Challenge

I adore my wife. I really do. Besides putting up with me, she’s a lot of fun to be with. And last week I wasn’t with her at all because she was in NYC for 10 days and 9 nights on business. Chris is an event producer. When she does her job well, which is always, you won’t even notice her work. And that’s kind of her goal or at least one of them. She produces events for celebrities, foundations, corporations and charities. Last week, she was away producing an event for her client, Microsoft. She loves working on this project. She loves the people, she loves the cause and she loves spending time in New York. (Selfishly, I hate this event!)

For the past two years, Microsoft, in partnership with the USO, has done a 3 day event around Veteran’s Day called “A Salute to Our Troops.” It’s an amazing program that culminates with a Radio City Musical Hall performance by the Rockettes. I went to last year’s event and it is truly wonderful. This year, building off of the prior year’s success, more top military brass attended. This made Christine’s job slightly more complicated because of the additional security. But as usual, she handled this added charge with discretion and quiet excellence. In that way, it is difficult to notice how well she does her job. I know because I see how much work goes into making things seem seamless. Last week, a few other people noticed Christine’s peerless performance. Independently, she was given three challenge coins; one by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, Vice Chief of Staff, General Pete Chiarelli, and another by a member of the Protective Services Battalion, otherwise known as the Secret Service. Today, a challenge coin is given by the military, to signify excellence of service but their tradition originally began as a drinking game of sorts. (Read more about challenge coins here.) I am not surprised that Christine’s hard work was recognized by members of the military. Who better than them to recognize precision and excellence. I am so very proud of Chris.

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I thought I would call your attention to two completely unrelated items that caught my eye this week . The first one is a photograph of Barack Obama that appeared on the Huffington Post the day after the election. When I saw Obama take the stage in Grant Park in Chicago after being elected I noticed his bearing seemed completely different. I noticed relief and exhaustion on his face. The authors of the Huffington Post story saw power, joy, grief and fatigue. It’s a powerful image of Barack Obama’s finest moment to date. Here’s what the authors had to say about Barack Obama as he took the stage after being elected President of the United States.

When Obama took the stage, we saw a man embodying a complex array of feeling. He looked tired, of course, and who wouldn’t be? A ten-year-old in the room, who hadn’t heard of the death of Barack’s grandmother, said “He looks sad.” It takes a deeply integrated person to let his grief be visible on a night of overwhelming victory. This is a key to his personality, and bodes well for the future of his presidency. It takes enormous strength to let your vulnerabilities rest so comfortably in yourself that they can be readily seen.

There was one emotion we’re glad was missing from Obama and the crowd in Grant Park: any sense of triumphant glee. We couldn’t help wondering if it would have been present in McCain’s supporters had the tables been turned. John McCain had to silence a few boos and jeers from his audience, but by and large they just looked sad, tired and meek.

Finally, we were deeply moved by Obama’s body language at the end, in the easy way he brought forth the other members of his and Biden’s family to share the stage. He seemed to melt into them, as if he knows deep in his bones that none of this is really about him as an individual ego. There’s a huge difference between needing to be the center of things and simply being in the middle of things. Somehow, despite all the adulation and glory (as well as the relentless attacks mounted by the other side) Obama still knows what he’s known all along: he’s one of us.

The second item is not nearly filled with the gravitas of the first item. This week in Kappa, Illinois a young golfer named Curt Hocker had…wait for it….5 holes-in-one in one week, including two in one round. According to a Golf Digest study, the odds of making one hole-in-one range from 5,000 to 33,000 to 1 but making 2 in one round the odds skyrocket to 67 million to one. Unbelievable. But here’s where the story gets a wee bit sticky for me. Hocker, also recorded 2 double eagles in the same round earlier this summer. A double eagle is three under par on one hole. For example, in order to score a double eagle on a par 5, one would need to hole out in 2 shots. It’s not impossible but check out these odds. Getting 1 double eagle is quoted at 6 million to one. There is no quote for two in one round. Here’s more perspective…Between 1983 to 2003, there were 631 aces on the PGA Tour but just 56 double-eagles – and never more than 6 in one year. Curt Hocker, congratulations but I hope you don’t mind if I am a little bit skeptical.

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It’s difficult to believe that Halloween with its goblins and witches is upon us already. But imagine a place where you can encounter ghosts and the paranormal not just in October but every month.  Due to it’s somewhat bloody history, ghosts are not unusual in Scotland. However, they are positively commonplace in St. Andrews and the County of Fife.

I’m sure you need convincing.  How about the “ghost car” driven by a malevolent looking man that speeds down the “A7″ causing reoccurring accidents?  You need more don’t you?  Of course you do.  There’s always the assassinated Archbishop of St Andrews, James Beaton, who rides down Strathkinness Road in a phantom coach drawn by four large horses.  The murdered Prior who can be observed on moonlit nights watching over the Tower of St. Rules might convince you. Or the “white lady” would definitely scare your hair straight.  It’s not unusual for this “ghosty” woman to run right through you by the square tower.  I know I’m not making a strong case for you but name one other country who recognizes the Ghost Tracking profession.  A few years ago, one of our friends in St Andrews awoke to a wee, ghoulish, girl at the foot of her bed…on a regular basis.

About two years ago, I was at our home in St Andrews while Christine was in Boston. One Sunday afternoon, I called Chris from the drawing living room while making myself comfortable in a big winged back chair. Five minutes into our conversation I heard the unmistakeable sound of hoovering vacuuming from the next floor. Chris heard the startle in my voice and asked what was up. “I thought I was in the house alone. Someone is upstairs,” I hesitantly remarked. I shifted in the chair, mistakenly thinking that somehow I would hear better. But there was no doubt that someone was vacuuming. I got out of the chair and moved toward the living room door. Chris was still on the phone with me. The sound was definitely louder and coming from the 1st 2nd floor landing. “Chris, I can’t explain this. I have to go upstairs,” I told her in a completely unconvincing tone. And up the stairs on tiptoes, I went. The stairs are carpet covered stone and there was minimal noise squeeking out from under the weight of me. Chris asked what was going on but I didn’t dare respond. It was unnecessary because she could hear the vacuuming too. When I reached the midway landing, the noise stopped…dead. I bounded up the remaining stairs and looked in the rooms. Nothing. Then, I opened the linen closet and found the hoover still hot from finishing its chores. Gulp.

Next time I will tell you about the case of the missing cushions pillows.

See for yourself, visit St. Andrews.  Have a ghoul on us.

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First, it was London Bridge that was sold to unsuspecting, dolt businessmen in Lake Havasu City, Arizona who thought they were buying Tower Bridge. Later, British Telecom, during their privatisation, began selling off the ubiquitous British red telephone boxes before someone realized that they might be culturally significant. Today, London’s black cab is being manufactured in Shanghai. And now…the greatest horror of all… pubs are closing at an alarming rate in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Public houses or pubs, were the hub of village life in the United Kingdom for centuries. In many respects, they helped to define British life. Families and friends gathered in pubs to celebrate life, laugh, commiserate, eat and mostly, to drink ale. The family dog could always be found in front of the pub’s well-used fireplace. This way of life, an important aspect of British culture, is on the way out. Today, 35 pubs a week close across England. Over a 1000 English villages are now without pubs where at one time, those villages had 2, 3 and sometimes 4 pubs. There are projections that in Scotland, 12% of its pubs will shutter in 2009. Ireland has closed 1500 pubs since 2001. On top of all of this, the pub closures are costing thousands of jobs.

There are many reasons for this pandemic but the biggest reason of all is pure economics. If you read my fellow blogger, Katie from Long Aye-Lander, she wrote a post yesterday about the cost of beer in the supermarkets versus the price in a pub. As Katie points out, you can buy a can of Skol lager for 23p or less than 39 cents in the supermarket. Admittedly, Skol isn’t fantastic but compare 23p/39 cents to £3/$5.70 for a pint in a pub. Her Majesty’s tax collectors add approximately 30% to the price of a pint in a pub dependent upon the percentage of alcohol in the beer.

The government has made a well meaning move to focus on health throughout the U.K. but combined with pub economics and the smoking ban, pubs are now in more trouble than Tom Cruise’s acting career. The government has come to realise that with every action there is a reaction and now they have taken up the cause for the pubs. Can it be long before all hell breaks loose? Where will I get my McEwans 80/?

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