant swing from wanting to feel the rush of the wind as I fall headlong into what will be, to the reassuring feeling of my the sand between my toes.

Continued: Jan 16, 2013…

So two weeks later I am no closer to knowing if I should don the lycra tights and cape or roll out the beach towel and enjoy the sun!

Continuing: Nov 16, 2013…bruce diving

And so I have jumped, the net has appeared, and it is strong!

A very good friend of mine said, “Isn’t it amazing what a difference a year makes!” While it has only been ten months since my last effort on this blog post, it has been a year since I first seriously prepared for the big leap. One year ago I wasn’t ready, and at the time, I didn’t really know. Now, one year later, I know what it feels like to know, and that has made all the difference.

I have leapt into the realm of the unknown and trusted there was a net. And lo and behold, the net appeared. Lifestyle, job, salary. All woven in.

Life is quite good sometimes!

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Looking beyond your fence

It is interesting that I am finally getting back to the blog after more than a year, in that I am now enjoying my Summer holiday in Australia (where it is actually Winter), and I have a some time to sit and ponder. It seems I need to build some pondering time into my regular schedule when this break concludes.

But on to the ponder of the moment…

It is very easy to sit within the boundaries of the world that you inhabit and lament your lamentable bits and pieces, regret your regrettable bits and moan about all those things that need moaning about. It is only when you find yourself in the company of someone who lives in a different world and listen to their laments, moans and regrets that you can begin to get some perspective. But it is dangerous to visualise those significantly different worlds as Australia and Somalia, or Saudi Arabia and Canada, or Laos and Minnessota and presume that this is what I am referring to.

I am not referring to these dramatically different worlds when I talk about gaining important perspectives.

Think more about the world that you inhabit – your family, your job, your house, your community – and compare it to the world that your brother or sister inhabits, the world that your colleague inhabits, or the world of your next door neighbour. This is where the interesting perspective exists.

And the perspective is interesting because it enables you to compare your laments and moans with the laments and moans of someone else, who, from the casual observer, is to all intents and purposes, someone just like you.

But they are not. Or maybe they are. And maybe your laments and moans are the same. Or maybe they're not.

I'm not now going to say that your laments and moans are not important. I don't accept the point of view that goes something like, “Stop your whinging! You've got nothing to worry about compared to those starving children in Africa.” We all have something to worry about. Admittedly, nothing that I have to worry about compares to the worry that a father of a starving child would have, but mine are still worries none-the-less.

When I am invited in to the world of others, and get a hint of their perspective, that perspective helps me regulate how much I worry about things, how much I moan and groan to others about things and what I do to make things better.

And it was recently that I had that opportunity to see things from the perspective of someone else just like me. And then they were not just like me. And then they were.

And now, as I think about my laments and moans and regrets there is a new ingredient in the mix that is influencing my thoughts, what I might do, what decisions I might make. Some decisions I make may be different. Some may be the same.

Whatever happens, having spent some time looking beyond my back fence has reminded me that while the grass is green, how green it is is a matter of perspective.

 

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25 years in the blink of an eye

I recently had the great privilege of meeting up with a friend with whom I shared the travails of high school – 25 years ago! We had not seen each other since the last day of high school. We had not, until very recently, communicated with each other since that day, so rolling in to her driveway on a wintery July morning was a slightly daunting experience.

What do you say when someone asks you, “What have you been up to?” and they are referring to 25 years of being “up to” stuff? Where do you start? And more importantly, when do you finish?

Over the course of a few hours, a few glasses of wine and a lovely riverside picnic, we talked about careers, study, relationships, children, travel and the various doings of other high school friends, all the while marveling at how time flies and how steadfast some things truly are.

Due to our careers taking us in very different directions and living on different continents we may not see each other again for a while, but if we were able to step right back in to being friends after 25 years, then I don’t think that is going to be a problem.

 

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Prudence and $20 be Damned!

I just took half an hour our to put myself through an online “Values in Action – Strengths” survey (and then dropped the $20 at the end to get the report) (sneaky buggers didn’t mention anything about that at the start of the survey!). Not that I am too bothered as the report that my twenty delivered has been an interesting read. Really.

Quite interesting.

My top six strengths are as follows:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Fairness
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Humor
  5. Zest
  6. Judgement

The prompts are, “How have these signature strengths played a role in your life successes?” and “What effect does using your signature strengths have on others?”

As I once again read through the six strengths listed above, I can see how these six have directly influenced where I am today. Having recently gone through a bi-annual performance management meeting I can recall  one or two of these being directly referenced as strengths of mine. To read them again in this report has been illuminating.

Similarly illuminating are the bottom six.why

  1. Gratitude
  2. Prudence
  3. Bravery
  4. Perseverance
  5. Self-regulation
  6. Spirituality

Interestingly, the report spends 12 pages focussing on my strengths. Descriptions of each one. Examples of what they look like in practice. Quotes from famous people. How I can “flex” my strength. Activities to consider to strengthen each area. How others perceive each of the strengths, etc. That is two pages of info for each of my strengths – for the values that I already “do” very well.

For the bottom 6 – the ones I don’t do very well – for my (as the report puts it) “lesser strengths” – or (as anyone else might put it), my weaknesses, there is a total of ONE page!

No inspiring words of wisdom from long-dead politicians or scientists or poets. No examples of how others perceive someone who is exceptionally good at saying “no” (self-regulating) to themselves. No stories of the brave person (bravery) who was good at choosing when (prudence) to say thank you (gratitude)! Just a single page with each lesser strength, a brief description and two empty slots – almost saying, “Don’t kid yourself ! There are two more slots here that can be filled with more “lesser strengths”! You’re not that good!”

Obviously it is easier to describe strong strengths than it is to describe how to strengthen “lesser” strengths. Obviously because my strongest strength is “Curiosity” I can go ahead and find out myself how to be more grateful, prudent, brave, persevering, self-regulatory and spiritual.

So, in an effort to “flex” my Gratitude strength a little bit more, to hopefully enlarge it to greater-than-lesser proportions I will swallow my growing regret that I dropped a twenty for this report and be thankful. I have learned something about myself today.

Curiosity is my greatest strength. It has helped me to be where I am today, and honestly I would have to agree. As I cast my eyes back along the path I have travelled it is Curiosity that has led me off into the woods along the paths less travelled. And for that I am thankful (there’s some more gratitude!).

While I might disagree that I have not been grateful (enough) along the way, it is fair to say that a little more prudence and self-regulation at certain roadside inns lining the journey might have made for a less bumpy ride.