sioux falls

Continuing Education: The Romantic Nature of Learning

 

"Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind."

-Louise Nevelson

 

There is artistry in education. The appreciation of its design depends largely on one’s ability to contemplate the beauty of its magnificent impact with moral imagination.  If you take the time to step back and deconstruct the material world, educational lessons are revealed in its design. This is the cornerstone of Montessori . Facilitating an understanding of the world by developing a core of knowledge based on experiencing its physical properties (AKA: Tactile Learning). The more comprehensive these experiences are... the deeper one's understanding of the world may become.

Lasting impressions of the physical world create reference points for not only our creativity and imagination but for the development of our vocabulary and the most basic means of communication as well.

In the book "Thought In The Act", Erin Manning + Brian Massumi describe life experience as: "...the intangible." I interpret this to mean that one can only imagine the intangible and our imaginations are the creative applications of mental associations we make with our physical understandings of the world. The breadth of one's learning can therefore directly impact the extent to which one experiences life and can imagine. This is the mindset from which we attempt to re-discover and re-define the world with, and for, our daughter.

"I would like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it."
-Henri Matisse

My wife and I are driven to give our daughter a life filled with as much joy as possible (without being detrimental) while empowering her to make a positive contribution to the world and leave it in a better condition than the one in which it is presented to her. Whether or not she elects to take on such a noble pursuit will be up to her…but we at least want her to be possessed with the requisite awareness in order to give her a better shot at it if she tries. We believe that the attainment of this awareness is made easier if we adopt a Montessorial approach to our introduction to the world (meaning: deconstructing everything to its most basic physical components, qualities and relationships in order to promote an appreciation of both individual components and their relationships within various contexts as well). Employing this method of modeling (and thus parenting) has been very much like arranging a marriage between Socratic Questioning and the slow motion filming techniques that transform amazing feats of wildlife like the flight mechanics of a bird's wing, into what the BBC calls "...full scale events, and simple action into incredibly detailed video sequences." The results are impossible to imagine let alone perceive with the naked eye. When a sequence filmed at a high frame rate (fps) is played back in normal time (24fps), the action appears to slow down. As camera technology improves, ultra high-speed footage of over 1,000fps produces ever more astonishing images. Hidden secrets are revealed, new science is discovered and tiny subtleties in animal behaviour become perceptible.".

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."
-Edgar Degas

On Grocery Shopping:
As parents we often worry more about our children's happiness than our own...and some of us can imagine the smallest amount of potential suffering (even boredom) having lasting detrimental effects to their overall emotional well-being. It sounds crazy... and that's mostly because, well...it is.

After being blessed with a seemingly perpetual sidekick, I suddenly began viewing one of my favorite things in the world: grocery shopping, as a boring chore for our little one and more of a "necessary evil" than anything. I went to great lengths in order to minimize our time in any market and thus mitigate, what I had perceived to be, my daughters suffering.

My weekly mission was to make grocery shopping as fast and as painless as possible. To enter and to leave with military precision. I was a Supermarket S.E.A.L.  and the strike zone encompassed every square inch from the parking lot to the pastry case. As such, it required utilizing my strategic operations experience to develop shopping lists that would direct our travel path from paper products and laundry supplies to dairy and frozen foods (which...to me, is still the most efficient travel path through a grocery store.)

Once I considered the fact that my general stress level was likely being transmitted at some level to my daughter, I took a step back and looked at this mundane chore of gathering stuff with my Montessorial monocle. After doing so, I was able to recognize educational opportunities existing everywhere! It didn't take long to start enjoying the lessons that every isle and every purchase offered.  I think I, like so many other people, shop as they drive. One with the cart. Operating it with a sort of tunnel vision. Half-blind to the other people in the store in that- I saw them mostly as slow moving obstacles in my path to hunting, gathering and surgically extracting a list of items amid a course made from thousands of bar coded goods. The fact that there are so many different products & foodstuffs in a myriad of: colors, textures, shapes and sizes alone...combined with the wide range of pricing makes for an exceptional environment full of physical stimulus there for the taking!  Add to this the potential multitude of non-verbal lessons in social psychology once one begins navigating with others as opposed to through them. Explaining that pictures don't necessarily match what's in the box or naming an animal that eats a particular food...even the act of writing then reading a shopping list together and checking off the items holds a wealth of practical modeling applications.

New and exciting games emerge when a scale is viewed as an educational toy instead of a tool for commerce. Guessing how many units or "pounds" of bananas we want and then showing my three year old just how many bananas her guess of 7 pounds actually equates to…and feels in her arms....can be hilarious! And physically comprehending the difference between a 1lb bag of rice in her lap vs. a 10lb pound bag in her lap is just one of the countless physical comparisons that make long lasting impressions while eliciting a heart-warming amount of laughter.

This is enjoyable education. It's fun. it's free. And it forms the basis of enjoying physical connections with the world and learning from them. The food market has now become not only less stressful for me... but actually much more enjoyable than it ever was.  Seeing how much five of something costs compared to how much ten of the same thing costs can be a real lesson in both mathematics as well as economics.

There is no single word, equivalent to literacy or numeracy, that expresses wrighting and wroughting (that is the ability to make – as in wheelwright, shipwright, cartwright). In late 18th and early 19th century the role of schools in preparing children to work in manufacturing industry would have been seen to have had a greater vocational and economic relevance than it would today.

-Brian Stevens: The Three Rs and The Education Journal #307


We never refer to “shopping” as math or economics or physics or psychology... just as we don't refer to other skill sets such as addition or penmanship in the Montessori classroom as such. We focus on the romantic nature of letters and numbers and what they physically mean so that we can draw them, hold them, trace them, count and separate them, etc... This sensual connection between touch and concept is what I view as romantic. Using the traditional names for foundations of basic skill-oriented educational programs may more readily prepare children for the references they will encounter in later years but it takes all the fun out of learning today. It makes these experiences seem more like work and less like play. It takes the romance, the magic and the imagination out of her world.

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."
-Aristotle

Viewing the world from a Montessorial perspective is making every place and every thing seem more meaningful than its obvious context. More valuable than the sum of its parts. More...interconnected.
In my earlier post "Circle Back" I discussed the interconnections that exist between the business world and the natural world. These are the kinds of relationships I am now just seeing for the first time and the vision of the world I want to impart to my child. Seeing the inter-connectedness of all things may sound like a spiritual or religious pursuit for us but it is not. For my wife and me... it is much simpler than that. Our hope is that by embracing the romantic nature of learning she will derive immense fulfillment from discovery and understand more about the world and herself than traditional extrinsic "teaching" alone can impart.  

Right now, my wife and I only want to develop a polite and gentle person who is socially adept and enjoys learning. We have no interest in rushing to amass within her any specific quantity or mass of knowledge nor do we want her to achieve any prescribed level of learning above or beyond what she naturally achieves through self-interest and gentle guidance.  This is why we made the choice to send her to a Montessori School and why, every day, we are grateful for discovering Baan Dek Montessori in Sioux Falls. There are so many stresses that we face as adults in life. Right now we want her to be a child and enjoy her childhood. The artisan educators at Baan Dek seem to direct their students with an understanding that there is greater value in mitigating pressure for children than preparing them to handle it...and we like that.

"Play is The Work of The Child" - Maria Montessori

For the last three years, I have walked with our daughter to the top of at least a dozen water slides...and every climb resulted in uncertainty and fear. Although I would consistently assure her that it would be "ok" and "so much fun!" (While pointing out the other children her age and those younger who we're enjoying it) She always decided to walk back down instead...until this past week at a resort in Phoenix Arizona. When she decided she was "going to be brave” and “ought to give it a try." As a result, I witnessed a mirth of her own accord. Unmistakably derived not only from the thrill of the ride, but also from the pride in realizing that her own hunger for joy was the motivation that elicited courage.

Children develop at different rates... but when placed in healthy environments with exposure to diversity of company and a myriad of disciplines, all children eventually reach their intellectual potential with or without our constant intervention.The difference between racing to that potential vs. allowing a child to arrive at it at their own pace and through a romantic discovery is that the later seems to breed a deeper joy and self-confidence through an appreciation of the journey as well as the destination.

Bread & Butter: Spotting Talent to Fuel CBDs

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While having brunch with my family at a downtown delicatessen the other day, I had the surprising good fortune to enjoy a slice of the best raisin bread I've ever had. So good in fact that I asked the server if they could give me the contact information for the bakery that supplied it...only to discover that it wasn't made by a bakery at all but by a local guy out of his mother's garage-turned-commissary. 

After several phone calls and a long lunch, I realized that this baker represented more than just an advisory engagement opportunity for me.  After determining his options for a sustainable business platform I quickly realized that this young man (and his uncanny ability to produce some of the best breads I've ever eaten) represented something more profound: The endangered demand for quality products in lieu of convenience. 

David Napolitano is making incredible bread and supplying a small local specialty grocer along with two or three eateries in town but the demand for his product is sure to outpace his ability to produce it. In order for David to continue making bread at a profit, he is forced to either a.) Charge a price beyond what the market will bear. b.) Outsource the production to a larger scale manufacturing facility---in which case product quality will suffer or c.) Collaborate with a complementary concept (such as a cafe, restaurant or bulk olive oil retailer) with both a scaleable platform (ie; starting as an artisan "open kitchen" bread studio) and significant financial resources in place to incorporate an additional revenue center into their operation for payroll to support a wider supply and delivery radius or ancillary supply channels like boutique / luxury hotels, etc...

Its sad to imagine my daughter growing up in the absence of  "downtown neighborhoods" with retailers like this. But almost gone are the days where local artisans and craftsman line the streets with their shops ie; specialty bakeries, cobblers or coffee roasters indigenous to every town. Granted....more and more Dean & Deluccas and Food Halls style gourmet eatery markets are popping up in most major US cities but outside those densely packed urban areas, suburbanites are driving to lifestlye-centers and super-grocery chains instead of the local town butcher, baker, candlestick maker or farmers' market.

Central Business Districts (CBDs) are the lifeblood and identifying character of any community but without operational systems for replication and mass production in place....master bakers (or coffee roasters, etc...) are saddled with the reality that although they will always be able to pay the rent, surround themselves with like-minded individuals and perhaps have a nice life living above their shop toiling away for 80hrs a week...they'll never realize the fortunes reserved for one stop shop food warehouses and most chain restaurants. Many will argue that franchises are the answer. Most of whom (save for a few with incredible brand equity and operational support in place) most often charge franchisees without sufficient experience (but plenty of passion) $30k for the right to use their name, "formula" and recipes but generally fail to deliver on the all important and imperative component ...the "secret sauce" or "genuine experience" which is only really provided by those who walk and breath their product or service...as the aforementioned artisan.  Its that "wow factor" that is delivered by committed people who love what they are doing and are working in concert with an experienced team.

In exchange for maintaining the integrity of their small-batch products many artisans like Napolitano are often exiled into obscurity... Unless they write a book or land on a food network show or... garner regular support from their neighbors. They are often underpaid and undervalued by the masses who pay their cable companies more than they pay their teachers...and choose their bread based on value and calories or even more ironic....the amount of carbohydrates per slice. 

Meeting David was like meeting Picasso. You could no less mass produce his product than you could mass produce him. Making bread is more than a culinary art. You're not just working with inert ingredients and measuring spoons. Yeast is a living thing and working with dough requires, touch, taste, smell, sound...its a living breathing thing affected by everything from sea level to humidity.  When I considered the great chefs I've worked with, I realized that although they were incredible artists and efficient kitchen managers...they were also able to cross-train and coach. Mentor and develop.  And that's what David needs...a venue in which to build systems, infrastructure and staffing levels that support a cross-training and development programs. He needs help creating a platform to turn people into bakers making bread his way so that he can share it with (or from) more downtown shops and not be forced to grow old above any one of them.

Its not enough to be great at what you do. The real value is in collaborating with and developing people within structured and managed systems. Perhaps that truth will transcend restaurants & hospitality and will, someday, prove relevant to my daughter in some other way. Until then, I'm stuck with my own frame of reference...and my own delicious raisin bread.

 

Back In The Driver's Seat: Re-Joining The Work Force

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Now that Catherine is a full-time student, I can focus on getting back to a full-time job.

When we moved to Sioux Falls South Dakota, my rolodex became irrelevant. With no known firm behind me, no local experience and a plethora of avenues potentially open to me, I didn’t know where to start...or if it was even worth trying. After unpacking and clearing my dry-erase "deal board", I decide to replace the names of old clients and recently completed projects with the names of established local brokers, developers and restaurateurs who were likely here long enough to witness the beginning of Sioux Falls' boom first hand. The goal was to speak with 50 of the more successful business leaders to better understand from where Sioux Falls has come, where they see growth headed and what factors they perceive as potential obstacles in the way of continued growth. 

Small towns and cities like Sioux Falls are typically "good old boys clubs". Getting to know who's who is not only important to gain insight on the local market and how business is conducted, but also to know where everyone's respective toes are so that none of them are inadvertently stepped-on in the process.

When friends and colleagues back East first learned that I was moving to the Midwest, the assumption was that: I would have the market and the consumer base figured out in a matter of weeks, open a few restaurants in the first year and negotiate several large deals in the first few months. Although Sioux Falls is 1/10th the size of Philadelphia, the market is no less dynamic. The failure to recognize that would be more a sign of arrogance than of ignorance. This city is small but its experiencing rapid expansion. The growth is visible everywhere. It’s like being on a college campus. Continuous construction is everywhere and the energy is palpable. Residential construction alone has topped $56MM this year compared to $20MM in 2012 and $11MM in 2011.

The most challenging aspect of getting back to full-time work after a brief hiatus...and a new perspective, is that there now seems to be more opportunities out there than I realized. Exploring the job market in Sioux Falls is like being in New Orleans during Jazz Fest. So many great things all going on at the same time... that the quandary almost results in inaction.  In so many ways, moving to Sioux Falls is like starting over. So much so that I questioned whether or not hospitality and commercial real estate were really the right paths to continue down.  Sioux Falls is a professional blank slate with the potential to bring one's skill sets to a myriad of professions from Design to Finance.

What I learned...or rather was reminded of, after speaking with many of the old guard here, is that given my druthers, I'd do what I've always done. Although I've often dreamed of trying my hand at things like marketing and advertising, I am a CRE deal and restaurant development junkie. Any fears I may have had about passing up alternative professional opportunities were laid to rest after having coffee one morning with a prominent attorney in town who spoke of his breadth of experience in various fields of law. He "would grow bored of any one specialty after 3 or 4 years so [he] would study some new disciplines and take on new clients to keep things interesting." This ability to regularly re-invent oneself professionally and succeed in doing so, would be impossible in any large city where most service related industries are dominated by tens if not hundreds of practitioners who take the lion's share of available clients based on their extensive experience alone.

This market seems to be one where the consumer is investing more in the individual than the size of their firm. A market where personal relationships and competence rule. A market where opportunities that exist today will likely exist tomorrow. With a 3% unemployment rate and companies losing more money because of their inability to meet staffing demands; perhaps getting back in the work force won't be as difficult as I imagined...but certainly not as easy as some may think.

Middle Man: Raising A Family In The Midwest

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There are lots of things to do with her here beyond the standard Chuck E Cheese or Playground play date as well. We, obviously don't have the amenities that a major U.S. city avails but Sioux Falls does have some unique offerings like: The Sertoma Butterfly House and SFSD’s own version of Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum called The Kirby Science Discovery Center located at The Washington Pavilion which, incidentally, houses a café with food that’s actually good enough to forego needing to pack my own. Other fun things to do with the kids in downtown Sioux Falls include the opportunity to watch motion pictures and educational films on a 60-foot wide, four-story cinedome 4D screen if live performances like Seussical or The Russian Ballet aren't your cup of tea.

We really aren’t in the "middle of nowhere" here. We’re in the middle of The United States...where handshakes are binding agreements and integrity flourishes from a deep sense of personal responsibility. Unlike a majority of the country, where unemployment still averages 10+%, it’s not difficult to get a job in Sioux Falls, SD. The unemployment rate here is closer to 3%.

We are three mouse clicks away from Zappos, Zulilly and the highest-end fashion on the planet, three hours away from the nations’s second largest shopping mall  and 10 minutes from the largest single story mall in the U.S.. Also a short 15 minute drive from our new digs is Great Bear Park and a few glacier-fed lake resorts, Lake Madison, Okaboji and The Black Hills / Badlands (Locations where “National Treasure” was filmed). We’ve been told by friends back in Bryn Mawr that the 4th of July fireworks display at Mt. Rushmore tops any pyrotechnics display they’ve ever seen… so that’s on our list of things to do as well.

The only real downside is missing the family and close friends to whom we lived so near. My family is still in the western suburbs just outside Philadelphia and even though we've already enjoyed a few visits here and there... it was nice to know they were only 5 minutes away. We miss them very much but my wife is home almost every night for dinner now and we're spending much more time together as a family.  The distance from the rest of our family is made easier by seeing my daughter spend a lot more time with her mommy…and after a year of always missing her, I feel like I have my wife back too... and that’s a very very good thing.

Growth Market: The Midwest is The Future

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When Catherine was just over a year old, she turned a Dr. Seus book over and placed the frame of a United States foam puzzle over it and exclaimed: "Look Daddy! I made a city!"

I'm not saying that the evolution of America's middle-market is going to be that fast or that simple but the growth in South Dakota- and the Midwest in general, has been both exponential and inevitable.

When you have both coasts of the country growing on top of themselves, it’s only a matter of time before generations that are increasingly more mobile (as they were four and five generations ago in the old country) affect the fluid dynamics of economic overflow into the middle of the country. After all, you can't have sprawl into the ocean.

Another driving force behind this growth is what I like to call “The Delaware Factor” -which is the creation of a tax friendly environment for corporations and dynastic trusts. Corporations and families being able to thrive in soil like this results in more Fortune 500 companies relocating their corporate headquarters… which serves as a catalyst to attract other businesses... that holistically contribute: more jobs, more rooftops, more retail and finally more advanced medical and educational development (Take note Obama).

In the last three years, the population of Sioux Falls alone has gone from 75,000 people to almost 180,000. From 2010 to 2011, the departures and arrivals from the airport (which you pull into like a lifestyle center) doubled which prompted the construction of two additional terminals and an initiative to establish Sioux Falls as an international hub.  In the first quarter of 2012, the number of flights has already doubled the total amount of flights in 2011.

Two major hotel flags have recently been planted in the area in addition to to the already significant number of beds. One by Hilton and the other by Hamilton Suites. The construction of the Midwest’s largest sports and entertainment arena, scheduled to be completed in 2013, will bring with it zoning for an entirely new "Entertainment District" and one of the country's largest state-of-the-art Convention Center. The fact that the mayor’s office recently announced that they would be submitting an RFP for another large hotel across from the new Convention Center (contiguous to a championship golf course) has a lot of developers, as far as New York, peeking over their Chemex to get a better look at what’s going on here. But after speaking with quite a few of the old guard in this small city, one is left with the feeling that an RFP is more of an exercise in protocol than of a genuine offering. The deals seem to be locked up before they’re even made public and with a surge of Ag[riculture] money in the market from farmers who profited greatly over the last few years with the corn belts spreading. Farmers and local developers are buying up land and investing in commercial development almost as fast as those profiting from the oil boom in North Dakota. According to Gov. Ed Schafer and Paul Hegg of Hegg Companies, development of the Bakken oil patch is a 25 year play, and it’s not too late for businesses to participate in the economic boom here. This is looking more and more like a better short-term opportunity for developers and operators from the coasts than for the newly relocating fund managers, institutional investors or capital intermediaries. But there does seem to be a long-term play here. I left the East Coast with the luxury of never needing to waiver from my sense of integrity and commitment to fair-play. Those principles may not have brought me as much action as I would have liked, but definitely enabled me to grow with like-minded colleagues, learn from benevolent leaders, and forge a few lasting friendships built on trust and respect. Perhaps not the most popular of business practices employed by ambitious young professionals in America’s biggest cities… but certainly seems to be the way of life in a city of less than 200,000.

Sioux Falls feels like an instant culture-fit for my family and me.  If, over time, I’m fortunate enough to earn the trust and respect of my new neighbors, I am confident that the numerous opportunities here will bear fruit.

The mayor’s just announced that a total of $200MM has been spent in the last year on new road construction and repairs of existing roads. Although I am still trying to adapt to things such as driving 35mph on long stretches of road with four to five lanes that could benefit from a few extra signalized intersections; there is a tremendous amount of investment in infrastructure to support and sustain development of the 43rd fastest growing state in the country.

Is Sioux Falls the best kept secret in America? I'll have to pay close attention to my 3yr old daughter's musings and get back to you.

 

 

Entry Point: Starting School on a Part-Time Basis

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When faced with the dilemma of sending Catherine to school on a Full-Time basis (which would include recess, lunch and naps) versus a Part-Time basis (going home at 11:30am), we asked if the tuition could be pro-rated to reflect a gradual increase of time spent there each day.

We thought a gradual introduction to school beginning with a Part-Time schedule would be best and that she would eventually communicate her willingness and/or desire to spend more time at school as she develops relationships and a respective comfort level.  They agreed so long as her pick-up times were during windows that would not be disruptive to the other childrens’ routines. 

With the exception of a few days at her grandparent’s and a few nights in hotels, Catherine hadn’t once taken a nap outside of our home. Although we realized that it would happen…we certainly didn’t want to be married to a date by which it would happen.  Even the thought that she would be lying down for a nap in a strange place was so incredible to imagine that it made me laugh nervously at the teacher's mere mention of it.

So we’re opted to gradually bring her into the waters of Montessori like a bagged goldfish into a new tank . Not that we thought the sudden climate change might have killed her…kids seem pretty pliable and resilient. This gradual introduction served more as psychological transition time for us than for her.

 

A few days later we brought a blanket and Pillow to school with us. The goal was for her to see more of her things there and simply get comfortable with the idea that she could take a nap there if she was so inclined. When I arrived to pick her up at 1:30 yesterday, her teacher Mrs.Berry rushed to greet me with a finger held against her lips. She whispered: “Catherine came in from recess and was so excited to take a nap in her spot that she was actually the first one to lay down!” I asked if I could take a peek through the double-sided mirror and she quietly walked me over. There I could see the my little girl's golden locks peeking out from under a blanket covering her little body with her legs tucked-up under her. Catherine was twirling her hair with one hand while the other was softly tucked for suckling in her mouth. Mrs. Will (her other teacher) was  gently, rythmically, rubbing her back. Suddenly I felt like “this was it”. Like it was all about to come to an end…. I was immediately struck with the heaviness that accompanies a sad farewell in my heart. I suddenly realized that I was going to find her doing more and more without me. Growing up and being magical with other people and I wouldn’t be there to see it...to even hear what she was saying. I fought back a tear…partly of joy and partly of sadness. I drove back home and imagined the joy of relishing something ordinary and mundane with her in the future... like a game of basketball in the driveway after not seeing her for so long. Like Steve Martin in Parenthood only backwards….instead of my eyes welling up from recalling images of her childhood, I was lost, only for a moment, in realizing that her "growing-up" meant relying less on me.

Cold Calling: Learning To Ski at 3

My bucket list includes enjoying quite a few activities with my daughter like: surfing, skiing and sailing...so when she turned three, my wife and I shared the excitement of anticipating Catherine's first gondola ride and first ski lesson.   

The first day we enjoyed the amenities of the hotel and "Apres Ski" as opposed to actual skiing.

We wanted to ease Catherine into skiing by first introducing her to the mountain.  Catherine took a gondola ride to survey some runs from above and, just as we had hoped, began to sense the fun and excitement everywhere around us.  She loved the ride and without her gear felt no pressure to jump right in. 

On Day 2, Catherine protested that she did not want to go to Ski School because : "...I already know how to ski!" The idea of leaving her alone with an unfamiliar group of people to learn something completely new was difficult to digest...and knowing that it might afford me some time to enjoy some of the back bowls after a fresh snowfall felt like an abandonment of my daughter for my own selfish desires. After a few folks "talked us down" we agreed that most of the apprehension was on our end as parents and any fear or discomfort our daughter was expressing was likely a result of what she was picking-up from us.....so we signed her up and our palms immediately began to sweat.

She started out bold and confident...almost cocky. She loved her pink goggles, purple ski pants and even the little spider and pastel colored accents on her white ski sweater....but then learning to ski suddenly involved leaving mom and dad behind... and so my performance as a laissez-faire father began. I walked with her to the chalet and after slowly kissing me goodbye she returned my "thumbs-up" but not my forced smile. Her nervousness was palpable as she willingly... and quietly walked away and joined the instructors who welcomed her into the room.

After what seemed like an hour, my wife and I watched as she finally emerged from the classroom and headed to the instruction area with two other children who seemed to move with a comfort that comes from having done this before. We watched her every move....but took evasive maneuvers like... turning, ducking and spinning so that she wouldn't see us there and desperately call for rescue. Throughout our exercise of stealth (which probably more resembled hippos hiding behind palm trees than anything  "Cloak & Dagger") several other parents approached and asked: "How old is your little one?". They told us tales of when their children, now in their twenties, first started skiing and how the "instructors here are some of the best in the world". All, I'm sure, to put us more at ease...and they did.

After snapping 79 photos or so, I kissed my wife goodbye and took off for a few runs before Ski School let out. I figured everything was going to be fine as Catherine seemed to be adjusting well and was receiving a lot of one-on-one attention. After ten or fifteen minutes however, mommy texted me: "Call when you can. We're done but have fun and take your time". I soon learned that all was apparently going quite well up until CR broke into tears after peeing in her snow pants... during the last 10 minutes of her class. My heart sank at hearing the news. We both knew that it was because, although she went potty before getting dressed, it was cold and she wasn't comfortable enough to speak up to her new "teachers" whom were probably accustomed to kids saying they "have to go" all the time...but were likely able to "hold it". My wife took Catherine to the room to change and then back to the base for some hot cocoa while waiting for Daddy.

The next day mommy and daddy both took on the role of "instructor" themselves (after having carefully observed the techniques employed by the professionals)....with one small difference in the routine. We strategically situated ourselves beside a mountain-top restaurant (complete with restrooms of course) and limited the duration of our sessions. Catherine made it down 20 or 30 feet without falling about a half a dozen times or so...and never had an accident in her bib. I believe she was equally proud of both.  

Overall, Catherine had a lot of fun in a beautiful new setting and left with a newfound appreciation of Apres Ski as a reward that's far more enjoyable after a tough day on the mountain.

Drinking The Kool-Aid: Why Is Everybody So Nice? Seriously.

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We love Sioux Falls! Just when we thought people here in South Dakota were about to “let down their guard” and had fully expected a leveling off of "genuine Sioux Falls hospitality"; I walked into Cleaver’s Gourmet Market to look around and take stock of the place. The store manager (Penny) not only treated me like a long lost friend but also took my order for coffee like an attendant at the Ritz Paris.

“…Regular or decaf? Light roast or dark roast? Flavored or unflavored? Cream? Sugar or Sweetener? What kind of sweetener? ….”

and they don’t even sell coffee. They just offer it to everyone who walks through their door.

Everyone here is so patient and moves at a noticeably slower pace it almost throws you off balance. I don't know why everyone is so nice... It’s almost too good to be true…and now we fear, in the back of our minds, that although South Dakotans may seem to epitomize warm hospitality...perhaps it's because they aim to eat us.

Can’t help but to occasionally think about the conclusion of The Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"...   "IT’S A COOKBOOK!   IT’S A COOKBOOK!!!” 

The Power of a Secret: Discovering Something Special

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Sanford is recruiting some pretty talented people (like Kimberly Simpson Earle and Chris Orzechowski) and empowering them with phenomenal resources like significant funding and the most technological devices that few places, if any, in the world are able to avail their researchers and physicians…like the 4th and 5th cardiac stent placement robots in the country and the world’s largest tissue bank for breast cancer research. This tissue bank is Denny Sanford’s greatest advantage in his mission to eradicate breast cancer through genetic isolation of the disease as opposed to only focusing on treatment in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry. And they’re making significant progress. Already, they have identified many more types of breast cancer that respond better to treatments previously reserved for what were believed to have been “completely different” cancers.

Those of you who watch the Big Bang Theory may also appreciate the fact that the Higgs-Boson particle (dark matter) was also discovered here in South Dakota. (In a lab deep within a gold mine under acres of prairie grass and pines in the Black Hills).

What also surprised us was the fact that Sioux Falls really is a great place to raise a family. Their clean air and clean water (cleanest in the country in fact) is almost as impressive as the culture we’ve experienced at every turn during our visits. It’s been like the Chevy Chase film “Funny Farm”. After every encounter, I catch myself looking over my shoulder to see if the mayor is actually dolling out $100 bills and thanking residents for a “great performance” and reminding them to “keep smiling!”.  

Sioux Falls offers us the opportunity to raise our daughter in, what feels like, more of a community than a city or town. It’s interesting to see that, even with all the various funding, many of the rooms at Sanford Hospital have been donated by local families.

Good to Great: Moving from East Coast to Midwest

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My wife brought home a refrigerator magnet one day that read: ”Life begins where your comfort zone ends.”…and so life is certainly about to "begin".

After a lot of careful consideration, lengthy discussion and exhaustive research we decided to sell our dream home in Pennsylvania and move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The plan is to pack up the contents of our house in the next few weeks (making most of the headway while my wife takes Catherine to see her sick Grandpa in Tampa next week) and store everything neatly in the back basement.

We will list the house just in time to hit the tail end of the summer market with hopes that it will be an attractive situation for someone looking to move into the area before the school year starts in September. We will be shipping my wife’s car and drive my Suburban with one week’s worth of supplies in our (just purchased) Thule Atlantis 1800 (Sonic XL) rooftop carrier, along with a 2yr old and a 125lb Newfoundland... should be interesting to say the least. Below is my navigational chart which is an example of how over-thinking and over-planning allays most anxiety for me. It took quite a bit of time to determine the best times to travel, how long to travel and where to stop based on a myriad of variables including everything from nap times to doggy’s potty breaks and anti-anxiety meds (the dog’s). I learned a lot in my 1 week intensive course in trip planning…like the fact that zoo keepers and vets most often move animals under cloak of darkness when possible to avoid additional visual stimulus and potential anxiety / motion sickness…but we also wanted to see most of the trip as well since neither one of us could ever imagine needing or wanting to make a drive like this again.

Although this level of organization may seem like the science of qiyas when equipped with a state-of-the-art navigation system in my truck, I can’t help but think that a 5-day trip with 5 planned stops for a family traveling with a dog and a baby (neither of which have ever traveled in a car for more than a couple of hours) it’s imperative to identify additional potential stops at dog-friendly hotels in advance. We need alternate targets that can serve as half-way markers between stops in the event Catherine or Lulu just aren’t doing well…AND potential stops / hotels just past our scheduled stops in the event we are able to / need to make up time and can comfortably survive going on a little further….so that explains the thought process a little… 

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Entertaining Clients: Throwing a Birthday Party

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Some nice birthday gifts received from Catherine’s friends today and a wonderful party all around.

My wife did a lot to make it special and I was moved by the beauty of her happily getting lost in what truly was a labor of love…a commitment to excite and thrill our little girl.  

We stayed up pretty late the night before preparing hand-made decorations and favors in order to construct an “Arts & Crafts” themed party. She monogramed white oversized children’s oxfords with different colored fabric letters for guests to use as smocks they could use at the party and then take home. She also put together a “make-your-own party hat” station as one of the activities for the day and “sock puppet kits” comprised of everything from the sock with cardboard mouth pre-glued in to eyes, whiskers, spots and anything else required for the respective animal or creature-in-a-bag. These kits were packed in their goody bags as well. We both really enjoyed thinking of the animals and characters for which we spent hours cutting out their parts from sheets of felt and making a few of our own along the way.

The sample sock puppet my wife made was hilarious! It actually had a Muppet-like personality. Green yarn hair. Black googley eyes (complete with eyebrows), a long pointy nose and a long thin black mustache. I couldn’t stop laughing when she put it on for a trial run and made “Juan” immediately come alive with his Spanish accent and adult humor. 

Talent Aquisition: Mommy's Job Offer

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As a specialist, my wife receives letters and postcards (sometimes twice a week) from recruiters and health systems all over North America. They never explicitly state which hospital it is specifically but they all guarantee: top salaries, high quality of life, national sports teams, major universities and “…a wonderful place to raise children”.

My wife is working very hard with a practice covering seven hospitals in three states and feels as though her employers’ commitment to her is as not as significant as her commitment to  them. She always says “Your first job is never your last…” So, after 5+ years of interest from Sanford Hospital in South Dakota, we’ve decided to take a look. Although we couldn’t imagine living in South Dakota... we did some research on Sanford Health and decided it was worth the visit. At the very least, it would be an opportunity for my wife to catch up with an old friend and former colleague for whom she has a tremendous amount of respect.

FAST FORWARD 7 WEEKS…  

When we arrived in Sioux Falls South Dakota, we were simply blown away at this hospital’s whisper of a “Talk” and thunderous “Walk”. Thanks to Premier One Bankcard founder Denny Sanford (and his $700MM in gifts so far…), Sioux Valley Hospital has been renamed “Sanford Hospital” (surprisingly) and transformed into a region-shaping health care network with an infrastructure of physicians in leadership and an outreach spanning 126 communities throughout 8 states. They are implementing several initiatives including global children's clinics, multiple research centers and finding a cure for type 1 diabetes and breast cancer. With both domestic and overseas satellites opening at a record-pace, Denny Sanford is creating an unprecedented momentum of ensuring the highest caliber of healthcare both in the Midwest and in 18 countries throughout the world (now developing international clinics in Ireland, Ghana, Israel and Mexico). Organizational growth and development with cutting-edge medicine, sophisticated research and advanced education like this isn’t seen in cities ten times their size.

We arrived the weekend of Sanford Hospital’s Annual Gala ( benefiting the expansion of their cardiac division) and graciously accepted what we believed would simply be an opportunity to meet some folks on the team and have a nice dinner. I’ve been to a lot of these events and they always seem to follow the same syllabus: cocktails followed by a President’s greeting, a few words of promise by the CEO or COO then a video presentation of the good work being done by talented physicians and administration’s plans for the future. Then it’s back to dinner and some dancing afterwards.

The Sanford Healthcare gala we attended not only brought one of the better meals I’ve had this year to our table (a perfect medium rare filet, roasted brussel sprouts and truffled potato gratin), but also tears to my eyes…and handkerchief. Never before have I been so moved by the parents of children whose life-changing stories were shared …or by the teams of dedicated people working orchestrally, from top to bottom, who selflessly make such a monumental difference. But the Sanford story did not end when the lights came back on. This was not a benefit injected with a presentation of “good work being done”. This was simply a spotlight on life at Sanford whose message of “Improving the human condition through exceptional care, innovation and discovery” didn’t end with a video. Improving the lives of children, specifically, didn’t seem like “just a job” people are doing here…it seemed more like a calling. An ingrained way of living life. A belief system that is evident in everything from the conversations between fulfilled guests at every table and the LED-illuminated spinning magic wands handed out on the dance floor (that surely made many a baby-sat children at home delighted in the morning) to the child prodigy pianist who led the orchestra all evening long.

I guess it’s just an overall feeling of genuine commitment to care and to the community of people who provide it…and there doesn’t seem to be a sense of (or pre-occupation with) time clocks, budgets or superfluous layers of administration associated with it. The passion was palpable and contagious. It’s hard to be around people like that and not feel a moral imperative to join them.  It’s hard to be a father and not want an amenity like them for your own child.

Now that some of our preconceived notions regarding the Midwest have been obliterated, we have a lot to talk about on the flight home.

Outside The Box: Considering Relocating

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My wife just told me about an in incredible job opportunity she has in Sioux Falls, SD. She may as well have said it was somewhere in the Himalayas. Seriously, what’s the difference? I just looked at a map to see where South Dakota is located because, although i'm somewhat embarrassed to admit it, my knowledge of domestic geography is akin to that of a child’s proficiency with jigsaw puzzles. I’m pretty good with the corners and edges but a bit dodgy on the middle.

Living in a big coastal city with a baby, where cultural arts abound, is a lot like having a pool. It’s nice to look at… and if you didn’t have it, you’d wish you did but at the end of the day, you’re basically paying a premium for an amenity that's really appreciated more by your friends and family than you.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize the inherent value of a big city with access to amenities like superior health care and education, the arts / museums and concept dining…even if you don’t regularly take advantage of them. Chances are, those amenities have drawn others to the area that may not take advantage of them either. So at the very least, you’re left with having like-minded neighbors with similar interests.

We moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia (back to my roots) just before Catherine was born. We thought that growing up with trees and a yard was preferable to vents in the street spewing out the smells of the subway and buses heaving clouds of heavy dark smoke on top of strollers on the sidewalk. Moving back to the suburbs not only offered our daughter the same kind of childhood my wife and I enjoyed, but also brought us closer to my family who made it downtown about as often as a herd of deer.

So, moving to the middle of the country doesn’t really seem feasible… but we’re considering it.

Best Practices: Mitigating the Pain of Traveling with Children

Whenever we fly, most passengers near us are impressed that Catherine is such a well-behaved traveler. Even when she was a baby…we would get off a plane and invariably encounter one or two people who would comment about how nervous they were when they first saw us board with a child. They would then tell us how surprised they were that she was so quiet and well-behaved. The secret then and the secret now is that I only book flights that leave within an hour of her nap time (as long as it's not the last flight of the day when folks like Delta, United and US Air are typically overbooking flights to begin with) so that by the time we actually board the plane, she is ready for a good cuddle and some shut-eye. 

Buy-In: Taking Our Parenting Seriously

We signed up for weekend classes at The Little Gym (a local children’s gym) when Catherine was about 20 mos old. The whole idea seemed like a giant play date with activities planned by a gymnast. What could be better than building coordination and friendships at the same time? 

After our first few introductory classes with an incredible instructor, we spent the ride home fantasizing about meeting other parents and our daughter’s early graduation from independent play to interaction “Norman Rockwell-style” with other children. 

The first thing we learned at the Little Gym was that very few people marry in their late thirties and have children in their early forties. We were surrounded by young moms and dads with whom we didn’t seem to have anything in common…most notably their seeing this venue as a “great opportunity for children to burn off as much energy as possible”…presumably without the risk breaking something (or someone) at home.

We thought it was a “class”… or at least supposed to be. They called it a “class”. Very few people seemed to mind that their children weren’t listening to the introductions at circle time or were off wandering around and playing on equipment while the instructor was explaining the next activity.

We were often in the minority of  parents (and some children) straining to hear over the children who were screaming. I guess some parents can ignore screaming and carrying on in public...as if it was just white noise to everyone.  These unaffected and inconsiderate parents accept it as normal and chat away with the other parents who are too cool and laid-back to care that their children might be acting like rabid orangutans.

The initial thought was that maybe we were just over-concerned micro managers. It just didn’t seem o.k. to us that no one seemed to reprimand or at least attempt to correct the behavior of children that didn’t wait their turn or worse... push our daughter out of the way.

Watching the little boy who hoarded all the bouncy balls or hula hoops while his father laughed it off, with what seemed like a touch of pride instead of embarrassment, was enough "scope creep" to dissolve my tolerance. I felt like we were getting an early glimpse of a future jerk that someone, someday, would have to work for…and the person clearly responsible for cultivating that personality.

Of course there was a small number of like-minded parents who seemed to share our view that most social situations are great coaching opportunities. They would correct impolite behavior and praise good manners. Although we would thank them for their courtesy, and try to parlay our appreciation into a comfortable ice-breaker, those opportunities felt to be few and far between.

We kept asking ourselves “Are we really uptight or just more mature?” Of course the latter was more pleasant to believe but irrelevant to the fact that we just didn’t fit in. So we bailed on The Little Gym.

We’ve since been to a few birthday parties since then and encountered, on average, at least one other parent that elects to stay in the same room with their children and monitor their play instead of blissfully hob-knobbing with other parents over Bloody Marys and Stella Artois… It’s nice knowing we’re not alone in our commitment to manage the development of a future adult.