Last night, my wife made a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. She made them for her boss, because today is his birthday, and he loves oatmeal raisin cookies. As a result, I had to watch her make these amazingly delicious cookies and not eat any of them since she was going to give them all to him. Is there a note of jealousy in my written voice? You bet. I love my wife, and I love cookies, so it's a foregone conclusion that I love my wife's cookies.

So what's a guy to do when he can't eat fresh cookies, yet the house is filled with the aroma of oatmeal raisin madness? Well, he (or in this case, me) grabs a spoon and a jar of Trader Joe's Cookie Butter. Dangerous stuff. Cookies in a jar.

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I like to think of myself as a "happy" person. I think a great deal about happiness--about how it needs to be rooted in yourself rather than in your circumstances. If you, at your core, are happy, then changing circumstances cannot affect your happiness. If, for example, I'm happy to the core, and someone then hits my dog with their car (perish the thought)--well, I'd be extremely sad, but I don't think my happiness would shift. Can you be sad and happy at the same time? Sure. It depends on how deep the happiness goes.

I think about this when I think about student happiness. As the Dean of Students, I have the ability to influence MSOE as an institution. I can work with my team to address issues that can enhance the overall student experience. But does that really, really get at a student's happiness? Doesn't a student's happiness go deeper? Of course it does, and that's why we focus on Counseling Services, the Learning Resource Center, TRIO, Servant-Leadership--departments on this campus that get at the depth of student happiness. I'm proud to represent the office of Student Life, because we do the work of helping our students discover and then sustain their happiness. But we can always improve on our work, which is why we continually pursue student feedback.

It's difficult to diagnose student happiness, which is why I think it needs to become a constant part of our institutional dialogue.

Note: Here's a photo of my dog, Lucy--may she never wander in front of a car.

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Students have been providing some meaningful feedback via the Student Satisfaction Feedback form: http://msoe.edu/student-feedback. The statistics are starting to establish patterns in the overall data (you can rate each response on a 7 point scale from "very satisfied" to "not satisfied at all"), and the qualitative feedback (which can be provided in the text fields) gives texture to the statistics.

The form enables the user to either provide their name and email address or not, depending on whether or not the student wants to remain anonymous. I've enjoyed interacting with the students who do provide their name and email address--it gives me the opportunity to discuss some of the content with the students who want an email reply.

Though I'm not sure if I should say that I "enjoy" the interaction, because quite often the feedback is very constructive. But you have to be open to student feedback; after all, students are the ones that know how Student Life can improve the overall student experience. Students are the "end-users" in this educational process. Sometimes, the email exchanges that are the result of the feedback form take on a layer of depth, to the point that email can no longer suffice as an appropriate vehicle for information exchange. At that point, I suggest to the student who I'm interacting with that we have a cup of coffee so we can discuss their ideas. Now that's been very enjoyable, because the students I've had coffee with are prepared for the conversation--and they are ready to talk not only about their experiences but what they want to see for the overall student-body experience.

I can't afford to buy every student who fills out the form a cup of coffee, but I am going to commit to buying coffee for any and all students who want to sit down with me and have an honest conversation about their student experience--whether they fill out the form or just email me directly at howell@msoe.edu, requesting a conversation. That's always an open invitation, especially if it means we can go down to the Starbucks at Red Arrow Park (which, by the way, is getting a redesign) so I can order a dark grande misto.

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My wife and I make some amazing home-made pizza. We make our own dough in a bread machine (1 1/4 cups water, 1/4 cup olive oil, a tablespoon of honey, touch of salt, 3 cups of flower, and 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast), make our own sauce (a petite can of tomato paste with diced garlic, a touch of olive oil, and  a bit of red wine), use fresh mozzarella (preferably from Trader Joe's), and always use fresh ingredients (from bulk Italian sausage to avocado). It is sooooo good.

But then there are days (like today) where my wife is out of town, and my son and I are hungry for pizza, and though making one is an option, it's just so much easier to get some take-out. But which pizza store do you turn to when you have a high levels of satisfaction that must be maintained?

In our house, the answer is always Brick 3 Pizza. Located at 1107 Old World 3rd Street (about a five minute walk from campus), Brick 3 delivers a great thin crust pie. As you can tell from their online menu, they have lots of options--but my favorite is always the stuffed spinach and feta.

Is it time to order a pizza for dinner? Maybe. Maybe I need to call Brick 3. Here's a photo of the last pizza we ordered.

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I just read an article from The Washington Post on how many people in the U.S. live without indoor plumbing--and where they live. The article provides an interactive map, and it didn't surprise me that many of the places where I've spent quite a bit of time (Alaska, Washington, and Oregon) have high percentages of housing units that lack complete plumbing facilities.

When I married my wife (of 24 years), we lived in a one-room cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska. And guess what--it had no running water, which means we had an outhouse you had to run to (and I say run because the temperatures drop below negative 40 degrees in winter). That said, it was an amazing outhouse. It faced a slough that fed into the Tanana River, a slough full of all kinds of wild animals. It was also a thoroughfare for snowmobiles and dogsled mushers. From that outhouse, you could look up at the Alaskan night sky and watch the Aurora Borialis. And if you've never seen the Aurora Borialis, then please add it to your bucket-list, because everyone needs to see the Aurora.

So the moral of the story is: if you have to live without running water, make sure that the outhouse has a good view.

 

David Howell

The Daily Dean: Sumo City

Posted by David Howell Apr 23, 2014

We do some fun stuff in Student Activities (as a way of providing students with good social, occupational, spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, diverse, and community-centric activities), and one of them is Sumo Wrestling. We also have energetic female students, which is why they lead the charge on the sumo front.

I used to marathon. I ran the Seattle Marathon a couple of times and the Portland Marathon (when I lived in the Pacific Northwest), and then when we moved to Milwaukee, I participated in the Lakefront Marathon for a couple of years. I love running and continued to run long distances in preparation and participation in Ironman distance triathlons. But running a marathon can be (if you can believe it) harder than participating in an Ironman.

Why is this? Because you can run slower in Ironman. After all, you run the 26.2 miles after you swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles, so the expectation to run fast is diminished. Instead, you run to survive. So running a marathon can actually be harder, simply because you usually have a time goal you are shooting for that pushes one's quads to the point of bursting.

The Boston Marathon took place yesterday. I could never qualify for the race because I'm not really built to run fast (I'm built more like a football player), so I take great pleasure in knowing people who do participate in this event. Take, for example, Dr. Doug Stahl, faculty member in the CAECM Department. Doug had an amazing race in the 2013 Boston Marathon--the year of the bombing. He finished in a crazy fast time of 3 hours and 8 minutes. This year, he returned with an over-training injury but was still able to pull out a 3 hour and 23 minute finish (that's a 7:46 minute per mile pace!). That's just fast.

The 2014 Boston Marathon is also worth noting in that an American won the men's competition, the first time since 1983. Somehow, it seems appropriate to see an American win the year after the tragedy of last year's bombing.

If you see Dr. Stahl on campus, congratulate him. He earned it.

I love riding bikes. This weekend (Friday to Sunday), I put 70 miles on the road bike (2 rides out to Theinsville), 5 miles on the single-speed (a quick trip to the chocolate store), and 2 mountain bike rides (one on the river trail and another in Mequon). It's great having different bikes that accomplish different tasks, since there are so many different reasons to ride a bike.

It's also fun that I did 2 solo rides, 2 rides with my wife, and 2 rides with my son. We enjoy each others company while getting some sunshine and exercise. Granted, we did other stuff this weekend (such as eating lamb and watching the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix as well as the latest episode of Mad Men), but the best family moments were on the bikes.

When my kids were young, we put them in the bike trailer. Then they graduated to the "trail-a-bike", and eventually a tandem. That's why I think it's pretty cool that we still bike together--because we've always biked together.

We've done a bit of bike camping as well, where you strap tents and sleeping pads and camp stoves and sleeping bags and food--and a bunch of other stuff, not to mention the kids--to the bikes and head to the campground. It's a lot more work than car camping, but you feel like you really arrived when you get to the campsite. And, you're pretty tired by the time you get there, so you sleep well (after sitting by the fire roasting marshmallows, etc.).

It's almost May, which means the snow and salt are gone, and every day provides another biking opportunity--hence, more opportunities to enjoy the wife and kids. You gotta like that.

Here's a photo of my daughter (Kait) and I returning from a weekend bike camping adventure at Pike Lake.

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Note: The Daily Dean won't publish tomorrow--hope you have a "good Friday" (pun intended).

We're about to take a 3 day break at MSOE, and it's time to slow things down a bit. Life on campus can be chaotic. The data (or should I call it information?) we process comes at us at blazing speeds, and without enough time to process it, our brain cannot enable it to move from short-term memory to long-term memory. And if we don't enable it to move to long-term memory--if it doesn't cross the neural network--we have learned nothing.

So, if you think about it, taking a break once in a while is an important part of the learning process. Slowing the thought-process down. When I used to teach Creative Thinking, I told my students that it's important to know how to think fast (to solve small problems) as well as how to think slow (to solve big problems). You have to know how to think at different rates in order to solve different problems. In the case of a long weekend, it's advantageous to actually plan (with great intentionality) to have a day (or two, or three) where you don't think--at least not in an academic sense. Yes, process the events of the day, but take a nap at some point, or look out the window, or go for a walk--and do it with great intentionality.

To illustrate this point, I share with you a video of my dog, Lucy. She is the queen of sleeping on the couch. But when the tennis ball comes out, she quickly shifts into hyper-mode. Hence, she's a great example of someone who can move quickly and slowly, depending on the intent of the activity. Here's a video of her moving slowly when she's doing something quickly.

Why read poetry? Because unlike fiction, creative non-fiction or drama, poetry does not rely on human-to-human interaction. With a few rare exceptions (such as Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River"), poetry is about the persona of the poet, the single sensibility, the mindful metaphysic.

In my wallet, I carry around a laminated copy of Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man." I can think of no other poem that better illustrates this point:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

My favorite coffee beverage is a cortado pored into a cappuccino ceramic mug. What's a cortado? It's espresso (maybe 2 shots) cut with a small amount of warm milk. The ratio is 1 to 2, and the milk is added after the espresso.

Once or twice a week, I'll walk my dog to the Stone Creek Coffee in Silver Spring Drive. If my favorite barista, John (a.k.a. "Johny Cortado") is pouring, then I order this delicious Italian beverage. It's a surprisingly difficult drink to get right; that's why you only want to order it from Johny Cortado.

Are you having a blue day? Is it still cold and wet (or snowy) outside? Then treat yourself to a cortado. So good.

I love to bike, and I love my wife, so, I love biking with my wife. Yesterday, we rode down the Oak Leaf Trail to Disccovery World. On the way back, we had brunch at Simple Cafe.What a great way to spend a Sunday with your best friend.

We have great conversations on bike rides. She has a rockin' bike (a Trek Madone 5.2), so it can be a challenge  to keep up with her. But that's a good problem to have--to try to keep a conversation going while trying to catch your breath because your life-partner is in such good shape that she's making you peddle at 100 rpm.

Her two favorite weekends of the year revolve around distance cycling:

  1. The Scenic Shore 150
  2. The Door County Century

How great is it to have such an ambitious cycling wife?

Here's a photo of us mountain biking last summer. I can't wait until the trails are dry enough to ride again.

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In the Student Life office, we talk a lot about student satisfaction. We work closely with students so we can best understand what they like about MSOE--as well as what we can improve about our university so we can then enhance the overall student experience.

In the spirit of continual improvement, we've created an online feedback form to capture student perspectives. You can find it at msoe.edu/student-feedback.

If you're a student, please fill out the form. I'll personally reply to your post via email if you provide your name and email address. And please don't fill out the form once--feel free to fill it out as many times as you like, since your student experience and student perspectives morph over time.

If you're not a student, please talk with students about this feedback form and encourage them to fill it out. Student Life examines the data we receive on a weekly basis, so we can continually improve based on our analysis. But it can only happen if students continue to fill out the form.

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I like to work on having an ongoing sense of perspective--that ability to see the big picture, to view the way things connect, to not get wrapped up in minutia.

I believe that happiness is not a result of one's environment; rather, happiness is a choice, something that we have to deliberately pursue. I also believe that having perspective is a big part of acquiring and maintaining happiness.

Several times a day, I find a place where I can quietly assess how things are going. The location for these "time-outs" is critical. I could stare out my office window, or go for a walk to Starbucks, or simply stroll around campus: the key to the location is that it not involve interaction with others, since the point of this reflective activity is to assess the moment as it relates to the events of the day, the week, the year.

I'm in the habit of stopping at an overlook when I bike into work. It's on the edge of Lake Michigan, not far from our campus. I stop long enough to catch my breath and prepare for the day--to get that "perspective" I need before coming to work in the morning. I took a video of my morning overlook so I could share it with you.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, In Seattle, where the sun rises over the Cascade Mountains and sets over the Olympic Mountains. When I went on motorcycle rides, I always headed to the Sawtooth Mountains in  northern Idaho. When I'd go skiing, it was always about getting to the Rockies somehow. When I traveled as a young man, it was to the Himalayas. So it should be no surprise that, now that I've been living in the Midwest for over a decade, my mind has reverted to mountains in my dreams. I wake up and try to hold on to the image of being at the top of some vista, some overlook that gives one a sense of perplexing perspective.

Most of my favorite writers are from the West and lived in mountains. I made reference to this once in a creative writing class I was in, and the professor told me that it should not be surprising, because someone who lives in mountains and looks at mountains always asks the question, "What's on the other side? What does that look like, to be there?" Well, that's the stuff of dreams.

Here I am, in Utah, at the base of mountains.

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I try to eat healthy--and the operative word in that phrase is "try". It's hard: I was raised in a steak-and-cake family, and I grew up happy and well fed. It's not fair that my metabolism changes as I get older, making my body more efficient. I want to eat what I want to eat--but those days are long gone.

That's why I'm a big fan of the man salad. I don't mean to be gender-exclusive--it's just my way of saying that, if you're going to eat a salad, then do it in such a way that it brings on some carnal pleasure.

Is the phrase "man salad" an oxymoron? That's up for debate. But what I can say is that the Water Street Brewery serves up a pretty tasty man salad, also known as the steakhouse salad. The menu describes it as a grilled "...hanger steak with mixed greens, chopped egg, green beans and Bleu cheese croquettes with black peppercorn vinaigrette." Ah, those Bleu cheese croquettes are to die for.

You want to buy me lunch sometime? Then let's go to Water Street Brewery and order a salad.

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My son, Evan, is a cellist. And his cello instructor, Peter Thomas, is one cool dude. Not only does he perform in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, but he's also the lead electric cellist in the local indie/classic/pop band I'm not a Pilot. Evan loves listening to them perform live, which is why it's so very awesome that I'm not a Pilot is going to perform at MSOE on Tuesday, April 15th at 6:00 p.m. in the Todd Wehr Auditorium.

Is this not the most amazing thing that's ever going to happen on our college campus? I'll be there--will you?

Here's the latest music video from I'm not a Pilot.

Here they are playing at Summerfest.

Here's a pretty cool artsy-fartsy music video.

Rick Gagliano, the Director of Student Activities and the guy who's in the office next to mine, told me about a blog post he put on the HUB that shares a video of what's in his fridge. It's pretty funny:

Rick challenged me to do the same thing--post a video of what's in my fridge, so here it is:

And all of this reminded me of a photographer named Mark Menjivar and a photo series he did on people's refrigerators. Here's some articles on his work--fascintating stuff:

My wife works for Standard Process, a company (located down in Palmyra) that has a huge organic farm that enables them to manufacture whole-food supplements. Sue (my wife) has learned a great deal about the value of organically grown whole food. We talk about what we eat quite a bit, as well as how it relates to our goals.

My family likes to exercise--a lot. It's a great way to spend quality time together. In the summers, we typically do a couple of local triathlons, the Scenic Shore 150, the Cream City Century--stuff like that. In order to make this family lifestyle happen, we have to think about what we eat and make good choices when we plan out our meals. For example, we make a point of only shopping on the periphery of the grocery store, since that's typically where all of the "real food" is located.

What if "real food"? I refer to an online diagram that you can view at http://summertomato.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Foodist-Supermarket-Nav.jpg. Does the food have a label? Are there more than 5 ingredients? These are important questions to ask when you think of food as fuel for one's lifestyle.

I've also found that consuming real food is great for the brain. I love working in the university because it requires a great deal of high-order thought process. The better I eat, the better I sleep, the more I exercise--the better I think.

Here's a video produced by Standard Process. It provides some great information regarding nutrition and lifestyle. Some fun facts: the company was founded by an engineer, and its CEO is an MSOE alumni.

 

I received my first speeding ticket when I was 18 years old. I went on to receive 5 moving violations during my 21st year of life. I've had countless speeding violations on my motorcycle--which is why it's a good thing I've switched to bicycling. I love to go fast, and I love watching others go fast.

That's why I love watching Formula 1 automobile racing. Open wheel cars on city streets, courses in some of the best urban environments in the world--what's not to love? And now NBC is airing the races for all in North American to view.

My friend Denny, who lives on Whidbey Island, shared the following YouTube video with me. It explains the difference between the 2013 and 2014 Formula 1 cars. It's worth watching, even if you're not into this type of thing.

Also, check out the trailer for Rush, a film directed by Ron Howard (now available on Netflix) about some legendary Formula 1 racers.

I love April Fools Day. Over the years, I've witnessed some great gags. When I lived in Colton, Washington, I had two neighbors--Leroy and Trudy. Leroy was a retired farmer, and Trudy was his sweet wife. One April Fools Day, we woke up and saw that the entrance to their house was surrounded in crime-scene tape. On their front porch was the outline of a body. Everyone in town driving by stopped to see what was was going on and if Leroy and Trudy were okay! It turned out to be a prank perpetrated by Leroy's son. The town sheriff contributed the crime-scene tape, and he got in trouble from the local dignitaries for participating in this April Fools prank.

What tricks have you done on April Fools? Share your anecdote in your reply to this blog: the person who shares the best story will win a foolish prize!

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