Friday, August 01, 2008

My Fifth Best Day

The day I was married.

The days my children were born.

The day I stood in my grandparents' living room and showed my grandfather my acceptance letter to Notre Dame.

Those are my four best days, and I can't envision anything ever topping them.

But the Three Amigos Dinner last night would, as Ezekiel once said to King Nebuchadnezzar, definitely make the team picture. It's not often I can say that within the space of two hours, I shook hands and had conversations with Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, Joe Montana, John Paxson, Dave Casper, Chris Zorich, "Flash" Gordon, Jim Hendry (yes, the consummate Sox fan talked Wrigley madness for a good three to four minutes), Pete Schivarelli, Stan Mikita, and the like. Actually, it's not ever I've been able to say that, so....

It's an experience I'll treasure for a long time, not only because of who was there but what was done and why. It was a Notre Dame evening, and yet it was not. Notre Dame was the common bond but not the common theme. It was mentioned, but not talked about. There were more important things on the docket, and while the class rings may have provided the first contact, they certainly didn't define the day.

The C4C letter talked about the Three Pillars on which Notre Dame was built. Last night was a celebration of the two that don't involve football, Catholicism and Education, as men and women educated in the Catholic tradition of ND gave of their time and money to support three great causes: The Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, searching for a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C Disease; Hannah and Friends, aiding developmentally disabled children and adults; and the Lou Holtz Foundation, which helps the economically disadvantaged areas in the Ohio River valley among the many charities it supports.

It wasn't a Rockne Dinner by any stretch of the imagination (although I did find myself hoping that some members of the ND Club of Chicago were there to watch the effortless manner in which Jeff Jeffers emceed ... there's your logical host, boys and girls). Other than Charlie mentioning that the players would be reporting in early August and how "September 6th can't come soon enough", you didn't hear a peep about the program.

But I found it much more gratifying listening to Cindy Parseghian, a woman who had suffered the loss of not one but three children, talking with pride about the progress that had been made in the fight than I would have to listen to analysis about how our linebackers are doing. Ara told a story or two from his coaching days, but his exhortations that "we started in our own end zone [against this disease], but we've pushed it to the opponent's 35 yard line, and we're going to score!" got a much stronger reaction. Lou likes to bring a smile to his listeners' faces, but the poignancy of the video showing the poverty of East Liverpool and hearing of the satisfaction Lou felt that the foundation was making a difference there made the smiles even bigger. The video of Hannah Weis in school and the pictures of the buildings going up on the Farm did a lot more for me than a highlight film would have.

We talk about the Notre Dame Family a lot -- the bond that connects people, subway and alumnus alike, and leads them to go above and beyond in taking care of each other. Well, last night was a family reunion. It wasn't football, sports, or even Notre Dame per se ... it was a manifestation in action of the ideals and principles we'd learned there. Love thy neighbor as thyself, especially those more in need of love than most, and don't be afraid to get a little of it on ya.

I'm bummed they're not planning any more of these dinners -- last night was the third of three. But maybe someday they'll dust the idea off and give it another go, or something like it. If they do, I'll be there.

Plus, I won a print of the photo that inspired the original "Irish Impact" poster. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Three Amigos

The pimpitude of Notes lately has risen to an alarming level, and I promise we're going to get back to strict ND-sports-related stuff shortly. But not before I bend your ear one last time to tell you about an event that touches both my ND and non-ND selves.

My daughter was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder a number of years ago. With the help of our pediatrician, our psychologist and our school district, and the efforts of family and friends, she's now very high-functioning and completely mainstreamed in school, although not without occasional reminders of the challenges she faces socially.

But getting her there was a long and sometimes arduous journey, and my wife and I remember well those initial weeks and months when we knew something was wrong with her but didn't know what and didn't know what to do. In those days, we were lucky to get good help, not only from the aforementioned folks but also from various support and advocacy groups, who came ready with suggestions and warnings that made the whole thing easier than it could have been.

I'm not in a position where I can volunteer for groups of that kind. I found sharing my story with other parents tended to depress as much as encourage, especially if their children were deeper on the spectrum than my daughter and/or had a less rosy prognosis. Given how my schedule gets, volunteering time was difficult as well. So in order to try and repay the help we received in those dark days, my wife and I decided to be as generous with our checkbooks as we could to support financially the kind of groups providing such crucial aid. This is what led me to donate proceeds from EotH to the Autism Society of Illinois.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard about Hannah and Friends. An opportunity to fulfill my pledge to help organizations that focus on the developmentally disabled by donating to an organization that has a tertiary connection to Notre Dame? Bonus. Ever since, I've contributed annually to H&F and encouraged people I know to do the same, not because of any connection to Charlie Weis (who, I'm sure, wouldn't know who I was if I walked into his office and kicked him in the shins -- although I'm sure he'd know me after that) but rather through my efforts to ensure other parents whose children have autism can get the same kind of help my wife and I received.

Then came an opportunity to take it a step further, and that's the reason for my missive today.

On July 31st of this year, H&F will be co-sponsoring the third (and final) Notre Dame Coaches Kickoff for Charity. Charlie Weis, Lou Holtz, and Ara Parseighian will all speak, and the proceeds from the event will be split evenly between their three charities. The first two events were held in New York City and Los Angeles, and were very successful. This time, they'll be at the Palmer House in Chicago. I was asked to serve on the committee for this year's event, and we want to make it the best of the three.

Let's make this clear from the outset, this is a pricey undertaking. Tickets are $1,000 apiece. Other sponsorship levels are available that include having a celebrity seated at your table and access to a cocktail hour before the dinner where the coaches and other Notre Dame and Chicago sports greats will mingle.

But I'm a big believer in putting the information out there and letting people make their choice. Perhaps your company or employer is looking for a charitable giving opportunity. You could be in need of a tax deduction. Or maybe your great-aunt Muriel just left you a million dollars in Indian-head pennies.

Regardless, if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to consider the event, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to go. Not only is it an opportunity to hear three outstanding speeches and really allow your ND fanaticism to wax, the money will go to three great causes: Hannah & Friends, the Holtz Charitable Foundation, and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. It may not be the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth, but it's in the team picture.

If you have interest, you can contact me via email and I'll get you set up.

Thanks for your attention, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled analysis of ND's ground game and potential basketball transfers-in.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Controlling the Horizontal and the Vertical

We interrupt this scintillating ND-related diatribe to bring you something a little more close-to-home related.

As a public service announcement, if you're not someone who sells to major (or minor) retailers and/or handles logistics / supply chain work for your company, or if you're not someone who does business intelligence technical work or retail sales analysis, or you don't know what the hell either of those things are, chances are you'll find what follows unbelievably boring and probably would be best served to just skip it.

As I mentioned on the boards, on the first of this month, my partners and I successfully purchased majority interest in my firm, Decision Support Services. We provide logistics support for our Fortune 500 clients, helping them to make sure they're spending their money in better places than inventory taking up space on shelves. We currently have offices in South Bend and Bentonville, AR, and have just opened a facility in Mooresville, NC.

We have a solid satisfied client base, a lot of whom have been with us for most of our 10 years of existence, and are always picking up business by way of word of mouth. But now that I'm in an ownership position, I'm focused a little less on the system the clients are using and a little more on the number of clients using it. I'm also looking more at staffing and what our needs will be as we grow.

Considering all this, I'd be a fool to ignore the biggest source of advertising I've got, namely, NftG and NDN. No sense spending a couple hundred hours putting an electronic community together and then ignoring it when something like this comes up. So that's exactly what I'm going to do here, especially considering the strong ND-centric nature of our company. In addition to me, one of my partners is a 1990 grad, and two of the others are South Bend natives and long-time subway alums. We're working my other partner, and anticipate his conversion within a year. We're relentless.

You might be a potential client for us. If you're trying to make the best of your retailer's POS system and wish you could do more or do it better (Walmart, KMart, Lowes, Home Depot, Meijer, Sam's Club, Walgreens, etc.), or think you're spending too much money on your current methodology, chances are we can help you out. If you don't have the analyst power you wish you had, we can provide it. If you've got analysts but wish you could utilize them better, we can give them the tools to make better use of their time. And you'll have ND people doing it to boot.

You also might be a potential employee. We've got a solid group of analysts now, but again, as we grow we want to make sure we have our clients' needs covered. We're a Microsoft shop, using SQL Server 2005 (moving to 2008 as soon as it's feasible) and all its associated components (SSIS, SSAS, SSRS) along with Sharepoint to provide our value to the clients. If you've got experience in one or more of those areas, we might be looking to bring people like you aboard as the year progresses. And there's an advantage to working with a lot of other ND grads / fans.

I've disabled comments to this entry because it's not the kind of entry that invites them. However, if you think there's a potential fit here, drop me an email. Hopefully we can make something work.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Dish Best Served Cold

Almost nine years ago, a frustrated Fighting Irish football fan wallowing in the midst of a 5-7 effort by Bob Davie and crew, vented those frustrations by writing a fake news article for a Usenet newsgroup. In that newsgroup, creating such faux factograms was de rigeur, with participants trying to hook as many fish as possible.

Ironically, the furor that article created helped set me on the path of "legitimate" reporting that brought me to NDNation (via NDHoops) and book authorship and the wonderful community The Pit has become. But at the time, the hassles ended up outnumbering the laughs, and I swore off fake news, seemingly forever.

But that's the problem with lessons learned long ago ... they tend to fade in your head. And you end up in the shower on one April Fool's Day morning with an idea bouncing around in your noggin, and you forget (as many folks do) that a lot more people read posts on the board than the people who respond. Then you read blog entries about your little joke, and realize you got some 'splainin' to do.

Let's be clear: As far as I'm aware, no one from Indiana University has talked or plans to talk to Mike Brey about anything. My impression has always been Mike is happy as a clam at ND and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. Just so no one remains confused.

It's hard to determine how to react here.

On the one hand, as I constantly remind people (and should have reminded myself), plenty of people read the Internet and plenty of messages have unintended consequences. Two seasons or so ago, the father of a signed recruit sent an email to some friends where he shared some Ancient Chinese Secrets about how the coaching staff was doing business. The recipients forwarded to two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on, and next thing the poor guy knew, the email was being posted on every ND site and was traveling all over the world. He ended up very embarrassed, as did (I'm sure) his son.

Now I find myself in a similar situation. We here at NDN are certainly blessed with a large and active readership, but that readership comes at a cost. I usually pride myself on verifying info I'm going to share, and when I do things like this, I jeopardize that relationship with the readers.

On the other hand, though, it's freaking April Fool's Day. Part of me thinks the only thing I should be embarrassed about is the joke is so hackneyed a twit like Brendan Loy apparently thought of it too. And if we can read stuff like this about Juli Boeheim, perhaps I should tell people to lighten the !@#$ up about my relatively tame stuff.

But then again, I'm not and don't want to be either of those guys.

I see the points of those who wonder if what I did was a good idea. At various points during the day, I've wondered myself. But it's done, and I gave up second guessing myself for Lent, so onward and upward. Besides, IU seems to have their coach, and I get to watch the Marquette folks get all squirrelly to boot.

Maybe it's a better day than I thought....

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Life comes at you fast

On Friday, December 1st, I discovered that line is a lot more than a commercial tag. That night, my sister called to tell me my aunt, Ann Gardiner, had been killed in an automobile accident at the ripe old age of 56.

The ice storm of 24 hours previously had left her home without power, so she and a friend were going to a local hotel for shelter. She'd always been a careful driver -- probably the most careful in the family -- and that day was no exception. She was waiting to make a right-hand turn at an intersection whose stoplights were darkened due to a power outage. Someone else across the street from her also waited, as another car approached from her left at speed for the four-lane street he was on.

For reasons that escape my understanding, the other stopped driver thought the driver on the four-lane street was going to somehow stop (as he should have), and started into the intersection. The four-lane driver swerved to avoid that car, and his Pontiac Aztec slammed full-force into the driver's door of my aunt's Dodge Neon. If my aunt had been in an SUV or the other driver in a regular-sized car, things might have ended differently. But they weren't, so it didn't.

It's frustrating that my aunt was the only person at the intersection following the Rules of the Road. She and her passenger, who survived with minor bruises, were also the only people injured (at least physically).

Even more frustrating is the sheer random nature of the event itself. Thinking about how many things had to happen just so for the situation to end the way it did makes my brain hurt. The storm, the power, the lack of traffic control.... We live in a world where the fact your phone didn't ring as you're going out the door, delaying you for a few precious seconds, decides whether you live or die. I'd have better luck filling out a lottery ticket via a blindfolded lemur on a caffeine bender smacking numbers with his tail.

But the most frustrating part of all is losing a vibrant person well before her time.

Ann was only 19 when I was born, and while she wasn't all that much older than me to begin with, the gap seemed to shrink every year. She always had a good understanding of what "people my age" went through, no matter what that age was at the time, and being my godmother, felt a special duty to share that understanding with me (a duty I welcomed gladly). My relationship with my parents was (and is) wonderful, and I'm not suggesting my relationship with Ann was better or more meaningful. It was just different, and it was an important difference that helped make me the person I am today.

She lived near St. Louis, and at least once a summer, we'd head down there for a long weekend. I remember fishing in the small lake behind her house, thinking it was the accomplishment of a lifetime landing a bluegill. I remember trips to Six Flags, when she interceded with my parents to make a ride on the Screaming Eagle as a perhaps-not-ready seven-year-old a reality. The only helicopter ride I've ever taken in my life was over downtown St. Louis, the result of her reminding us we might never get that chance again. Although I'm not sure she accompanied us on that experience -- she was all about having us try new things, but that didn't mean she had to share in our lunacy.

She reminded me a lot of my grandfather in that she didn't suffer fools gladly, but had a generous spirit that led her to help all kinds of people in a quiet way. She was a special education teacher who lived in Edwardsville, IL, for over 30 years, and the depth to which she touched others' lives was brought into sharp relief during her wake there, when friends and students and their families all came forward to share stories of her kindness and selflessness we had never heard.

She didn't live to see either of her sons marry, but shared in the joy of her nieces' and nephews' engagements and ceremonies. She'll never know the joy of being a grandmother herself, but showed abundance of love to her great-nieces and great-nephews. Some of them are old enough they'll take memories of her later into life. For those that aren't, my sibs and cousins and I will make sure they do.

The past week has burned events into my brain I'll carry with me for a long time. Going to the auto pound to remove Ann's personal effects from the car, seeing the damage first-hand and picking around the life-saving detritus left by the EMTs for things like the rosary she always kept in the glove box. Attending the wake and seeing the multiple collages of hand-prints and angels created by her preschool and kindergarten students -- simple displays of grief and thankfulness from small people who probably have an even tougher time understanding all of this than I do -- that I can't even type about without getting emotional. Singing "Lady of Knock" during her funeral in a packed church that didn't have a dry eye in the house, including the priest.

But these are only the first steps in what will no doubt be a tough journey for her siblings and sons. There will likely be prosecution of the other people involved in the accident, which will be a long and arduous process. There will be the dissolution of property and the breaking down of the welcoming home Ann always had for all of us. I, myself, will be approaching some members of the Illinois legislature I'm fortunate enough to know to seek a remedy that might spare others the pain my family currently experiences as we face a Christmas with one empty stocking.

We know, however, that Ann will be with us on this journey. Her strength will be our strength. Her laughter will be our laughter. Her compassion will be our compassion, and her resolve will be our resolve, depending on the situation.

I've disabled comments for this entry because my purpose here, beyond a personal catharsis, is not to elicit sympathy from the readership. Rather, I remind all of you that when you wake up in the morning, you have no way of knowing what the day is going to bring you. A truism, I know, but we have a tendency to forget such things as the relatively mundane events of life create their own space and momentum in our minds.

Never forget to let the people you care about know it, and never miss any opportunity to let them know. It can make all the difference in the world. It shouldn't take a sudden catastrophe like this to bring it to the front of your mind. Put it there, and keep it there.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Thanks for your support

Many thanks to those of you who contributed to my friend George's marathon run.

His donation page is linked in the blog entry below, but I'll copy it here to save you the trouble.

You can find his results here. Certainly a good way to spend five hours of your life, both in health and money raised.

Thanks again, George.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Going off topic for a moment

My good friend is running in the Chicago Marathon on behalf of the Organization for Autism Research. Since he knew of my daughter situation, she's the child he's "running for".

The title of this blog entry is a link to his donation page, but I'll also add it below. If you're looking to make a charitable donation for the holidays or whatever, I'd appreciate it if you'd consider his effort or have a good thought for him as he finishes training.


Link to page