Many years later, a laser that does something

When I was in the sixth grade, I got my hands on small fragments of a one-way mirror, and, following descriptions I read about in the encyclopedia set we had in our basement, I took other components (a glass rod, a wooden box and a light source), and built a working laser.

No, it didn’t do anything, except win me second place in my school’s science fair. But I thought it was cool anyway.

Too Cool

If I was that kid today, I would hope this is what I’d bring to the science fair. (Hey, they’d have to give me a first place ribbon, right?)

Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins

GerardManleyHopkinsI recently found this poem, by Victorian poet Gerald Manly Hopkins. The bucolic imagery somehow seems appropriate for early Spring. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

My most gutsy prediction yet: FMT will become commonplace

Unappealing qualities: We all have them. I have more than my share. Among mine is a face that, let’s be real, only a mother could love. (Its stock consequently plummeted four years ago with the the passing of its biggest fan.) Another is my embrace of the discipline of economics. Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle had a point when he called the discipline the dismal science. But maybe my least appealing quality, in terms of lowering the odds of me ever being the center of a spirited, rollicking, truly legendary party, is my tendency to predict the future. Two example predictions from four years ago are these:

  1. Most Millennials will live to see a day when the world is dining on meat grown in a lab,
  2. 3-D printers will, a’la the Internet, revolutionize our lives while disrupting whole economic sectors

As unappealing as this amateur futurism is, I’m afraid it’s like my face. It’s not going to change. I might as well wave it like a flag. So here is my next, and possibly most, unappealing prediction:

In Five Years FMT Will Be Commonplace

The unappealing part of this prediction is the “F.” It stands for “fecal.” Here’s an explanation from a recent New Yorker article on the medical treatment:

No one knows how many people have undergone fecal transplants—the official term is fecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT — but the number is thought to be at least ten thousand and climbing rapidly. New research suggests that the microbes in our guts — and, consequently, in our stool — may play a role in conditions ranging from autoimmune disorders to allergies and obesity, and reports of recoveries by patients who, with or without the help of doctors, have received these bacteria-rich infusions have spurred demand for the procedure. A year and a half ago, a few dozen physicians in the United States offered FMT. Today, hundreds do.

I had first heard of this work a few years back, in an episode of RadioLab. Lately the stories have piled up — either specifically citing FMT or at least implying its possible efficacy:

If you’re like me, you feel there is a lot that’s unappetizing about FMT. It has a huge yuck factor. What I find even more off-putting, though, is that many of the stories I’ve found (I’ve only included the best) suggest the start of a meme that may quickly rise to Full Hype Status, raising expectations beyond anything that reality can meet. For completely different reasons, FMT’s yuck factor could be its undoing.

On the other hand, my lack of enthusiasm for dwelling in poo, so to speak, is overridden by a sense of hope. I’m encouraged that we may have arrived at a new paradigm for curing chronic disorders.

Medical science is horribly hidebound, and is forever slow to embrace new ideas. It took Dr. Barry Marshall two decades to fully convince the medical establishment that ulcers are caused, not by stress, but by an easily treated bacterial infection. This, even after he infected himself with the bug and triggering a bleeding ulcer.

What’s I’m seeing is encouraging because the discussions are so public, and this attention seems to be accelerating a break with status quo beliefs about the role of bacteria in human health. There is increasing, and increasingly positive, attention being paid to the critters within us. Or should I say, the critters who are primarily us. As a recent New York Times article put it, “We are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes … To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is [non-human genetic information].”

As odd as it sounds, it’s stories like this that make me wish I were a younger man, and more likely to witness what our world seems destined to become. Unless of course I’m wrong. Because like all futurists, amateur or professional, I’m really going to hate it if I’m wrong.

Example portraits from the 2014 Holiday event

In some ways I had it easy, because during the flurry of activity that was the 2014 Head Start Holiday event, I was behind one of two color printers that were producing the family photos. I was well away from the fray — on the other side of the school building from the hectic dinner service, and across the hall from the gymnasium full of children’s play stations (this photo shows what they looked like, staffed by volunteers from a local high school, before the kids arrived).

Play Stations

But not only that, I got see the children in what was probably their most favorable light, as they stopped in to get their photos taken. Here is a sampling of the 81 sets of family pictures we took and printed that night. I hope you enjoy them.

These pictures mean so much to the families, and are yet another way you helped make these family’s holidays brighter. I say you, because if you contributed, you were right there with them. If you haven’t yet in 2014, you still can! We are still way behind in meeting our out-of-pocket expenses. We rely completely on your generosity. Won’t you help now? Use the link in the right column (at the top of this page). And thank you!

We fed 300 people and enriched the lives of 143 children and their families

A Happy CelebrantToday is a work day for me, so I’ll be brief. Last night was the 2014 Holiday Head Start Event, and it was bigger and better than ever.

Not only did every single family that attended go home with a shopping bag brimming with food, but the dinner we served last night was to the largest group ever: 300 people packed into the dining room (we needed to add extra tables to accommodate them all!). It was incredible.

Everyone Took Home Groceries!I’ll post more photos when I get a chance, but for now, here is a taste … and also, a commercial:

If you have contributed, thank you! If you haven’t yet, you still can. And you should. Our balance sheet for last night is still not in the black, and we’re already planning on taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales to get much of what we’ll be using in December of 2015. Please use the link in the right column to contribute today. Any amount will be appreciated, and you will still feel the warm glow of doing some wonderful good this holiday season!

EDIT 12-02-2015: We’re doing it again. Read more here and give in whatever way you can!

We’re doing one better this year than the food basket giveaway

I’m excited to report that for the first time, we’re eliminating our drawing for food baskets … because we’ve giving one to every family who attends!

gift_baskets!In the past, I’ve felt like I was watching an episode of Oprah when we would draw the names for the dozen or so people who received a gift basket loaded with food and other household staples. Here’s a photo of one lucky mom claiming her prize.

Everyone Goes Home With Food

But this year, we’re going to arrive at the event with enough food basket ingredients to provide one full set for every family that attends. I say “ingredients” because we’re eliminating the basket itself. We can save a dollar per recipient if we provide this $25 collection of boxed and canned food items in a bag. Although it sounds better to talk about giving away food baskets, we know that it’s far, far better if everyone is a winner.

Now I’ll really feel like I’m watching an Oprah episode. You get food! And you get food. Everyone gets food!!

This is a little crazy of us, because this is the biggest group we’ll ever serve. But we have faith that our friends and supporters will come through. Please click on the Donate button in the upper right corner. A gift of just $25 will ensure that one more family can take home a bag with items like these:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Beans
  • Canned Veggies and Fruit
  • Pasta
  • Peanut Butter

… and much more.

Will you help us feed these under-served children and their families this holiday season? Please donate now.

What will the children do with all those rectangles? This and other Holiday Head Start questions answered

IMG_20141214_180809_002Yesterday I posted this photo on Facebook, with the cryptic pronouncement that I wouldn’t stop working until 1,600 flannel rectangles were sewn together. I started in the morning, and didn’t stop until 10:30 last night. My friend Michele asked: “What will the children do with the fabric rectangles?” Good question — and a fascinating answer.

My rectangles and the others already sewn will be sorted and stuffed into mesh bags roughly the size of a pack of playing cards. They will create a matching game for the kids, to develop their short term memories and their motor skills.

Each child will get a set of 10 rectangles, and like a deck of cards, each of the 10 will have identical backings. But as you can see in the photo, the faces have varying patterns. Each set will have five pairs of matching patterns. When they are laid face down, and then the “cards” are revealed and hidden again, randomly, two at a time, the parent can challenge the child to remember where the pairs are hidden. Memory improves with practice.

I remember this as a game called Concentration:


Making those games is a lot of work. Each set requires a total of 20 three inch by four inch panels. That’s a total of 2,860 hand-cut and -sewn pieces of fabric. But my wife Sherry, a gifted educator, chose this game because it does these things:

  1. It is age appropriate
  2. It truly does develop young minds
  3. It invites — in fact, requires — participation by a parent or other adult

These three requirements make it one more really priceless item we’ll be stuffing into the kids’ goodies bags. The three requirements also go into the activity stations we have planned for the event. Which brings up another question we’ve gotten:

How many activity stations will the kids be visiting this year?

As the number of kids and their families has grown, so too have the number of activity stations. We started this event seven years ago, with five stations … This year there will be these 16 stations:

  1. Decorating Candy Canes
  2. Bean Bag Toss
  3. Bowling Game
  4. Brownie or Cookie Decorating
  5. Clothespin Magnets
  6. Face Painting
  7. Fuzzy Ornaments and Stickers
  8. Gingerbread Men
  9. Glitter Snowflakes
  10. Popsicle Stick Harmonicas
  11. Paint Stamp
  12. Making Paper Chains
  13. Pasta Necklace
  14. Tissue Cups
  15. Yarn Art
  16. Photo Booth

dad_and_sonThat last one is probably the most appreciated by the parents and other family members. It’s where I and four other volunteers photograph the kids and their families, then print the photos on the spot, so they have something to take home and cherish. Remember, these families are at an income level where anything as non-essential as a family portrait is probably out of the question! This is, of course, a sample from a prior year.

How many days until the event, and where are you in fundraising?

The short answer is too soon, and too little, for comfort! We have six days left before the event, and we’re still short by roughly $2,000.

It’s more important this year than ever before that you consider giving. You’ll be helping some of the least served families in Wisconsin, and you’ll know where every cent of your gift is going.

You’ll also know that you’ll be supporting the hard work of literally dozens of volunteers — not with any compensation, but with your vote of confidence that their work to help those less fortunate is a wonderful way to celebrate this holiday season.

Won’t you help? Use the link in the right column to donate using a major credit card. And thank you!!!

Please help make these families’ holidays stronger, smarter, happier!

activity_stationYou may be new to this event, or perhaps you’ve supported our efforts in past years. For seven years my family and more than a dozen of our friends have volunteered to help stage a holiday event for families of Head Start children. This year we’re serving more children than ever before … more than 140 3-to-4 year old boys and girls.

And every year we’ve provided an opportunity for people like you to donate to a cause that you’re absolutely certain will go directly to the people intended. It’s as if you were there yourself, helping families in a material way. That’s the sentiment that got my wife and me started in the first place. That first holiday season we decided that instead of just giving money blindly to a charity and hope it does some good, we’d provide hands-on service to people who are undeniably among the community’s most under-served. (To qualify for Head Start, we learned that a family of three could not have an annual household income exceeding ,000!)

The photo above shows one of our volunteers working at that event’s more than one dozen activity stations. Each child is encouraged to go to each station. They get to decorate mini-cupcakes, face painting and a mini bowling game, where each child wins a small prize. This year we’re working on staging more of these than ever before — fifteen!

bagsBut the real help goes beyond and entertaining evening, and comes in other ways. Each family receives a hot meal. More than a dozen food baskets are raffled off. And the children all go home with a personalized bag stuffed with warm gloves, a fleece hat, a scarf, and educational toys and supplies. Below is a photo of these bags … we’ve been busy hand-lettering them over the Thanksgiving weekend.

What’s more, I’ve been sewing the hats (here’s what they look like), which are of a warm fleece that matches their scarves.

Won’t you help us? We can’t stage this event without the financial support of people like you. Please use the Donate button in the right column to give whatever you can, using any major credit card. And thank you!

Help 140+ deserving preschoolers and their families this holiday season

If you’re new to the Head Start Holiday Event, here are some quick facts about this annual event:

  • It’s the brainchild of my wife, when she and I talked about actually doing something to help people around the holidays, instead of just giving money to a faceless charity
  • We’ve been doing if for seven years; Two years ago we moved the event from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Beloit, Wisconsin. Here’s why
  • By supporting this event, you can be assured that your dollars are going to real people doing real good
  • My wife, and her daughter Shannon, are educators; They understand the developmental needs of the children we serve every year, and it shows — both in the activities we give them, and the toys they take home from the event. Here’s an example
  • This year the event will include 142 pre-school children and their families, through the Rock-Walworth Comprehensive Family Services Head Start Program
  • It happens on Monday, December 22 … exactly a month from today
Some of the latest work we've done in preparation for the event is the creation of lacing kits, which will include over 500 foam shapes, with more than 7,000 individually punch holes!
Some of the latest work we’ve done in preparation for the event is the creation of lacing kits, which will include over 500 foam shapes, with more than 7,000 individually punch holes!

Won’t you consider contributing to this important cause? Here are some of the things your money will be providing these under-served children and their parents:

  • A hot delicious meal. In recent past years it’s been mostaccioli, with or without meat sauce, plus corn, rolls and fresh fruit
  • Each child gets a colorful bag, with the child’s name written across the front. It’s big enough to be used later as a school bag. It comes stuffed with goodies, including:
    • A warm fleece scarf and warm knit mittens
    • A fleece hat. Here’s a photo of what they look like when they’re done.
    • Educational activities, including a lace-up kit to help with manual dexterity (we started assembling them last weekend — see the photo to the right)
    • Crayons, pencils and a 16-page coloring book
    • Healthy snacks
  • A variety of play stations for the kids and their families, such as the following:
    • An opportunity for the children to decorate their own holiday treat
    • Face-painting station, run by my step-daughter and her assistant
    • A child-sized bowling game (every child receives a prize!)
    • Photo booth: Family pictures are taken and printed on the spot. The parents will go home with something for their refrigerator
  • For the families: We give away food baskets overflowing with healthy staples, such as:
    • Flour
    • Canned goods
    • Rice
    • Beans
    • Pancake mix, etc.
    • Along with many household items, such as detergent and toilet paper

Play StationThe raffling off of these baskets have become a major part of the evening. They truly brighten the families’ holidays.

Won’t you consider giving? Please use the link to the right.

Thank you!